Queer in Magic: The Gathering

By Jakob Asplund

Magic: The Gathering (commonly abbreviated as MTG, or Magic) is a trading card game produced by Wizards of the Coast, and is played by approximately twelve million players around the globe, as of 2011.

With a variety of formats and a 22 year history, Magic continues to thrive on the creativity of its players and the community surrounding the sagas contained within. Each set of Magic is a story of a magical world, with “planes walkers” as important characters who can travel between them.

Stories follow typically follow a particular theme, and can be based on real life histories and mythologies: the two most recent blocks (three sets tied together mechanically and narratively) are based on Greek myth and Asian cultures, respectively.

Despite Magic’s rich and diverse history, the community surrounding it can have its own set of challenges. As with many gaming communities, sexist and racist attitudes can permeate a predominantly white male culture, and at times, the cards themselves can support such attitudes. There are few planes walker cards, around 30 (this is out of more than 20,000 cards ever produced), and only seven are of women, with one agender (which will be discussed later). Magic has a history of good writing when it comes to female characters, but in recent years, it has done much to increase the amount of representation.

The Theros block is based on Greek Mythology, with a fairly open queer element for the time; after all, this is the culture responsible for the word ‘lesbian’, and even the gods themselves are put in queer situations: Zeus and Ganymede, his cup bearer; Artemis and Calysto, and many others. As such, I think that it is fitting that this is the first culture used by Magic to portray openly queer characters.

As such, there are two cards from this set that stand out: The Guardians of Meletis, and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. The Guardians of Meletis depict two royal figures guarding a river, the one on the right wreathed in armor. The card’s “flavor text,” the italic text on the bottom of the card that helps paint the larger narrative picture, says that the two rulers were in fact lovers, not the feuding rulers history thought them to be. A fan wrote in to the blog of Doug Beyer, one of the core writers and card developers for MTG, and asked: “Are the Guardians or Meletis Magic’s first gay Couple? Or am I misgendering one of them? Also, thank you so much for Ashiok! LGBTQ representation is awesome.”

Ashiok is a controller of nightmares and information, coming from an unknown world to Theros, the name of this plane, to experiment.

A decidedly cold and cruel character, many have questioned the intent of creating such an evil “token” character. Magic weekly posts fiction written by its development team to flesh out the story, and Ashiok appears in one to torment a local king and harvest his nightmares. Phenax, god of lies and deceit, one of the rulers of this plane, appears before Ashiok and says: “When the two had first met, the figure had called itself Ashiok…..  He, no, Phenax was not sure if the mortal even had a gender, Ashiok.” Thus, even a god does not know how to describe Ashiok’s gender.

Doug Beyer, the writer mentioned previously, received another comment that asked about Ashiok’s gender. In German, the card was given the pronoun “der”, which is masculine, and Doug Beyer replied by writing: “Others may attribute gender to Ashiok, but Ashiok does not define Ashiok’s own identity that way. Some languages require the use of a gendered pronoun, just like some people’s beliefs require other people to fall into clearly-defined categories. (I think Ashiok would be amused to hear those people’s attempts at categorizing Ashiok.) The effect of language on gender, and vice versa, is a complicated issue. But whatever any text or card or pronoun might claim, Ashiok’s gender identity is up to one person: Ashiok. And Ashiok hasn’t said, and won’t. So it’s officially unknown, just like many other mysteries about this mage.”

I think this response is rather fitting for a character who fooled the god of lies; the answer is simply a mystery. This queerest of characters will keep people guessing for a while.

The most recent expansion of Magic is the Tarkir block, which is set on a world populated by dragons and warring clans and is based on historical Asian cultures. There are groups based on the Thai empire, Tibetan Monks, Persians, Siberians, and the Mongol Horde. The leader of the Mardu Clan (modeled after the reign of Genghis Khan), which is devoted to warfare and freedom, is a 19-year-old transwoman with a blade canonically “as wide and as long as her arm.”

Yeah, rock on. The story for this character, known both as Alesha and by the epithet “Who Smiles At Death,” paints an interesting image of identity. The trans identity of the character is not the focus of this story, so much as knowing one’s own identity.

The Mardu people have a naming ritual where you earn the right to name yourself, and Alesha has an interesting story to tell of hers:

“She had been so different—only sixteen, a boy in everyone’s eyes but her own, about to choose and declare her name before the khan and all the Mardu.

The khan had walked among the warriors, hearing the tales of their glorious deeds. One by one, they declared their new war names, and each time, the khan shouted the names for all to hear. Each time, the horde shouted the name as one, shaking the earth.

Then the khan came to Alesha. She stood before him, snakes coiling in the pit of her stomach, and told how she had slain her first dragon. The khan nodded and asked her name.

“Alesha,” she said, as loudly as she could. Just Alesha, her grandmother’s name.

