Up Front by Emma Hart


Wonder Bi

Recently the head writer of the Wonder Woman comic outed her. She’s bi, he said. Duh, I thought. Who didn’t know that?

Lots of people, apparently. The comments on that article are Quite Something. And yes, I know they’re Stuff comments, and people aren’t suddenly going to start not commenting on things they know nothing about. They’re not going to Do a Google.

I've been reading comics ever since I was a child and not once has Wonder Woman ever been hinted as bi-sexual so it's weird that this writer now has the ability to change a 75 year old character's sexual orientation just because it makes sense to him.

I bet the original writers never thought for one moment that years in the future she would be looked on as bisexual.

Now, I’m not a big comics fan. I’m willing to bet some of you are. And these universes get rebooted all the time. Would the creators be horrified? Who knows, right? Well, we can make a pretty educated guess. Here, I’ll let Jonathan Ross explain. It’ll take thirty seconds.

Wonder Woman’s chief creator was William Moulton Marston, who lived in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth and their lover Olive Byrne, who was the niece of Margaret Sanger. After William’s death, the two women continued to live together for decades. It’s just possible the concept of bisexual women existing had not escaped Marston’s notice.

But also, how many times does a female character living on a female-only island have to exclaim “Suffering Sappho” before you think something might be up?

On to the other side of the coin. Why wasn’t Wonder Woman more explicitly bisexual? Well, she was created in 1941, when the Hays Code and its companion the Comics Code were saving the youth of the United States from such depravity as women having their feet off the floor while kissing and married couples sharing the same bed.

Topics considered "perverse" could not be discussed or depicted in any way. Such topics included—but were not limited to—homosexuality, miscegenation (interracial relationships), bestiality, and venereal diseases.

Anything that’s formally published or broadcast has to get past gate-keepers. Those gate-keepers made sure that, whatever Marston and his successors wanted in terms of Wonder Woman’s sexuality, it wasn’t getting through. (There are existing memos from Marston to illustrators giving astonishingly precise directions as to how the character was to be chained up which have the ring of experience.)

What they were left with is what TV Tropes calls Getting Crap Past the Radar. It’s like dog-whistling for non-arseholes. You put things in in a way that’ll get past the gatekeepers, but some of your audience will still pick up on. Probably the most famous example is the use of Polari in Round the Horne.

And this is why slash-fic is just so gosh-darned important in LGBT history. When it really got going in the 70s, even if a character had been conceived as gay or bi, they could not be overtly portrayed that way. To experience those stories, people had to write them themselves, without the interference of gate-keepers.

Things are different now, though, right? We’re all out of the closet and tiresomely shouting from the rooftops all the time and we’ve all got so PC you can’t move without LGBT characters getting their gay all over you.

Yeah. Not really. I mean, obviously things have improved vastly. But there’s still a way to go. It was great that in Star Trek Beyond, Sulu was shown as raising a daughter in a same-sex relationship. Not so great that the kiss they filmed was cut.

Independence Day: Resurgence had a gay couple. You can tell this because at one point, they hold hands.

Should studios and publishers be doing better? Of course they should. Right now it still feels like a buck each way – the publicity for saying there are going to be LGBT characters, and then they turn out to be presented in such a way that the Million Moms aren’t going to notice.

We want bi characters to be identifiably bi. In the meantime, perhaps there’s some consolation in this: there is nothing a character can do that proves they’re NOT bi. That’s why we’re such dangerous ninjas: you cannot see us coming.

39 responses to this post

First ←Older Page 1 2 Newer→ Last

First ←Older Page 1 2 Newer→ Last

Post your response…

This topic is closed.