On Monday, Ruby Rose joined the ranks of Kelly Marie Tran and Anna Diop by abandoning social media in the wake of aggressive harassment. A group of… let’s call them “fans” only because I have to… were enraged that Rose had been cast as Batwoman in the CW’s next DC crossover annual, as well as a standalone series.
And what exactly, pray tell, were those "fans" angry about? Oh, lots of things. They claimed Rose wasn’t a good enough actress; that Rose was too femme; the fact that straight women love her means she’s too mainstream; and that Rose was bisexual and thus not queer enough (One: Rose is a lesbian and two: DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF? BECAUSE BISEXUAL PEOPLE CAN). One of Rose’s last tweets before abandoning Twitter expressed bafflement over being, essentially, called not gay enough to play Kate Kane.
Yeah, just let that one sink in for a moment. A high profile genderfluid lesbian actress, whose resumé covers both stealing women’s hearts (Orange is the New Black) and frenetic action (John Wick 2), was cast as one of the highest profile lesbian superheroes, whose resumé also covers both of those things. And she got chased off of social media by “fans” for not being gay enough.
I’m so furious I could spit teeth.
Monday’s clusterfluff aligns two of the most aggravating forces in any queer nerd’s life: toxic fandom and queer gatekeeping (or "gaytekeeping," if you will). Unfortunately, by this point, we’re all familiar with toxic fandom. For our straight readers, gaytekeeping is… well, replace the “geek” in “fake geek girl” discourse with “gay,” and you’re halfway there.
Since time immemorial, there have been some in the LGBTQI community whose response to meeting a new member of the community is a sneering “Oh, so you’re gay, huh? Prove it!” There is perhaps no more iconic rhetoric for this garbage attitude than the idea of the “gold star lesbian”—a lesbian who has never had sex with a man. Valuing this particular kind of life experience over others is a huge problem, because it tells women loving women that their identity as a lesbian doesn’t count if it’s taken them years to figure it out, if they’ve dated men for any reason, or if their identity has shifted and evolved for any reason. Essentially, it punishes lesbians for not having had their whole situation figured out before they jumped into the pool, so to speak. It punishes us for being human.
And that’s the tippity tip of the gaytekeeping iceberg. Nonbinary folks deal with comments about their gender should their presentation that day skew more towards one side of the spectrum than the other (or, heaven forbid, include the whole dang spectrum in a week!). Bisexual folks worry about what ending up in a straight-looking relationship means not only about the community, but about them. Trans women have to ask if a woman-only space actually, you know, includes all women. There’s even an upcoming documentary about one of the oldest gaytekeeping lines in the book, usually thrown at gay men: No Fats, No Femmes.
One of the “accusations” thrown at Rose was that she was too femme to play Kate Kane. (Kate Kane, who meticulously maintains a crimson bob and loves a bold lip in dresses and tuxedos. That Kate Kane. Okay.) Rose doesn’t even identify as femme. She identifies as genderfluid, and her interviews and comments about her gender are a great addition to the conversation, especially given the platform she has. She’s not femme.
But I am.
I don’t often talk about my gender identity because, as an able-bodied, cisgendered white woman, I am well aware that it comes off as “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” But it’s been a long, weird road to get to femme. (It involves Noel Fielding and Eddie Izzard, but that is another story for another time, my friends.) Nowadays, it’s a joyous and active part of my identity; the same joy a masculine-identified friend might feel smoothing down a vest over a binder is the same rush I get once armored up in my metallic teal lipstick, huge sunnies, and voluminous black garments. And I hate that this hard-won and hard-loved part of myself makes me feel “not gay enough” in queer spaces. I hate it because I’ve dealt with it all my life: the idea that I, a fairly standard run-of-the-mill lesbian (I like girls! Tall girls, short girls, cis girls, trans girls, all the girls, all the time, please! I am but a humble and simple lesbian!), don’t count as what I am because of how I choose to style my hair, because I don't have tattoos, or because I didn’t figure out I was gay until college like the eighties throwback I am.
I hate it because I used to believe it.
Part of the queer experience is navigating through the trials and travails of Straight World, ranging from discrimination in housing to families refusing to treat longterm partners as anything more than just “friends” to the microaggressions you experience on a daily basis. A shopgirl recently complimented me on my “RUDE AND GAY” pin, only to ask if I wore it “for the guys,” and I wanted to fulfill the prophecy of my pin by shrieking, turning into a bat, and flapping off into the mid-afternoon. Imagine wading through all of that garbage, big and small, to find safe harbor with your own kind, the people most suited to understand, only to be told “sorry, you just don’t look gay enough/you’ve dated too many straight men/I refuse to recognize and respect your gender/you don’t subscribe to my narrow and specific ideas about what counts as queer” to be counted among the people who should have your back.
It just breaks your damn heart.
This is why we need deep and varied representation across the board—for those kids turned away at the door for being too femme, too big, too “ethnic,” too much, or not enough. We need trans roles to be played by trans actors, we need more butch representation, we need to see more queer people of color telling their own stories without worrying about being palatable to a white audience. We need to see so many different stories of what being queer means, because being queer means so many things and takes on so many forms. It’s important for queer folks of all ages to see their own stories reflected back, and know that if their story is a little different than the standard coming out narrative, then it doesn’t make them any less queer.
Which is is why a genderfluid lesbian actress playing one of the most important lesbian superheroes out there is so important. This is not the end of the road, but we should be able to stop and celebrate this kind of progress—getting queer talent in front of the camera to tell queer stories in speculative fiction—as we move forward. Throwing Rose under the bus in order to pursue some unattainable ideal of “the perfect lesbian” (Joe Carstairs is dead, y’all, she’s not coming back) is counterproductive and, I’ll say it, dumb.
Well, friends, there are gatekeepers both geeky and queer that prefer to hole up in their fortresses rather than build community and celebrate their fellows. And that sucks. But even if all you know is “I don’t think I’m straight and I love Dungeons and Dragons,” there’s room for you at my table—and on my couch, for the premiere of Batwoman.