It’s no secret that Hollywood loves “geek culture.” With Disney/Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” recently smashing the record for highest opening weekend gross of all time (with an estimated global take of $640.9 million), it seems obvious that love is not likely to fade anytime soon.
This is great news for the millions of self-proclaimed “geeks” – a once-pejorative term that has been reclaimed by a fan culture that wears it proudly as an emblem of their undying obsession with all things related to sci-fi and fantasy; it ensures that the entertainment industry will continue to provide them with top-quality fodder for their fan-boy and fan-girl excitement, in the form of movies, television shows, books, comics and games.
Under the blanket of this much larger group, however, there is a significant subculture that intersects with the LGBTQ+ community – and their needs may not be as well-served.
A search on Facebook for “Gay Geeks” reveals nearly a hundred groups dedicated to this subculture, the biggest of which boasts approximately 55,000 members, with the number growing every day.
Such forums are largely meant as safe spaces, where queer-identifying fans can come together to discuss, dissect, and argue the finer points of their various “fandoms.”
In the words of Nicholas Langfield, a group member who identifies as a gay gamer (or rather, “gaymer”): “I can freely talk about Chun-Li being ‘mother’ or how Shaheen from Tekken 7 looks delicious. Understand, that type of conversation does not happen around straight geeks.”
Arturo Gutiérrez Avila, also a gamer (and an anime fan), says that geekdom is a common interest that “means we get to bond on a deeper level than just our mutual attraction to men.”
Being a geek also provides a common interest across borders defined by orientation. Group member Quinton Worden says, “I’ve never been a fan of stereotypical gay interests like drag or the party scene, so it gives me a way to connect with both my gay and straight friends. “
Of course, not everyone in this community thinks that sexuality matters to their identity as a geek. Erik Northman Martinez, who sits as a chair with several organizations promoting diversity and inclusion, is hesitant to draw a connection between the two things.
“Aside from […] being more attracted to Chris Hemsworth than Scarlett Johansson (or vice versa), I don’t think our sexuality has anything to do with it. Being gay isn’t what defines your personal interests.”
Still, though one identity may be exclusive of the other, for many the two are intertwined. Group member Edward Faulkner puts it eloquently: “In our geekdoms we can imagine worlds that are made for us, by us. We can be superheroes, we can save entire planets – and for those who aren’t out, they can be who they are without fear of real world consequences.”
There are many, though, who would like the chance to see their geeky sexuality represented somewhere beyond the confines of their own imagination. Comic books have been including LGBT characters, albeit sparsely, for decades, and television has recently begun to follow suit; the Hollywood film factory, however, lags conspicuously behind.
Comic book expert and proud gay geek David Montanez succinctly brings home this point: “The most famous gay character in The Marvel Universe [‘X-Men’ character Northstar] has yet to make a live-action appearance. Fox Studios has strip-mined the ‘X-Men’ property to find every character they can squeeze a dollar from. Still no Northstar.”
From an industry abuzz with talk of inclusion, we have undeniably seen an increase of films depicting “outsider” characters and stories – yet most of these remain outside the mainstream, and – as of yet, at least – none have been part of the “geek-centric” blockbuster franchises.
Eric Diaz, who writes for The Nerdist, offers this coldly frank analysis on why: “It comes down to money. The Marvel films, the DC films, the ‘Star Wars’ films and the like, they are not considered a true success unless each of them make at least half a billion worldwide – and because of this, they need China, Russia, India, certain Muslim markets, which are way behind us in terms of LGBT equality and visibility. The studios will not risk losing those markets to please the LGBT community and their allies. It doesn’t matter how liberal the writers and directors are on these projects, the CEOs of Disney and Warner Brothers and all the others will win in the end.”
This, of course, is old news – a fact which makes it all that much more current.
In a recent interview with IndieWire, Marvel Studio head Kevin Feige asserted that diversity is the future of their franchise, citing the success of “Black Panther” as proof that audiences are “embracing new ideas and new visions and new places and new ways of telling stories,” and that “we will just continue to grow and build on that.”
Feige’s words don’t feel like empty promises, considering that two upcoming Marvel films, “Captain Marvel” and an unnamed “Black Widow” solo feature, will showcase female superheroes, and the rumored development of a “Black Panther” sequel seems all an all-but-sure bet.
There are, however, no LGBT superhero movies on the horizon.
For most “gay geeks,” this ongoing oversight is not a deal-breaker. They will continue to line up at the box office, either way. After all, in most fantasy blockbusters, there is scarcely time for romance even between heteronormative characters.
Still, the love stories are there; Han and Leia, Ron and Hermione, even Spock and Uhura in the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise – these couples and many more are iconic to the members of their respective fandoms. While most of us in the LGBTQ+ community have grown used to identifying with such romances symbolically, one can’t help but wish for more direct representation.
Gay geek Sebastian Carter, who writes LGBT urban fantasy, gives resonant expression to this wish. “I’ve always [played fantasy games] so I could put a character like myself into the story in a way that Hollywood never has. I was able to create the gay hero I always longed to see.”
For now, Sebastian – and the rest of us – will still have to wait for that hero.