Queer Characters Deserve Happy Endings
by Channler Twyman
(Warning: this article contains spoilers for Voltron: Legendary Defender)
Everyone close to me knows that I am an avid fan of animated series. Recently, the new season of Voltron: Legendary Defender, a show about five teens chosen to defend the galaxy in a giant robot, dropped on Netflix. This season in particular had huge buzz surrounding it because it was announced by the writers of the show at San-Diego Comic-Con that one of the main protagonists, Takashi “Shiro” Shirogane, was canonically gay and that his lover would be introduced in the series. Like everyone else, I was thrilled by this news. Voltron has had a large number of queer undertones since the show began, but for the writers to take charge and explicitly make one of the main characters gay—and a person of color at that—was exciting. Voltron has had a large LGBTQIA+ fanbase since its genesis and making Shiro a canonically queer character meant a lot to so many of us. But unfortunately, as many marginalized people have become accustomed to, we can never have nice things!
At the very beginning of the season we are introduced to a queer female couple, but they are both villainized and killed off by the second episode of the season. The only reason they play a major part in the beginning of the season is to emphasize a budding heterosexual relationship between a character that used be a part of their evil cohort, and one of the Voltron pilots, Keith, who the fandom has never read as being straight. I use the term “budding” loosely because the last time we met this “potential love-interest,” Keith was literally trying to kill her. In addition to that, Shiro is never addressed as being gay in the show, nor is his relationship with his significant other ever explicitly addressed as being a queer romantic relationship. The only time we ever see them together, they are having an argument and they barely even look at each other, let alone touch or show any type of affection. And to top it all off, Shiro’s partner dies before they even have the chance to reunite.
Now, my dear readers, I bet you are wondering what a niche animated television show has to do with writing and literature, but what doesn’t it have to do with it? The writers of Voltron are following a harmful tradition of writers and literature that perpetuate the idea that queer love, people, and identities cannot survive or thrive in a world of patriarchy and heteronormativity. Think of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Giovanni’s Room, Twelfth Night, and A Marriage Before Zero. All these books, some written by queer authors, end in tragedy for their queer characters. A Marriage Before Zero is considered the first “gay-themed” English novel and it ends with the main male character committing suicide. Writers will build up these entire worlds surrounding LGBT characters and their lives only to make them endure great and continuous suffering. Shiro suffered from PTSD, has lost his arm, his memory, and his physical being. To add insult to injury he lost the love of his life.
Why did Shiro, a queer, disabled, person of color suffering from mental illness, have to constantly be put through the ringer until the very end with no reprieve whatsoever? When hit with backlash, the only queer writer on the show argued that this season was about war and that people lose their lives in war. While that may be true, why did one of the very few white-cis gendered heterosexual male characters get the chance to have an entire family? Why was the straight cis-gendered alien girl afforded the chance to reconcile with Keith? Do queer people not survive wars or find love? The writers argued saying that they did not queerbait their audience, but if this claim was true, they would have placed more emphasis on the aspect that this season was about war, and not a homosexual relationship at one of the biggest pop-culture conventions in the world! It is no secret to the writers that the show’s fanbase appeals to LGBTQIA+ young people. That is why they hyped up Shiro’s queerness in the press and towards fans.
What the writers of Voltron and many other shows, movies, and novels don’t realize by constantly limiting queer characters to only one type of lived experience is that it implies that actual queer lives do not exist outside the boxes they continuously force their characters to live in. Whether it be tragedy, promiscuity, or only in relation to heteronormativity, the constant portrayal of queer characters in the same caricatures is killing LGBTQIA+ people. If we cannot see ourselves thriving whether it is fictional or not, how can we know it can be done? How can we believe that queer love is possible if we’ve never seen it? How can we believe trans people can have full and productive lives if we never see it? When will straight cis-gendered people stop thinking of us as blasphemous sodomites alien creatures instead of actual human beings whose sexuality only defines one aspect of our numerous identities if they never see a queer person exist without succumbing to a sexually transmitted infection, or killing themselves because they believe that they should not exist?
Lack of representation in all forms of visual and written works is why I started this column. Sure, there has been an increase in diverse and inclusive stories, but unfortunately it is not enough to combat the centuries worth of systemic oppression queer folks have been subjugated to. The portrayal of queerness in Voltron is horrific. They latched onto their fans' craving to be seen and understood and essentially implied that even in a show about intergalactic space battles, and hybrid alien-human offspring that captain large robots, queerness cannot thrive while heteronormativity exists.
Queer lives matter. Queer stories matter. Queer representation matters. We deserve to see ourselves being happy, in love, sad, enraged, rich, and poor. We are not a monolith. There are a plethora of queer identities that have yet to be explored in mainstream literature and media. The time for dancing around the subject of queer lives and issues is beyond over. Our stories deserve to be told authentically and whole-heartedly. Not just thrown in for the sake of views, but because writers actually care about the lives of queer people.
Thanks for reading. I hope you like the name change, because I mean it with every part of my being. I see you, and if I don’t, I’m trying my hardest to do so.
— Channler Twyman is a Staff Writer from South Georgia.