I just finished playing Book 5 last night--it's hard to believe the journey after all these years is over, at least until TLJ Home is made.
I appreciate all the conversation here about the YouTube video. As a player who strongly identifies as a gay man in my real life, I understood the concerns and frustrations raised about gay men's representation in the TLJ/DF series. However, I find there is much to applaud--and what there is to applaud far outweighs my criticism. Overall, I think the series was ground-breaking in the way it represented same-sex attraction and queer sexualities.
First, agirlnamedbob (love her!) is spot on that no one character can (or should) shoulder the burden of representing an entire population. It's reductive, condescending, and preachy at best, and it doesn't make for good storytelling. Too often, it results in a character who is an archetype/stereotype than a richly nuanced, interesting and flawed character. Kian cannot be a stand-in for all gay men's stories and experiences. The answer lies not in trying to develop the one "perfect" representative queer, female, or non-white character but to provide a wide variety of characters who happen to be queer, female, and racially/culturally diverse with significant roles to play in the story (and not just thrown in the background for local color).
And where the series succeeds is in the richness of its female characters. This is a universe where women have serious power and agency. There are three(!) female protagonists you get to play for the majority of the series (April, Zoe, Saga), on top of which you get female political leaders (The Six, Lea Uminska), research scientists (Helena Chang, Sister Alessandra), and software engineers/hackers (Mira, Olivia). (And I haven't even mentioned the magical females such as Enu, Shepherd, and Bandu-Ma-Seri.) There is even room for powerful women to be evil (Mother Utana, Sister Alessandra, Helena Chang) without anyone (I hope) jumping to the conclusion that all women politicians and scientists are hell-bent on bringing about genocide and the downfall of civilization. Meanwhile, I never saw tired sexist tropes like women hanging around waiting to be rescued by men (in fact, it's Saga who rescues Kian), or trading on their sexual attractiveness to get ahead (April's few attempts to do that are comically disastrous), or being derailed from accomplishing their goals by male love interests.
From its earliest days, TLJ/DF has included sympathetic queer characters and references to queer sexuality, and I give them a huge amount of credit for it. For example:
- Fiona and Mickey
- The Eye Officer April attempts to flirt with
- The gay bar in Marcuria known as "The Salty Seaman"
- Hanna and Abby
- Azadi acceptance of same-sex relationships
And guess what? Not a single character in either world ever has a crisis about being LGBT, is harassed or killed because of it, or "cured" to live happily ever after in a socially sanctioned heterosexual relationship. Moreover, I LOVED playing a powerful, badass, sexy gay guy (that beard--swoon!) who is out there with a crew of really awesome women saving the world. What a gift to have a gay protagonist who was completely non-stereotypical.
Where the series fell short *for me* in the queer storytelling arena:
- I would have liked Kian to be a little more realized as a gay man through the inclusion of a few subtle details, for example, an appreciative comment or two about the attractiveness of a male human or magical, a humorous flirtation attempt like April had in TLJ, or a mention of a past lover. It felt like his gayness was limited to pronouncements about his identity. (That said, I never understood all the hand-wringing about "my Kian kissed Anna and now he's gay; you lied to me!" or "it's so unfair, my Kian didn't kiss Anna and now you made him gay; how was I to know?"--like a single two-second kiss is going to determine anyone's sexual orientation? Because we know *no one* ever kisses people they're not attracted to.)
- Per the video, it would have been nice to see a little more same-sex affection/couples in the environments here and there.
- There were no trans characters and there was a lost opportunity to depict magical races that were not gender binary--for example, single-gender, hemaphroditic, or tri-gender. Or how about a race that can change genders? (That's pretty magical!)
- I would have liked to see more human/magical couples. I feel like we heard about them at least once (April and her fierce Dolmari lover), but did we ever meet any?
- By far, the hugest disappointment for me was the Likho and Kian did not, in fact, become partners and lovers when everything seemed so beautifully set up for it. I was expecting in that intimate, vulnerable moment on the airship to Ge'en that there might have been a kiss--here were two lonely embattled men risking death and completely reliant on each other for survival. And at the end, I would have loved nothing more than to see the "bloodless king" and his husband ascend to the Azadi throne with their adopted daughter Saga Alvane, which would have been an amazing and unprecedented way to showcase a non-traditional, multi-racial family of choice within the gaming world. Yes, there is the awkward fact that Kian murdered Likho's father, but by the end of the story, they are clearly bonded and choosing to spend their lives together. It may be that they have become lovers in the "five years later" glimpse (that is left to our imagination) but the "brother" conversation felt like a cop-out.
Some people have rightly said that sexual relationships do not play a big role in the series, and for the women characters, I think it is ground-breaking and empowering not to show them as subservient to men or distracted by men or only acting on behalf of men's interests. But for gay characters, one of the key issues around representation is showing that we have attractions, relationships, and families, and I wish the Kian/Likho storyline had ended differently.
That said, there's much to love overall, and I hope TLJ/DF has opened the door to our seeing ever more interesting queer characters and relationships on our screens. I am deeply grateful to Ragnar and his team!