“Alesha!” the khan shouted, without a moment’s pause.

And the whole gathered horde shouted “Alesha!” in reply. The warriors of the Mardu shouted her name. In that moment, if anyone had told her that in three years’ time she would be khan, she just might have dared to believe it.”

This is an example of extreme inclusivity I think, especially in such a seemingly hypermasculine culture that this Genghis Khan expy) seems to embody. But it is much different than that, as Alesha remarks later. Her identity is called into question by a nameless orc, who calls her a “human boy who thinks he’s a woman.” “I know who I am,” Alesha says to him, still smiling. “Now show me who you are.”

This response is fantastic, such a verification of her own sense of self, while even as it questions that of a person that she knows to be lost. Later, after the battle, she confronts the orc again, who had proven helpful to everyone around him, saving them, protecting them, allowing them to deal the final blow. But he claims he has no glory, and the dialogue continues:

“I know who I am. I am not a boy. I am Alesha, like my grandmother before me.” Several of the nearest warriors murmured their approval.

“And I know who you are,” she said. “The Mardu know you. But you—you think every Mardu must be a Backbreaker or Helmsmasher. You think your deeds are not as glorious as theirs. And you are wrong.” She let go of his armor and shoved him, sending him stumbling back a few steps.

“When you learn what your place among the Mardu is, then you can choose a name.”

This story of her triumph as an individual is not about her trans identity. In fact, while the story mentions it, this is mostly about her interaction with the nameless orc rather than the fact that she is trans. This story is about knowing yourself and loving yourself, of finding a group of people who accept you for who you choose to be, whatever or whoever that is.

Alesha vows to help this nameless orc, the person who dared to misgender his leader in combat, to find his own place among the Mardu. Because knowing yourself and being yourself is the absolute freedom.

A Perspective on Gender Seen Through Flawless Lashes

By Corey Brooke

Before hosting a party in my dorm for the first time, I spent half an hour sitting in front of a mirror trying to attach a pair of the longest fake eyelashes I could find at Target. I had no idea what I was doing, and glue dripped onto my clothes and into my eyes—but for all its power to stain and irritate, the adhesive would not keep the lashes on my eyelids. I never doubted, though, that the trouble would be worthwhile: I was going to make the lashes work, and, eventually, I did.

That night, I was in control of my body. I had fun with how others saw me and even how I saw myself. I felt self-consciously and intentionally beautiful. Nevertheless, I took nothing about the lashes seriously—I wore them sardonically, though not without personal effect, like some sort of joke fluttering up and down on my face, reminding myself and my friends that I do not have to perform beauty norms (or even gender norms) in order to have a good night and feel satisfied with my appearance. Ultimately, I freed myself in an entirely new way, reshuffling dictations about tackiness, about glamour, about gender. But what was it that freed me, and how?

Before answering that question, it is worth saying that I am not a woman, have never considered myself one, and am inclined to believe that I never will. However, when Simone de Beauvoir wrote that “on ne naît pas femme: on le devient” (usually translated “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”), she implied that gender is not something we are but something we do. Nothing deep in my soul or biology demanded that I bat fake lashes—my own desires motivated me to play with gender, to act in a way divergent from the performances of either manhood or womanhood, and my consenting to that motivation led me to feel unburdened. So, when I ask how it is that gluing on women’s cosmetic eyelashes seemed to liberate me, I am asking about the effects of disrupting gender. For an answer, I look first to experiences of gender among drag queens and multicultural queer youth on social media.

* * *

Last October, Facebook began deactivating the accounts of those not using their legal names on the social media site, including drag queens who used their drag names in addition to Pagans and some trans people. The policy, still in place, was and continues to be controversial. What surprised me the most initially, and what I find most compelling, is that many drag queens prefer to use personal accounts, rather than public pages, to disseminate information about drag-related events, issues, and discussion. I should note that many drag personalities do act problematically, especially often for the appropriation and caricaturing of black female culture. Still, I believe that others perform an important role in disrupting our ideas of what gender means to our identities. With this in mind, why did Facebook’s deactivation of drag accounts inflame the drag community and their supporters when the use of public pages (still an option) should seem to suffice?

From the insistence of drag queens that their drag personas deserve Facebook profiles, I read a clear assertion that personhood acted out in queer, gender nonconforming ways is just as legitimate as more normative conceptualizations of identity. To rebel against the tides of “man” and “woman,” either consistently or impulsively, shifts, refocuses, and creates identity, changing the experience of being, which is, after all, an action rather than a noun.

So, when I glued lashes on my face for the first time, I changed my experience of gender and others’ experiences of my gender, indeed re-envisioning (through perhaps more glamorous eyes) my identity. Stepping outside of my habits of gender allowed me to examine other aspects of my selfhood.

