Rainbow stardust

1.0.11

queer (and faerie) reading of straight science-fiction and fantasy on screen

On screen, the Universe seems universally black and white stars spot it complementarily. Perhaps with a slightly blueish hue. As if this symbolic political color-code pre-defined also the politics of depiction of Out(er) Space in writing and film. The blue gives clear signal in right/left capitalist/socialist traditionalist/progressive conservative/liberal democratic/totalitarian allegories - that were quite common topic of the early televised science-fiction pieces. In another dimension, the monochromatic vastness reminds me of straight uniformity and black-and-white perspectives that the mainstream of the genre often presents.

Interestingly enough, the fantasy did not lose it at all for the colors-loving queer audience. Frequent complaints and sighs about missing LGBTIAQ+ characters in audiovisual fiction hold testimony to this. Post-modern or rather "post-pervert" times even introduced zealous protests from queer community regarding the (mal)treatment of rare non-heterosexual characters. As if their living/surviving and presenting them "in positive light" was the only concern we had. But, are the gay characters really gay? Are they real, alive, human, imperfect, complex - or just there to quench the thirst of "media target group", surreal wax-statue installations, un-dead as in Death Becomes Her?

Science-fiction, despite admiring and extrapolating scientific and technological progress, invents non-existing realities - from technological utopian to political dystopian to mythological worlds. As such, it takes direct license not to represent reality as we know it. What is not shown is often the most important message. Non-existence of queer topics might possibly uncover the straight imagination of "better future" (in the sense of popular cliché "diseases were dealt with through scientific progress" - homosexuality alluded to without wink), but also underscore the fact that science-fiction is a myth, mythology, metaphor, modern heroic legend placing characters into unusual and highly symbolic situations with universal message - and it would be pity to narrow it down to queer audience by using same-sex emotional and carnal interactions, that straight fans cannot identify with. But... really?

No one can hear you scream ... in galaxy far far away ... where no man has gone before

Whether you claim allegiance to any of the three iconic empires of contemporary science-fiction pop-culture (dirty and slimy and depressive sets of Aliens, shiny toy-like one-dimensional space of Star Wars or sterile lab aesthetics of Star Trek) or free hyperspace jumps through genre, at best you may imagine your gay storyline in it. Are queers mercifully spared the epic cruelty of macho galactic wars, or denied access on starboard of the adventure by good old bullies from school now grown adult? Once again we may feel left out of the exclusive straight boys space (sports team, tree-house club, camping trip).

One may argue, that the romantic endeavors (same sex or the opposite sex) are not the focal point of space travel. Really, aren’t they? Does anyone know a science-fiction where loving, liking or fancy would not at least create a dramatic complication, positive plot turn, not to mention motivation or reward after the perilous journey? Even the superwoman Ripley winks at Hicks’ non-intrusive presence and cares for Newt in ephemeral random foster but none-the-less traditional family instantiation.

Even the most pop-corn-reeking story out there carries at least general moral message. "Good side of the force prevails." "Reflect upon your own humanity facing the otherworldly monsters." "Preserve the multi-species multi-culture diversity." The appeal of the genre is indeed universal. So why that sort of diversity, that sort of romance, that sort of being human - is so carefully avoided, with so many good reasoning and other excuses? Is science-fiction an escape pod from too-politically correct reality, for the poor oppressed straight guy who cannot freely express his primeval archetypal hunter’s homophobia any more?

Fear of what’s not there

Alfred Hitchcock introduced an approach that has become maxim for any suspension-driven movie: If you want your spectators to scream, let them stare into the dark. No silicone goo and no fluffy toothed tentacle CGI monster equals to horrors painted on pitch black spots of the screen by one’s own imagination. But what is not there can be interpreted in yet another layer. Responding with silence is a sort of answer. Missing of the queer characters is a comment on the alternate universes created - whether it makes dystopian societies even more vicious, the utopias slightly imperfect, or the buddy interactions more homoerotic/bromantic.

As queers have reclaimed former insults and turned them to our own self-confident language, as we have overcome the exclusion with creating our own spaces and vibrant subculture, as we have responded to plague by engaging in mutual care, as we have hidden from hostility in newly developed sense of community, we can turn the alleged non-existence of us in science-fiction tropes into fairy-tale gift of invisibility, that allows us warping among straight (hyper)spaces unseen. In other words, by being forced to re-imagine the romantic straight interactions in our own way, we have been developing sense of metaphor, translation, interpretation, we have been watching the science-fiction from our own unique perspective.

This non-literal viewpoint, once called also "gay window" (at life, society, politics) is something more ancient than the genre itself. Queer self-awareness existing undercover (under cloak of invisibility) for centuries, we have tried not only to "fit in" the society, but also live our own truth and find explanation and place for it. We have reinterpreted religions, separated patriarchal dogmas from valuable universal core of spirituality, challenged infallible alpha prophets and totalitarian ideologies of alpha dictators. The person who fully fits in and has no reason to question the Order will probably retreat into safety of his generally approved heterosexuality and family affairs. Our predisposition for being a scape-goat makes it pretty probable that we will question unquestioned axioms that often justify our persecution. This at least helped rationalism to replace dogmatism, aided the rise of technological society - that is by the way also obsessed with science-fiction.

Past versions of future

Before we inspect the version of future, let’s get inspired by history. Since homophobic myths of Abrahamic religions permeate most of the contemporary societies, it may be not obvious to us that there are mythologies that count with us and count on us. One of these is two-spirit term roofing concepts of many Native American tribes. The attraction of men to men or women to women was not understood on terms of sexual orientation but as being distinct (3rd, 4th) gender. This gender had its particular roles and valued place in society. Having two spirits - male and female - contained in one person meant this person had insight to the secluded spaces and ways and mentality of each one.

