Disclaimer: Ships are close to a person’s heart, so when you criticise them, it’s kind of like happy-slapping across the face. I do not wish to happy-slap anyone across the face today.
Ever since a now-notorious blog-article infuriated ‘Supergirl‘ fans, the word ‘toxicity’ has been tossed about like a Frisbee. Here’s how it went down: the article went to criticise the ‘ship’ “Sanvers” (that’s a portmanteau of ‘Supergirl‘s Alex Danvers and Maggie Sawyer). Critics of the article went on to shame the way in which the writer exhibited behaviours that were negative.
They’re not wrong, in essence. There isn’t an opinion that’s wrong. That’s impossible.
But it does bring about a very relevant topic that should be cautiously tread upon. For same-sex relationships depicted on shows—mainly female/female relationships, as it would appear—quite often, they are labelled as toxic. Now we don’t personally have statistics, screen-shots or proof of any of this but when Clarke/Lexa were at the height of it, ‘toxic’ was a well-trodden word. When Root and Shaw were still alive and kicking, ‘toxic’ would be at the subject of their somewhat rough-and-tumble, highly sexual relationship. Apparently, the next victim would be Alex Sanvers and Maggie Sawyer.
(To cover my tracks, this is an opinion piece. I wouldn’t speak for all ‘Supergirl’ or ‘Sanvers’ fans because I don’t even watch the show myself.)
Now ‘Supergirl’ has hit the rails again with Jeremy Jordan’s degrading song, the cast’s follow-up comments and Jordan’s “apology” on Twitter. It’d be a good time to say that here we value yours. As diverse, controversial, passionate and emotive as it be. Your opinion will always matter in any grand scheme of things, because it is yours. Let’s not allow anyone to degrade that.
But on the general topic of toxicity, LGBTQ ships and the way it affects fandoms and individuals? That’s universal. You don’t need to watch any show for that. And it’s also apparent to see if you just click on anybody’s retweet of anything.
Toxicity and its association with same-sex relationships.
Let’s not bet around the bush: there’s no association.
Embroiled within the—ironically—toxic world of shipping wars, shipping abuse and verbal smack-downs (really) lies the excuse of toxicity. Maybe this is an opinion; maybe not. But nobody is denying that perhaps some same-sex relationships on television are toxic. That’s not the issue. However, just because a few may be toxic (and honestly, we couldn’t tell you which) that does not mean every single same-sex relationship is toxic all of a sudden.
It’s a massive generalisation to make and a rather offensive one too. To go a step further, it presumes that all same-sex ‘shippers’ are idiots and will take this lying down; that someone won’t go an issue an eloquent reply in return.
The charm of ‘Supergirl’ doesn’t really fall into everyone’s category. But a chick who flies around from Krypton whose only disguise are her glasses? That’s kinda cool. (The fact that Melissa Benoist was previously on Glee, too? Maybe not so). For whatever reason that may be equally reasoned in a same-sex relationship, ‘Sanvers’ and even ‘Supercorp’ have been criticised or “trolled” by people who, well, just don’t wanna see it happen.
But it’s just one cog in a very rickety machine. Same-sex relationships on shows like ‘Person of Interest‘ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy‘ have even been called toxic. ‘Grey’s Anatomy’—we’ll bite. However, when you dig deeper and ask why, can the other person come up with an answer?
We issue you a question: if a group should believe in and adore their ship, no matter whether they think it is possible or not, who are you to smack down on whether or not they are just friends or not? Isn’t fandom, ships–isn’t all of this supposed to be inspirational? Isn’t it supposed to be something–a glimmer of hope–to hold onto? And if not, then why are you taking that away from these people? Who are you to do that? Even if your ‘ship’ has been ‘canon’ for fifty billion years? Fiction doesn’t dictate whether or not you can validate real-life shippers and their beliefs…so why, why is that happening?
Toxicity and its association with heterosexual relationships. What do you mean, I’ve encountered an error?
The title’s snarky and a little bitter but if you want a truly toxic relationship, then take a look at the Joker and Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad. Or any of the comics, really. Isn’t that just okay because The Joker’s off his nutter and Harley Quinn’s a little deranged as well? Well, no. It’s toxic. It’s poisonous. The pair are atrocious for each other. Yet the romanticisation that occurs when it comes to people shipping them is something of a problem.
One of the most successful books of all time is ‘50 Shades of Grey‘ and the ensuing series. It’s also one of the most-watched book adaptations as well, in the cinema. Admittedly, we’re going to stick to character names because Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson have hardly anything to do with the story itself. And the abuse it unabashedly displays. ’50 Shades’ has been dubbed something of ‘soft porn‘ and we wouldn’t disagree with that definition. Deep, filthy erotica is not author E.L. James’ territory but rather turning that ‘soft porn’ into an epic romance is. Apparently.
Yet in one of the most successful romance stories of all time, the hero (Mr. Grey) is–well–he’s an abuser. To cover it up with kinky whips and chains does not cover up the utter control and disturbing power he has over his love interest. Or more aptly, his subject. One of the actual quotes from the book is:
Christian Grey: “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you.”
But sure. Let’s just call the kingdom-reigning teenagers, the underground gun-toting duo and the recent revelation ‘Sanvers’ toxic, instead. (Are we all internally screaming ‘double standards’ yet?)
