We built ourselves: The characters we coded as queer

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Jun 4, 2019, 3:16 PM EDT (Updated)

As fans become more adamant in expressing our voices about the things we love, representation has become a rallying point. We celebrate the times when something trickles through, we grouse about consistent letdowns, and we hope and thirst for a better future.

Most of us have grown up in a world of genre entertainment that only scarcely had a place for us, if at all, and we’ve often had to find our own headcanons of representation within the things we love. We’ve had to spin narratives on our own, seeing a metaphor within them for our life experiences that perhaps even the creators may not have realized were there.

We asked some of our queer-identified FANGRRLS to talk about a few of their favorite LGBTQ+ self-coding on some genre characters.

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This is a bit of a pet fascination for me, and a concept I’ve returned to over and over again in my life and my writing, the concept of finding our own voices out of pieces we scramble together. Which is why I was doubly delighted by the character of L3-37 in Solo: A Star Wars Story. I was intrigued when I first heard that Phoebe Waller-Bridge would be voicing L3, making her the first female-coded droid playing a major role in a Star Wars movie, but what really drew me into her as a character to examine was the concept that she was a self-modified droid.

We’ve seen the ways that experiences or programming can bring about quirks and behaviors in droids within the Star Wars universe, from R2-D2 to K-2SO, but L3 moves beyond programming into being a reworking of her own physical body. By doing this she has literally crafted her own sense of self by shaping a form that otherwise would not have existed. This screamed out to me as a trans woman, someone who has spent the last several years of her life crafting and changing her own body, often through the use of hormonal drugs that were not originally intended for the service they provide me. Often too it feels like, as I transition, I have to re-piece together my own memories, understand experiences through a different lens. Yet not unlike how Lando can't erase L3's memory without losing her navigational maps, I could never give up the experiences of who I was without losing much of what makes me valuable now.  And I can't tell you just how many times I've had my own version of the "How does that work?" "It works!" conversation when it comes to my sexuality and attraction, or had partners who have had to answer similar questions about the very nature of our relationship. 

But also, I relate a lot to the fact that out of all the droids we've met, L3 is the most radicalized. A fierce champion for droid rights, this feel directly due to this sense of having built herself, but not all that different from the feeling that many trans folk have experienced ultimately needing to become more politically active after we transition. This stems from the very nature of our living openly as ourselves begins to feel like a politicized action, whether we like it or not. Simple acts like shopping for clothing or literally using the bathroom can delve into entire social media arguments in a way they never did before, and suddenly it's hard not to feel like we consistently have to push back. - Riley Silverman


Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy Summers is a typical teenager who loves shopping, hanging with her friends, and killing vampires. As the heir to the Slayer line, Buffy must guard the Hellmouth and combat the evils of vampires and other mystical bad guys. She also has to go to school and date and try not to be so weird (despite being ostensibly hot AF). When I watched the show, I was struck by how much Buffy’s story reminded me of the experience of being bisexual. While the show does have queer representation with Willow Rosenberg, once she’s out, Willow doesn’t identify as bisexual, but rather as a lesbian. And, though Buffy did sleep with a woman in the canon graphic novels (I actually think they’re brilliant), she never identifies as bisexual. Regardless, I claimed the Slayer narrative for myself.

When Buffy was with those who understood her gift, she felt supported and powerful, albeit sometimes afraid. When she was with those from whom she kept her identity secret, she felt guilty, frustrated, and misunderstood. Being bisexual felt like a huge part of me was often either erased, as when I was told I was the “gayest bisexual” someone had ever met, or as if only part of me were present, like I was sticking my head through a window every time I had a conversation with someone who didn’t know.

In the final season of the show, Buffy finally “comes out” to everyone, not just everyone in her life, but everyone in the town, most of whom flee ahead of the Hellmouth’s impending opening. She no longer fights in the shadows or tries to hide the existence of the supernatural, nor will she take orders from those who don’t understand or have her gift. Instead, she presents herself as what she truly is: a woman who has been through a hell of a lot and a Slayer, capable of bringing the worst of the darkness to its knees. Now, I’m not saying I’m a superhero who slays demons, but I am a bisexual who slays biphobes—and Buffy helped me understand the power of my gift. - S.E. Fleenor


Rogue (X-Men)

Between the comics, the movies, and the cartoons, Rogue's power set varies wildly, but one constant is that she absorbs the powers, memories, and life forces of those she comes into physical contact with. One of the few X-Men to never learn to control her powers in a way that allows her to lead an ordinary life, she has been haunted by her inability to safely touch other people throughout her 30+ year history. Rogue's powers serve as a relating point for a lot of people from all walks of life that suffer from intimacy issues. The idea that it's dangerous to show affection is something that queer people struggle with even now, as violent attacks on LGBTQIA couples are common. In the few instances when Rogue's powers were negated so that she could touch another person, it wasn't self-motivated, rather given to her as a gift by an outsider, such as Magneto, or via a collar that dampened her powers long enough for her to spend a night with her on-again-off-again lover, Gambit. She's also one of the only X-Men whose powers very specifically limit her experiences.

Rogue's lack of control over when or how she gets to express affection really hit home for me growing up, knowing it wasn't necessarily OK to hold hands in public with my girlfriend, and feeling pressure over the fear that accidentally revealing too much about our relationship to others could really cause her harm. Even as a kid, it was easy to feel like consensual touch was a potentially dangerous thing. Expression of affection is difficult for a lot of queer people, as we know it can lead to us or our partners suffering serious injuries if the wrong person sees it. Rogue's struggle to cope with her inability to touch others without endangering them hit home for me as I tried to navigate the desire to show affection with the necessary caution of not showing it around the wrong people. - Sara Century