This predisposed two-spirits to mediate between two common genders, which helped ameliorating wars of sexes (and patriarchal excesses) that we know well from our strictly binary culture. Moving freely between male and female society, two-spirits were observers of habits, prejudices, thinking and behavior patterns of both dominating genders. They had insight into where and how the usual misunderstandings arose. By birth, they had predisposition to be "caught in between", which was not viewed as handicap, but as an advantage. Something harvested in multiple layers. Two-spirits were thus made also mediators between material world of humans and spiritual world of beings. That made them suitable for roles of shamans, ceremonial leaders, ritual preservers (role currently occupied by priestly caste), memory keepers (today historians), storytellers (nowadays vocation of the artists and teachers).

In essentialist perspective of innate qualities of genders, our special nature gives us predisposition to be impartial in a way that straights hardly can (protect my wife, protect my off-spring, protect my family, protect my clan, protect my tribe/nation, protect my territory/state, protect our ways/religion/ideology). Too empathetic men were not so hot-headed warriors living just to fight. This would offer exquisite peacemaker qualities. Instead of siding with particular tribe, they could acknowledge problems and perspectives of parties in dispute. Something that even contemporary politics lack. Less competition and more cooperation, less fight and more understanding, less reasoning and more compassion.

Hard to imagine that these characteristics were once desirable and thought vital for the survival of the tribe and culture. However, modern history of harsh treatment of queer people based on religious myths may discourage us to embrace another non-realistic legend (of two-spirits). Queers often incline towards atheism that is for many a straight way out of vicious rule of blind faith. Straight also in sense that we create another battle - materialist versus spiritualist. But if contemporary people can still believe in heaven and hell, conception by virgin, resurrection and redemption, forgiveness of any sins by God-like being, it is not a sin on our part that we adopt and adapt our own (not necessarily 100% real) inspiring myths.

Queer spirit

Instead of skirmish about which omnipresent omniscient omnipotent (and the only one) God is the right one, we use religion and spirituality for what it is. A metaphor. A person in clouds is a projection of the moral code above individual perspectives. The imagination of the better side of us that is able to see the whole picture. As we know by heart, literal interpretation of moral codes is always wrong, to use religion or spirituality one needs ability to read allegories - move fluently among meanings, layers, dimensions. Understanding things often takes away the magic - that’s the story of banishment from Eden. Jesus’ fit around Pharisees - mirrors queer struggle with church. His crucifixion is re-enacted by every persecuted progressive individual that challenges the establishment. Invisible God - can be paraphrased in a parallel of non-embodied hidden presence of queer spirit in straight storytelling.

If early science-fiction was easygoing in use of "good guys" and "bad guys" simplifications, state of the art storytelling is slightly more inquisitive into motivations and human side of antagonists or the unpleasant features of heroes. Curiously (or quite obviously) this becomes more prevalent in times when LGBTIAQ+ topic becomes partially accepted. Any ambiguous - real-life - characters are sort of queer in both archaic and contemporary sense of the word. They are our two-spirited reflections - in space-travel and earthly adventures too.

Though there lurks a little paradox: while real-life multi-faced characters are queer in metaphor, not all flesh-and-blood queer characters are real(istic). They kiss the same sex, but they don’t think/feel/act queer. The modern LGBTIAQ+ movement and concepts aim for establishing our normality/ordinariness, for reclaiming what we really are in the first plan - natural variance of otherwise normal and ordinary people who just have different sex life. Claiming our natural right to be and to do so, rightly so. Though there are voices who say that maybe fuck is actually the only thing we have in common with the straight species. Something in our movement, tone of our voices, in-between-er mind, spirit and soul stands out.

Naming the names

Gay sci-fi fan come director

An ambiguous story to start with. In line with the previously mentioned discrepancy, having a renowned gay director of science-fiction blockbusters does not mean a sure path to both enjoyable and queer experience. Non-apologetic rip off from anything (plot, sets, aesthetics) found in Cameron’s Aliens and literal male-to-male (hard to say gay) rape - in Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44 (1990) - is perhaps a late and last twinkle of the end of 80s-90s VHS-era B-movie replicants and decline of "gay-guy = bad-guy" paradigm. There are many interpretations of no-gay family-friendly spectacular hit Independence Day (1996) suggesting that in subtext we’re watching a 1:1 scale commentary on male-male buddying and culturally imprinted homo-panic. Twenty years later, the ID: Resurgence (2016) feels like much cheaper second brew of the same tea, "spiced up" with real gay couple - that unfortunately (like the rest of the movie) embraces all the possible clichés and on top of that it stands out oddly without a meaning, as if attached to the film as a tribute to political correctness.

Seeing the same pieces from less critical perspective, those movies are as good as all - the revenue-based genre + producers + majority audience permits. Moon 44 gives us at least a bit of male flesh and matter-of-fact statement of what often happens in all-male environments, where "man up and take what you want from the weak" is considered desired and normal human trait. As such, it is not a gay sex, but man-on-man rape. Independence Day’s aliens mirror locust behavior of human beings - who with their infinite greed to reproduce and consume come anywhere they can get, wipe out other species and take resources at will. If this message was intentional (looking at The Day After Tomorrow (2004) in parallel) it would be worth of true visionary storyteller, shamanic healer or idealist teacher tickling conscience of our technocratic culture. Ironically it has become a tool of the consumption itself. The focus on heroic battle ("we against them") provides a comment on the features that the straight folk is traditionally good at, suggesting possible times when they come sort of handy.

