Tiny Lexa, Big Feels and Lots and Lots of Gays- ClexaCon Day One
Greetings from Las Vegas, the actual worst place on earth (casinos make me almost as sad as Lexa's death. They're so sad), where I am attending the best and gayest convention I've ever been to. (Can only compare to VidCon which is not very gay, but still a little gay).
After a morning of pre-con wandering in a "city" that feels like a 1950s American business mogul's most weird fantasy world come to life in the worst way, I was more than ready to go find my people. They were in a series of rooms inside one of the many gross hotel/casino/capitalist wet dreams that populate this place, but that little bubble is ours for the weekend, and it is wonderful.
To be clear, I have a few issues with the way in which this con was organized and executed, mostly involving some inclusivity problems, but it's clear after one day that what's making this gathering wonderful is not the organizers, but the participants.
Lesbians and queers are really cool, is what I'm saying. We're friendly, compassionate and smart; we care deeply about each other and society and culture as a whole. And while I think a *lot* more can be done to include actual queers with a variety of gender expressions in the creation of mainstream content, I'm also really happy with what I've seen here from the mostly cis-het, mostly femme women who currently have larger platforms and are working hard to break down tropes and stigmas in TV and film that is made for wider audiences. (Ahem, Wynonna Earp).
Thoughts on Grief and Resilience
The first panel I went to was about the legacy of the character of Lexa. And here's the thing about Lexa: it's impossibly difficult to explain to non-queer non-100-consuming people how and why this fictional character inspired such deep emotional connection among so many people and why her also-fictional death led to a legitimate collective trauma. I still think about it every day, both the actual moments in the show and the cultural context in which they occurred. I try not to talk about it too much because I know it sounds trivial and annoying to anyone who didn't experience it the way I did. Which is why being in this giant room with hundreds of other humans who also think about the specific personal and shared meanings of Lexa's story every day, and who are still deeply affected by her in their daily lives, felt safe and cathartic. The video creator Foomatic was on the panel and we watched one of her most popular Lexa videos, and it felt okay to cry there, in that dark room, with other people who we knew were feeling the love for and loss of this character. There was a sense of protecting each other's feelings, of accepting each other, and of understanding. When I watched the episode where Lexa was killed, it was late at night and my mom, who was visiting for the week, was on the other side of my bedroom half-wall, reading. She couldn't understand why I cried, or why I was distracted and despondent in the days that followed. Even I couldn't explain what was happening in my body and mind and heart. But one year on, that collective cry felt like finally understanding. We were all different ages and gender expressions and backgrounds in that space, but we had this in common, and we didn't need to explain.
One of the other panelists, a documentary filmmaker who is working on a film about the ways in which media creates and perpetuates societal "norms" (specifically race, gender, and sexuality norms), described her emotional response to the death of Lexa as similar to how she felt when her mother died. I really think that says something about how deeply fiction taps into, connects with, and shapes our humanity, our experience of the world, our reality. In turn, it's incredibly important not to discount its power.
The discussion around what Lexa's legacy is revolved around how much social media connects people who would never be connected otherwise, and how finding other people who share some values and experience in common can be a literal and figurative lifeline for people who largely aren't represented, validated, or acknowledged in society and culture. Generally speaking, social media is pretty fraught in a lot of ways, but enabling the resilience of historically oppressed or marginalized people by connecting them to each other is an undeniable pro. When we find each other, we know we're not alone, and that is incredibly empowering. When we get together, we have more power to push for everyone to do better, be it in Hollywood, in government, in communities and within ourselves. That's a pretty potent legacy if you ask me.
Queerbaiting vs. Queer Subtext and Where are all the LGBTQ children's characters?
In the afternoon I went to two super interesting panels, both of which featured one of the smartest people I've ever seen creating content, shero Rowan Ellis; the queerbaiting/queer subtext panel also included a wonderfully geeky academic presentation by professor Eve Ng, and the children's character panel included the wonderful Joelle Monique and Emily London. Rowan has talked a lot on her youtube channel about the insidious and often unconscious ways in which Disney in particular, but children's media in general, assigns stereotypically queer traits (often expressed as performative femininity in men) to villainous characters (see: Scar, Hades, even the giant turtle in Moana). Beyond that, much of children's media is utterly devoid of any non-heteronormative characters. An argument often used for this lack is that kids' stories don't include romance or sexuality at all; but that argument is based in the subconscious belief that queerness in whatever form is inherently sexualized. I learned from Rowan that this concept was really pushed in the US by Anita Bryant, who led the charge against openly gay teachers in schools, the fear being that the sexual nature of this identity made queer people pedophiles (this pervasive sub-surface belief is a big reason why I personally had such a hard time coming to terms with what it meant for me to be queer; I didn't realize that I had been socialized into this belief until well into adulthood). In the UK, under Margaret Thatcher (from 1988) and up until the year 2000, Section 28 "prevented promotion of acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." This meant that until 2000, teacher training could not address anything having to do with LGBTQ issues or people. And yes, this includes LGBTQ children. Because queerness is not inherently sexual, it's not a deviant sexual desire, it's a multifaceted identity and no more about sex than heterosexuality. And in any children's story, you're going to have parents of some form or another. Those parents are overwhelmingly straight, so right there, from the earliest age, children are socialized into heteronormativity. This is also important in that children's media is often didactic, it's trying to teach a lesson, and that lesson shapes kids' view of the world. And the total lack of canonical positive queerness in kids' media inherently conflates queerness and gender expression with villainy.
As comedy genius and all-around fabulous human Cameron Esposito says, "It really gets me when people say they need to protect kids from gay people. Because there are little gay kids. And there are kids with gay parents. So what kids are you talking about?"
I work with kids and am often unsure about how to address this kind of thing with them; usually I just avoid it altogether, which isn't hard, but I struggle with how to best be aware of the ways in which they're being shaped to think about queerness, model inclusivity and diversity, and not step on parents' toes. I'm very open about my own identity in other areas of my life and would never lie to any of the kids if they asked me about it, but don't know how or if I can/should address these issues with them. But that's a discussion for another day and another post. The good news is that YA fiction is way ahead of the curve on queer representation and I know for a fact that the oldest kid I nanny for has read some queer-inclusive fiction.
As for queerbaiting v. queer subtext, that presentation involved a beautifully nerdy powerpoint diagram with lots of arrows and circles that made me almost miss being in school, so I took notes. (Btw, watch Eve's website for updates about the paper on this being published in June, #academicgeeklove). There was a lot about text, paratext, intertextuality, viewer expectations and queer contextuality, but since this post is HELLA long already I'll leave it at that; check out her work, she's rad. (Also sat with her during the WayHaught Women of Wynonna Earp panel afterward, which was also just a giant ladylove fest, and we bonded over Orphan Black. Did I mention I'm having a good time here?)
Alright friends, off to day two...