As a media student, I’d like to take a different approach to defining “Queer Liberation.” Throughout the decades, along with the growth of our rights and freedoms something else has grown. Though being 18, I was not present for most of those liberations of rights and freedoms, I am present to witness something else that has grown, that something being: characters like us being introduced, and our stories being told increasingly and in a more accurate way. I know this probably wouldn’t be included in the definition of queer liberation for older queer folk, but I’d like to share a different perspective.
I was born in 2003, and like any other kid, grew up watching my favourite cartoons. A notable one (and Canadian produced show!) was Arthur, as well as Blue's Clues. Of course, at the time in the early 2000s, these shows didn’t have anything to do with queer representation. Of course, no children’s show in the early 2000s would dare have any queer representation. However, fast forward to the present, recent new content of these same shows from the past have included queer representation. On May 28 of this year, the “Blue’s Clues & You!” Youtube channel put out an animated video of a pride parade, where lines such as “This family has two daddies, they love each other so proudly” are sung by Drag Queen Nina West. In 2019, Arthur premiered its 22nd season which was titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.” In this first episode, Mr. Ratburn, a relevant character in Arthur from when I was watching, was shown getting married to his male partner. What these two instances show is that the stigma behind acknowledging that queer people exist to an audience of children is significantly vanishing. There is something quite powerful about the shows you used to watch when you were a kid, with no queer characters or acknowledgment, now being included for the children in the present to watch.
Reading used to never be an activity that I could see myself enjoying, especially since most of the reading I’ve had to do was forced upon me by school. However, one day in the mid 2010s, a friend of mine who was really into reading let me borrow some of her books (she really wanted me to read them so I gave in). The books she lent me were the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and its sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus, both written by Rick Riordan. There was one character I particularly liked in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, Nico. Nico is what you would call emo (yes, I might have been emo in middle school). In the later series, The Heroes of Olympus, it is revealed that Nico had a crush on Percy Jackson, the main character. I remember being surprised that this was in the book because at this point, I had never consumed any media that had any acknowledgment of queer people existing, and knowing that I was gay, I knew the reason for why there wasn’t. On May 3 of 2016, I picked up and started reading The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle, the first book of a spin-off series that takes place in the Percy Jackson world. After my now-favourite author gave me a character that was like me, you know I had to pick up where he left off. In this book, Nico comes out and forms a relationship with Will Solace, a child of Apollo. Not only that, but Apollo (the main character…or god technically) references various relationships that he has had, including ones with men…or male gods? I have picked up every book in the series on release since then, up until the last book, The Trials of Apollo: The Tower of Nero, released on October 6, 2020. More recently, this year, I decided to read another one of Riordan’s series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. In this series, character Alex Fierro is introduced and is genderfluid. When reading any of these books, I had never expected to just come across a queer character. I couldn’t imagine reading your everyday mainstream book in the 1900s and earlier and just happening to read about a queer character or story. Today, instead of trying to research and find books that have characters like me, my experience has vastly consisted of picking up a random popular book, and just involuntarily coming across one. Now, the Percy Jackson series is in development as a show on Disney+, with its author Rick Riordan in close proximity to the production, so you can trust he will do his characters justice in (hopefully) further seasons. All this is quite a contrast with JK Rowling’s Harry Potter character Dumbledore, wouldn’t you say?
There’s something more to including queer characters in media than just having them be present, it’s also about how they are included. Something I, and an increasingly large amount of people, enjoy is manga, or comics that originate from Japan. There’s a subsidiary in manga called ‘BL’ or ‘Boy’s Love,’ which features relationships between male characters, but in a more sexual manner. It is cool that there is a whole section of a form of media dedicated to gay relationships, but the audience that BL manga usually aims to attract, and was made for, is mainly heterosexual women, paralleling how in western media there is a trope to use lesbian relationships to appease heterosexual men, rather than actual lesbians. However, early this year, being bored by the pandemic, I picked up the latest volumes of a specific “BL'' manga that has grown quite popular, Given, by Natsuki Kizu. Since then, I have been keeping up with releases and tracking down when the next volumes will be released. The reason I grew so in love with this “BL” (quotations because I don’t know how BL I would consider it) manga is because when I read it, it doesn’t feel like the main audience for this is just heterosexual women, but also gay men. There is rarely any eroticism in this manga and when there is, it feels more emotional than sexual because of the context of the characters' stories. You can go through a whole volume or volumes of this manga without any sexual content, whereas others (yes, I have read BL manga before this), would focus on the eroticism in every volume. The main focus of Given is the story, character emotions, and progression of its young queer characters. Which is why it is so much more than just your average BL manga which were written just for straight women for decades before.
When it comes to listing queer stories and characters in media, I don’t think anything from video games would come to mind for most people. Not because there is a lack of queer acknowledgment in video games (arguably less so than other forms of media), but because it’s just not as mainstream, which is why I would like to highlight some. The first game that comes to mind, and for a good reason, is Hades by Supergiant Games. The good reason is that Hades was nominated for the most recent Game of the Year award at the 2020 Game Awards. Hades has a relationship mechanic in the game, allowing players to choose to have a relationship with a character who is the same sex as the character everyone plays as, Zagreus. Queer gamers would know how frustrating it is when a game with a relationship mechanic will only allow you to have a straight relationship. In Hades, there are also queer relationships between NPCs (non-playable characters) throughout the story. Another video game, which has one of the best queer stories I have ever witnessed, is Tell Me Why by DONTNOD. Tell Me Why has a trans man, Tyler Ronan, as its lead character, who is voiced by August Aiden Black, another trans man. Tyler must travel back to the old small town he grew up in, in rural Alaska, to reunite with his sister and face the tragic events of his past. In DONTNOD’s FAQ page about the game (which you can find at tellmewhygame.com/faq/), they revealed that their team worked closely with transgender staff at GLAAD and allowed Tyler’s voice actor, August Aiden Black, to provide edits in the script to make the story and character of Tyler Ronan all the more authentic. Tell Me Why ended up winning both the Best LGBT Character and Authentic Representation award at the Gayming Magazine Awards in February 2021. Video games have provided us with hidden gems of excellent queer storytelling. It could even be argued that they provide the best of the best since video games are more modern as a form of media, with more queer folk working behind the scenes than you would think.
There are many more great examples of queer media that showcase how far we have come along in terms of our stories being told and characters like us being introduced. Some I would highly recommend you read up on or even check out are the shows Euphoria, Doom Patrol, and Sex Education, the manga No. 6 and Only the Flower Knows, and the games Undertale, Life is Strange, and Night in the Woods. Of course, all the praise in this text doesn’t mitigate the negative side of things that still loom about (don’t get me started on queerbaiting), but I wanted to reflect on and introduce all of you to the recent queer media that has helped shape my definition of queer liberation, and has inspired me to pursue my own career in media to further aid that definition by continuing to introduce queer characters and tell their stories to continue the growth of great queer media.