Flame Con 2017: Robin Lord Taylor talks LGBT representation in Gotham

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Aug 21, 2017

This past weekend gave us the third annual edition of Brooklyn, NY's Flame Con, an LGBT-themed comic convention where you can attend some cool panels, ogle some amazing cosplay, and--most relevant to my own particular experience--spend more money than you probably should on the show floor. There's also a quiet "AFK Lounge" where you can step away from the hubub, something that I personally think all cons *coughNYCCcough* should invest in. 

But it wasn't just buying art prints when you have no more wallspace, why in God's name do I do this to myself? Ahem. Saturday night saw actor Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblebot/The Penguin on Fox's Gotham, put in an appearance to talk about LGBT representation, the Penguin's relationship with Ed Nygma/The Riddler... and even to drop a few vague hints about season four, premiering on September 21

For those who haven’t been watching Gotham—and seriously, I get it, we’re in the era of Peak TV and there are 492 shows to catch up on at any given time, but Gotham is a damn fun show to binge watch while you’re doing laundry, and I thoroughly recommend it—their version of Oswald Cobblepot is a queer man, who in season 3 realized his love for friend-turned-enemy Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). To quote Taylor, it’s less “love” than “[Oswald’s] ideas of what love are”—a somewhat warped idea of romance brought about by decades of bullying, friendlessness, and just generally being an awful human being. (Hello, supervillain!)

“They had not told me when they started the show” that Oswald was queer, Taylor told moderator Kevin Gilligan, board member of Geeks OUT. “We didn’t really discuss his sexuality beyond the fact that he was somewhat divorced from it because of the bullying and experiences he had as a child.”

When the writers told Taylor and Smith about the romance storyline, it was Taylor’s decision not to “go back and write some sort of history with this character and say he always had these feelings. I’m treating this as though he’s opening his eyes. The first person he sees is his mother, and then his father. The only people that he ever loved.”—played by Carol Kane and Paul Reubens. Bow down. After the two of them, “the first person that ever shows him any sort of respect, and someone that he is equally challenged by, was the Riddler. And who also, you know, was kind to him. And that’s the first time he experienced that, outside of his parents. So obviously, for Oswald, because he’s a very manipulative and stunted person, he’s going to glom right on to that. And that’s going to be where we start with these romantic feelings.”

Taylor is careful not to label Oswald’s sexuality, noting that “I would be ascribing labels to someone who’s… coming from a place of such darkness and manipulation and abuse. And I don’t want to ascribe any of that to anyone who’s part of the larger LGBTQIA community… .This character is not an example of any sort of queer experience that anyone in the world should have or really should look up to, because again, he is a very tortured, manipulative, conniving person… He gloms only Edward because, obviously, he wants someone who understands him and also [who] he feels safe with. But his way of dealing with that is to kill Edward’s girlfriend! You know what I mean?” (RIP Isabella - you looked exactly like Kristen Kringle, and it was weird. Are we going to get into that, Gotham writers, or nah?) “This is the person that we’re dealing with here. I want to be sure that context is constantly understood when you see him go forward, especially his relationships with Edward and other people that are coming in season four.” Speaking of season four, Oswald’s taking the lesson that Nygma taught him—that loves makes you vulnerable—and running with it. Taylor admits, though, that as a philosophy “you can’t sustain that… Somebody’s going to come into his path that is going to change his idea of how he should behave and how he should act. That happens in this season.”

So… probably no lovey-dovey endings for Os and Ed, then. No worries. That’s what fanfic is for.

Other season four tidbits: Lee Thompkins (geek royalty Morena Baccarin) is “going to go through a major change this year and really break out of [being] the romantic foil of Jim [Gordon, played by Ben McKenzie] to become her own presence in Gotham City… She’s a badass bitch.” And Poison Ivy, played now by Maggie Geha, will be the Luke Skywalker to Oswald’s Yoda in the world of organized crime. “She wants to have her own agency and be in control of herself… She doesn’t have any interest in being a good person, being a righteous person. She’s like, ‘Yeah, show me the nasty stuff. Show me how to get things done the way you do them.’”

Finally, Taylor spoke about LGBT representation on Gotham in a more general sense, noting that—for all Gotham City is an awful dystopia in many ways—there are other ways “in which it is actually a utopia. In our show, never ever once in Gotham City is anyone discounted because of their race or their sexuality.” (Oswald isn’t the only queer characters on the show, Barbara Kean [Erin Richards] and Tabitha Galavan [Jessica Lucas] having engaged in an on-again-off-again relationship of their own. Renee Montoya [Victoria Cartagena] was a character in season one but hasn’t been heard from in years.) “In that way, Gotham City is almost exemplary. It’s a place where horrible, horrible shit happens, but fundamentally every human being is treated equal.”

If everyone in Gotham City’s OK with the wide, varied spectrum of human sexuality, the same cannot be said of people in our world. Though Taylor affirms that most of the comic book community is very accepting, he nurses a particular irritation for those who reacted negatively to his character’s sexuality on some hella specious grounds. Monologue presented in its entirety:

“People would be like, ‘I love you. I love your character. I just hate that they made the Penguin gay, not because I don’t like gay people, but because it’s not canon.’ And I’d be like: “Fuck you.” It’s not canon?! OK, excuse me! You’re watching our fucking show. When ever did Bruce Wayne and Catwoman hang out when they were tweens? You have a problem with that? No? Oh, OK. Did you have a problem when the Joker killed Batman’s parents in the first Tim Burton movie? Oh, no, you didn’t? Both of these are not canon issues. What’s the outlier here? Oh, it’s a queer storyline. OK, thank you so much, really glad to know that you’re homophobic. Actually, I am glad to know that. I like to know when people are homophobic and they’re completely missing the mark and are completely blind to their own prejudice. ‘It’s not because I don’t like gay people. It’s because it’s not canon.’ Are you kidding me with this canon shit?”

Can I get that printed on a t-shirt?