Posted on Leave a comment

Blood Type: Queer

By: Sai Siddhaye

The COVID-19 pandemic has left us with a dramatic shortage of blood. The implementation of social distancing measures has shut down blood drives, and the national blood supply has become dangerously low. You would think–given how critical blood donations are to the livelihood of the country–that all healthy and eligible people would be encouraged to donate blood right now, but even amid a pandemic and a national blood shortage, the FDA is still enforcing its discriminatory restriction of blood donations from queer men: the infamous MSM policy. 

The restriction of blood donations from men who have had sex with men was established by the FDA in September of 1985, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. The policy was that even a single sexual encounter with another man made men indefinitely ineligible to donate blood, “due to the strong clustering of AIDS illness and the subsequent discovery of high rates of HIV infection in that population”. This policy was in place until December of 2015, when the lifetime ban was revised to a yearlong deferral period, known as the MSM (men who have sex with men) deferral policy, after decades of pushing from LGBTQ activists.

After blood donations began to drop nationwide following the beginning of the pandemic, FDA officials did make a temporary modification of the MSM deferral policy. As of April 2, 2020, the deferral period has been shortened to three months rather than 12 months, meaning men must abstain from sexual encounters with other men for three months before donating blood. This change was implemented by the American Red Cross in June of 2020.

It is crucial to note that every unit of donated blood undergoes thorough screening tests for HIV, hepatitis, syphilis and other blood-borne diseases, regardless of who the donors are, to ensure that blood transfusions do not infect recipients. It is also important to understand that everyone, regardless of sexual identity, gender, or race, can be susceptible to these diseases. AIDS and HIV are not exclusive to queer men, nor are any other infectious diseases. So why does the FDA only restrict queer men from donating?

 According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), though “none of these tests…are 100 percent accurate, and they can produce faulty results. For instance, despite current restrictions and testing of approximately 12 million units donated each year, 10 HIV-infected units have slipped through. To ensure the safety of blood and other tissues for donation, the FDA uses scientific data to automatically defer certain populations. Because gay and bisexual men have higher incidence of disease, they are eliminated from the donor pool immediately.” The American Red Cross states that “The FDA selected the 3-month deferral to provide adequate time for the detection of infected individuals”. 

Though this reasoning certainly seems logical, the policy is too two-dimensional to specifically screen for at-risk donors. The FDA’s donor guidelines are in place for good reason; most policies target behaviors that pose a legitimate risk of spreading infectious diseases. The three month deferral period applies to people who have a history of syphilis or gonorrhea, have gotten unregulated tattoos or piercings, have engaged in non-prescription injection drug use or shared needles, and other behaviors that have a very high risk of contracting and spreading infections. There is already a policy in place that indefinitely bars anyone who has tested positive for HIV, and a three month deferral period for anyone they have had sexual contact with. The MSM deferral policy differs from these examples in that it imposes restrictions based only on queer identity, not on actual risk of infection. 

The FDA’s concern about preventing the spread of HIV has already been addressed by its other restrictions, making the MSM policy increasingly arbitrary. Implying that having sex with other men automatically makes a person “contaminated” not only stigmatizes queer sex, but is also simply untrue. Having unprotected sex creates a high possibility of infection regardless of sexual orientation, but creating a policy that only restricts men who have sex with men–including protected sex–does not address that threat at all. As NBC puts it, “Even with a clean bill of health, a gay man is considered more of a threat to the blood supply than a straight man who was treated for chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, venereal warts, and genital herpes within the past year.” Restricting queer men who do not fall under any of the other deferral categories, therefore, cannot be seen as anything other than discriminatory. Shortening the deferral period from one year to three months does not change that.

