Queer youth have long been drawn to graphic novels and comic books. For them, it's more than a form of entertainment. Comics tackle the feelings of shame and not fitting in - feelings that queer adolescents know all too well.
Joey Stern is a founding member of the group Geeks OUT, a group dedicated to "celebrate our shared geekiness and to focus and promote our own unique LGBT voice within that community."
He is also leading organizer of Flame Con - New York City's first LGBTQ comic convention. Before launching Flame Con two years ago, Stern told Slate: "When I was a kid I developed a passion for reading, and I loved the philosophical debates in comics like X-Men. I loved the message that you can be different, and special, but conflicted about that. Comic books gave me a way to see that in myself."
This speaks to why queer readers are drawn to comic books, but also why they have been frustrated with the lack of LGBTQ representation in Marvel's cinematic universe. The 17-film franchise has yet to feature a non-heterosexual character.
Tessa Thompson's Amazonian-esque character, Valkyrie, in "Thor: Ragnarok" was supposed to change that. Valkyrie is a member of an elite group of female warriors dedicated to defending the citizens of Thor's home planet, Asgard. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Thompson pointed out that Valkyrie is bisexual, citing Valkyrie's "Fearless Defenders" storyline, which included a romantic tryst with anthropologist Annabelle Riggs.
Thompson went so far as to pitch director Taika Waititi on depicting her character's sexuality more visibly. Apparently, Thompson convinced Waititi to shoot a glimpse of a woman walking out of Valkyrie's bedroom. Rolling Stone reported that the director eventually cut the scene because "it distracted from the scene's vital exposition," which feels like a flimsy excuse at best.
Nevertheless, Thompson claims, "There were things that we talked about that we allowed to exist in the characterization, but maybe not be explicit in the film."
There are plenty of times in the film where Valkyrie could have easily made a reference or hinted at her sexuality without taking away from the plot or dialogue. I see it as an active choice to not include any reference whatsoever.
This wouldn't be the first time a queer character has been straight-washed in films. The most recent, of course, is the Amazonian Princess of Themyscira. Just last year, at the ripe age of 75, Wonder Woman officially came out of the closet.
DC Comics writer Greg Rucka confirmed what many readers have long suspected: The Amazonian princess is bisexual. "Nobody at DC has ever said, 'She's gotta be straight.' Nobody. Ever. They've never blinked at this," Rucka told Comicosity.
Yet, there were no depictions of Wonder Woman as bisexual in Warner Bros.' blockbuster film. This led New York University's campus ambassador for GLAAD, which monitors LGBTQ representation in the media, to create a Change.org petition to portray Wonder Woman as bisexual in the highly anticipated sequel.
The petition, which has accumulated nearly 10,000 signatures, expresses why depiction of a sexual identity, not merely the claim of it, is necessary in the media.
"Some of you may be thinking that this specificity doesn't make a difference but for people like me who rarely see themselves reflected in media, believe me. It does," Gianna Collier-Pitts wrote in the petition.
She continued: "The majority of the LGBTQ+ community identifies as bisexual or as having attraction to more than one gender, and yet it is the least understood of any identity. We are oversexualized and underrepresented. . . . We are made to feel invisible and in doing so we begin to see ourselves as invisible. Making Wonder Woman canonically bisexual on the big screen would make her the first openly LGBTQ superhero of any gender from either DC or Marvel's cinematic universes, and would solidify her place as a true role model for women of all ages and identities."
That's why it's necessary to have more than Thompson claim her character is bisexual. LGBTQ audience members want to see it. While Thompson's attempt to depict Valkyrie's sexuality was admirable, the unfortunate outcome is queer-baiting. Marvel studios and Waititi are attempting to get the credit for having a queer character, without putting the studio or the film at risk. If there was a scene where Valkyrie claimed her bisexuality, kissed a woman, or even something less explicit - she could simply have made a passing reference to a past female crush - that would have been enough for queer viewers.
But to claim she's bisexual, stating: "We allowed [her bisexuality] to exist in the characterization, but maybe not be explicit in the film," is simply not enough.