Newsflash: Gay People Exist.
Unfortunately, big Hollywood film companies, including Disney and Marvel, seem to have not yet realized this. Over the past eight years, Marvel has had 13 successful blockbusters and not a single one of the main or supporting characters in any of those films is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
The LGBT+ community is severely underrepresented in media, but Disney and Marvel fans have come up with a solution through Twitter hashtags: #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend.
These two tags were trending last week on Twitter, so it’s clear that many fans want these characters to be anything other than straight. While these tags received a lot of support from fans across the globe there was the inevitable wave of criticism: How do I explain to my children why Elsa likes girls? Why make Captain America gay when he’s straight in the comics? Why make existing characters gay when you can add gay characters? Why do the gays want everything to be gay?
This criticism only demonstrates how the identities of LGBT people are constantly being erased. People are offended simply by the existence of LGBT people, as if they have done something wrong – as if heterosexuality is the default sexuality. People act like this because throughout history people from the LGBT community have constantly been ignored, oversexualized, and dehumanized. The easiest way to combat this persisting probelem is to introduce more LGBT characters in media and to portray them as regular people, because they are regular people.
If Disney gives Elsa a girlfriend, parents are forced to explain to their children that other sexualities besides heterosexuality exists. This may seem like a scandalous notion; the parents have two options: prevent their children from watching Frozen and keep them ignorant or teach their children that the world is not as limited as they think. Children are far more open-minded about the world than adults are, so learning about other sexualities will not traumatize them. It will only help them see LGBT people as regular human beings and maybe even help them later on in life when they begin to explore their own sexualities.
The issue of giving Captain America a boyfriend is slightly more complex because of Captain America’s extensive history. Captain America has existed in comic books for over 70 years and has always been given a female love interest. Readers naturally assume that he is straight. If Captain America is straight in the comics then he must be straight in the films, right?
If that’s the excuse for making him straight in the films then the same line of reasoning should apply to every possible comic book plot line. If Captain America was a werewolf at one point in the comics, then he’s got to be a werewolf in the films, right? Marvel has made it clear that the films will deviate from the comics, which means that Captain America’s sexuality in the films can also deviate from source material.
Some annoyed critics of #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend complained that fangirls just want to see fanfiction come true. The hashtag represents more than that. It’s not about satisfying a fangirl’s dream of seeing Steve Rogers finally get together with his “childhood sweetheart” Bucky Barnes or seeing Steve Rogers’ and Tony Stark’s “sexual tension” finally develop into romance. It’s about giving representation to those who are constantly ignored and dehumanized. If Marvel makes Captain America bisexual, not only would they be publicizing a largely ignored sexuality, they would also show that anyone can be a superhero, regardless of their sexuality.
Other critics argue that film studios should introduce new LGBT characters into their films instead of altering the sexualities of already established characters. It’s valid criticism and a great suggestion, but it appears that Marvel is not going to consider that idea within the next decade. The studio has already planned out the films that will be released for the rest of the decade and, as far as we know, none of the characters in those films are gay. It seems like we will continue to see straight superheroes for a while unless Marvel gives in to fans’ demands and decides to make an established character like Steve Rogers bisexual.
So, Disney and Marvel, I have a question for you: is it really that difficult to give iconic characters same-sex partners, or would you rather continue to ignore a portion of your audience?