I woke up on MLK Day swearing that I’d dreamt up a tumblr post where someone quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in order to defend Hux, Kylo Ren, and the First Order. When I went through my archives, not only did I find out that the post was real, but I then stumbled back over a post I made in response to one arguing that Star Wars’ Hux was coded as queer and that said queer-coding was a good thing.
And I mean –
A fair amount of people not only read Kylo Ren and Hux as queer-coded within their canon, but:
- Queer coded villains are actually kind of shitty and they definitely shouldn’t be something to aspire to or admire, and
- I don’t know how they leap to that conclusion of Hux and Kylo as queer coded in the first place.
For one thing, there’s a difference between a character – especially a villain – being coded as queer in their canon (typically via stereotypes about femininity/masculinity, style of dress, speech, interactions with other characters) and a queer fan deciding to read a character as queer because they see themselves in the character.
If they’re actually present in canon, queer coded villains typically come from a place of homophobia – conscious or otherwise. They come from a fear of supposedly non-normative genders and sexualities and from society straight up repurposing queerness (or stereotypes about queerness) as a go-to for “spooky and scary” because well –
Heterocentrism kind of needs to portray queerness as a dangerous avenue to stroll down.
(My thesis is actually about the way that Batman writers/artists across the decades have used queer stereotypes as signifiers to portray the Joker as more and more terrifying. It’s… a lot.)
Sure, maybe some of the people writing queer coded villains now aren’t all coming from a place of societal homophobia, but there’s a reason why so many villains in the past eighty-odd years have been presented via unsubtle language and stereotypes about queer existence.
If a show or book codes a character (any character) as queer, you know what they’re unlikely to be doing? Making other characters queer. Most of the time, even today, the queer-coded villain is the closest that a piece of media gets to having any form of recognizable queerness. That’s part of why queer-coded villains are a problem: not only are they frequently rife with stereotypes, but they also typically don’t wind up having anything that looks like a positive or fulfilling relationship because they’re the only character that canon conceives of as queer.
Queer coding in the age of queerbaiting comes to serve as a lazy shortcut to diversity that leaves queer people scrambling to cling to scraps in the hopes that someday, they’ll get to see someone like them in a position of power, beloved, or just plain present.
I know tons of queer people who’ve identified with or just straight up adored queer coded villains. Heck, I’m one of those queer people! However, since when does identifying with a character render criticism of their characterization and/or creation null and void?
Additionally, I know plenty of queer folks that do queer readings of characters that aren’t coded as such and on its own, it’s not a problem. But what is a problem is the way that I’ve seen multiple people argue that characters like Hux and/or Kylo are queer coded in canon and that the supposed coding is a “good” thing. It’s up there with “you all only hate Kylo because women like him” argument for things that don’t work like that.
I’m going to continue to use Hux and Kylo (to a lesser extent) as examples here because I’ve already taken a stab at the misguided idea that there’s anything in the two films that codes either character as queer.
What makes Hux and Kylo queer-coded: Familiar stereotypes-as-signifiers that have been used to slyly suggest at a villain’s queerness for decades?
Honestly, I don’t even see that being present in the canon.
I actually searched for “Hux queer” on Twitter halfway through writing this post and so far I’ve seen three tweets talking about how he’s queer coded or “the most queer coded” character in the franchise. One person, who claims that even if we hate Hux we should acknowledge his queer coding, even wrote that:
“like the effeminate submissiveness, the hair, his fucking voice, are all slightly lazy literary coding that we recognise as villainous that are all intended to make him seem gay”
This is a throwback to the post I linked to at the top of the piece where the OP of the post I’m sort of mocking describes Hux with the following language” (bolded emphasis, all mine):
“With his stupid-ass haircut and his stupid-ass 1930s looking pants and his obnoxious, high-pitched SCREECHING at his troops, Hux fits the stereotype of the Fussy, Feminine Fascist.”
A year between the two comments and people are literally assigning the same stereotypes-as-signifiers to the guy. Apparently, many people who view Hux as queer coded do so because of the pitch of his voice, the way he looks in his totally 1930s outfit, and the fact that he’s a punching bag to Kylo and Snoke.
They want to claim that he’s a queer (coded) character inspired by how US films would apparently turn Nazis into the butt of jokes by (apparently) making them effeminate jokes while in the same vein writing and reposting long pieces of meta-fandom work that argue that he’s not really a Nazi allegory at all.
Look, Hux is a great many things, all bad, but he’s none of those things up there. Besides that, why is encoding a character with stereotypes about queer masculinity something that these folks want to cling to? Why is that what they got out of The Last Jedi? How is Hux the character fandom reads as “queer coded” in two movies where Poe Dameron is present? (I kid… Or do I?)
Why is it, that Kylo Ren having tantrums and being a big ole baby renders him queer-coded? What makes Loki or Bucky or any number of white guys in fiction who have sad (ish) backstories queer coded? Aside from a few scant examples – like Lena Luthor from Supergirl and Regina Mills from Once Upon a Time) – most of the recent examples of queer-coded villains that fandom freaks out over are white dudes.
Why is it that fandom in 2018 is doing some of the same weird stereotypes-as-signifiers nonsense that media (and media criticism) has been doing for decades?
In the introduction to the late (and great) Alexander Doty’s Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon, he writes that:
It is also a mistake to decide which characters are straight and which are queer solely with reference to common (stereo) typing. Granted, (stereo) typed coding of queerness and straightness does exist in both dominant and queer cultures. And this coding is based upon how certain queers and straights look and act in real life. However, in an era when only the most insistently ignorant still think all straights or all gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and other queers look and act the same, why do most people still register “queer” only when confronted with visual and aural codes drawn from a narrow (and often pejoratively charged) range?
Queer coding – both when canon does it and when fans claim it’s present – tends to lean quite heavily on established stereotypes about how queer and non-queer people behave and look like. Doty wrote this book eighteen years ago and he’s still absolutely correct about how absolutely mind-boggling it is that when people argue in favor of/register a character being implicitly queer in the text, they do so via this teeny tiny range of outright stereotypes.
Eighteen years later and some of the most visible and accepted go-to signifiers for a potentially queer (coded) male character are still things like “talks funny”, “walks in a peculiar, often mincing way”, “is a fashion plate”. They’re not things like “shows interest in characters other than/in addition to ladies” or “has an intimate relationship with another dude”. They’re just… stereotypes about what queer men look, act, and or love like.
I understand, that as queer people, our access to well-written queer characters in mainstream media can be hit or miss in general. I understand that sometimes, we want to be the villains in the story and that we look to preexisting villains to get that content.
However, not only does the canonical queer-coding of villains kind of just feels like it’s replicating decades of homophobic writing and imagery, the way that other fans talk about villains that they then code as queer doesn’t feel like it’s doing that much better.
From what I’ve been reading as I go through social media, Hux and Kylo Ren are “queer coded” because they yell a lot and get smacked around by a supposedly more dominant power. I’m sorry, but that’s not how that works and that wouldn’t be good enough for me even if it was. I get that we’ve all skimmed Foucault or flipped through Gender Trouble once or twice, but recognizing queer stereotypes encoded into/layered on top of a villain does not actually mean you’re looking at anything vaguely approaching representation. Positive or negative.
Like queer baiting, queer coding isn’t representation and neither is the way that everyone seems to gravitate almost exclusively towards shallow stereotypes about queer behavior and gender presentation/performance in order to code their villains as such…