The MSM policy, like so many other policies and systemically-ingrained practices, perpetuates the hypersexualization of queer people. Institutionally tying queer sex to medical contamination is one of many ways that queer people have been systemically portrayed as sexually dangerous, prompting discriminatory policies in the name of ‘protecting’ the rest of society. Like the unwarranted racism and xenophobia that Asian Americans faced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, queer people have battled the social stigma that followed the AIDS epidemic for decades. The historical caricature of the “sexually perverted and predatory queer man” continues to manifest itself in discriminatory practices such as DADT and the MSM policy. The bottom line is that blood donation is critical to our national health, especially in this pandemic, and the FDA should be encouraging all healthy people to donate blood rather than arbitrarily restricting them based on their sexuality. The way to repair this is to remove the MSM deferral policy altogether and focus on targeting actual threats of infection so that as many people can safely donate blood as possible. Perhaps there is no way to rectify the harm that the medical industry has done to marginalized communities, but working to eliminate medical bias and prioritizing medical equity is the only way forward.

Posted on Leave a comment

A Word Or Two On Gender

By: Nicole Wagoner

I had a conversation with an older female mentor the other day. We talked about gender and how we both felt about it.

One notable thing she said was, “I never had to think about that stuff when I was your age.” (That stuff being gender) “It’s so confusing for you kids. I never had to question if I was non binary or if I was a guy. I just was who I was.”

I’m paraphrasing, but what stuck out to me about what she said was, “I was who I was.”

I think that’s the beautiful thing about gender. It’s a social construct, but it is one that helps us define how we feel on the inside.

So I often ask myself, what’s my gender?

The conclusion I have come to is that I don’t have one, but here’s where it gets confusing.

I like gendered terms along the female spectrum. I like my partner to call me his girlfriend and my mom often lovingly calls me her girl, which I don’t mind.

So this makes me question my gender all over again. Am I really a girl? Am I faking being non binary for attention?

The conclusion I have come to down boils down to two things.

  1. I am still new to my gender, and I am so used to being called girl and girlfriend that it doesn’t bother me to be called those terms.

The way I came to this conclusion is that my partner, James, has been calling me his partner, despite me expressing I am comfortable with partner and girlfriend. It’s almost like he knew more about my gender than I did, because the more he calls me partner, the weirder it feels on the rare occasion my mom refers to me as his girlfriend or his friends refer to me as such. 

  1. I am still aligned with my biological sex as a female.

I am very feminine presenting. If you saw me on the street you would probably not guess that I was non binary. And up until 2020, I did not even realize I wasn’t a girl. I would proclaim myself as a strong woman, and while I am still biologically a woman, it feels odd to declare that. I would rather declare myself to be a strong person, but at the same time I feel like declaring myself as a strong woman is somewhat accurate. Because I still get harassed on the street. I still have to worry about getting a lesser paycheck than a man does. While gender is a societal construct, my gender does not define all of my societal experiences, and unfortunately, I still face the discrimination that biological women do.

So maybe that is why every once in a while I find myself wanting to declare myself a strong, independent woman, because even though I am not a woman at heart, I am still taking on the adversity faced by women.

So I find myself questioning my own feelings as a non binary person. Am I not non binary because I feel attached to my experiences as a biological woman? Am I not non binary if I feel ok being referred to as a girlfriend?

I don’t know if I’m being honest with you. Every day I question whether my experiences and emotions are valid. Because I look at a feminine presenting biological woman and wonder if I want to be her. I love putting on wigs and looking like what society considers a woman. But the day I chopped my hair off, I felt so seen by myself and I felt so validated. I felt like I was myself. So if I feel like myself while feminine presenting, even though I also feel like myself when I’m presenting androgynously, am I really non binary?

But sometimes I remember how cis people look at gender. I don’t think a cis person has ever looked at Stitch from Lilo and Stitch and envied how much androgyny the little gremlin has. I don’t think cis people feel the way I do when my partner stopped saying, “Ladies first,” and jokingly started saying, “Enbies first.” It was such a simple gesture and I don’t know if he knows how much it meant to me, and how validated it makes me feel.

In the end, I think it boils down to this: I just am who I am. It’s like my mentor said. I was born a woman and I have faced the adversity a woman has faced, and I cannot change that. I am biologically predisposed to some diseases because of my sex, and I cannot change that. But I also cannot change the way my brain feels when I look in the mirror and perceive myself as androgynous. I cannot change the way I feel when my friends use they pronouns for me (even though I use she as well.) The one thing I can change is how I show myself to the world, and how I tell the world about myself. I am here to tell the world I am non binary, no matter what my self doubt says sometimes, and no matter what the world says sometimes.