The ‘benchmark’ of same-sex relationships on television, and if that’s even a thing.
In the article, the writer exemplified Clarke and Lexa from ‘The 100‘ as the benchmark of LGBTQ relationships. Now if you pitched this to others from within the community, you’d start an uproar and probably be mistaken for a stand-up act. We say this with a great love of ‘Clexa’ within my heart, because when the writing was good, the duo was good. They did not back away from each other. They were not afraid to confront the other when they were wrong; nor were they afraid to be vulnerable, powerful and honest together.
The entire depiction of their relationship was brilliantly acted by Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam-Carey (now kicking everyone’s butt on ‘Fear the Walking Dead‘). But the idea of that ship as the benchmark when it was that exact ship that kickstarted the fire is a little crazy. Sure, it rose hundreds of millions of dollars for charity. Fans sold T-shirts, artwork and all sorts of merchandise. All proceeds went to the Trevor Project. But it wasn’t out of love for the perfection of their ship. It was because ‘Clexa’ had fallen victim to a.) a Buffy rip-off and thus b.) the Bury Your Gays trope.
It was a collective sigh of ‘not this again‘ across the LGBTQ community. Only this time, the LGBTQ community fought back.
To say ‘Clexa’ was the pinnacle of any ship would be nonsense. It would be generalising it for everyone. To brush it off entirely would also be nonsense. For some, ‘Clexa’ was the pinnacle. To say ‘Clexa’ is the only reason people donated for the Trevor Project fundraiser would also be to generalise. But to deny its huge impact, and Mockingjay-like status, would be silly too.
Forcing same-sex relationships onto a show that covers all representation: an impossible task that is still asked of writers.
Something that’s actually been quite tentatively and sensitively spoken of within fandom, from actresses to writers, is this need to wedge every type of representation onto a show. Alycia Debnam-Carey, during her Copenhagen convention, mentioned the ever-changing definition of role-models. She spoke eloquently of how social media had changed that definition, due to the intense scrutiny of fandom upon very tweet or video or offhand comment one celebrity could make.
Recently, we’ve had ClexaCon in Las Vegas too. Countless times, for ‘Wynonna Earp’ (not just at ClexaCon) Emily Andras spoke of writing LGBTQ relationships into shows just because. Even in the ‘Lost Girl’ panel at ClexaCon, actress Zoie Palmer explained to a fan question regarding the inevitability of a same-sex relationship and declared that no, it was not inevitable. To loud noises, she spoke sensibly of it and explained that if it was forced, that if it was made to end with a same-sex couple just to ‘please’ the community, would that be true representation at all?
And of course we’ve had another ‘Supergirl’ debacle, at San Diego Comic Con. Jeremy Jordan, using his Broadway roots, jokingly recapped the show’s season. In the process of doing so, he mocked the ship known as ‘Supercorp’ (between Katie McGrath’s Lena Luthor, and Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl) by saying it would never happen. It was not so much the joke that was the issue: it was how easy the joke was laughed at and further mocked. And it’s excellently, eloquently explained here. It begs to question: are we seeing these LGBTQ friendly shows and relationships on-screen, when in reality, it’s just a staple or a necessity back-stage? Much like the Token Black Guy? Are we feeding into yet another trope?
There have been demands of things like more queer women of character in an already diverse ‘Wynonna Earp’, amongst other things. Arguably, that show–though it does not perfect storytelling–is offering some of the most honest representation. To add to Andras’ point and also Palmer’s–when you start to force in storylines and ships beyond what is already there, then do you take away the integrity of the storytelling?
And if so, then what’s the point?
What’s the future surrounding this? Will we ever be at peace? Will we ever be happy reaching a crescendo in the LGBTQ community with representation on-screen?
The point is: no matter how many people donated or how few were ‘Clexa’ shippers, hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised. It didn’t matter that other shippers (perhaps of the same fanbase) would be calling ‘Clexa’ toxic.
Fiction allows for us to grow ideas inside our head. It allows for creativity. But beyond that, and what was exemplified so beautifully on the day Lexa died—was that the LGBTQ community were unified.
Everyone within the LGBTQ community who’s ever watched a show will know of the pain that often brings. Furthermore, they’ll know of name-calling and insults hurled at them. They’ll know that sometimes, minority representation isn’t important to the majority. Sometimes, they’ll get mocked and be reminded that they’re a minority for a reason.
Sod that. You’re a minority. And you’re within an inclusive group that matters. The unification and joint effort to see things like Twitter trends and Trevor Project goals were unbelievably magnificent.
Let’s face it: just because you’ve ‘shipped’ a same-sex couple, it doesn’t mean you’ll ship every same-sex couple on television. ‘Supergirl’ might not be everyone’s cup of tea, so you won’t have all ‘Clexa’ or ‘WayHaught’ shippers jumping aboard ‘Sanvers’. And yes, some ‘ships’ are truly toxic.
But here’s something—subjectivity matters, and something to be taken seriously. LGBTQ voices aren’t here to be drowned out. They’re here to be harmonious; to be listened to. As a community, LGBTQ individuals are trodden down enough already.
Isn’t it time we start hauling some of them back onto their feet? Rather than giving them a good old kick-down just as they were about to rise? For allies, like Jeremy Jordan, is it time to start educating yourself? From the bottom to something more sincere? And why? Because he learnt about why.