The Gays vs. The Grammys.

27 01 2014

A friend from New York City posted the following status update this morning, “If only people would have as much courage to stand up to their enemies as vigorously as they try to rip apart their allies.” My feelings toward the social media commentary (from a particular segment of the population), regarding last night’s Grammy Awards, had been perfectly captured.

Ah, award shows. A time-honored tradition that I had pretty much written off once the music industry segued from recognizing the innovative in favor of the commercial (that’s an article for another day). With that said, I had very little interest in any aspect of the 2014 Grammy Awards until I came across a blurb about a scheduled performance of Macklemore’s marriage equality anthem, “Same Love.” The rendition was also set to feature the track’s collaborators, Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert, as well as Madonna and Queen Latifah (the latter would be the officiant during a mass wedding ceremony to take place during the performance).

Color me intrigued. The social and political ramifications following a live broadcast of over 30 couples (both heterosexual and homosexual) exchanging vows during a performance of an immensely successful and mainstream pop single were too tempting to ignore. I elected to rely on various social media feeds to recap the show and then tune in once the performance in question was about to begin.

Lorde

Lorde

My Facebook news feed is mainly comprised of the opinions and rantings of gay men that I’ve met over the years. Some I have known for over a decade. Others I have met in passing, once or twice. The one thing that we all have in common is that we are part of a community that has, unquestionably, been subjected to harassment, insults, inequality, and disparaging comments for as long as memory serves.

We are also more than just casually aware of the rising epidemic of teenage suicide due to an increase in both the brutality involved with bullying and new methods with which to do it… namely, social media.

After having my visual senses assaulted by a flood of vicious commentary aimed at various performers at last night’s ceremony, I am suggesting that some of these acquaintances in the gay community look up the word “hypocrisy” in the dictionary.

A large segment of last night’s cyber-vitriol was hurled towards the physical appearance of 17-year-old, Lorde. The New Zealand native is one of the indie-pop scene’s newest darlings and has even earned the praise of David Bowie (note to haters: all of her talent aside, just garnering the approval of Ziggy Stardust makes her better than you). I would like to reiterate the fact that she is a 17-year-old girl. A 17-year-old girl with a penchant for the arts. I would actually be critical if she was NOT taking the liberty of being creative with her wardrobe and makeup to express herself. What I found interesting about the abuse directed at Lorde was that it made me question how much, if any, of that would be aimed at the likes of Lady Gaga if she walked out onstage in a similar look.

Further insults flew in the direction of older musical legends like Willie Nelson, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, and Carole King. Again, all based on physical appearances. I suppose this can be chalked up to the ignorance that many 20-something-year-old gays have when it comes to, not only the artistic merits of these accomplished individuals, but also their contributions to gay rights over the years. A simple Google search would reveal the very outspoken support for gay rights by both Nelson and Ono. Apparently, when an older generation of heterosexual music icons lend their voices against bigotry, they are thanked by being referred to as looking like a “redneck crackhead” or an “Oriental woman dancing like she’s having a seizure.”

"Same Love"

“Same Love”

I was especially surprised at some of the nasty references to both Madonna and Mary Lambert, two of the co-performers during “Same Love.” You would never guess that the gay community held these two women in any sort of esteem with gratitude for their support of marriage equality. Mary Lambert’s weight was an easy target for some as was Madonna’s cosmetic surgery and use of a cane due to a recent foot injury.

By the time “Same Love” came and went, any excitement I had for the performance had waned due to the sheer ugliness floating through cyberspace towards many folks who have had the community’s back when very few others did. Some of these individuals have done more for gay rights and AIDS awareness than most of us could ever attempt to do in our lifetime.

Most of the folks slinging these comments would, undoubtedly, claim they were just “joking around” and being “witty.” You know who else said they were “joking around”? The cretins who drove Jamey Rodemeyer and Tyler Clementi to suicide. Remind me how we are any better than them? And, no, the likelihood (or lack, thereof) of these celebrities committing suicide in the wake of cyber-bullying does not give people the proverbial “green light” to eviscerate them via the internet. That line of defense is so weak it would get you laughed off of a 9th grade debate team.