Though I think what really betrays the gayness of this mayhem is the decorative spectacular opulence. The stylized destruction, the romantic patriotism, the fairy-tale heroism are presented as a firework spectacle, that stuns us with perverted beauty, equal to antic tragedies, courtly fashion, musical feast - sub-genres quite attractive to queer audiences. While straight men consider their bodies as strong and functional, gear and armor as practical, their battles as "must do" - queer eye often finds them beautiful, sexy and epic. If straight politics are just another playground of war, where everyone follows his own interests (to prevail), queer sensitivity may incline towards the bigger picture, overall theatrical quality of court affairs, society, state, history - in better case seeking compassion with every single being, favoring overall harmony that nourishes arts, culture and beauty.

The Resurgence’s gay couple may feel old-fashioned for gay audience, too late to come in this way for intellectual elite, but for any common straight kid out there it may send at least a message that "this is part of life", nothing to wink about. As said by director himself - "you start small and then you get bigger and bigger and bigger" - even if with an embarrassing delay. At best, the layers of his cinematographic outing throughout his career suggest the development of mainstream queer (self-)awareness. This has proven in his history-distorting version of Stonewall (2015) - a gay liberation story according to assimilationists. Those who contributed close to nothing to light the liberation afire. Sad, but paraphrasing Emmerich’s words regarding LGBT representation in Resurgence: "We are not there yet".

In better world (without us)

As if Confucianism, feudalism, secularism, theocracy, socialism, capitalism was not enough. Twisted attempts to "fix all the problems" and establish a "functioning, persistent and sensible society" - through biblical guidance, suppression of emotions, segregation of misfits - have something in common. Basic paradigm of straight world: "we against them", scaled into more visible and painful dimensions. It’s always people who don’t fit, who are not like everyone else, who diverge from established average - that are both pariahs and conscience of the brave new worlds. There’s hardly more queer topic at hand.

While in feudalism God (represented by church and aristocracy) held monopoly for norm, taste, law, justice and judgement, revolutionary societies of the nation states had to devise their own source of sovereignty. They had to contain the divine somehow in disguise form - claiming human soul, citizen’s unquestioned "love" of the fatherland, willingness to die for the concept of artificial borders, the timeless validity of its laws, the infallible right(eous)ness of the majority. This unprecedented self-constitution persists till today, its perverse instantiations feeding the dystopian fears. Enemies of the God had nowadays become enemies of the omnipotent & omniscient State.

In 1948 George Orwell enriched our social consciousness with iconic story of a thinking and feeling individual lost in the mind-erasing totalitarian (sur)reality. His Nineteen eighty-four (1948, movies, e.g. 1984) could feed on ample inspirations on both blue and red half of the Earth - and has become sort of template for any depictions of grey futures. In post-war era, just as one poisonous paradise (that "had to" annihilate Jews, Romas, intellectuals, dissidents and homosexuals) crumbled into ashes, Orwell’s nightmare mirrored ruthless Stalinist utopia as much as remaining paternalist and conservative traits in the western societies. 1984 pushed the viciousness to the limits with Big Brother’s demand of total self-annihilation of free will, compassion or any other human characteristic. The state dictates if and whom one engages with, not for the sake of love, but just as another face of absolute submission. "First time" even straight people could experience what is it like to be told whom to be with and what to feel. Empathy 101.

The subsequent spin-offs seem to be gentle variations. In Fahrenheit 451 (1953, movies e.g. 1966 ), the books carrying the knowledge, collective memory, awareness (remember the storytelling, rite preserving, teaching role) have to burn, so that no one questions the rule of the only good and eternally good law. The primary source of inspiration was neither Nazi rule, nor Bolshevism - but American witch-hunting of the McCarthy era. In Equilibrium (2002) infused society (what an ironic name - evoking both books and liberty) we witness the same ritual, although extended to incinerating human beings for "feeling crimes" as well. In pseudo-scientist fashion Libria sees the root cause of all wars in uncontrolled emotions and thus it suppresses them, chemically. Thou shalt not love. Replacing heavenly Patriarch with all-knowing infallible materialist Science. What was supposed to save us from blind faith has become blind faith itself. If this movie just subtextually hints on improving human imperfection, Gattaca (1997) labs manipulate the genome to produce flawless beings eligible for best posts in society, while sidetracking anyone conceived in traditional (which here means pleasant) way. While with less direct violence, the more polished and bug-clean post-modern world is not any more friendly. Even if the movie does not voice it, we can easily guess what would be the most unpopular and unwanted human variations to be erased by straight parents wanting perfect(ed) off-springs. Luckily, it is not in genes...

Uniformity is a common feature of these nightmarish visions. They reminds us of Hitler’s processions, Red or Tiananmen square parades, Pinochet’s Chile or any other militaristic society that values fitting into the hierarchical order and exterminates any diversity or doubt. Like it or not, this ideal is extension to warrior cultures of almost any tribe on Earth, the Valhalla of straight existence. War as a way of life, the pure "human" nature. Brave New World (1931, movies e.g. 1998) presents seemingly opposite utopian ideal - society indulging in hedonism, uninhibited sex, conflict-less happiness - that is once confronted by more classically educated individual of "our" type. While this may appear to be a conservative moralist stance ("hedonism and decay"), the further details of the brave new world reveal that the religion is just replaced with personality cult, bloodline hierarchy with predisposition classes, indulgence is superficially consumerist and happiness induced by antidepressant drug Soma. While we may sneer at the "romantic macho" character rejecting woman because she’s approaching him in emancipated fashion, his need for realness (freedom to be unhappy), to observe his genuine (non-induced) emotions - definitely raises sympathy. Especially in the times, when significant part of the gay community resides in artificial bliss of chemsex.

