Keith Kogan: A Portrayal of Homosexuality Done Right
I always tell people that Voltron is a lot more clever than it gets credit for. It can spin a cliche/trope on it’s head beautifully, and while all the characters are easily digestible archetypes (i.e: the nerd, the loner), the creators add layers to them that not only make them feel like real people, but also makes social commentary on those very archetypes.
In no better way do they do this than with the character of Keith.
Before I get into how and why Keith deviates from you’re typical gay male protagonist, I want to establish as a fact that Keith is homosexual.
If you don’t see - what I consider to be - blatant evidence that Keith’s gay, well, I can’t say I blame you. Most people have ingrained heteronormative lenses, meaning they’ll miss the subtext of homosexual characters. Us in the LGBT community are much more attuned to seeing these because, well, for one, we’re queer, and two, because up until around the 1960s, the portrayal of gay characters in the media was illegal and could only be shown subtextually.
So it makes sense that people overlook the very nuanced portrayal of Keith’s sexuality, but if you’re willing to take off those lenses, it’s certainly there.
The first standout appearance of this is in season 1 episode 6: Taking Flight. Or as I like to call it, the day the shows name officially changed to Gaytron: Legendary Homosexuals
I think one of the disconnects for some viewers is that they don’t completely grasp the saying, “Show don’t tell,” the mantra of pretty much every writer. Not always, but typically, showing is better than telling. Or more accurately, telling needs to be used at the correct times and for the right reasons.
So how do they show us that Keith’s gay in this episode? Through three things, body language, actions, and juxtaposition.
You don’t have to be a body language specialist to understand the clear meaning behind Keith’s posture. Leaning, looking someone up and down, and a small, lingering smile/smirk are all subconscious signs of attraction. They’re also common ways of depicting male attraction in the media.
Speaking of depicting male attraction, lets look at how Lance’s flirts in the same episode.
Leaning. Check. Lingering smile. Check. Engaged eye contact. Check. The biggest difference is how blatant they are in their intentions, but that comes down to pure character difference. Keith is self assured and more genuinely confident. He also has a lot of walls up and isn’t so open. While Lance puts on a show/over compensates so that he might appear cool. You can also see this in their respective ‘I’m-checking-you-out’ postures. Lance’s body is open, he’s engaged and his eyes are on Nyma’s eyes. While Keith’s posture is interested, but more in an appreciative way. His body is closed off, and instead of looking Rolo in the eyes, he looks at his - um - physique. This is really fitting for Keith’s character, who again, has walls, and who also puts this mission first, and most likely has no intention of letting this attraction lead to anything other than having a nice piece of eye candy around for a couple of hours.
This is textbook juxtaposition. So moving along now.
I don’t want this to be a shippy post, so I won’t add all the times I think Keith shows attraction towards Lance, but I do want to mention this scene.
The use of the rainbow(the most recognizable symbol in the gay community) over lapping the bi flag colors is relevant for the same reason why the use of purple to symbolize the Galra is relevant. Purple represents royalty, imperialism, but also gloom and danger. The use of these colors and symbols are conscious choices.
While the above scene shows that Keith is attracted to men, this scene shows that Keith is also not attracted to woman.
What I love about this scene is that it’s such a cliche, and like I said up above, Voltron is good at turning those on their head. Here they utilize the tiered and true trope of accidentally falling into each others arms. If this was a hetero-centric Romcom than this moment would’ve been obviously meant to establish attraction, but instead, it does the opposite. Rather Keith personally likes Allura or not, she’s a knock out. So, if he’s attracted to women at all, and isn’t use to having that contact- which hes not - he should be at least somewhat shocked/flustered. If it had been an attractive guy that fell into Keith’s arms, I have no doubt that his reactions would be something beyond that blank stare.
Considering he literally gasps every time Lance touches him
The last piece of “evidence” I want to show isn’t as blatant and may just be my perspective, but it’s worth mentioning.
The themes of Keith’s Galra arc are very reminiscent to coming out. He’s discovering parts of himself. He’s internalizing and hiding away said parts. He’s scared of what the people he cares about will think of him when they find out. If this is intentional, it’s brilliant, because while Voltron is set in a futurist world where sexuality is supposedly not an Issue, it still is for the youth of today. Meaning by having these similar themes, Keith becomes more relatable to LGBT people.
This is the part where, if you still don’t think Keith’s gay, I’ll have to calmly yet firmly ask you to get off my fucking lawn. For the rest of you, onward to victory!!!