* * *

I find further insight in the recent explosion of the use of “flawless” as a conceptualization of beauty. Young racial or ethnic minorities and queer peoples especially use the term on social media to describe themselves or celebrities with similar experiences of race, sexuality, and gender (for example, Laverne Cox, Rihanna, and Michelle Obama)—perhaps as an affirmation of a countercultural beauty that norms have taught them not to see in themselves or others.

An article Javier Jaén wrote for the New York Times, entitled “How ‘Flawless’ Became a Feminist Declaration,” explores the background and implications of  “flawlessness,” contending that “‘flawless’ feels vigorous. It’s a word for integrity and excellence of execution….[the word] recasts beauty as something that can be done, pulled off — not just possessed.” Flawlessness reclaims and upturns beauty by one’s own terms.

Further, beyond locating marginalized peoples within the fold of beauty, the epithet “flawless” explicitly critiques beauty altogether. More than fifty years before Beyoncé’s “***Flawless”, Jaén notes that drag queen Flawless Sabrina used the term to characterize herself as “a paragon of perfection” even despite her self-attestation that she “was anything but perfect.” Certainly, it seems that “flawless” has stayed sardonic, necessarily poking fun at dominant conceptions of beauty through assertive claims of beauty from those outside of beauty norms.

So, when I decided determinedly but not seriously to spend a night in cosmetic lashes, I unwittingly partook in a queer tradition of al at once playing with, critiquing, and locating oneself within the narrow umbrella of beauty. I had made myself flawless through my own luxe-lidded eyes and, by my own terms, I had claimed an experience of beauty for myself apart from the tantalizing and destructive cultural myth of what is beautiful.

* * *

So, what can queer voices teach us about gender identity and beauty? They suggest that, gender being an act of performance that defines aspects of our experience of identity, we might as well live gender on our own terms and find our beauty through pride in that craft. For me, strings of plastic curling out from over my eyes provided a great first taste of the liberation that can come from self-consciously steering one’s gender trajectory. I do not doubt that other people might redefine their relationship with gender quite differently from how I have. Nevertheless, I believe that drag queens and marginalized youth on social media can teach us all something about the value of performing and shaping our identities through gender.

Dear Cielo and Peter

By Estrella Almaguer

I know this might seem a bit strange, but just bear with me. I am composing this letter to you with the best of intentions.

Can you remember the last time Mom or Dad mentioned anything about the LGBTQA community? Probably not. Do you even know what this acronym stands for? Perhaps. The point is that you likely have very little knowledge about this group of people, and that worries me. I was once in your shoes, which is why I want to share my new perspectives and lived experiences about the LGBTQA community with you, through this letter.

Coming from a big city like Chicago, people might assume that I knew a decent amount about the LGBTQA community prior to coming to St. Olaf. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I grew up in a bustling neighborhood with various grocery stores, restaurants, parks, churches, schools, baseball fields, and a bike path that runs through the woods and stops at a beautiful lake. The smell of fresh air, fresh-cut green grass, and fresh corn on the cob fill the streets of my neighborhood. The sound of laughter coming from children playing outside, the cheering and chanting coming from the baseball fields, the ringing of bells from the paltero man’s popsicle cart, the vibrations of cars driving by, and the jingle song coming the ice-cream truck make me feel at home.

Our neighborhood is predominately Hispanic, and therefore, the Hispanic population was the majority in our elementary and middle schools. Most households in our neighborhood practice Catholicism, which is why these families are not very knowledgeable about, much less accepting of, gay and queer rights. These families are very loyal to their religion, and they firmly believe that God created a man and a woman so that these two sexes could be together. Whether or not we realized our neighborhood’s influence on us at the time, the demographics of our neighborhood played, and unfortunately continue to play for the two of you, a huge role in our lack of exposure to the LGBTQA community.

Do we have any LGBTQA relatives in our immediate family? Not that we know of. How about friends? Can we name a handful of our friends who identify with the LGBTQA community? Not really. Have you stopped to think about this? Let’s not be sheltered about the harsh realities that the LGBTQA community is facing today, such as the struggles for marriage equality, protections for transgender people, and access to health insurance.

Here is some key terminology that I learned since leaving Chicago:

LGBTQA is an acronym that replaced what was formerly known as the “gay community.” The acronym was created to be more inclusive of diverse groups. LGBTQA stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and asexual or ally.

  • Lesbian: An individual who identifies as a woman and who is predominantly sexually and romantically attracted to other women.
  • Gay: An individual who identifies as a man and who is predominantly sexually and romantically attracted to other men.
  • Bisexual: An individual who is sexually and romantically attracted to men and women.
  • Transgender: An individual who identifies as the opposite sex from the sexual characteristics that he/she was born with.
  • Queer: An individual who feels more comfortable identifying with a term that is fluid and inclusive of diverse sexual orientations and/or gender identities.
  • Questioning: An individual who is unsure about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and prefers to identify as “questioning,” rather than adhering to a label that does not designate how they feel.
  • Asexual: An individual who lacks sexual attraction to anyone, or expresses low or absent interest in sexual activity.
  • Ally: An individual who is supportive of the LGBTQA community.