Posted on Leave a comment

LGBTQ+ Themes in Hindu Mythology and Indian History

By: Sindura Vuppu

It was not until I turned sixteen that I stepped into the world of political and social issues. I grew up in ignorance and indifference with limited exposure. My friends and I were clueless about issues like the marginalization of certain groups. When I finally educated myself, I recognized the unfairness in the way the LGBTQ+ community is treated in India. I felt ashamed of our ignorance. Was it always like this? One day, I discussed this with my mother.  She mentioned the “Hijras”, transgender women, whom I’ve seen beg for money in groups. Many people, mostly young men, get uncomfortable and feel sexually victimized by the Hijras. These Hijras are disowned by their parents at a young age, after which it is almost impossible for them to find a decent job. Some become sex-workers to men who cannot afford a cis woman, and most generally choose to stay within the transgender community and earn a living by begging in groups. When their requests for money are met, the Hijras give us their blessing since they are thought to have the “power to bless or curse fertility”(Biswas). They show up at auspicious ceremonies like the celebration of the birth of a child, and lovingly hold the baby in their arms to bless them. The same people who treat them as “untouchables” rejoice over their blessing. If this is an age-old tradition, the discrimination does not make sense. To learn more about the LGBTQ+ involvement in Indian history and Hindu mythology, I went online. 

Hindu mythology is a major source of ancient India’s attitude towards gender fluidity and sexual identity. Ardhanarishvara, a form of Lord Shiva that I grew up worshipping, is a mix of Shiva and his wife Parvati. The form has both male and female elements divided equally, therefore creating a genderless deity. “Parvati wished to share Shiva’s experiences,” says Kavita Kane in her article on LGBT themes in Hindu mythology, “and thus wanted their physical forms literally to be joined to show that the inner masculine and feminine coexist and can coalesce” (Kane). This non-binary form was and still is revered for the powerful message is conveys. This isn’t the only instance where Lord Shiva exhibited gender and sexual fluidity. Lord Vishnu, the protector of the universe, takes on the “feminine” form called Mohini, who Shiva, the destroyer, falls in love and procreates with. Although the mythological texts say that Mohini was a female form, many scholars interpret their relationship as a same-sex one.  Mahabharata, which is considered one of the greatest epics of all time, narrated the story of the great warrior Arjuna, who took refuge in the harem of a king’s court for a year as an eunuch teaching singing and dancing. Even as someone who is considered a tough and masculine war hero, Arjuna’s “feminine” eunuch form is one of the most significant facets of his character in the epic. I grew up listening to these stories and marveling over their greatness. They act as moral stories that children are encouraged to read. These deities are revered as examples of dharma and righteousness. 

 Hindu mythology isn’t the only source of LGBT significance in Indian history and culture. In her article on LGBT themes in Indian history, Amy Bhatt notes, “Indeed, in India’s 16th-century Mughal courts, hijras and eunuchs often held positions of high esteem as advisers or emissaries between men and women.”(Bhatt).  Eunuchs were accepted and even revered by the common folk. They were important and trusted caretakers of the harems of the kings, as we can see in warrior Arjuna’s case.  Homoeroticism has also been celebrated in ancient Indian literature. “In the Kama Sutra, India’s famed erotic guidebook,” Bhatt writes, “the character Svairini is described as as a liberated woman who lives either alone or in union with another woman.” (Bhatt).The Khajuraho group of Temples in Madhya Pradesh, The Sun Temple of Konark, and several other monuments in India also have homoerotic sculptures engraved on their walls. After finding so many inclusions of the LGBT+ community in ancient India, one cannot help but wonder where the respect and tolerance went. When did the Indian people start marginalizing them and calling their existence “unnatural”? There is an answer to this question: the British colonization. 

