Lines that are funny until they’re not.
Or, when we say things we don’t realize are bad.
I’ve seen a lot about how we unintentionally—or intentionally—code
people, situations, and actions as being queer as a way of degrading queerness,
and so here I’m going to talk about some specific ways that people do that and
what they did wrong.
“One might have
thought he was confessing to some terrible, humiliating affliction, like having
the uncontrollable urge to dress in women’s clothing and dance[.]” –Lord of
the Fading Lands, C. L. Wilson
This example is probably pretty obvious. It quite literally
places the idea of a man dressing in women’s clothing (or what this author
considers “women’s clothing”, which presumably in this book is dresses) with a “terrible,
humiliating affliction”. On a literal level, this shows a clear disdain for
people who defy the gender norm (or, really, men who defy the gender norm,
because presumably the author wears things like pants). On a broader level, it
others being a trans woman, because most people (even though you’re wrong)
equate being trans with cross-dressing.
Beyond that, it makes a man being like a woman, or equating a man with a woman, somehow shameful or humiliating. A man “dressing as a woman” is somehow less than a man “dressing as a man”, which leads to the pretty obvious conclusion that a woman is less than a man.
“Don’t be alarmed. It
has to do with sex.”
“Sex doesn’t alarm me.”
“How would you know?”
–Sherlock, series 2, episode 1
This shows a fairly clear othering of asexuality and
sex-revulsion. On one hand, it shows a dismissal of people who are alarmed by
sex, given by Sherlock’s need to quickly refute the possibility of the idea
that he could be alarmed by sex. Beyond that, Mycroft response, and especially
his tone, implies disgust for anyone who hasn’t had sex. These lines code
asexuality and sex-repulsion as being absurd, childish, and somehow wrong. Being
sex-repulsed is used as an insult.
More broadly, small lines like these can act in the same way
as broad queer-coding of characters. They dismiss, demean, or vilify queerness,
often more explicitly than actual queer-coding. The thing with this is that it
tends to go against less open or known groups, using what have been common
jokes for years. It’s hard now to get away with open homophobia in a situation
like this, or at least open homophobia against gay men. This is where she-man jokes
show up, the forty-year-old virgin jokes, the cross-dressing man jokes, things
that have traditionally been okay to say or even considered funny that people
don’t think twice about putting in.
This is something that you need to be careful about when you’re
writing. They’re easy to include, because a lot of times, they’ve been
internalized. Nobody thinks twice about making these jokes because they’ve
heard them so many times that they’re part of the daily vernacular. If we want
to remove these phrases and ideas from society, we need to make sure we don’t include
them in our stories.