LGBT individuals have a history of being badly represented in the media, especially now that gay characters have become a marketing strategy for a more progressive consumer base. Their whole character is often reduced to stereotypes or used as a giant walking gay pride flag that reads: look at us, we’re hip and with the times. Meaning, the majority of these characters plots and personalities are based solely on their sexuality. Which is a problem, because not only does it not help to normalize homosexuality, but it’s just not relatable to LGBT people.
I’ll give you an example. My mom’s a lesbian. She married to a woman and has two daughters, one who is trans and one who is bi. But despite how “gay"her life may seem, she very rarely describes herself as that way. She’s not active in LGBT issues. She doesn’t involve herself in the community. Shes not lesbian first and everything else afterward, and she is certainly not alone in that experience. Don’t get me wrong, LGBT individuals are more aware of their sexuality than cishet people, but it’s typically only because others point it out and remind us that its not "normal.” Still, for a lot of LGBT people, our sexuality is just one part of our personal narrative, not the whole damn book.
Another problem with LGBT representations is that their often just built off of stereotypes. Gay men are feminized and their sexuality is typically made the butt of a joke. They are shown as being promiscuous and having commitment issues. These are the standards.
But Keith abolishes all of those, and in such a seamless way too.
While Keith’s character is in no way excessively macho, he’s certainly not feminine either. He doesn’t mind getting sweaty. He’s temperamental and has anger issue. He lived a pretty low maintenance life in a desert shack, sleeps in his jeans like a heathen, and probably uses a dagger to peel oranges. Keith is a masculine character. He’s confident and self assured, but not vain. He’s emotional, but in a very private way. Whereas many other portrayal of gay men depict them as almost theatrically sensitive, confident, but only in their sexual prowess, and self absorbed, but only when it come to their looks and not when it comes to their skills.
This is already an impressive deviation, but what really makes Keith’s portrayal stand out is the way his sexuality is but a mere footnote in what makes his character his character, and how that fits into his personality and story arc so well.
The first thing you have to realize about Keith is that, while he certainly wants to connect with people, it’s not his number one priority. He has barriers. He fears rejection, and despite wanting to feel as if he belongs, its not hard to see how Keith has been conditioned to assume he’ll inevitability be left behind, and therefore places personal relationships low on his list of priorities. Meaning, yes, he was checking out Rolo, and yes, I believe that he’s
very very fond of Lance, but I can’t imagine that Keith really sees these relationships becoming something substantial or romantic, and thus doesn’t put too much effort into perusing them. You can really tell what’s important to a character by what they focus their time on. Take Lance for instance, he’s a character who blatantly cares about friendships and has no problem openly flirting. That’s not to say Lance doesn’t care about the war, just like Keith’s reluctance to pursue meaningful bonds doesn’t mean he doesn’t want them. It just means that relationships and love obviously mean a lot to Lance.
So what does Keith focus on? Well, he shows the most focus on relationships in season one, when the connections he had with his makeshift family was the post pressing thing going on. (You cant really form Voltron if you don’t connect with the other members) But after season one, with all the changes Keith goes through, we see a big shift in his priorities. First he finds out about his heritage, then Shiro disappears and he is thrust into leadership, and then most recently, he joins the Blade.
By framing Keith’s character like this, it allows the creators to make his sexuality natural and relatable in a very interesting way. Because as LGBT people know, our sexuality isn’t the most important part of our lives. Just like Keith, we have more to focus on.
That’s not to say that his sexuality will never be shown explicitly. Like I said, I don’t want to get too shippy, but I truly believe that Laith is endgame. So if and when that happens, his sexuality will naturally come into play. Sadly, their will be a lot of people who call it forced because they missed the subtext and are use to seeing gay characters depicted more as spectacles than real people.
Voltron has really done something special here. They’ve create a universe where sexuality isn’t an issue, and they make it believable by never bringing it up outside of naturally occurring, unforced, appropriate context. Even better, because the Voltron universe is so vastly different than our own, it would’ve been easy to make LGBT characters that we couldn’t relate to, but they don’t. They manage this so well that I honestly can’t phantom Keith’s sexuality being anything but homosexual despite the fact it’s never been explicitly shown.
But most importantly, they’re creating a higher standard for LGBT representation. They are normalizing it on a show aimed towards children who are heavily influenced by the media they consume.
That, my friends, is worth applauding.