It’s June, traditionally Pride month. It’s time to talk about queer fandom and mention the very fact that it exists and matters. Especially in Star Wars- a fandom whose diversity issues have recently come to light with a bang- queer fandom has a place, and deserves to be discussed.
With all the talk of diversity and representation in fandom, we’re finally hearing from those who feel marginalized by mainstream culture. Let’s face it, the Star Wars fandom has been traditionally very unfriendly to those who aren’t straight white men. For years on end, the rest of us were shunted off to the sides and seen as anomalies, but that isn’t so any longer. Internet fandom has changed recently, and now Tumblr is quite the space for fandom. It’s a space with many voices that aren’t those of the ‘mainstream,’ a space where we discuss the need for representation in fandom, the possibility of queer characters, and the problems of mainstream media’s relationship to queer fandom. Slash fanfic has been for a while one of the few major representations of queer fandom- writers, often female, and sometimes queer, explore the possibilities that the mainstream media wouldn’t give us. It’s become somewhat stigmatized in some circles; what does that say about mainstream fandom’s attitudes towards anything that isn’t straight? When fan culture starts hearing the voices of those who aren’t what people may think of when they hear ‘fans,’ suddenly diversity matters all the more.
Star Wars has diversity problems. There, I’ve said it. Things were definitely getting better- the EU as it once was had many more female characters, many characters who easily could be nonwhite, and even the first few queer characters of any sort. Suddenly, the EU reboot took away much of this, and we’re left with a galaxy that is much more straight, white, and male. And this happened at a time when discussions about diversity are more prevalent across all fandoms. Of course, the internet exploded in response, and one of the most frequent critiques I’ve seen has been the choices made about diversity. Combine this with a society that is much more accepting of queerness, and finally all of us fans are standing up and wanting to see ourselves in our favorite media. The Star Wars fanbase isn’t actually all straight white men- and it never has been.
Knights of the Old Republic has our first mention of a relationship that isn’t straight: choosing a female Revan leads to a possibility of a romance with the also-female Juhani. It’s certainly not much, but it’s more than we fans had ever been given before. That’s one of the problems with lack of representation: when we’ve had literally nothing, anything matters. If you look for fanworks surrounding KOTOR, you see just as many female Revans as male Revans, and fans being both nonchalant and excited about the possibilities. We aren’t going to be turned away by the option being there. In fact, a lot of us fans think it makes sense. Why not?
Legacy of the Force, as a series, had us talking about many things. And there was one thing that had me excited for very good reasons- Goran Beviin and Medrit Vasur. For once, there were non-straight characters who were confirmed as such. They were in a relationship, not treated as token gay characters, and were seen as completely normal. And this was back in 2006- definitely a less accepting time than today. “Gay Mandos” weren’t just a big deal because they were gay. It was because they were normal. Can we talk about how powerful that is? How vital and amazing it is to see gay characters who were not seen as freaks or abominations? Yes, it rocked the fandom a bit. Some were surprised and many were relieved; for once there was confirmation that our galaxy far, far away is not entirely straight.
It’s 2014. Most of us have probably met someone who’s on the queer spectrum or is questioning. Most of us have noticed that the world is not actually 100% straight. Many, many TV shows, books, movies, and games have introduced queer characters. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer– first lesbian kiss on prime-time television- to The L Word and Orange Is The New Black, non-straight and/or non-cisgendered characters are everywhere. It’s become a normal part of our culture, and we can no longer pretend it doesn’t matter or isn’t relevant. If a same-sex romantic relationship “isn’t relevant” to the plot of a work, doesn’t that make any relationship irrelevant to the plot? More and more media represents non-straight relationships. It’s time we too joined in.
Star Wars isn’t just escapist fantasy. By now, it’s a bastion of American popular culture and so well-known that its references are everywhere. Almost anyone can name a few major characters and symbols. And with the first announcement of Episode VII’s casting, we are all the more aware that Star Wars is dominated by white human men, and what’s canon now is indeed 100% straight (as far as we know). The internet’s outcry was palpable everywhere, from mainstream news to smaller fandom blogs and podcasts. Tumblr exploded, furious that only one new female character was announced while also applauding Star Wars for casting nonwhite actors. It’s a clear message- things are getting better, but now that fans are more aware of the makeup of their media, we’re going to ask more fervently for media that reflects reality. That reality includes queer characters.
If you’ve spent any serious time on TheForce.net’s Fan Fiction forums, you’re well aware of the ‘no slash’ rule. No changing characters’ sexualities, not able to depict same-sex relationships to the same extent as opposite-sex relationships, even queer OCs had to be hidden behind a veil of suggestion and speculation. The problem with this is that it isn’t family-friendly to completely ignore a demographic that absolutely exists. What if I’d grown up reading fiction, of any sort, about queer characters- or even acknowledging the existence of queer characters- when I was questioning my own sexuality? As I made more offline friends who were also Star Wars fans, I consistently asked if they’d ever been on TheForce.net. Far too often, I heard ‘Yes, I had an account, but I couldn’t in all good conscience live with the no-slash rule.’ It wasn’t worth it to us to feel excluded in yet one more place in the world, especially when we knew it didn’t have to be like that. Especially after Legacy of the Force, it definitely felt like it didn’t have to be ambiguous. It had been officially decreed that there were gay Mandos, so why couldn’t we let that be? Big names and major sites are a part of most fandoms, and for most of us, TheForce.net is one of the most prominent Star Wars fansites out there. Why not make it more inclusive to all fans?
There are just so many more types of fans out there than we anticipate, and The Clone Wars and Rebels bring in new, young fans who are even more diverse than the previous generation. Yes, the Star Wars fandom has been stereotyped as belonging to boys. No, this is not true. How many times have we said, especially with the advent of Her Universe and the growing prominence of female fans (another traditionally under-represented group), that Star Wars is for everyone? Social media has reinforced this message: everyone actually does mean everyone. Queer people have become much more prominent and accepted over the last few years, and it isn’t asking much for our media to reflect how our world really is. Is it really escapism to enter a world where we do not see ourselves at all?
Asking for queer characters is not about being ‘politically correct.’ It’s about the simple fact that the world is not eighty-or-more-percent straight white men, and it is completely reasonable to ask that our fiction reflect that. It is about letting young queer fans know that they are important and the sorts of relationships they want exist. It is about allowing all of us to see ourselves in our fiction. Queer representation matters.
Sometimes I feel old on the internet. I remember Livejournal communities, Geocities and Angelfire fansites, and waiting for a long fic to load on dial-up internet. But one of the upsides of being old on the internet is remembering what fandom was like when there were fewer spaces for marginalized fans. I’ve seen such amazing progress being made and so many new fans able to love their favorite works while still able to call them out for lack of diversity. I can now talk on Tumblr about the lack of queer characters in Star Wars and find many other voices who agree. There are so many others who share my joy at Beviin and Vasur. Now, I am not alone. Fandom is about community, and communities include all fans. Even we queer ones.