DNA of nightmares twirls along the archetypal double spiral of hopeless dystopia (Nineteen eighty-four) and unreal utopia (Brave New World). Most of them omit manifested queer characters, even if we are the first scapegoat and litmus indicator of the palette of rough regimes in history. One of the first mainstream dystopian novel/movie (positively) depicting a queer character was Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985, movie 1990, series 2017). After ecological catastrophe and coup d’etat, America is ruled by military theocracy, using ultra-patriarchal literal interpretation of Old Testament as guidance. Dissidents and runaways are shot or sent to die in toxic wasteland colonies. Due to pollution not many women are left fertile, the few "lucky" ones are held hostage in prominent families as walking incubators, with no rights to their children. They bear pets for elite wives and new soldiers for the state. The religious laws are reinterpreted to allow reproductive adultery (in their own semantics), which alas suppresses any erotic element in the act. The hypocrite patriarchs seek steam-out within brothel(s) renamed biblically to Jezebel’s. It was refreshing to encounter lesbian supporting character - Moira’s story resurfacing, significant, her sexuality presented and accepted as matter of fact, without scandalous excitement - which stuns even today. Her later change from walking womb to walking object of desires, settling at perverse compromise between having to please men (with her "unnecessary" limbs damaged) and possibility to be sexual at all and living around intimately accessible female co-workers - is a bitter commentary on contemporary negotiations between governments and our bodies. The awful ritualistic punishment of the sinners, two-faced morals and the whole sick theocratic concept evokes the worst of religious roots and televangelist excesses of today’s America, but also revolutionary Iran, wahhabist Saudi Arabia, orthodox Russia, clerofascist Poland, or Uganda.

Despite having bold predecessors, 2017 series is still a unique masterpiece of contemporary storytelling and (hopefully) globally shared consciousness. Aside of being an exceptionally professional production, its added value creeps in via flashbacks to our contemporary reality and (yes!) subjective memories/experience/attempts for explanation of how our bulletproof-(post-)modern society of smart-phones, internet, TV, information, civil-rights-taken-for-granted - turned into something so monstrous. The future is not too distant and looks quite like the past, evoking times of Puritans, Salem Witch Trials or The Scarlet Letter (1995) and perversely also The Stepford Wives (2004). The late Handmaid's Tale (2017) is sadly not so much a fiction, its human horrors are equal or even fading in comparison with the realities of the rogue Islamic State, Khartoum regime, Kim family's private human ZOO, or even polished ways how "civilized" Iran or Saudi Arabia use modern technology and medicine to surveil, hunt, mutilate, inflict and document suffering and kill human beings for breaking artificial constraints on intimacy. The series feels intimately close to here and now, it speaks our contemporary language. It dissects the brutality dwelling within moral(ist), decent & modest, otherwise kind people. Phrases like "cleaning the mess", "restoring order and discipline", "moral decay and degeneration", "sluts and sinners", or "sex and violence" are still not out-fashioned. While the homosexual characters and references are expanded in the series (in very mature post-modern fashion), the series as a whole is a compulsory reading on identity for any liberal and liberated individual.

Less religious but definitely not less conservative society in Daybreak (1993) faces an epidemic not unlike HIV. Extrapolating the ideas of wicked voices heard since the early 1980s, when the disease has just broke out, the "positive" are forced to live in the internment camps with no medical care, shot if trying to escape, prevention (condoms, sterile needles) does not exist and the still healthy members of society are advised not to live sexually at all. Of course, as a reflection of Act Up initiative, there is undercover resistance to the sinister status quo. While this has become (yet another) straight battle - in a courageous retelling along "what if it would be you dying too" targeted at straights - there is a matter-of-factly presence of gay couple in supporting roles, which was quite an achievement at the date this movie was released.

Strict hierarchy built upon obedience and unchanging dogmas of infallible prophets - are values of systems that despise diversity, both proven by another contemporary and iconic comic V for Vendetta (1982, movie: 2005). United Kingdom here has turned into clero-fascist dictatorship, everyone undesirable to its macho ideology is put to concentration camps and/or executed. While the gay character - show host Gordon Dietrich - does not survive to watch the rolling credits, despite being portrayed within usual homosexual box (elderly distinguished art collector) he inspires on couple of levels. Certainly, due to his identity he becomes an easy target, someone who recognizes the falseness of the regime hostile to his non-ideological inner essence, quite unlike any "normal person" who can at least get by living the "normal life". Cliché of art-lovers, with a bit of perspective, can be actually read as a distinct feature of our queer species: instead of brutish fight and respect for wolf-pack hierarchy, we are inclining towards understanding, compassion, empathy, tenderness, sensitivity, preserving the culture, knowledge, memory, conscience, the better (creative and innovative) side of humankind, under umbrella of art. It’s just up to us if we enact it as the cliché (for the vanity of consumption) or develop it as our unique ability (a service to society). There’s an opportunity for extraordinary deeds.

Future with style

In contrast with previous films, there are fantasies co-created by queer artists that feel less adverse to its gender-variant characters. Though as science-fiction is primarily metaphoric commentary on contemporary issues, the way "gay" is woven into fabric of the fantasy world provides unusual insights into superficiality of tolerance in the years when these fantasies were conceived. In the subtext they may provide warning in form of less honourable role of gays in future societies, where our divine gifts are not "just" bearing bitter fruits, but they are not recognized and employed at all. Moving from fringe into zone of normality, being popular and cool, marrying and having children - we may lose the ability to offer critical perspective.