I felt so sheltered when I came to college and I wouldn’t want you two to feel the same way. I did not have anyone to brief me on these social matters. Coming to St. Olaf gave me a new perspective on the conditions that the LGBTQA community is forced to live under. I have friends who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual, whom I hold dearest to my heart. These individuals have been honest and openly vulnerable with me about the stigma they feel is bestowed upon them by society every single day. These individuals just want to feel like they can be true to themselves, even if they are a little different than everyone else. Taking classes about this marginalized group of people and listening in on Wellness events that discuss issues facing the LGBTQA community has educated me on the lack of equal rights that this population experiences.

There is another important term that I want to highlight, a term that you can relate to. A heterosexual is a person who is romantically and sexually attracted to the opposite sex and/or gender. For example, heterosexual females are attracted to males and heterosexual males are attracted to females. Over the years, I have witnessed, experienced, and learned about the overwhelming pressure that society puts on us to conform to heterosexual practices. I have taken multiple classes where I have discussed the social constructs of femininity and masculinity. The word masculine, as we think it, means strong, muscular, well-built, confident, brave, powerful, robust, dominant, athletic, and independent. On the contrary, the word feminine means tender, gentle, dainty, emotional, nurturing, affectionate, submissive, weak, and dependent.

Regardless of your sexual orientation, I want you to be knowledgeable about the LGBTQA community because many of them actively challenge our society’s gender norms. Learning about the LGBTQA community can also help you understand your own sexual identity better. Whether or not you identify as a member of the LGBTQA community, these disregarded people deserve your respect and support. I encourage you to be an ally and to begin to acquire a deeper self-understanding of your own identity throughout the process, just like me.

Much love, your sister,

Estrella Almaguer

Normal: A Review

By Rachel Jackman

normal [nawr­-muhl]

  1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual
  2. serving to establish a standard
  3. Psychology:
 free from any mental disorder
  4. Biology/Medicine: free from any infection or other forms of disease or malfunction, or from experimental therapy, or manipulation
  5. of natural occurrence

The word “normal” has existed for centuries–originating first from Latin and then being incorporated into a myriad of cultures and languages. While a dictionary can contain a valid definition of the word, can anyone truly know what it means? After all, what is normal? A standard and natural occurrence can vary cross culturally, but also individually. Normalcy is never static and is incredibly personal. However, often the established standardization of normalcy overrides the individual complexity of it. It seems that in recent years, within the United States especially, gender binaries and heteronormativity have become increasingly relevant issues: in particular, our definitions of “normal” gender and sexual identities. While the vast majority of the population is cisgender, meaning that an individual’s experience of their own gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth, a minority of transgender individuals struggle to express themselves completely in our society that views gender in binary and immutable term. We have created a standard that gender expression is expected to match sex; anything other than that is abnormal and wrong. However, this expectation is unrealistic, due to the fact that normalcy is dynamic and greatly influenced by individual perspective and experience. The 2003 HBO film Normal pursues the question of what normalcy actually looks like not from a societal perspective necessarily, but rather an individual and familial level.

The film begins at a local church with the celebration of the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of Roy and Irma Applewood. At this celebration, the pastor emphasizes the love this couple has for each other and that no one could have such love. Yet, suddenly during this speech, Roy passes out; in the next scene, the audience sees Roy coming out to his wife and pastor, announcing that he is transgender and stating his desire to become a woman named Ruth. Initially reluctant to accept Roy’s identity, Irma files for divorce in an attempt to separate herself completely from her husband. However, while attending a celebration for Roy’s father’s birthday, the father tells a story of Roy as a child getting caught wearing his sister’s clothing and being forced to strip down and sleep in the barn. Brought to tears, the adult Roy takes refuge in the barn and contemplates suicide when Irma finds him and realizes the agony he must be suffering. Eventually, Irma comes to a deeper understanding of her husband and helps Ruth through her transition. Their tomboyish daughter, Patty Ann, is fascinated by her father’s transition and even pleads with Irma to “let [Patty Ann] off the hook for being the woman in the family.” However, Ruth’s son does not accept her transition initially and reacts with hostility. Ultimately, despite finding general acceptance from her family, Ruth is ostracized by many of the men at her workplace as well as her entire church community.