I would also like to point out that a key element in the definition of “witty” is “inventive.” None of the comments that I read last night were even remotely inventive. Instead, most were just cruel and shallow and did nothing but further perpetuate unfortunate stereotypes about the gay community.

The next time we are looking for support from the straight community against anti-gay politicians, bigots, or bullies, we should ask ourselves, “Why would they support us if this is how we show our appreciation?”

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A 2013 Retrospective: Diversity Assemble!

9 01 2014
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Monet St. Croix

2013 shaped up to be quite an interesting year for diversity in mainstream comic books.  In a medium once ruled by stereotypical alpha male characters of a caucasian and heterosexual persuasion, it’s getting more difficult to shoot an optic blast without hitting at least one female, LGBT, or character of color.

Evidence of the progression that the comic book genre has made is all around. One only has to attend a comic book convention. Not only is a large percentage of visitors comprised of female geeks and LGBT readers, but any number of panels/screenings/talks are centered on numerous diversity issues that more and more fans are finding increasingly important.

Even 2013’s editorial “facepalms”  (re: DC’s Batwoman marriage scandal and the eyebrow raising “Harley Quinn Commits Suicide” art contest) could not stop the rising tide of progress that character diversity made throughout the year.

One of the most blatant examples of said progress is, inarguably, within the pages of Brian Wood’s X-Men.  The idea of an all-female team of X-Men is something that fans have been clamoring for for as long as I can remember. Not only does the current lineup of this squad boast all xx chromosomes, each member (save for Rachel Grey) is also a woman of color. Pre-Battle of the Atom teammates included Storm, Jubilee, and Psylocke… each representing Kenyan, Chinese, and Japanese ethnicities, respectively. They have since been joined by Karima Shapandar, a native of India formerly known as Omega Sentinel. Monet St. Croix, a Muslim of Algerian/Monegasque descent, first introduced in Generation X and most recently featured in Peter David’s run of X-Factor, has also been added to the roster . Each of these ladies on this team is a distinct voice and a powerhouse in her own right. Could any one of them go toe-to-toe with the likes of Captain American or Iron Man? Absolutely!

That’s not all when it comes to Mr. Wood’s book. The current villain in play is the Japanese cyborg, Lady Deathstrike. Yuriko has become a melting pot of her very own with her consciousness being uploaded into the body of Colombian heiress, Ana Cortes.

Bling! puts the moves on Jubilee.

Bling! puts the moves on Jubilee.

Let’s not forget about LGBT representation in X-Men. A secondary story is currently woven into the main plot involving the African-American/bisexual mutant, Bling!, and some Sapphic drama with fellow Jean Grey School classmate, Mercury. This recently culminated in Bling! planting a lip-lock on Jubilee in an attempt to make Mercury jealous.

While the X-books have always served as a metaphor for any number of oppressed minorities, Brian Wood should be given major credit for the fantastic work he has done on this title, thus far.

Female characters scored another success in the twelve issue (thirteen if you count the Age of Ultron tie-in… and you SHOULD) run of Cullen Bunn’s Fearless Defenders. The series was as fun and straightforward as an episode of GLOW (and, let’s face it, that’s pretty damn fun)… the good girls vs. the mean girls. The Defenders included Cheyenne Native American, Danielle Moonstar and African-American bionic badass, Misty Knight. As for the heroines who just happen to be lesbians, Annabelle Riggs and Ren Kimura had that area covered.

Shamrock tells the men where to go.

Shamrock tells the men where to go.

One of the most memorable moments from the series featured several of the Defenders’ significant others, gathering at a pub as a makeshift intervention to show the ladies the err of their ways. The world of masked heroics is just too dangerous for such fragile lasses. Having been involved in her fair share of superhero antics, the pub’s owner, eventually puts the whiny bags of testosterone in their place when it comes to sexism.

