A recent Polygon article is titled, “Meet the gay soldier you didn’t know was in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.” I guess my question is, if we didn’t know, what the hell’s the point?
Back in 2007, JK Rowling told an interviewer that she “always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” Which is cool, right? A gay character in Harry Potter, and the esteemed Head Wizard, to boot! Except, it's never indicated in the text of the books -- knowing it in hindsight, there are perhaps a couple places you could point to where it makes sense, but there's no real hint of it. So I’ll ask again, what's the point?
A writer friend of mine suggested that it's a reasonable thing for a writer to do: we should know far more about our characters than ever makes it into a final text. It adds depth to our writing without having to include a laundry list of character traits in the book. He says what he does because he was in love with the man he's talking about -- we don't need to know he's gay, only the author does, to make that authentic. Fair enough.
But here's the problem: all there is, is the text, and a book belongs to its readers. Any interpretation of the text as given that doesn't contradict the text as given is a viable interpretation, and while it's great for JK to have that character trait in mind when writing to have a fully fleshed out character, without any indications that Dumbledore is gay, how are we supposed to know or interpret it that way?
Of course, we don't have to. It's not important to the story.
Except that every single character and relationship we see in all seven Harry Potter books is a cis heterosexual one. There is not a single textual queer character. So as far as I'm concerned, based on the evidence I've seen, queer characters do not exist in the Harry Potter universe -- so why would I ever even think that someone like Dumbledore might be gay? And we need greater visibility -- what about all the gay Harry Potter fans growing up? They don't get anything in the biggest blockbuster book series in the world that represents their experiences, their struggles. We need greater diversity in every media we produce and consume.
All that said, I'm going to give JK a little pass here. While I think it behooved her, especially in such a blockbuster YA book series, to include visibly diverse characters everywhere and often, at least she's not claiming that Harry Potter did include diversity, and suggesting we should congratulate her because of Dumbledore. Dumbledore was a side note that came out (pun intended) in an interview, not a PR stunt meant to display diversity.
And that brings us to Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (I'm not even going to ask about that title). According to the game writer that created him, Adam Bullied, one of the characters in the game is gay -- it’s just never mentioned or even hinted at in the game.
Ok, so Dumbledore syndrome. It helped him flesh out the character backstory and never made it into the text. Just like Dumbledore, we all wish it had been more visible, but I gave JK a pass, so this should get a pass too, right?
Well, except, now Bullied is doing interviews with Polygon about how progressive he is. “The industry seems to now exist in a permanent creative coma when it comes to character diversity. I find it really depressing.”
You can’t say you included diversity in your game when there is no textual evidence at all that it’s there. You can’t pat yourself on the back for including a gay character in a AAA title and bemoan the rest of the industry as if you're doing such a better job. That doesn't make you progressive. That makes you an ass.
And don't even get me started on “The creation of Dee-Ay was influenced, at least in part, by Tim Schafer, Bullied says. ...The result, for Bullied, was a desire to avoid the tired tropes of characters just being 'good' and 'evil' and to instead introduce more human and morally nuanced motivations for them.” What? Characters can have complex backstories and react to the world like real people? Thank god Tim Schafer showed you the light. Welcome to being a writer.
Andrew: And I would add one final point:
It's easy for an already successful writer like Bullied to prance around like he's SAVING THE WORLD with his invisible gay dudebro character but the fact is, not only is that not enough, but even if it was, he shouldn't get any credit. And we shouldn’t give him any.
Why? For two reasons: 1) it’s relatively trivial for a white cis dude to make grand gestures about diversity because he has so much privilege. 2) when privileged individuals or groups take credit and gain publicity for such things they are quite-simply continuing the cycle of oppression; the privileged continue to profit off of the hardships and strife of subjugated and/or oppressed groups while those groups see no applause, no congratulations and no spoils. And it's not simply a matter of a mustache-twirling writer who wants to pull the wool over our eyes! Polygon should be ashamed; they should have known better, and they let us down as a group who claims to be allies. The people who shared this story as if it was a good thing should be ashamed, too. If we stop to hold a parade every time a white dude makes a tiny infinitesimal shift forward, we’ll never reach the finish line.
Lucas: PS, Silverstring Media is for hire and can make all your stories better.