To See Ourselves in Fiction

I’ve always been that person who constantly and consistently fights for other people–be it for better or worse–but has never worried too much about herself. When it came to representation in media, I’ve always been vocally backing up that yes, we need trans people, we need people of colour, we need asexuals and aromantics and all the other facets of the LGBT+ umbrella.

But I never really worried about myself, I never felt I needed to see people I identified with in the shows, books, games and movies I love. Sure, I was bitter at the utter refusal from shows like Orange is the New Black to use the b-word (bisexual, the word is bisexual), but I reiterate that actually seeing a bi gal on the silver screen didn’t feel vital to me. Other people needed (and still do need) that representation more.

And then The Legend of Korra happened. For seasons my friends and I joked about Korra (the optimistic and determined main character) and Asami (her intelligent and feminine friend) ending up together. And by joked, I mean that it was something we really wanted to see, but said, “Nah, they would never do that,” because nobody ever does that.

Korra is the best thing to happen to main characters.

Over the course of the final two seasons, these two characters grew closer and closer, and then closer still. It was amazing to see such a strong female friendship form, but still we wanted more. We didn’t expect more.

We got more.

I'm not screaming, you're screaming. (Image credit.
I’m not screaming, you’re screaming. (Image credit).

The show’s finale aired and the entire internet exploded. People were excited, people were angry, people were confused. “It came out of nowhere!” cried those who don’t understand subtlety and/or view the world through hetero-goggles. Creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino have both come out and said that the relationship is canon.

A sidenote: There is the argument that not every female friendship needs to blossom into love. That’s true, and it’s how real life works too. While deep, loving female friendships are a rare and wonderful creature in mainstream media it’s clear that bisexual and lesbian relationships between women are even rarer.

You may be asking, “Okay Saf, what does this have to do with anything?”

My point is, this is what made me care. Seeing this relationship between two bisexual (or pansexual!) women in one of my favourite cartoons hit me so hard I still can’t articulate the feeling. I was shaking, full body shakes, and sobbing–and let me tell you, it’s not easy to get me to shed tears. There was a weird, bright feeling in my chest. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.

I realised: this is what representation feels like.

So we come to something more recent, a story that Bryan Young broke over at Big Shiny Robot:  ‘Star Wars’ Introduces an LGBT Character Into Canon.

She is Moff Mors, and she is a lesbian. She’ll be in the book Lords of the Sith, set to be released April 28. At this point, I don’t know much more about her. Will she be well written? Will she fall into stereotypes? Just how explicit will this be in canon?

These aren’t questions to focus on yet. I’ve been far, far too excited about the first LGBT+ character in the new canon that’s leading us into the future of Star Wars to worry about potential future issues. She’s a step closer to seeing explicit gay characters in one of the movies. She’s even a step closer to explicit asexual and trans (as well as other minorities under the LGBT+ umbrella) inclusion in the mainstream of Star Wars (and seriously, this needs to happen).

She’s also important just for existing, because lesbians also definitely need to be able to see themselves wherever they look, even in science fiction.

But we can’t ever forget characters like Juhani, from Knights of the Old Republic, and the married, gay Mandos introduced to us by Karen Traviss–and even the MMO The Old Republic has recently brought in a “gay planet”. They’re not canon, they’re Legends, but they’re still mighty important (Juhani is especially so to me, and I’ve written about this before). Moff Mors is fully, completely canon however, which means she’s now irrevocably part of the Star Wars universe from here on out.

Gorgeous Juhani cosplay by YuniX-2, photographed by coolsteel.

“This isn’t a big deal,” people say. “Why does it matter? Stop pushing diversity for the hell of diversity.” And there I was sobbing with happiness once more, because there was a women who loved women in my favourite franchise.

It seems some people really are blind, because diversity is everywhere in real life–why can’t a fictional world reflect that? Many fans’ reactions to the original lack of women in The Force Awakens was, “It doesn’t matter if the cast is all male or all female! It’s about the story!” Then let us have a cast of all women. Give us a cast of no white people, of no straight people, of only physically and mentally disabled people.

If it really doesn’t matter to the privileged, why do we not see these things?

I say this all from a standpoint of being very much white and cis. I have huge amounts of privilege compared to many of my friends. I can’t even comprehend how it feels for my trans and non-binary buddies, or for my friends of other ethnicities, or what it means to them to see themselves represented in a positive light.

But I do finally understand what it means for me, and it means a whole damn lot.

Header image credit: Bryan Konietzko

10 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Thank you for writing this, Saf. I’m glad that I get to read things like this from a different perspective, because it helps me understand what others go through when they can’t see themselves in media.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I have it easy. I’m white, male, hetero, and grew up in a very traditional town in the Southern US. I didn’t have many LGBT people around me growing up and the ones that were sure as hell didn’t talk about it much. I used to be one of those guys that asked, “Why does it matter? Stop trying to force diversity.” because I honestly didn’t understand.

    But, thankfully, I have friends like you who’ve shown me how idiotic that line of thinking is. I’ll never truly understand what you and others go through, because there’s no way I can. But I will say that you have an ally in this cause and I will call for more representation until the day it’s, hopefully, not needed. I’m tired of seeing myself on screen or in books. I would love to experience stories through eyes I can’t in real life.

    But more than that, it makes me so incredibly happy to see others be happy and for you to be happy. Whatever accomplishes that, I’m onboard for 100%.

  2. Beautiful post. I might have got teary eyes here. I am excited for the Moff character in the upcoming SW book. I still wish that same sex romances had been introduced from start in SW:TOR given that they existed in Mass Effect and Dragon Age. The day we see a lesbian/bi/pan woman in a SW movie, I’ll be jumping around. And I wholeheartedly agree that we also need asexual and trans representation (well the whole LGBTQ+ umbrella). I like being able to see characters I care for as at least demisexual/grey romantic (first examples coming to mind are Hera and Scully).

    1. I definitely agree with the SWTOR thing! So weird that they managed to get such an equal balance of romances gender-wise, but totally blew over same-sex romance. Thank you for the kind words <3

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