Brazil (1985) is thought to be Monty Python approach to 1984. At least one member of the satirist group was gay. However, in that time and place, there was no chance of such topic getting up on mainstream screen. Instead, we can read between the lines - their intelligent farce were sort of a drag show, providing (aside of other valuable effects) freedom rides out of the demure reality of Thatcherism. Viciously cold and conservative era (not particularly gay-friendly either), is a setting essential for reading of their work, Brazil included. Even with Big Brother missing and bizarre fantastic dream sequences, the futuristic world presented is conspicuously similar to the Orwellian dystopia. Hopeless grey bureaucracy paralyzes every individual in aiming to achieve anything meaningful for themselves or bettering their environment or fixing issues or helping the others. The only outlet is consumption and fashion - here quite odd obsession with acidic and potentially lethal plastic surgeries - alluding to tabloid redirection of focus to superficial affairs and efforts of celebrities. Just around the corner of cliché queer lifestyle, that seems to have been invented by prejudices that we have unfortunately less adapted and more adopted as our own.

A decade later, when The Fifth Element (1997) needs to save the world once again from Absolute Evil (alas, how straight concept), the supreme (good) being’s apparition is a queer mixture of fragile girl and cold-blooded killer. If noble cause of preserving life somehow justifies her killing spree, her tears and hesitation upon learning about the dark side of the "goodness" of life (state violence, terrorism, wars, xenophobia, zealots ... at the nasty end of the alphabet) evoke sympathies in those who managed to raise above sides in conflicts to see the vicious circle and feel the overall suffering. This less science and more fiction is still visionary in depicting multiculturalist globalized world with exaggerated consumption, waste, traffic, pollution and corporate power - that proves almost lethal to survival of all. The movie has unique place in the genre with its opulent ornamental design of the spectacular cities, ships, pop icons and aliens. Not only characters moving in cumbersome but fascinating costumes designed by Gaultier (gay man of the day), but the whole society seems to stumble upon its baroque decorum - from regular soldiers through hysterical speakers to sadistic villains. Rome tangled in a curtain ready to be invaded by barbarians.

As if the pretense affect, effeminacy, effete sensitivities - have become an expected trait of crumbling society. Is it an extrapolation of the deep homophobia (even among the more enlightened straight folk)? Is it our fear (imprinted by history, particularly our moralist interpretation of it) of destruction of "too indulgent" societies, torn by their own vices? Are we afraid of losing the safe post-modern art-obsessed human-rights-worshipping empire of nowadays? This still does not explain the trope of "the more extravagant - the bigger villain" which seems to radiate straight out of black hole of homophobia. Just look at the over-designed box-office disaster Jupiter Ascending (2015) (by transsexual Wachowski sisters) and its stylish royal antagonists. Stimulated by the opulent imagination, we can ponder: Did the empires fall because of the vice, or was the splendour just an accompanying feature used as a scape-goat by religious historians? Was the indulgence just a sign of more humanized and therefore more vulnerable establishment? Wasn’t it the conspicuous consumption excesses and consolidation of power in inept hands what allowed the barbaric invasions? Was it bad at the end that the intriguing Rome (and other empires) have fallen? Is the greatness and durability from militaristic perspective what we aim for as a society, or is it the protection of diversity, trade, creative self-expression, human development and beneficial research?

Recent "gay-less but still gay" hit saga Hunger Games (2008-2010, movies: 2012-2015) cannot be omitted. The trope is perfected in futuristic version of America, now called Panem, centered around the brutally lavish Capitol. While some of the Districts survive under the poverty line and under the guns of Orwellian-named Peacemakers, the government entities occasionally intrude with all their wealthy excess and odd tastes and artificial fashion - in stark contrast with the draconian nature of the establishment and general poverty of the peripheries. Less bread and more games - a society as a blood-thirsty show-business. A metaphor to motherland and colonies, capitals and provinces, centers and peripheries. Splendid city of Capitol is populated by effetely over-sensitive and still brutally insensitive audience. Their life is design show, their speech is full of affect, their idols are celebrities of the day. Regardless if they are bound to die. Who survives is their designers and costumers and stylists.

Despite the possible intrinsic homophobia, we can scrutinize this archetype beyond first-plan appearance. If queer species possess more sensitive, compassionate, artistic nature - their subsequent and supposed embodiments: hairdresser, fashion designer or art collector stereotypes were invented by straight audience. This is how they extrapolate and interpret what they sense in us. It is a sort of superficial hyperbole. They see the flamboyant dresses, oiled faces, sugary smiles, without attached meaning or feeling underneath. The surface is then just exaggerated. The society of Capitol (and previous dystopias) is not more queer-friendly, it just adopted surface of somewhat skewed idea of "queerness", because it is cool at the moment and aids machos of the day in their eternal and epic climb up the hierarchy ladder. We can as well be watching straight guys wearing glossy costumes and acting out effeminate gestures - without a taste or sense of kitsch or farce or irony - in their zealous quest for popularity and power. That’s quite enough warnings hanging in the air above our fresh and still fragile achievements and liberties in regard to our sexuality.

We can respond in multiple ways: If straight world is a permanent (vain) war, we may make it just more (vain) stylish. Or, engaging with our talents of empathy, compassion, interpreting the myths and reminding of the history lessons, employing sensitivity and sense of beauty - we can make the life more pleasant for the victims trapped in the surrounding battlefields. Possibly we could also undermine the logic of competition itself, the whole point of taking sides - enemies and allies, winners and losers - and bring the actual individual stories of suffering to everyone’s focus.