Marvel Comics has also proven, time and time again, that the books involving teenage characters both include and address diversity in a blasé manner. It is all very “matter of fact.” There’s no big “Yep, I’m gay.” speech at a news conference (sorry, Northstar). This could easily be chalked up to the fact that younger generations of people have been exposed to different cultures and ethnicities from the moment they are born. Avengers Arena and Young Avengers are two of these titles that ran through 2013 and featured a bevy of kids from all walks of life.

Cullen Bloodstone and Cammi share a moment in Murderworld.

Cullen Bloodstone and Cammi share a moment in Murderworld.

Dennis Hopeless’ Avengers Arena introduced us to Cullen Bloodstone (of the monster-hunting Bloodstones). He was one of the unlucky students from the Braddock Academy to find himself trapped in Arcade’s Murderworld. As if being pitted against fifteen other superpowered teenagers in a Battle Royale/kill-or-be-killed contest for Arcade’s sole entertainment, he also has to deal with his unrequited feelings for his (presumably) heterosexual classmate, Anachronism.

As the body count rises, there’s an interesting moment between Cullen and Cammi. She asks him about the secret feelings that he’s been harboring about one of the other gameplayers. Cammi doesn’t bat an eyelash at the revelation that Cullen has fallen for another man. Instead, she advises him against getting attached to anyone because the only way out of Murderworld is by being the sole survivor at the end of the game. The big “coming out” scene is treated casual as if it’s not a big deal. Honestly, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

Superhero selfie (courtesy of the Young Avengers)

Superhero selfie (courtesy of the Young Avengers)

One really cannot speak of teenage superheroes and diversity without touching on Kieron Gillen’s SUPERB run on Young Avengers. First off, the series features one of Marvel’s longest-running gay couples, Hulkling and Wiccan. The wonderful thing about these characters is that their relationship feels organic. Readers have been able to follow its development since the days of Allen Hienberg’s run in 2005. They aren’t generic plot devices thrown into a story for the sake of having a token gay relationship.

Also joining the team is African-American depowered mutant, Prodigy. Gillen put an interesting spin on David’s previous powerset. Through the course of Young Avengers, we learn that David identifies as bisexual. He attributes this to his previous ability to mimic the knowledge from anyone’s mind that he came into contact with. This knowledge still remains within him despite being depowered on M-Day.

Team bruiser came in the shape of one Miss America Chavez. Introduced during Joe Casey’s Vengeance, the interdimensional Latina heroine proved herself to be an invaluable asset to the team… especially when it came time to putting the Norse trickster god, Loki, in his place. Speaking of Loki, the pansexual, occasionally female-bodied brother of Thor was the perfect thorn in the team’s side.

Batgirl's roommate, Alysia Yeoh

Batgirl’s roommate, Alysia Yeoh

Over on the DC Comics side of the room, champion of diversity, Gail Simone (seriously, she should list that as a “special skill” on her résumé), introduced what may be the first transgender character in mainstream comic books. Barbara Gordon’s (a.k.a. Batgirl) roommate came out as transgender to the titular character following the events of Death of the Family. The great thing about Alysia is that she is not transgender due to a latent superhero ability to shapeshift… it’s just a part of who she is as a person.

Reflecting back on the past year definitely gives one high hopes for the new year. Judging by early solicitations and news media outlets, it doesn’t appear that 2014 will disappoint.

Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel

Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel

Beginning in February, G. Willow Wilson will bring us the adventures of the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. The teenager from New Jersey styles herself as Carol Danvers’ number one fan and, after discovering her Inhuman heritage and shapeshifting abilities, takes on the classic mantle. Yes, Kamala is not the first Muslim to appear in a Marvel title. She is, however, the first Muslim to receive a solo title.

February will also see Cullen Bloodstone return as a main character in Dennis Hopeless’ Avengers Undercover while Loki receives own solo series, Loki: Agent of Asgard. Writer Al Ewing promises that the Loki’s book will address the god’s fluid sexuality and gender identity.

Comic books have always been a way to kick back and escape from reality. A way to suspend disbelief and connect with a character that does what needs to be done for the greater good of humanity. Thankfully, today, more people are able to do just that. People from different backrounds or ethnicities. People of different sexual orientations. People both male and female. The truth is, in the end, we all look the same behind a mask and cape.