In 1860, Lord Macaulay, the President of the Indian Law Commission authored section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” (Biswas), therefore imposing Victorian values on its biggest colony. Under the British Raj, homosexuality was criminalized.  In addition, they described eunuchs that served in royal palaces as “ungovernable”. “Commentators said they evoked images of “filth, disease, contagion and contamination,” writes Soutik Biswas in his article titled “How Britain tried to ‘erase’ India’s third gender” (Biswas). The British also had the conception that the “Orient” were “Overly erotic and over-sexed” and would “corrupt” young colonial officers (Han). The two hundred years of rule which left India in great economic and cultural depression is believed to have been the primary cause of the conservative and marginalizing shift in Indian societies. So, how is India recovering from this and reforming its social, political, and judicial system on this particular issue?

On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India declared Section 377 unconstitutional, therefore overturning a 157-year old ban, and decriminalizing consensual homosexual sex, after the government’s first recognition of the law’s barbaric nature in 2009.  The Court stated that “the inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone… Those perceived by the majority as ‘deviants’ or ‘different’ are not on that score excluded or ostracised”(Misra). There has been enormous LGBT activism in the sex-workers community as well, “to change perceptions of sexuality, embracing diversity among the ranks of members of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (the largest Sex Workers’ union in India)” (Misra). Under a legislation that was recently passed in India, transgender people are allowed to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery and have a constitutional right to register themselves under a third gender. However, this law has not been received well for various reasons: lack of medical benefits, addition of bureaucratic layers and red-tapism for legal recognition, and the lack of detail on matters such as marriage, adoption, and social security benefits (Pathak). Activists are pushing for amendments to this bill, and for additions and improvements to other LGBTQ+ laws. But such issues don’t get resolved easily. Along with the fight for change comes the fight to stay the same. 

Many Indians, mostly middle-aged and elderly Hindus, believe in a fundamentalist interpretation of Hinduism that portrays homosexuality as a “reprehensible Western import”(Bhatt). But on exploring some great Hindu mythological epics, it is quite clear that Hinduism is more liberal than the “western” (or Victorian) beliefs. Moreover, the significance of the community can be seen throughout Indian history and culture. I think it is time we revisit our history and re-interpret some of the lessons it teaches. It is time we recognize the unfairness in the way the LGBTQ+ community is treated, and join the fight against injustice and for reform. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the Fan’s Revolution

By: Nicole Wagoner

The name JK Rowling most likely rings a bell for you. For years she has been an iconic figure and inspiration in the lives of children and adults alike. Many young people grew up reading her world-renowned series Harry Potter, finding solace in the relatable characters and the thrilling story. Her books were an escape from the world’s chaos for children going through significant changes in their lives, and they grew into adults dealing with political burnout who continued to find peace in the story.

But JK Rowling herself does not seem to advocate for the serenity we find in the books. Recently, Rowling has posted on her Twitter account hateful statements about the trans community. 

On June 6, 2020, Rowling replied to an opinion article from Devex titled, “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” mocking the article’s headline for saying “People who Menstruate” rather than saying women. This title is not something to be made fun of; the piece was attempting to be inclusive.

Rowling responded to the backlash from this tweet by stating on Twitter, “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth. The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense. I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”

It is clear that JK Rowling is only trying to defend her offensive words. Still, she has only made herself sound more transphobic. Rowling completely disregards the difference between sex and gender and ignores why people feel the need to socially transition while not medically transitioning. She is undermining trans existence and uplifting herself as a cis woman.

Rowling’s most recent transphobic act was a tweet she made promoting Wild Womyn Workshop, which is actively transphobic and sells transphobic products. The store sells pins saying, “Trans women are men,” “F*ck your pronouns,” and “Sorry about your d*ck, dude.” This promotion is an action she has not attempted to defend. 

Rowling continues to act like a victim, which is a disgrace to the trans community’s struggles. She wrote a post on her blog talking about her “Reasons for Speaking Out on Gender and Sex issues” where she said, “Immediately, activists who clearly believe themselves to be good, kind and progressive people swarmed back into my timeline, assuming a right to police my speech, accuse me of hatred, call me misogynistic slurs and, above all – as every woman involved in this debate will know – TERF.”  TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which, if you have paid attention to this article, you know JK Rowling is. But she is clearly very hurt by this accusation, which I remind you, is true, so she victimizes herself.