We can find an interesting mirror even in the discussions about the missing or possible gay characters in the seemingly straight science-fiction. These days the "enlightened" post-modern heterosexual audience cannot dismiss it with good old-fashioned homophobia so easily any more. A newspeak is slowly being developed: "They [protagonists] have more important issues to deal with than sexuality." - in hundreds of shades and variations. Paradoxically - while I haven’t seen a fantasy without straight love story, the same-sex or trans-gender void is always explained by "saving the world", "fighting the arch-villain", "winning the war" and other "more important issues". If queerness is scrutinized - suddenly there’s "no need" for such intimate character depiction, so detailed portrait of the future societies, or so diverging story-lines. If queers are given attention at all, it is a side-kick, not characters vital for moving the storyline forward, not queer love that directly co-creates the dramatic arch.

Straight winner is coming

That ironic commentary on homo-void is often left for us and unfortunately kept among us. I got convinced to watch Games of Thrones (2011-2017 series, by less sexuality-concerned (though not void) books 1996-201? of George R. R. Martin) because of the supposed significant presence of queer characters. I forgot to expect that "significant" needs to be understood in contrast with "nothing at all". When I actually got to see these characters - I learned that the series is unique and perfect description of (the worst of) straight world. The tribal, family and blood alliances - as perhaps an extension to parental protective instinct - are always put forth, above the humanity or compassion, they are often complicating the drama, not rarely causing damage. The clans, political intrigues, omnipresent logic of battle and identity of warrior, the incessant effort to eliminate all the other genomes around and prevail. Once the perspective over this paradigm will be possible and utterly queer line of thinking will not be a taboo, this series can be used as an excellent study material of how it looks like when the world is being reigned from the position of power and glory, not through compassion and common good. There’s hardly to be found such a good mirror of today, though it is not read in all the layers yet.

After this being said, a gay king-to-be Renley Baratheon’s lack of indulgence in bloodshed and revenge and political affairs, interestingly mixed with a realistic understanding for "do what needs to be done" may seem as a promise of peace and prosperity in Westeros’ warring status quo. Being abandoned or swept under carpet by our families, we develop an asset of being detached from bloodlines and non-sense emphasis that is put on them. Running wild "without family", without allegiance, is a potential for impartial judgement in political disputes. Unfortunately Renley is surrounded by foes and allies that prefer blood - in all loyalty, royalty and battlefield contexts - and instead of rational governance they expect to see who turns out to be the dominating alpha-male. Characteristically, king’s nemesis turns out to be religious fanatic, which in deep hypocrite core pursues just personal power and bloodline preference. An attention-worth perspective in terms of sexuality is offered by both Renley and his lover Loras Tyrell - whatever unusual alliances and shelters queer people need to take to survive or appeal to straight folk, including the cover-up marriages.

Other gender variant characters turn out to be less intriguing from this perspective. Masculine presence of female warrior Brienne of Tarth is a target of ridicule, but she’s admired by both "heroes and villains" for her romantic adherence to knightly codex and hence moral norm of her times. She’s not a rebel, she’s definitely a follower, for better or for worse. What makes her interesting is actually her catalyst role to uncover good in adversaries and to reflect less pleasant traits of popular faces. On the other hand, bisexual and predatory prince of Dorne unfortunately enacts a cliché of "southern temperament" and so is more driven by his heated nature and need for revenge, than empathy.

Ruthless businessman Petyr Baelish exploits all kinds of sexualities if they bring money, information or other forms of power advantage. Lord Varys, wise and slightly bitter eunuch, was not born into the gender-variant position obviously, but forced into it. What he shares with queer audience is that none of us was given the option. We carry our differences and try to make best out of them. As much as he does - while he (like many palace eunuchs did) enjoys courtly gossip and intrigue, in decisive moments he recognizes common good and employs his immense wit in service to more hopeful governors. The outcasts save the day - as proven also by his dwarf companion - unapologetically sexual but also romantic and still viciously sarcastic, practical but humane Tyrion Lannister.

Though the greatest anti-hero of all shows to be The Religion - the quasi-polytheist (think trinity) but puritanical Faith of the Seven as viciously represented by Faith Militant fanatics, and manichean (think the worst of good/evil with us/against us ideology) heretic-burning faith of R’hllor or scruple-lacking Many-Faced God worshipped in House of Black and White. At the end many a non-conformist was taught to shout "Shame!" with pride. Criticizing religion is not a capital offence anymore, but becomes a one-way ticket to being labeled as "hate-speech" in these over-sensitive times. This colorful palette of faiths and delusions allows us to see the evil of dogmas - without being directly insulted, since no particular real-life religion is named.

Heda kom kwirkru

The producers of contemporary science-fiction don’t have to make too much fuss around sexuality any more. They are safe from scandals and "revealing" the queer characters in tabloid way. Especially if their show is not the "pan-continentally shared myth of the day". Eureka, Warehouse 13, Torchwood, Caprica, Buffy the Vampire Killer, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek as well as other science and/or fiction related series introduced "and so what" types of gay characters. The 100 (2014-201?) was developed as a minor target-audience fill-in show, but unexpectedly seized the hearts and grew big. Quite similar to Game of Thrones, it can be read as a panopticon of dysfunctionalities of straight world. Power struggles, "great causes" put over the human life, survival emphasized over the living, tribal and familial allegiances interfering in every sensible effort.

On the background of dystopian premise (post-nuclear world, overcrowded space-station), the characters deal with epic moral dilemmas on daily basis, in human and super-human scale. How many people you can torture/sacrifice to save the others? Is it worth fighting adversary while using the same cruel methods as him? Who draws the borders and claims the ownership to land and other common resources? How do family, friendship, tribal, opportunist or human allegiances compare? Should one follow the rules mercilessly without exception? Can you save the world by suppressing everyone’s free will? Is the religion a form of escape-providing drug? Can society function in "whatever you want" anarchy? Should everyone stick with "their kind"? Can you run away from it all and live your peaceful life? Is anyone innocent?

