Friday, May 29, 2015

A Request for Rainbows

Game of Thrones is very nearly the only tv show (/movie) that I have watched without reading the associated book first. In general, I like to be able to picture the characters and settings for myself before seeing how someone else interpreted them. This, however, is not a post about the hits and misses of page-to-screen adaptations. This is a post about how authentic we should want our authenticity to be.
Something else I am not addressing with this post is the idea that rape was appallingly commonplace in feudal societies, and so we should have no problem not just talking about it but graphically showing it in a fantasy setting like Thrones. That idea seems to me to be disingenuous at best, and an excuse for gratuitous sexual violence at worst. Though, to be fair, that idea and this one are intertwined quite a bit. Because, for me, it's about agency, and femininity vs. masculinity, and how a created society treats those inferior in some way.
What I'm trying to say here, is that the treatment of and attitude toward Loras Tyrell bothers the hell out of me. I know the Dornish are much more comfortable with open sexuality, and many of them are openly bisexual, but we actively see very little of that on-screen. What we do see is Loras and Renly and "boy-lovers" who are mocked for being less manly than the warriors around them (though Renly was actually shaping up to be a good and decent king for a minute there). We see followers of The Seven- lay people, priests, and Faith Militant alike -being cruel or even violent to those who contradict their apparent view of the way the world works. But why should their world work that way?
Why make a fantasy world, and import these tired old tropes? If you're asking us to accept warging and fire magic, and *dragons*, if you're crafting a society with not just seven Gods, but Old Gods and New, why not have them be more accepting of "alternate" sexualities? You'll note also that all of the homosexual men we've seen have played into the effeminate stereotype to some degree, and even bisexual Oberyn was occasionally flamboyant; why not have queer men who are large and butch, or wily players of The Game? Why not have queer women who....
Ah, yes, the other half of this worn old coin. Where are the homo- or bi-sexual women? Aside from Oberyn's primary partner, Ellaria, and the extremely performative "whores kissing each other for the titillation of the customers," we see absolutely zero women who are sexually attracted to women. (We also see very, very little genuine affection between women, except a scattering of mother-daughter (type) interaction, but all that is a separate post.) Why erase even the possibility of those sorts of characters and stories from your world? Why, in fact, would any author recreate such stifling social mores in a fantasy work?
These are genuine questions to me. I genuinely do not understand why, when creating a world fantastical in so many other ways (even if molded on historical reality), one would confine oneself to historical attitudes. Why not have a society in which a small but significant percentage of the population prefers the romantic company of their own sex, and, here's the important part now, no one is bothered by it?!?! Why not have loving, committed same-sex couples, marrying in the same way as opposite-sex couples, raising children together, even ruling towns or countries together? Wouldn't that be an interesting boundary to push?
Now, this would of course have implications for the rest of society, but that just makes for better stories. Some possible things to explore: if noble couples cannot necessarily reproduce on their own, fosterage/adoption and inheritance become more complex (and interesting); naming schemes, separated from patrilinear conventions, could be quite convoluted; most basically, even words for spouses, parents, and noble hierarchy might be completely rethought. (OK, yes, one quick note about rape: this is another knock-on effect, that people who are comfortable with a range of sexualities and their expressions are also probably less likely to resort to sexual violence as casually as those of Westeros seem to.) Maybe I'm the only one, but it seems like the genre that used to be "sci-fi/fantasy" and is now "speculative fiction" is about exploring the ways the world could be different, and the implications of those differences.
Instead, in Thrones, we have another iteration of the (relatively modern) (Christian) idea that homosexuality is a sin and blasphemy, that its practitioners are dissolute and weak, and degenerates who deserve nothing but punishment in this life and the next. Frankly, it feels like a giant step backward, in this day and age, and it does a disservice to the show's viewers.
And so this is a call. To the established writers, the studio execs, the production companies seeking the next cultural phenomenon: Let it reflect our culture, and the positive direction we are heading. Let it be multicultural (which is something Thrones has had hits and misses with); let it be multi-gendered, and multi-sexual, without backlash; let it remind people that with or without magic and dragons, we can still change the world. Let people have agency, let women make choices without being punished for them, let that fantastical society evolve and improve by the works of its characters. In short, let us have hope again.