JK Rowling claims she is not a trans exclusionist because of all the research she claims to have done on trans issues and all the other feminists she has spoken to about her opinions. She says in her blog post while talking about the support she has received,  “They’re worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s rights. Above all, they’re worried about a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well.” May I remind you, JK Rowling is not a trans person and therefore does not hold the right to say what affects trans youth. The ignorance in her blog post truly makes one wonder if she has ever even spoken to a trans person. An example of this is from the same blog post where she says, “Ironically, radical feminists aren’t even trans-exclusionary – they include trans men in their feminism, because they were born women.” What am I even supposed to say to that? Do I need to explain why that makes zero sense? 

The bottom line is Rowling doesn’t have a point, she goes in circles and ends up making herself look more clueless every time she speaks out.

Despite the fact that everyone with sense knows how naive she is, Rowling’s comments have still hit the trans and queer community where it hurts. Harry Potter is the story of a misfit kid who wants to be “normal.” He gets harassed daily by adults and peers alike. He goes straight from being painfully invisible to unbearably visible in almost a day. His family is unaccepting of his true wizard identity. Does any of this sound familiar? It is an almost universal experience for people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Queer and trans kids grew up relating to Harry Potter. They felt understood, even if it was just for a minute.

Not only that, Harry Potter’s main storyline follows the fight against an unjust and oppressive government. The villains of the story, which continuously work to overtake the government, carry hatred for “muggles” and try to take away their rights. Historically, it is a global norm that the government actively fights against LGBTQIA+ rights. Queer and trans people everywhere are actively trying to get or keep the same rights straight and cisgender people get. With Amy Coney Barret getting put into the supreme court, LGBTQIA+ kids are more scared than ever.

JK Rowling has become the villain of her story. She is supporting the oppressive government that her characters would die trying to fight. She wrote a way for LGBTQIA+ kids to escape and is now bringing more into the world they feel the need to escape. JK Rowling has hurt her fanbase in a way that will not damage them permanently but will damage her permanently.

Harry Potter’s fans that are gay, trans, or allies, are taking back the franchise. As Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the Harry Potter, said himself, “… if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.” Radcliffe also apologized for the hurt JK Rowling has caused. His comments reminded the fans that JK Rowling may have written Harry Potter, but the fans brought it to life. The franchise belongs to the fans.” 

The fans have done things such as blackout Rowling’s name on the covers of the books. Some of them also replace the name with famous feminists who have worked to make a better world for the trans community. They also commonly replace her name with other people involved with the Harry Potter franchise, such as Daniel Radcliffe

People on social media such as TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram have also picked up a joke that “Harry Potter has no author.” This joke is a popular way people are separating Rowling’s books from her name. This is normally hard to do and has proved infeasible for some people, but for others, this simple phrase signifies the larger goal of reclaiming the franchise as something for the misfits, just like Potter himself was. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this situation is that the queer and trans community fought back. Specifically, Generation Z and Millenials are tired of people throwing slander and hatred their way. So they sent the same energy JK Rowling gave to them back to her. The trans community will not stay silent, and neither will their allies. As Marsha P. Johnson said, “History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.” We are fighting for and moving towards a future where trans people are accepted and loved. The reality is, JK Rowling will be left behind with only her hatred and bigotry to comfort her.

Posted on Leave a comment

So, We Have VR, but Queer Representation is too Far-Fetched for Gaming?

By: Sarah Ansari

When young, children tend to gravitate towards characters that they see themselves in or that they admire, taking them on as role models who shape their attitudes and ways of thinking. The world grows more globalized in lieu of new technology, allowing media to be streamed across a multitude of platforms. Because of this, more people from different walks of life can access video game content from around the world in some form– as YouTube videos, simulators, or physical copies. Representation in video games is more important than ever; consumers wish to see characters in their favourite franchises they can relate to and find a role model in. 