What a surprise that a leader of a grounder "nation" turns out to be a lesbian, while her reflection - the teenage hero of the series - is at least bisexual. How incredible that exactly these two characters are pursuing mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence, often contrary to their clan’s simplistic enmities. While everyone is fighting for "their people", the heroines seek reconciliation, often bitter and painful and at incredible cost, foreseeing greater challenges at hand, instead of indulging in macho skirmishes. This compels me to ask: Who else than the "different", the natural "in-between-ers", can have this perspective on life? Not less interesting is the fact, that the Clark character did not climb up the ladder of hierarchy, she did not intrigue and assassin in order to take power, she did not intend or make effort to become leader. She has become it, naturally, through consistent (even if humanly fallible) display of her character. The choice of introducing the topic of sexuality here, even if it was maybe originally intended only as an exploiting drama-builder, is (unintentionally?) visionary.

Interestingly, quite an uproar was caused when "The Lesbian" was killed off eventually. While mourning the beloved who’s passed away is one face of life and one expression of love, Lexa was "removed" perhaps in too casual way. (Not that the stunningly banal deaths of important people never happen.) Though this is not a real life, but one of our shared myths, so gods or stars or producers are expected to favor heroes. This felt perceptibly odd in the show that is built on several self-reliant emancipated women, understandably drawing the attention of queer audience. The old entertainment industry trope dies out with delay, lagging behind progressive awareness of the spectator pool. As a form of appeasement a focus was brought to a newly discovered gay couple. Their involvement on the opposite sides of "fascist but safe" versus "multicultural but dangerous" conflict was unfortunately undeveloped. Their imagining of the peaceful "normal life" during the climax of the season had an ironic after-taste. Who knows if intentional or just poorly written.

More than just extras

So, are there any queer characters, that do more just than timely dying? Those that move the drama forward and make the point? Those, who’s sexuality is not just "in the way" or "by the way"? Wachowski (then brothers) have made a name with their legendary post-apocalyptic Matrix (1999) that metaphorically quoted Bible and has become even more quoted as a parallel to many aspects of contemporary corporate hi-tech addicted & entertainment controlled lifestyle. Before they have become sisters and presented pan-sexual mystery of the Sense8 (2015-2018), they produced acclaimed epic mosaic Cloud Atlas (2012), with couple of queer main characters. Despite their superficial "ordinariness", the narrative itself is queer, worth of the provocative sophisticated storyteller. Incarnating metaphysical characters into multiple people across different times and different genders is not only challenging outdated fixed ideas of sex or attraction, it offers valuable perspective of human evolution, trans-generational learning, possibility to find empathy between seemingly unrelated stories. While heroes and anti-heroes follow or leave usual patterns - of oppression or suffering, controlling or submitting, surviving or dying - paradigms of life are denuded.

An unusual breeze came from sunny Jakarta. The Philosophers (later known as After The Dark (2013)) are a class of international students, who’s professor challenges them with provocative questions arising of the extreme situation posed - the nuclear apocalypse and a shelter that cannot host all of them. Who is needed and who is expendable in survival of humankind? Who is worthy and who has no merit for the community? Despite the progress in LGBTQIA+ issues, such basic contemplations as "Are we useful to the straight people? Should we be accepted because we are useful? Are there other values in human beings beyond use?" - are still a taboo. We can just guess the grim answer. While reproduction argument repeated by conservatives and fundamentalists beyond funny sounds ridiculous on today’s overpopulated Earth, in situation when just handful of human beings survive, the child-bearing regains importance. Introducing gay character that refuses "to make babies", at this stage, is quite daring. The last iteration of the game is my own favourite, because it offers extraordinary approach - choosing the "usual expendables" to live. While technically and biologically savvy experts may help us to survive, poets and other more sensitive and less hardy individuals allow us to live. They offer sanity, consciousness, memory, compassion and joy of life - that give a sense to survival and technological progress.

The last piece of this progressive movie trinity was advertised as "first queer science-fiction drama". Predestination (2014) investigates not only paradoxes of time travel (e.g. shooting one’s father, if not oneself) and multiple alternative time-lines crossing each-other, but takes gender fluidity on the ride as well. It evolves into bizarre incestuous, trans-sexual and auto-sexual levels, that may shock us, but at the end compel us to think - is love universal (in the way we can sympathize and empathize with it) regardless of what unlikely form and label it has? While the author claims that these gender ramblings were just a side effect of the bizarre story of paradoxes of physics, it happened that in our times they have shone through and stand out.

Bold in dreaming

It may take some time to see queer characters whose sexuality is not just explored or exploited, but employed. We are yet to see this even within queer community. However, purpose of some myths is to be ahead of their times and to inspire, not just to comment. Unexpectedly, the first movie that contained such qualities and inspired me to write this article was not queer-populated at all: The post-apocalyptic walled Chicago developed a new society divided to fractions. Based on to what parents are the youngsters born, but also on scientific identification of personality and finally on personal choice - they can choose to follow the path of Amity (peace-loving farmers), Abnegation (selfless society-serving governors), Erudite (scientists and technocrats), Clarity (impartial judges) and Dauntless (excitement-addicted gun-savvy policing force). However, they can never again switch this ritually chosen role, since their society carries also panic fear of in-between-ers - The Divergent (2011-2013, movie 2014-201?). As proven later in the series, these unusual beings not fitting into single profile are the most developed, most talented and most promising individuals of the population.