As the title of the film suggests, established normalcy is likely not what normal actually looks like. The film begins in a church setting, suggesting that the standardization of heteronormativity began with religious influences and persists because of the Christian faith, in particular. This is still true today: most often, trans rights are opposed by religious organizations. For example, in a recent article in the Miami Herald, opponents of a ban on discrimination against trans people likened the South, if it accepts such a ban, to Sodom and Gomorrah. Unfortunately, in our society, religion is so closely linked to morality that, in many situations, it limits freedom of expression for minority groups. Normal precisely captures the isolation and damnation that Christianity places on the very people it is supposed to incorporate and love.

The opposition between religion and gender expression continues throughout the film, beginning when the pastor tries to fix the marriage between Roy and Irma based on Ephesians 5:28: “for no man hath hated his own flesh.” This passage suggests that men need to look to women to satisfy themselves, and thus need women for completion. According to the pastor’s perspective, Roy is being selfish in his attempt to fill the role of the wife as well as the husband. Yet, no one in his church community can truly understand. This disconnect is ever-present in the film, as in another scene where Ruth and Patty Ann are asked to leave a service and the congregation even refuses to accept the offertory from Ruth–as if the money she offers to the church is tainted because of her “abnormal” gender expression. As Ruth continues her transition, the pastor and the rest of the congregation begin to treat Irma as if she is a widow: is there anything she needs help with around the house? Maybe they should bring her meals? As far as the church is concerned, Roy is dead. Normalcy is established through shared practice, such as religion, but if it becomes tradition, it can also lead to oppression of those individuals for whom established normalcy is abnormal.

Even though Roy desires to embrace his true female identity and finally match his sex to his gender, thus feeling complete and normal, at the start of the film he admits that his gender identity is not in conjunction with the majority of people. He proclaims that he “prayed for years for [these feelings] to go away,” and even refers to himself as having a condition called gender dysphoria. The need to describe what he is feeling through the terminology of a disorder illustrates the societal imposition of gender and sexuality norms. If anyone strays from standard gender binary, the only explanation is that they must be diseased. This belief in established normalcy is so powerful that even those individuals whose personal definitions of normal differ from it believe themselves to be wrong or diseased even when that has never been, nor will ever be, the case.

Normal is incredibly successful in capturing the difficulty trans individuals face in our society here in the United States. Because religion has fettered heterosexuality and cisgenderism to established norms, anyone who exists outside of those norms is fated to oppression or condemnation from society even if they are able to find love, understanding, and happiness within their family as Roy was finally able to do with Irma. However, as the film illustrates, normalcy is dynamic and personal to every individual and his or her closest relationships.

Queer Studies Vs. Quare Studies

By Angelina Bergthold

A person’s life is not shaped simply by a singular subject position they fill. People are multifaceted and thus influenced by their multiple identities. It is this multiplicity of subject positions that has E. Patrick Johnson reformulating what exactly is meant by “queer studies” in his essay “‘Quare’ Studies, or (Almost) Everything I Know About Queer Studies I Learned from My Grandmother.” Johnson turns to Gloria Anzalduá for a critique of queer studies, quoting her statement that “queer is used as a false unifying umbrella which all ‘queers’ of all races, ethnicities and classes are shored under.” Anzalduá maintains that this so-called umbrella is helpful in times of solidarity, but it does not do well for queer folks of color to forget that the catch-all term erases the differences amongst individuals. For this reason, Johnson proposes a new approach to queer studies, something he calls “Quare” studies. Quare studies, according to Johnson, “not only speaks across identities, it articulates identities as well.” Quare studies is different from queer studies in that it considers not only class and gender in relation to sexuality, but socialization and the effect that locality has on a person’s perspective and lived experience. This reconceptualized queer studies is also “committed to theorizing the practice of everyday life.” Johnson focuses primarily on the tangibility of “material bodies,” recognizing the social construction of subject positions while emphasizing their very real consequences.

Johnson first concerns himself with identity claims that exclude rather than include. It is here that we run into the tension between claims of “black authenticity” and homosexual identities. Here Johnson argues that the construction of identity is not simply a performance, but a “moment of self-reflexivity that has the potential to transform one’s view of self in relation to the world.” In this way, performance functions as an area agency, where the disenfranchised can take control over the image they present to the world.  They do this by using the tools they have gained within the oppressive systems they have been forced into. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people of color use vernacular and performance to rally the agency to resist.  Through this resistance we see quare studies fulfilling one of its main purposes: motivating oppressed people into action.

It is not just performance itself that matters, but the context and history of the moment. Both temporal and spatial location affect the performance of subject positions as much as the constructed subject position itself. Johnson borrows the term “homeplace” from bell hooks to identify the foundation of “humanization,” a foundation that equips people with the tools to combat the oppression of the outside world while also considering the oppression within the homeplace itself. An example of a “homeplace” that Johnson provides is that of the black church. As a black, gay Southerner Johnson is familiar with the isolation that nonheterosexual-identifying people feel within the homophobia that is often associated with the church. However, it is here that queer blacks are employing what queer theorist José Muñoz called “disidentification”. Within the theory of disidentification, the oppressed people neither assimilate to the majority nor or oppose the dominant structure. Johnson argues that in the case of black gays and lesbians, people find value in cultural and religious rituals while resisting homophobic ideals. In this way, the oppressed are fighting the system using the system itself.

