Why GLBTQ Content In Comic Is Important for Young Readers
According to a report in 2009 from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSN), Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, and Bartkiewicz (2010) found that in high schools in the last ten years, hostility towards GLBTQ youth has manifested in ways such as “88.9 % of students heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) frequently or often at school; and 86.5% reported that they felt distressed to some degree by this; 72.4% heard other homophobic remarks (e.g., “dyke” or “faggot”) frequently or often at school; and 61.1 % felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and 39.9% because of how they expressed their gender” (p.xvi). Those are but a few of the numbers the Kosciw et.al. (2010) study uncovered. With so many of our GLBTQ teenage public school students having such limited access to materials, persons, and conversations that allow for context in their personal lives, one would at least assume there were a plethora of books made available for them. However, this is not the case the majority of the time, as research by Cart And Jenkins (2006) indicates that “Books with GLBTQ content remain among the most challenged titles in America’s public and school libraries […] and it appears that the pressure will not be abating anytime soon” (p. xvii).
Even with such staggering odds set against GLBTQ literature for young adults from public institutions and cultural ignorance, the number of books and other forms of media dealing with issues and concerns of the GLBTQ community have risen in the last few decades, albeit slowly (Cart & Jenkins 2006), and of course at a near crawl in the comics industry in regards to the direct market, which has the most accessibility and availability in the comics medium.
Why The New 52 Is A Good Thing
Flipping through through the recent news stories and solicits for the 52 DCnU come September, I have encountered a few titles (Stormwatch, Batwoman) that show the possibility for the continued step towards a more transformative approach culturally in the medium of the direct market comics. As a medium, comics are one of the avenues in which young adults can find comfort in identifying with stories and characters that reflect who they are. Should it be really any different than the revolution of Marvel's everyperson of the 60's? While that was an anomaly, this does not have to be.
Let's be honest, a transformative change is nearly impossible than a reformation of any kind. While as fans we like to believe often that the power of our voices will save a beloved television series or get a movie made that we want to see ( and it does happen), the bottom line asked often, as is true in a capitalistic market, is the idea going to help profit? Even as allegorically and subjectively wonderful as the comics medium is, and has shown great glimpses of underground sensibilities and marvelous moments of sensitivities, the direct market will not take many chances. Note that I say they will not take many chances. But they do. And when they do, the hope is that the right people are helping to develop a series or idea along that seems to confront our norms, unconscious biases, and provide an outlet for those that are under-represented. Again, this historically has not always been the case, but this does not mean that the future is bleak. But even in the face of the bottom line, that does not mean that the comics buying/reading collective need be silent.
I want to suggest that we, as comics lovers, geeks, critics, artists and educators to take a look at the titles of the DCnU through a lens of literary and cultural criticism know as gay assimilation and queer consciousness. This is not to say that these two methods of evaluation and critique are finite, far from it. Part of enhancing good scholarship is the testing of our ideas to see what works and what doesn't. Essentially, I propose an evaluation of the upcoming new line of comics that are going to be published by DC that will deal with GLBTQ characters and situations and compare and contrast them to other types of not only within the medium (independent and not), but in other mediums as well that tell stories through these two types of established critique. Basically, I am making a call to action-- a call to radical blogging, tweeting, and social networking to stretch towards helping to get a medium that helps to communicate so beautifully with everyone into a larger arena with more readers and creators working together to improve how our beloved medium can begin to reflect this new century better.
Gay Assimilation and Queer Consciousness
Gay assimilation and queer consciousness are two lenses of literary critical analysis currently being used in somewhat nascent stages in evaluating young adult literature. In my own research as an English educator, and having worked with others dealing with GLBTQ issues in media, these two lenses are a great starting point for evaluating storytelling mediums.
According to Cart and Jenkins (2006) “ “Gay assimilation” assumes the existence---at least in the world of the story---of a “melting pot” of sexual and gender identity. These stories include people who “just happen to be gay” in the same way that someone “just happens” to be left-handed or have red hair”(p.xx). Cart and Jenkins (2006) believe that this assimilation is not an overwhelming positive, but I believe that this idea of assimilation can carry both a positive and negative aspect depending upon how the author handles the content. The idea of assimilation is a positive to me in the sense of using the word assimilation as more of a learning or growth experience for the individual. This assimilation as experience is one that can feed not only the idea of visibility, but also utilizes tapping into the familiarity of themes that are the cornerstones of good literature.
Along with Gay Assimilation, Queer consciousness could be utilized. According to Cart and Jenkins (2006) queer consciousness shows "characters in the context of their communities of GLBTQ people and their families of choice (and in recent years, often their families of origin as well)[...]the audience for "queer consciousness/community" books [e.g. comics] is not limited to readers form within the culture; rather, these titles are---at least potentially---for readers from all points on the sexual orientation continuum" (p.xx). This lens is very important in that it is the ultimate goal of the story being presented--its the idea of context through universal emotions/ideas (e.g. love, pain, fear, hate). I also believe this lens to be a positive as choosing content and specific pieces of literature, prose, or poetry (all of which can be utilized in the comics format), both composed by students and authors alike, that allows for conversations and awareness concerning the normalizing of a culture that most mainstream culture has never been able to see as other than a stereotype or in a negative fashion. Don Gallo (2004) echoes a similar sentiment in expressing why GLBTQ literature is important “First, the easy part—gay teens are interested in the same things all teens are: getting an education, being accepted, developing social skills, going to homecoming and the prom, making their parents proud” (p.126). Again, sometimes the simplest explanation (e.g. the universal needs) are the obvious answers.
With recent promotion of GLBTQ culture in programs such as Glee and campaigns such as "It Will Get Better", this new century has such opportunity to be a more transformative place to live in regards to our ideas, dreams, and aspirations. I love comics. I love the stories they tell and the way they make me and others feel connected to each other. I'm tired of mass media marginalization (unconscious and conscious)-it hurts me, my students and my fellow peoples. The purpose of this post is not to be negative, there is enough negativity out there as it is, and I refuse to contribute to it (and I will continue to battle it when it is encountered). Come September, fans of the DCnU (and comics in general) have a chance to start engaging the stories that are challenging norms on new and more critical levels from the so-called ground floor as new readers are invited in. Even if you do not wish to engage in what I am proposing here, find the critical perspectives in which you feel confident to continue to evaluate so that conversation and creativity can continue to grow.
Cart, M., & Jenkins, C.A. (2006). The Heart Has It’s Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004. Scarecrow Press: Lanham, Maryland.
Gallo, D. (2004). Bold Books for Innovative Teaching: The Boldest Books. The English Journal, 94 (1), 126-130.
Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Diaz, E. M., and Bartkiewicz, M. J. (2010). The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.