In parallel, we do observe a lot of one-faced professionals and experts among the straight folk of our world. The scientists hopeless in love-affairs, the lawyers without human dimension, the economists without insight into finite resource-pool of the ecosystem, the emotion-less power-gripping leaders, the artist without basic practical skills, the sport stars subjugating all their personal and emotional life to training and scoring. While all their skills are useful in certain situations, in certain extent, their lack of general overview, missing of perspective, not understanding to be just one piece in a puzzle - is also dangerous. They don’t see the bigger picture and the limits to their personal viewpoint or interests. They don’t really care about it. They just compete, the winners asserting their profession’s interests on behalf of the others. That’s why we have cost-cutting corporations disregarding the human interests of their employees or the damage to environment, the speculating stock brokers with asocial traits, scientists inventing weapons of mass destruction, computer fanatics with no social responsibility, doctors with very narrow focus, psychologist applying block scheme approach of the IT hype without sense of metaphor. The disciplines are thoroughly divided and separated, with no cross-inspiration.

Though throughout history, the cohesion and progress were always initiated by the people who were able to transcend "this is my job", their limited skill set, their narrow perspective. This draws picture of two types: One who defends his particular interests in competition, or the other one who looks at the overall picture to enhance cooperation. The latter is very specific to divergent personalities, who have less zeal to compete for power or title of No.1 expert (in whatever) and stronger ability to lead naturally - by offering their interconnecting skills. The insight that sees expertise as useful but also very blind. The feeling that each profession is valuable but not omniscient. The knowledge that each organ of the body is important and they can all survive only working together - or that processor, memory, power source or disk make no sense on their own, only connected together they create a functioning system. This is quite perceptible in internal structure of Panem of Hunger Games - the fact that each District had very narrow professional profile made them weak and lacking mutual compassion (e.g. seen in peacemakers’ arrogance and crucial role in perpetuating the oppression). Specialization is blessing and curse of humanity - it allowed for deep exploration of particular fields, but introduced weak-point in self-centered pride, lack of overview and insensitivity.

It’s pretty bizarre, that the only sexual interpretation of Divergent series out there focuses on alleged bisexuality of the heroes. They are not typical macho male and tamed female, for sure. But it’s a thinking set at least a century ago - as if man/woman blend was a sign of bisexuality - not transgender in essence. Does it mean that gays are supposed to be masculine only and lesbians feminine only - and on the other hand bisexual cannot be cis-gender at all? And even this "interpretation" of the nature of the divergence was accepted with sort of embarrassment, as perhaps one of the last possible and "much artificial" meanings. Despite this lack of knowledge of history and identities, the myths aspire to be universal, open for re-reading any time we become mature for it.

Unlike the previous self-outrunning metaphor, Wachowski’s series Sense8 (2015) surprised by unapologetic depiction of pansexuality (or shall we call it gender tickle?). In line with creative duo’s sequential transition to becoming women, they introduced gay and transgender lead characters, sharing a (fictional?) ability to contact each-other across continents, offering their insights as well as the physical skills mutually. This human cluster interconnects different life stories, diverse upbringing, unrelated experience - and explores their possible cross-application at crucial moments. Which in science-fiction metaphor precisely describes the in-between-er or two-spirit perspective and its value. One of the most memorable moments was the shared sexual encounter, when different (gay & straight) couples engaged in lovemaking, spontaneously "spilling over" to the others’ experience - underscoring that the pleasure, joy and orgasm we feel is of the same essence. Quite like Harry Hay’s message: unlike what’s popularly emphasized ("we are same, we just have different sex"), he pointed out that what we do in bed is probably the only thing queer and straight people have in common.

Sexuality - the historic point of misunderstanding, the cause of uproar and persecution - is paradoxically the best platform, where we can empathize with each other, across the orientation and genders. Joy and love are transferable feelings. Completing the Hay’s gay perspective at life - if sexuality is an unexpected common ground, in other aspects of existence we are unlike our straight peers, "a different species". The same self-assessment is reached by some of the "sensates" in the series, perceiving themselves as a separate animal kind, with abilities that cannot be understood by humans. "We feel." - which is my favourite thought of the movie - is a bitter observation of the ever-competing world of macho experts that pursue their own interests, without significantly developing sense of compassion, empathy or finding parallels: Your experience applied to mine et vice versa - the skill of artists, teachers, healers, shamans and other storytellers.

Of course, this distinction of empathetic two-spirited queer care-takers and non-feeling competitive-by-nature straight prey-hunters - can be seen as another typical polarizing view and as another straight war: "us or them". There are many gays who make tremendous effort all their life to fit into the only available model - being straight acting, mistaking dramatic expressions for genuine emotions, achieving expert status, climbing up the ladder, fighting with enemies of their personal interests. There are certainly many straight people who exhibit unusual sense of compassion or finding balanced perspective or establishing limits to personal greed. It may be a question of predisposition as much as the environment of ideas that we grow up in. We are not yet a society that can determine without bias, if it is a matter of nature or nurture. Nonetheless, most of the queer people have unusual inter-sex or trans-gender experience (at least on metaphorical level) that they struggle with or accept. That has immense potential. If we put it in service to predominantly competitive narrow-minded majority, we can make life less painful for both of us.

There is no conclusion to this topic, however a positive vision might offer a sense of direction. Coline Serreau’s not-so-science fiction movie La belle verte (1996) introduces utopian human society that lives on a small remote planet - in cooperative harmony. Could be labelled easily as feminist, ecological, hippie - from the earthly perspective - or as compassionate, intelligent, in harmony with environment, friendly and enjoyable - from theirs. Even after a couple of centuries, with previous experience in mind, no one wants to visit the Earth, where people still eat meat, use money, watch TV, compete and fight. At last, few volunteers offer to check on human progress down there. The drama is an exploration of the ordinary life of contemporary earthlings - as seen from a perspective. Literally and metaphorically "from above". How much and how little is needed to live better. With a bit of queer perspective, there might be some straight answers.