For Johnson, quare studies is a rebranding of queer studies both inside and outside of the academic sphere. Reshaping theory in academia is an easier task than reshaping individual communities about contested issues. Johnson specifically looks at tension in gay, lesbian, and transgender communities of color surrounding identity politics in relation to interracial dating. This tension arises, Johnson suggests, from “the differences among our differences.” As a result, he encourages queer folks to look across the hetero/nonhetero line in hopes to unite larger groups of oppressed peoples.  According to E. Patrick Johnson, “quare studies must encourage strategic coalition building around laws and policies that have the potential to affect us across racial, sexual, and class divides.” Quare studies is primarily meant to reconceptualize queer studies in an academic sense, but can also potentially apply to the political field in order to enact change for the oppressed across the board.

In Memoriam

By Josiah R. Mosqueda

On April 26th, 2014, my friend Robert committed suicide. He was 17 years old, and had only recently come out as being gay. He was very much a part of our family; he was one of my sisters’ best friends, and would hang out at our house all the time. His death left a void in our hearts.

Robert’s death also struck me hard because of the similarities between us—we both loved reading (especially science fiction and fantasy), we both were involved with choir and show choir, we were both out as gay at a school that provided no support for LGBTQ students. When I was 17, I myself contemplated suicide very seriously, tired of being in a world that condemned me for loving whom I love.

It is a sad reality for me that Robert will not be the only queer friend to die before I do. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for LGBTQ people ages 10-24. In Minnesota alone, there has been an epidemic of LGBTQ teen suicides in the past five or so years, a sobering thought.

Many allies of the queer community call the sweeping acceptance of marriage equality across the nation the movement’s greatest achievement. Yet what good is the ability to get married if our youth do not live long enough to exercise these new rights?

Robert’s death reminds me every day that the work of true equity and acceptance for LGBTQ people does not end with legislation; it’s about combating microaggressions we face everyday, normalizing queer people and our experiences, and embracing diversity wherever it is.

I do not mean to make Robert into a martyr—he himself would have hated that idea. Suicide is a terrible plague that is killing our people silently and violently. It must end. Our youth are the future, and we must make this world a safe place for them to explore, create, and be who they are.

Of my friend, I can say this: He had the biggest heart of anyone I have ever known. He was funny, with a dry sense of humor that I found refreshing. He liked Starbursts. He played the saxophone, with skill that I envied. He was tall and lanky, with glasses that hid his bright intelligent eyes. I still hear his voice sometimes in the whisper of the wind, his laugh echoing in the silence after thunder strikes. I will never forget him.

Te quiero, Robert. Siempre!

What Do Queer Commercials Look Like Now?

By Arielle Axelrod

I attribute my fascination with queer commercials to Amnesty International. I was watching a sitcom on Hulu when suddenly my screen went dark. There’s no sound with the exception of haunting, faintly Russian music. The scene shows a man robbing a store, with two barely visible men looking at candy. The police come and ignore the robbery and instead arrest the two candy shoppers. The scene ends and a yellow banner appears, bearing the words: “In many countries, being homosexual is worse than being a common criminal. Help Amnesty International change this state of affairs.”

This commercial threw me off guard. Unlike other queer commercials, this one wasn’t playing on my emotions. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t trying to sell me anything and it wasn’t casually throwing in the occasional gay couple. No, this was using logic to show just how insane some laws are and that hit home.

Queer commercials have many distinguishing characteristics. As stated by Ad Week, the first queer commercial to air in the United States was in 1994, by Ikea. It ran in only three major cities and played after 10pm in order to not be shown during “family hour.” The commercial features two men, simultaneously talking about their relationship and their admiration for the Ikea furniture. In one scene, the men quickly move from discussing how they met each other at a wedding to how sturdy the Ikea chairs are. Perhaps the commercial was purposely composed of these abrupt changes of conversation to distract the audience from what they were seeing, or perhaps it was simply a marketing ploy to attract more queer consumers. Although there was plenty of tension and backlash both during shooting and once it aired, Ikea never faltered and stood behind the commercial.

