Note: This was originally posted on my Ninja Turtles-themed blog Monsters of New York, hence the general lack of context about characters and concepts. If anybody would like some additional information about just what the heck I’m talking about, feel free to ask.
On The Technodrome.com’s thread on the latest issue of the current TMNT comic, a discussion sprung up over the possibility of revealing that a particular character was gay in this latest incarnation of the franchise. As my contribution, I noted that given that as far as I knew, no a character in the turtles’ quarter-century history has ever been identified as gay* or as any of the other letters in the QUILTBAG** blanket, and that I really wished that this newest incarnation could include some—possibly someone like Baxter Stockman or Karai, who are historically major characters and whose sexualities hadn’t been established yet in this version of their tale. I found the general response…dismaying.
In all honest I would just like to leave sexuality out of comic books period……unless it pertains to the story such as romance, as in Casey and April, or (If she was) Karia being a lesbian and having difficult coming to grips with it, wondering how she would tell her father or should she tell her father, will she bring shame to her clan???? Stuff like that, I dont want sexual orientation thrown out there unless it actually pertains to the story
I don’t care who sticks what where, or what have you, just tell good stories with compelling characters, dammit!
It’s a double standard mainly because (I feel) when most shows and comics that do have a character come out they’re just doing it to be edgy and take some moral stand on the matter that doesn’t need to be tacked on to the story.
I liked the whole Montoya thing in Gotham Central a lot, and Vito’s storyline in The Soprano’s was actually interesting even if it was almost totally random, but with something like TMNT… there’s enough ninjas, aliens, mutants, monsters, dimensions hoppers, and time travelers that I don’t think the “surprise gay character” card needs to ever be played to mine any extra drama.
Aside from a couple of comments by artist and generally awesome person Ross Campbell, few of the responses really seemed to indicate that the posters saw anything positive about the idea of having more diversity in the book—at best they seemed ambivalent. On one hand, they are, of course, entitled to their opinions, and I don’t believe they’re made out of malice. That doesn’t stop them from being potentially problematic, and in the end, if that’s the standard opinion, then I really, really hope nobody listens to it.
Now, there appear to be two arguments presented. One, that people’s sexuality isn’t relevant in a story about martial arts/sci-fi action, and so can’t come up without feeling forced. Second, that if sexuality isn’t relevant to the larger plot, it shouldn’t be brought up. But here’s the thing. If somebody doesn’t care to read a story about a characters’ sexuality, and that same somebody doesn’t feel that it shouldn’t be included if it’s not relevant to the story, then that doesn’t leave any space at all for gay characters in the story. And that is not a good thing.
It’s true that historically, sexuality isn’t something the Ninja Turtles spend a lot of time on. Is the original Baxter Stockman gay, straight, bi? We don’t know: it’s never come up. The same can be said of Renet, Nobody, Lauren Stanton, Verminator X, Faraji and most characters which you would care to mention. More to the point, it’s also true that most of these cases, each characters’ sexuality is not something that would affect their role in the story.
However, this doesn’t mean that sexuality isn’t something the franchise has shied away from entirely. April and Casey’s heterosexuality is confirmed in most incarnations, and their romance tends to form a significant part of the narrative. Karai’s relationship with Chaplin was an important plot point in the second cartoon, and Irma’s love life formed the backbone of her character. In the original comic book series, Leonardo and Michelangelo began opposite-sex relationships with Radical and Serilicus, respectively. So if romantic or sexual relationships are fair game, why can’t one of these relationships be between two people of the same sex? Being okay with one type but not the other smells a lot like a double standard, probably because it is.
Similarly, there is also a double standard at play when one argues that people’s sexuality should be central to the plot if it is to be included at all, mostly because it sets a standard that only QUILTBAG characters have to meet. We don’t need scenes to establish that Casey or April are heterosexual—we assume that they are until we’re told otherwise. Heterosexual characters, thanks to the privilege of sharing a sexuality that is considered the default, never have to actually meet this standard.
What’s more, people making this argument appear to ignore the fact that the TMNT has always included character development bits that weren’t crucial to the larger story. The whole non-Leo part of Leonardo #1. The revelation that Donatello plays Guitar Hero. Half the jokes in the original cartoon. Countless snippets in the 4Kids toon. Far from being pointless, these scenes allow us to learn more about the characters, and makes them more real and relatable. How is taking a moment to establish a character’s sexuality different?
I mean, aside from the fact that people’s sexualities tend to form a huge part of who they are.
I mean, suppose, for example, that the latest incarnation of Karai is gay. Writer X doesn’t want to make it a big deal—she’s comfortable in her sexuality, as are most of the people she interacts with. What’s wrong with establishing it in a scene like this?
Context: Two Foot Ninja stand guard outside Oroku Saki’s office.
Foot Ninja 1: This job keeps getting better and better–that Karai is HOT. I’d totally like to [insert sexual innuendo].
Foot Ninja 2: You must be new here. She’s gay.
Foot Ninja 1: Huh? Really?
Foot Ninja 2: Yeah, man. She’s been out for ages.
Foot Ninja 1: I hadn’t heard. You’re sure about this?
Foot Ninja 2: Yeah, man. You know Megumi in Bravo Squad?
Foot Ninja 1: I think so. Is she the one that dyes her hair blue?
Foot Ninja 2: Yeah. Well, she told me that she and Karai got together that night after the whole fiasco with the Purple Dragons.
Foot Ninja 1: (Disbelieving) Really.
Foot Ninja 2: Yup.
Foot Ninja 1: Damn.
Foot Ninja 1: …
Foot Ninja 2: …
Foot Ninja 1: What about Lin in Charlie Squad? You don’t suppose she’s gay too?
Sure, it’s not great writing–my strength is not in comedy–and it may not have a whole lot to do with whatever the plot happens to be, but that doesn’t mean that scenes like this aren’t worth including. After all, it’s not like this one is just about Karai’s sexuality: it also says something about how she spends her downtime, about the Foot rank and file, and even something about the organization itself–all in less than one page.
A couple of things I should make clear: I am not advocating forcing creators to include characters they may not wish to include. If Tom Waltz doesn’t wish to include a gay character (or reveal that a currently existing character is gay), then that is his right. I also believe that, absent additional evidence, the absence of members of group X from a work does not provide grounds for one to assume anything about the creator’s feelings when it comes to group X. It’d be a different thing if the creators were saying one thing and then doing another (hey, DC) but that is not the case here.
However, that doesn’t mean I can’t encourage them. In the end, there are many good reasons why the TMNT narrative should include characters who are gay, and no reasons why it shouldn’t. And until that happens, I’ll continue to hope.
* At least, unless you count Davey Jones, a fictional brother created by Casey in one particular issue of Tales of the TMNT.
** (Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bi, Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer)