When it comes to the portrayal of GBLT people, the Anita Blake series is a classic warning that quantity is never a substitution for quality and that mere number of portrayals does not make a book, TV series or film friendly to GBLT people. We’ve seen this in True Blood as well, where, again, sheer number of portrayals doesn’t change the very large problems with those portrayals.
I can understand the reaction. Most books and series simply don’t have any GBL inclusion at all. And when they do it’s usually one or two characters, in minor roles (usually as best friends and support staff – barely even side kicks). We have started praising even the tiniest inclusion – it’s depressing when we see even progressive blogs analysing media, praising Teen Wolf for its single bit-token gay character, while criticising it for its portrayals of other, more numerous, minorities. So when we see a series that has several GBL characters it is extremely rare and it is tempting to praise it – especially when tiny, virtually characterless tokens are seemingly due fawning.
But quality matters. A book with a terrible, trope laden stereotypes is bad, problematic and prejudiced. The mere fact you have a hundred of them rather than just one doesn’t makes these terrible, trope laden stereotypes ok. And this is abundantly clear in the Anita Blake series.
The easiest place to begin is to look at some of the villains of the Anita Blake series, because I think I spot a pattern:
- Asher, bisexual – was a villain but was redeemed to the good guys by the sweet love and gentleness of Anita (behold the power of a straight woman’s love!) Its bitter, implied sadistic and now confines 99% of his sexing to Anita.
- Raina, bisexual. Sadist, rapist, murderer, torturer and generally not a nice woman. Also rapes straight women. Is portrayed as “perverse”.
- Gabriel: Bisexual, sadist, rapist, torturer, pimp and generally not a nice man. Rapes straight men. Is also portrayed as “perverse”.
- Chimera: gay or bisexual. Sadist, rapist, torturer. Is more than implied that the reason why he is a sadistic murdering, multiple personality (yes there’s ableism there) rapist is because of his rejection of his own sexuality.
- Belle Morte: Bisexual, rapist, makes straight people have sex with their own gender for her amusement.
- Traveller: Gay. Uses his power to possess straight men so he can have sex in their bodies (i.e. rapes them).
- Niley: Gay, rapes straight men. And tortures them. Bonus points, deals with daemons and is actually looking for a holy relic to defile it.
Did you catch the pattern? When you have more GBL rapists in a series than you can count on the fingers of one hand? There’s a problem.
But, of course, not all the GBLT people in the book are villains – but let us look at how these are portrayed. Firstly, the series does its very best to make the men in Anita’s immediate circle as straight as possible while still opening up the possibility for the hawt mansex. Byron makes it clear that Jean-Claude massively prefers women and that Asher is “an exception.” (Nearly had a bisexual character as a leading man there, – danger! Danger!) Much the same applies to Micah, maybe Jason and even Nathaniel. In later books, Laurell K Hamilton learns the phrase “heteroflexible” and instantly stamps it on Anita’s men rather than risk having gay or bisexual men running around as major character.
And the “hawt mansex” is labelled there for a reason – because the sex between men is presented in an extremely fetishistic manner. While Anita is happily in her merry threesomes, foursomes, moresomes – the man keep touching each other to a minimum for fear of upsetting her (and gods forbid that affection between men offend a straight person). This changes when Anita lets it be known that she likes to watch 2 men get it on, then everyone gets in on the heteroflexible action for Anita’s viewing pleasure. The affection and sex between 2 men became acceptable only because a straight woman enjoys it. That is fetishistic in the extreme, really homophobic – and one of the Slash and M/M genre’s biggest problems.
With the heteroflexibleness, there’s actually only one of Anita’s men who is actually allowed to be bisexual – and that is Asher. Oh some of the tigers may be, but if you can even remember their names at this point, it’s only because you have a very good memory and they have very very very ridiculous names.
Asher – the biggest, whiniest drama queen the books have ever seen (perhaps even surpassing Richard, but at least Richard’s are based on real issues). He stomps, he pouts, he sulks, he has epic, whining tantrums. He dishes out emotion laden ultimatums, his ego constantly needs pampering, he wallows in angst, he’s possessive and he is ludicrously over-emotional. Surrounded by all these heteroflexible guys, it’s the actual bisexual who is throwing his toys out of the pram, unable to control his emotions and generally wallowing in that stereotype. At this point, I actually loathe Asher more than I loathe Richard or Micah.