But what do queer commercials look like today? A lot of the queer commercials I found were hosted on a YouTube channel maintained by an LGBT marketing firm, but the issue of queer representation in media has been a major topic of discussion and allowed me to easily find a variety of commercials to analyze. I narrowed down the commercials by looking at well-known American brands and comparing them to European commercials that had generated some sort of statement in the media. I found that commercials for an American audience took two approaches: the first being explicit and the second being implicit. Those commercials that I deemed explicit were very obvious in their rendition of a queer couple with no distracting elements that took away from the performance; these commercials tended to be humorous. While not necessarily mocking queer people, the commercial relies on funny stereotypes in order to be effective. On the other hand, the commercials I considered implicit were very subtle in their approach. Often times a queer couple was shown only for a few seconds and was simply added into a sequence of shots that included heterosexual couples.

An example of an explicit commercial was one by Doritos. It features a man cutting his hedge, wearing a backwards hat and by all appearances quite masculine, who is longingly looking at a bowl of Salsa Verde Doritos while a sexy Spanish song is playing in the background. The camera is focused on the bowl of Doritos, blocking the audience from seeing who is eating them. The drooling man’s girlfriend walks on the screen and gives him a very confused look. The camera then zooms out and we see two men eating the Doritos in short swim shorts by a pool. They say hello and the drooling man snaps out of his daydream and looks very confused. The two men by the pool then look at each other and say, “told you so.” Humor helps soften the blow by not bombarding people with foreign or non-dominant images of a couple. By adding a sense of humor, Doritos takes a dominant stand on explicitly showing a queer couple without pushing people too far.

An alternative approach that queer commercials take is the subtle addition of queer families, couples, and individuals to their already existing customer base, which I define as an implicit approach. For example, Honey Maid’s Wholesome Family commercial features a variety of families, including homosexual parents and is geared for a wide range of consumers. The commercial first shows a gay couple with a newborn baby, then a family with tattoos, and then a racially mixed family with the slogan “Wholesome Snacks for Wholesome Families”. By flawlessly interweaving social deviation with social norms, the commercials makes you wonder why we even consider the queer relationship different.

On the other hand, a Marlboro’s commercial spoofs the movie Brokeback Mountain and stars two men on horseback riding to their campsite. One man lights the cigarette and the other man immediately spits it out exclaiming, “Dude, this is menthol! Do you think I’m gay?” with the caption below saying, “smoke like a man”. The commercial ends with the other man looking at his cigarette and sighing, “I wish I could quit you.” By assuming that only gay men would smoke menthol, the commercial is enforcing sexual stereotypes. The tone of voice used by the actor to display disgust with the assumption that he is gay further criticizes gay behavior and connects the behavior with being not masculine. This sort of representation counteracts queer acceptance by showing disgust, and automatically assumes that queer behavior cannot co-exist with masculine

While American commercials are stuck in limbo, European commercials are taking a stand. A prime example of a European commercial is Renault’s Twingo. The scene begins with a father and a daughter in a Twingo (a small European car) dressed in wedding apparel. The father and daughter arrive at a church and walk down the aisle towards a younger male. The daughter then congratulates her dad and walks away. The commercial ends with “Times Have Changed. The Twingo Too.” This commercial is explicit in its message of not only accepting queer relationships (as well as cross-generational relationships), but pointing out that it’s time for everyone else to accept them as well. This commercial is a perfect example of a company not only being explicit, but not being superficial and thus making a stance.

An even more extreme example of explicit queer representation by European commercials is Ikea’s Austria ad. The ad features a man and a woman passionately kissing on a table until the man’s boyfriend walks in, revealing that the star is in fact bisexual. In contrast, an American commercial for the Kindle reader features a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple lounging side by side on the beach with the joke being that both have husbands who are fetching drinks. The idea of using humor begs the question of why a company would choose to make a more distinct, yet anti-humorous stance. I believe that a company bold enough to create a commercial without humor as a backup can create a more lasting impression on their audience. Doritos does not make the audience connect with the characters; their primary concern is marketing Doritos. In contrast, the emotional feelings the audience experiences when watching the Twingo commercial are a direct reaction to a social issue. Twingo humanizes the characters and makes an obvious stand on the issue of queer representation and acceptance.

So the question becomes why do these companies (especially American ones) choose to become superficial in their expression? Why aren’t these companies more explicit in their queer representation? If including queer couples is a part of a larger marketing scheme in attracting and retaining customers, it would seem logical to have more explicit representation, as in the Kindle and Doritos spots. Yet both of these used humor as a way of marketing towards heterosexual couples. We see, however, that the more implicit approach creates intimacy for consumers, yet still only momentarily shows queer couples. The exception to this rule is Hallmark’s #PutYourHeartToPaper commercial. This model American commercial is explicit in presenting a queer couple, but also completely lacks humor and instead focuses on emotion. This balance shows that companies can both take a stand and engage their consumers without alienating them. So why are so many companies avoiding this approach? Perhaps companies are instead trying not to alienate their more conservative consumer base. But then why include the commercials that are explicit, yet humorous? It appears that companies are stuck between the marketing pull for more queer representation and the fear of taking a moral stand. That’s what I want. I want companies that make bold claims even if they lose profits. I want these companies to make queer representation the norm, without using humor as backup. I want companies to back up their moral stand with the logic behind marketing to a broader, not narrower audience. If they do this, their profits may well increase and maybe, just maybe, our world will be a happier, more accepting place to live.

