Queering 9/11: Gay Heroes Exist In Real Life, Why Not In The Movies?

Over the last ten years, video games have grown more inclusive by adding gay characters, the ability to mate with or marry someone of the same-sex, an earnest (though somewhat misguided) attempt to curb anti-gay slurs on online forums, games specifically targeted to gay audiences, and even gay and transgender video game reviewers to serve as the new face of modern gamers.

Comic books have also followed suit. Not only is the lesbian Batwoman about to get a new monthly series, but we’ve also seen the X-Men’s bossy bottom Northstar go from getting killed over and over again to finally getting a boyfriend. Likewise, the Young Avengers’ Hulkling and Wiccan started dating back in 2006 while Power Boy and Gravity Kid from the Legion of Superheroes and Apollo and Midnighter from The Authority have all become dynamic gay duos in story lines over the past decade.

Plus, gay comic book artists have also started creating specifically gay series including Mark Eden’s Spandex (which features a cross-dresser, a lesbian, a go-go boy, and two muscle twins as superheroes) as well as Terry Moore’s Strangers In Paradise, an entrancing lesbian epic that focuses on the love lives and years-long rivalries between lost friends and lethal enemies.

But video games and comic books have long been the refuge of social outcasts who relate better to imaginative avatars and battles of skill rather than the brute unfairness of the real world. So a better measure mainstream recognition of the gay hero would lie in counting the number of gay heroes on the big screen. After all, movies usually cast LGBTs as murderous villains (ie. Psycho or Cruising), witty sidekicks (My Best Friend’s Wedding), promiscuous sluts (Another Gay Sequel), or sacrificial lambs too noble to live in this cruel world (Boys Don’t Cry). Has 9/11 given gays a heroic Hollywood makeover?

Gay director Bryan Singer deliberately put homoerotic subtext
into his X-men movies, but he stopped short of featuring any actual gay characters in his comic book flicks. Come to think of it, most action heroes skew straight with nary a gun-toting lesbian or gay espionage agent in sight.

Apart from the 2004 film Alexander (which glossed over the great conquerer’s bisexuality), the only other mainstream film depictions of gay heroes that come to mind are Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in Milk and Cheyenne Jackson as Mark Bingham in the movie United 93, a film that didn’t even establish Bingham’s gay identity (the scene of him kissing his boyfriend at Newark Airport got scrapped due to bad weather). Arguably, the silver screen saw more frequent depictions of gay heroes long before September 11th rather than afterwards.

And while cable television has done a lot better about introducing complex gay characters to the small screen than movies—the glass-closted Anderson Cooper making one hell of a real-life television superhero as he risked his life in reporting from Egypt during the Spring uprisings and saved a small child from street violence while reporting in Haiti—TV too has a long way to go.

Perhaps the imminent repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will prove helpful in getting both straight Americans and ourselves to recognize gays and lesbians as heroes worthy of respect and greater representation in print, TV, and film. DADT’s repeal brings the heroics of Bingham and Judge full circle.

Neither Bingham nor Judge were very out during their lifetimes. As a new generation of Americans see gay and lesbian service members fighting for their country in uniform around the world without shame of their sexual identities, maybe more LGBT Americans will feel empowered to do their best and help change their world for the better with fear or shame of who they are.

Images via Michael Goldman, World Economic Forum, Wikimedia Commons, and istolethetv