I’m a Babylon 5 fan. A huge Babylon 5 fan. I loved the show growing up. I occasionally slip homages or references into my work. Babylon 5 was, much like Star Wars and Star Trek, a formative experience for me, both as a person and as a creator. As some of you may know by now, a reboot is currently in the works with original series creator J. Michael Straczynski at the helm. He’s currently working on the script for the pilot. To say that I’m thrilled at the idea of seeing Babylon 5 back on TV after a 20 plus year absence is an understatement of epic proportions.
Those of you who aren’t familiar with Babylon 5 or JMS probably don’t know that he was one of the first show runners to have an active online presence. Back in the day, it was on Usenet and Compuserve. These days, he hangs out on Twitter quite a bit, and he interacts with fans a lot. When I heard about B5 making a comeback, I asked him if there was a chance we would see explicitly queer characters in this incarnation of the show. Something which was, through no real fault of JMS, lacking in the last iteration. (There was a very heavily implied romantic/sexual relationship between two women, and in the original draft of the series, a trans character who was cut due to technical issues).
Straczynski’s response was basically ‘I’m not talking about that until after the pilot is finalized. Which is fair. I can’t blame the man for not wanting to make promises he isn’t sure he can’t keep. But then, I got a response from another user saying, “Why is that so important to you? Who gives a damn what race, sex, or sexual orientation a character is? Grow up and stop focusing on sex.”
This response, rather predictably, came from a Cisgender Heterosexual White Man. I wrote a long thread over on twitter about the amount of privilege and entitlement that goes into making a comment like that, and I’ve cross posted it to my various social media outlets. You can read the thread here.
I’m not going to use this post to directly address that comment. Instead, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to talk about why I asked the question in the first place. Why is it so important to me to see queer people in shows I like? Why do I give a damn about what race, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity a character is?
The answer to those questions is simple. Because I want to see people who are like me in the media I consume. I want to read and watch stories about people like me. I want to see characters I can identify with. I want to see the things I’ve experienced represented on the page and the screen. I want that because it makes me feel less alone. It makes me feel less isolated. It makes me feel like less of an aberration. It makes me feel like less of a freak.
That’s part of why I became a storyteller. Because I want to tell those stories, so that people like me aren’t out there without stories and heroes and myths to connect too. I talked about this in my post “On the Necessity of Making Our Own Myths”. I talked about how my novel Transistor holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first novel I’ve written with a Trans protagonist, and how important it was to me to create a myth that speaks specifically to people like me.
In that post, I talked about how very important it was for us to tell our own stories, but here, I want to talk about the opposite. About how meaningful it can be for us to see ourselves reflected in other people’s stories. Queer creators are a small group, and the trust is, a lot of our art still finds its way out through queer specific channels. Queer small presses, queer indy films, self-publication and so on. Those channels are wonderful. They give us as a community control over our own art to a degree never seen before.
Those channels also come with limitations or scope and reach. Queer media distributed through queer channels for a queer audience is critical to creating a record of who we are culturally and artistically. It’s important to protect ourselves from the appropriation of our culture and identity to entertain the straight gaze. But at the same time, it’s important for us to find our way into mainstream art as well. It’s important for us to strive for the art we create to find mainstream paths out to the world, and it’s important for our allies in the creative community to put us into their art and their stories.
Because it’s not queer art distributed through queer channels that are going to find the queer kids growing up in straight homes and rural communities. It’s not queer art distributed through queer channels that is going to change the hearts and minds of straight people in the general population.
We need our own art in our own places through our own channels, but that is for us, for the people who are already part of the queer community, who already have a handle on their identity. We need a place in mainstream art, created by both straight and queer creatives, because it’s that art that will find its way to the kids who are just starting to question their sexuality and gender identity. It’s that art which will let those confused and isolated kids know they aren’t alone, that there is nothing wrong with them, and that who they are is something to embrace and celebrate.
We need our own art, but we need a place in mainstream art as well, because otherwise, we’re just screaming into the void, and what we have to say will never reach those who most need to hear it.