The Outlier

By Colton Rod

I knew that I was gay at the beginning of high school, but chose to hide it from everyone around me. Upon starting college, I continued to feign an interest in women, even after starting a relationship with another guy. In January of last year, I finally started to come out to the people in my life. Why, you might ask, did it take so long for me to be open with others about my sexuality?

Most would assume I was afraid of disapproval from family, friends, and teammates.

That wouldn’t be entirely true.

Perhaps fear of discrimination and violence?

Not quite.

People tend to be surprised when I reveal the reason for the apprehension.

Truthfully, I was uncomfortable with the idea of being identified with the LGBT community, as I never saw a place for me within it.

That may sound insensitive, but please hear me out.

I was raised ignorant of the fact that gay people existed, in a household seemingly intolerant of homosexuality. As I grew up, I realized that my father referred to flamboyant gay men as “femmes” in a detectably derogatory way with zero opposition from my mother. Although they’re some of the most supportive people in my life today, their beliefs were instilled within me and have continued to dictate my views on gender and sexuality.

Sexual orientation, however, must go beyond the scope of one’s environment as I turned out to be gay.

Even though I identified as gay, I had little interest in participating in what society views as stereotypically gay. I like to believe that I’m not incredibly flamboyant, I have no desire to dress in drag, and I tend to care little about fashion. In fact, I prefer traditionally masculine things such as competing on sports teams and hunting or fishing with my dad.

My parents and the rest of the environment in which I was reared stressed gender norms: things being specifically for boys, and things specifically for girls.

Coming out as gay didn’t alter these beliefs.

From hearing others’ stories upon coming out, many feel this huge sense of relief and freedom in that they can finally be the “real” them. People expected me to have this same sentiment when I came out – that I was going to totally reinvent myself by talking, dressing, and carrying myself in a new way. This simply was not the case. I made a promise to myself before coming out that I was going to be the same person before and after, the only difference being the gender of the person I dated. I loved my life, my friends, and the person I was before admitting to the world I was gay. I’m continuing to be that same person today.

I hadn’t been “acting” straight. I was being myself with this one exception.

Still, people expected me to be someone new. When word of me being out spread around campus, I remember other gay students coming up to me and saying things like, “Welcome to the team!” While these were really kind gestures in which they were extending support in the chance that it was needed, it left me feeling uncomfortable.

No one asked me if I wanted to join.

The thing is, I never really had a choice.

Herein lies my struggle to find a role within the LGBT community: choosing to hold on to the ideals of my upbringing combined with my lack of choice of sexuality.

Similarly, even some of my heterosexual friends threw me into the community.

One day at practice, in reference to one of our recent graduates that seemed to fit the gay male stereotype more than I, one of my friends said to me, “Thank God you were on the team to redeem gay people.” Upon hearing this, I laughed and took the comment as somewhat of a compliment. But looking back, why does not fitting the stereotype become a compliment? And why do gay people need redeeming in the first place?

For me, it served as a compliment because I was validated in my desire to not be perceived as a stereotypical gay man. Although I have effeminate characteristics, such as a mild obsession with Ke$ha, I like to be recognized for my masculine characteristics.

Even though I’m gay, I’m still a guy.

As for needing redemption, there are many underlying assumptions about gay men. I recently read Why are Faggots so Afraid of Faggots?, a collection of essays that “challenges not just the violence of straight homophobia but the hypocrisy of mainstream gay norms.” The author, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, claims that gay sexual culture is now “straight-acting dudes hangin’ out” and has compiled the book to challenge it. She sees this as a problem – that I’m scared and “acting straight” out of fear. She couldn’t be more wrong.

I am not that collection of essays.

I’m not saying that there is a problem with being gay and fitting the stereotype. People are entitled to live their lives the way they see fit. My quandary is society’s assumption that I will act in a similar manner just because I identify as gay, and also that any gay man would look down upon the way that I live my life.

These have led to dissociation from the LGBT community. Although I’m positive there is internal diversity within the group, there is a certain connotation that comes along with being labeled “gay.” But guess what? There isn’t one right way to be gay.

Perhaps there is a role for me in the LGBT community; it just isn’t one that has been predetermined for me. There is no need for me to conform; I can still be me. Maybe that is my role within the community: continuing to challenge what society views as the stereotypical gay man.

With this in mind, hopefully I can feel more at ease with the LGBT community, becoming more comfortable being a part of it, as I continue to grow. By being more open-minded, I can pave my own path within the group and find a place for myself within it.