There are about forty video game franchises where one or more games in the series has a queer character. The key word here is “a”. Within each game, there’s usually only one such character (seldom more). Oftentimes, the portrayal of queerness is not made explicit within the game either, but constitutes “deep lore”. Non-casual gamers would have to look through interviews and other supplemental material to find any information on the gender or sexual identity of their favourite characters. 

Take Toad from the Super Mario Bros franchise as an example. Although Toad is assumed to be male, Nintendo revealed in a 2014 interview that Toad was created without a specific gender in mind. While the presence of an agender character in a franchise familiar to even non-gamers seems progressive, the announcement of Toad/Toadette’s lack of gender only six years ago when the characters have been present in Mario since 1985 (and have stereotypically gendered traits) comes across as performative, especially since none of the games ever make mention of this information.

Although Nintendo is a Japanese company, a majority of its revenue comes from sales in the Americas. Around the same time period in which Toad’s agender identity was announced, the United States was going through political reform with the legalization of same-sex marriage (four states legalized it in 2014, and all fifty states had legalized it by 2015). While the timeline of these events could be coincidental, Nintendo had to be well aware of how Toad was perceived, yet they never made a public announcement of their identity until directly asked.  The information itself was revealed to Gamespot magazine, a popular gaming news company with a predominantly Western audience (the company does have a Japan branch, established in 2007, but it’s arguably less well-known than the American and UK branches). The original article was written by an American writer as well and published in English. As a result, Toad’s “gender reveal” feels more like a placating publicity stunt than a sincere attempt at representation.

Nintendo’s controversial portrayals of queer characters do not stop at Toad, however. The Fire Emblem series, known primarily through its multitude of characters in Smash (such as Marth and Ike), has recently begun representing LGBTQ+ relationships in-game, allowing players (in some games) to choose their gender and/or to be in a same-sex relationship.

The most recently released game in the franchise, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, is perhaps the most progressive installment yet, having a number of queer characters present in it. However, Fire Emblem games have a long history with their mistreatment of LGBTQ+ characters and the controversies that have arisen over the years are a reminder that not all representation is necessarily “good”, especially when it promotes harmful stereotypes or practices. The games themselves are strategy-based RPGs with battle mechanics that mimic a game of chess (using a turn-based system). The plots of the games revolve around politics and war, where players must fight against characters that, in another playthrough, might have been their allies and friends. Rather than being solely battle-focused, however, character interactions and relationship-building are prioritized, which is where the discussion of queer politics begins.

Before Three Houses was conceived of, Fire Emblem: Fates offered same-sex romance options– and came under fire for homophobic content. The game was sold in two different versions, Conquest and Birthright, each with vastly different plots (as they take place from different sides of the warring nations). In one version, the player controls a male main character, and is allowed one gay option; in the other, they play as a female and have a single lesbian option. The ability to play one storyline over the other, therefore, directly conflicts with the player’s choice of sexuality. Players looking for representation must sacrifice their choice in game route or must pay for the other version of the game. In addition, each of the queer romantic options is typecasted as villainous. The male, Zero, is casted as sadistic, while the female, Syalla, stalks potential romantic interests. Rather than uplifting a minority who might be excited about seeing some in-game representation, Fates makes a caricature of queerness.

In the same game, an openly lesbian character (Soleil) is only romanceable by the male version of the protagonist. The reasoning behind this pairing begins with Soleil continually being “distracted” by women on the battlefield. In order to remedy this “issue”, the player must give her a powder that causes her to see men as women and women as men. When the powder wears off, Soleil returns to finding girls attractive, although she makes an “exception” for the male main character. Not only does the scene imply that Soleil was drugged, but the fact that her sexuality is treated as a problem in need of fixing in reminiscent of gay conversion therapy. Within a few minutes of gameplay, LGBTQ+ players are ostracized and given a negative form of representation that can easily damage self-perception. Nintendo responded to the backlash by removing the scene from Western copies of the game, although evidence of it still exists online and in non-localized versions as a monument towards the microaggressions experienced as a queer gamer. 

In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Nintendo is much more lenient about the amount of romantic dialogue they include between characters of the same sex. However, the conversations are often portrayed as “friendly” despite undertones that suggest otherwise. For example, two characters, Sylvain and Felix, have an A+ support, the highest level Sylvain has with any character except one (and barring a paired ending). 

