The Queer Corner | The carousel of queer progress

The Queer Corner is a biweekly blog exploring LGBTQ+ community and culture.

By Rachel Bachy, Senior Staff Writer

I’ve been queer for a long time. It’s been a rocky road since my first “Am I Gay?” quiz almost a decade ago, and in all that time, I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen queer representation done right. In fact, the past century of popular media has put the queer community, like all marginalized communties, through the wringer.

In recent history, the queer community has been given the Sisyphean task of praising the newest “first gay character” every time Disney shoves a split second of same-sex hand holding into the background of their latest blockbuster. There’s something to be said about putting your eggs in different baskets, but that act of moving on is tough. Sometimes, a book or TV show or movie becomes something precious. You treasure it. You hold it close to your heart. You’re afraid to lose a thing that once meant so much to you.

But sometimes, that attachment keeps us longing for satisfaction that the piece of media will never provide. That’s why some queer fans continue to support “Harry Potter” despite J.K. Rowling’s transphobia, or why there are more than 100,000 fanfictions for “Supernatural’s” infamously queerbaited Castiel and Dean Winchester. Sometimes, it’s too hard to give up hope.

It’s often said that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else. Apparently, that works for queer representation too. Recently, there’s been just one thing on my mind — gay pirates, which is admittadly pretty troublesome this close to finals. Two weeks ago, I watched the entirety of “Our Flag Means Death,” HBOMax’s wildly popular period romantic comedy about Blackbeard (Taika Waititi), Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and their rag-tag group of sailors on the high seas. And yes, I have rewatched it three times already. It’s fantastic, to say the least.

To say the most, though, “Our Flag Means Death” subverts many of the dreadful television tropes plaguing our on-screen favorites. It’s a breath of fresh air amid the sour stench of blatant queerbaiting and easily editable gay scenes — something Disney does all the time. The show relies on not just one, but several queer characters to carry the plot along, and it does so while also being a very fun show about pirates.

“Our Flag Means Death” has swept not just the queer community off its feet, but the entire video streaming world. The show continues to dominate the charts, even beating out the newest Marvel release, “Moon Knight.” And I’m not saying all of this just to give “Our Flag Means Death” more promotion. With the popularity of my silly little gay pirate show, I’m cautiously allowing hope back into my pop culture-loving heart, but not without some caveats.

Some say “Our Flag Means Death” is ushering in a new era of representation — that it is undoing the damage done by the years of queerbaiting. With the pull that Waititi has as one of the most desired creators in Hollywood, it’s easy to see why. His upcoming endeavors include voice acting in Disney’s “Lightyearand directing Marvel’s “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The trailer of the latter even included one faintly gay exchange between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Starlord (Chris Pratt), which Pratt’s rocky relationship with queer fans online makes all the more intriguing.

I remember the moment I gave up hope that Marvel cared about me. I think back on it like I’m a jaded, long retired sea captain smoking a comically large pipe. I was in Nicole Kidman’s favorite spot, an AMC theatre, watching “Avengers: Endgame” when Captain America went back in time to be with Peggy Carter, leaving his best friend Bucky Barnes forever. I know why they did it. The boy always gets the girl, especially when the getting has the added bonus of shutting down any potential queerness of America’s golden superhero. It was then that I thought, “They’ll never care about us.”

In a lot of ways, “Our Flag Means Death” did heal the cryptic sailor in me. The boy doesn’t get the girl. He gets history’s most fearsome pirate in a kiss scene so rewarding it almost feels too good to be true. I had to watch it twice just to make sure I didn’t make the whole thing up. And while I definitely didn’t make it up, I know that this one kiss doesn’t fix the landscape of queer representation. But I will admit, begrudgingly, that “Our Flag Means Death” is a step in the right direction.

The question I care about is where to go from here. As much as it hurts me to say it, not even gay Thor could fix Marvel. Adding queer representation to Marvel is like putting a Hello Kitty bandaid on the hull of a sinking ship. At this point, I’ll take my chances swimming to shore. 

In the pool of popular media, one show’s noteworthy queer representation is a pebble in the ocean of cisgender and heterosexual stories. It’s less of a linear progression from the last piece of so-called perfect queer television, and more a response to the ripples. It’s shouting across the waves, “Hey! I’m here, too!” before it gets drowned out by the inevitable tidal wave of Disney’s media monopoly, and the process starts all over again.

I’m letting myself fall in love with “Our Flag Means Death.” And as I do, I’m reflecting on two things. One, we don’t have to keep loving things that no longer serve us. For a long time, I was content to feed myself on the subtextual crumbs dropped knowingly or not by writers and actors and directors, all to be swept away when the credits roll.

And two, the queer community deserves a lot more than what we get in terms of representation. We deserve more than a joke or a painful coming out or an off-screen kiss. We deserve sincere, undismissable romance woven into the narrative tapestry. We deserve diverse experiences that don’t revolve around the shittiness of queer reality. We deserve queer joy.

Rachel writes about queer culture, the queer community and navigating life beyond the binary. Talk to them at [email protected].