For context, support levels mark how close characters are to one another, ranging from C to S. Some characters only have up to B supports with one another, some have no supports at all. The “+” supports (C+, B+, A+) are not present in every pairing (some can have just C, B, A or C+, B, A, etc.). A+ is the highest support attainable barring a paired ending… which Sylvain and Felix have together as well. If they’re paired, the story details their life as they grow so close to one another that they pass away on the same day, as if “conceding that one could not live without the other”. The trope of two people caring for one another so deeply they die together frequents romantic movies such as The Notebook; arguably, if Sylvain and Felix were of opposite genders, the pairing would have been romantic, rather than friendly (they have another childhood friend, Ingrid, who automatically has a marriage option with them because she is female).

Other characters, such as the leader of the Blue Lions House, Dimitri, continually have (arguably) romantic interactions with both versions of the main character (Byleth), but are locked to romancing only the opposite sex. Dimitri lets Byleth know that their smile is “mesmerizing”– regardless of gender– and continually tells them how brilliant they are, how much they mean to him, and how they are one of the most important people in his life, yet he remains a romanceable option only to female Byleth. Many players feel as though the game even wants you to romance him with how heavily he is pushed onto the main character (who aside from one line is not treated differently by him, regardless of gender). Queerbaiting remains an issue due to the fact that homoerotic subtext is used to attract LGBT+ consumers, while the company refuses to alienate more “conservative” consumers. In doing this, queer players find themselves cast aside or told that their experience is secondary.

Let me be frank– Fire Emblem: Three Houses is my favourite game. I have nearly 700 hours in it, I’ve replayed it seven times, and I’m still not tired of it. It depicts the struggles of mental health, the horrors of war, the importance of relationships. I think it’s a masterpiece. But I would be an idiot to turn a blind eye to its faults– of which I’ve only scratched the bare minimum. There’s a proper way to represent queerness, and while Three Houses made an attempt, it fell flat in many ways.

Perhaps a better example of an LGBTQ+ character would be Bloodhound, from Apex Legends. The character is canonically non-binary, with their voice actor (Allegra Clark), one of their writers (Manny Hagopian), and a backstory video confirming this fact. I admittedly do not have as much expertise on Apex as I do Three Houses, but from what I’ve gathered, Bloodhound is a smash-hit amongst the queer fanbase because they’re written… like a person. They do not embody harmful stereotypes and their sexuality isn’t made into their personality. Instead, they’re treated with the same attention and respect as any other character in the franchise; Apex Legends isn’t merely trying to win “representation points”, but is making an attempt to be more inclusive towards its audience. 

One problem with how LGBTQ+ people are represented in the media circles around companies attempting to make a singular character a “catch-all” for an entire demographic of people. I mentioned earlier that typecasting queer characters as villainous is harmful. However, I feel I must elaborate more on that. The representation becomes harmful when the villainous characteristics are portrayed as entwined with queerness. If the only LGBTQ+ representation that a game offers is a villain, the game is implicitly sending a message that “good” people are heterosexual and cisgender and “bad” people are the opposite. Queer characters can be villains, so long as there is representation of queerness amongst the heroes as well. When cisgender, hetero characters are written, their sexuality is given no thought– seen as the default. Instead, they are written as a person before all else. While queerness is an important part of identity and should not be entirely written off, it should be discussed in productive ways that open conversation and should not automatically become a character’s personality. While this article focused mainly on Nintendo games, save for the brief mention of Apex, they are not the only company at fault with their portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters. Rather, they’re the company I feel most qualified to criticise because of how involved I am with their games, moreso than any other company. While we can enjoy the media we consume, we have a duty to not turn a blind eye to its failings. Criticism of the things we enjoy sparks conversations about how they could improve and incentivizes producers to do better in the future. Gaming is, for most, a recreational activity, and people deserve to find comfort and camaraderie within the games they play. Perhaps it seems silly to some, but finding a character to relate to can shift people’s perspectives on their life and give them hope. And who are any of we to deprive someone that?