Being LGBTQ And Loving The MCU: Holding Out For A Queer Hero

Written by: Cameron Deslaurier

Growing up watching Marvel movies, I never had an answer to the question “Who’s your favorite hero?”

I sort of liked Hawkeye, but that wasn’t considered a very ‘cool’ answer, so I said Iron Man, like my father. Truth was, I couldn’t really relate to any of the original Avengers. But as the variety of stories within the MCU exploded, I found characters like Dr. Strange and Carol Danvers whose struggles reminded me a bit of my own—if a bit more dramatic and involving aliens. Yet I also became aware that I hold multiple identities within the LGBTQIA+ community… and that, for a long time, the MCU didn’t contain a single explicitly LGBTQIA+ character.

This is my letter of hesitant hope to a multiverse that I love but know doesn’t yet fully love me back.

For me, some of the clearest road marks on the MCU’s journey towards more integrated LGBTQIA+ narratives have been Joe Russo’s Endgame cameo, the absence of explicit queerness in Thor: Ragnarok, and the contrast between Loki’s treatment in Loki and Phastos’ treatment in Eternals.

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Moving chronologically, we have to start with Thor: Ragnarok. Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie, tweeted in 2017 that she intended her version of Valkyrie to be bisexual, just as she’s depicted in the comics. But offscreen was the only place her sexuality was addressed, as Marvel cut a scene that would have confirmed her interest in women. Thor: Ragnarok was one of my favorite MCU films, and I’d still argue one of the queerest—come on, we got Valkyrie and Loki on a rainbow bridge in tight leather! But knowing that not one, but three, comic-canon queer characters were onscreen and no attempt was made to openly integrate any of their identities left me wondering just how much better the film could have been.

This isn’t to say a one-liner sexuality drop would have been the way to go either. People who are LGBTQIA+ don’t owe anyone “looking” or “acting” a certain way, and not showing someone being actively interested in the same sex doesn’t in any way make them less bisexual. But when representation is limited to implication and one-liners, it’s not about portraying characters organically and authentically: it’s about making representation as subtle as possible.

You cannot look me in the eye and tell me that I was supposed to feel valued by a scene where Joe Russo makes the first casual mention of a queer relationship in all of MCU history in a cameo. I did appreciate that first step—even clung to it—but it was like hanging onto a thread while dangling over a pit.

The Russo brothers might have meant well in deciding that one of them would play the role, but the resulting message was clear: queer people exist, but they’re not the heroes, not even part of the MCU world—they’re the directors dropping in a passing reference.

(L-R): Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sophia Di Martino in Marvel Studios’ LOKI, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Loki went a bit farther. When the Disney+ series’ release date was set for pride month, I immediately guessed that it might finally confirm Loki’s bisexuality and gender fluidity within the MCU. And indeed, the four words “A bit of both,” made him the first explicitly queer character in-universe. But it was also the only dialogue to address his queerness in the series. If you paused at the right second in a Loki teaser trailer, you might also have noticed a shot of a Time Variance Authority file on Loki with a line reading “SEX: FLUID.” Just six words total, two of them unspoken. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be rejoicing or mourning at finally having a queer-confirmed character, but only in the margins.

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

The Eternal Phastos is the only major LGBTQIA+ MCU character to date whose identity hasn’t felt written around to me. When fellow Eternals Sersi and Ikaris find him in modern day, he’s watching his son, Jack, toss a football to his husband, Ben. And despite Phastos’ ancient comrades’ efforts to convince him to join them in saving the world, it’s ultimately Ben who convinces him to go by saying “…if there’s a chance for us to watch Jack grow up to live a life of his own we should take it.” From hearing Jack call Phastos ‘Daddy’ to Phastos and Ben’s parting kiss, the sequence felt totally natural and unforced. It was the first time that I felt truly hopeful that the MCU might start integrating new and existent characters’ LGBTQIA+ identities into storylines organically.

From a scrapped scene, to a director cameo, to a one-liner, to an Eternal who didn’t want to leave his family, the MCU seems like it might finally be on track to integrated representation that doesn’t amount to queerbaiting.

With Ms. Marvel coming up in June and Thor: Love and Thunder in July, Wiccan and Speed temporarily in the MCU, a third Deadpool film in the works, and The Marvels on the horizon, there will be opportunities abound.

And it matters. We in the LGBTQIA+ community aren’t checkboxes to be appeased so we’ll be quiet. We’re people who watch superhero films for very similar reasons to everyone else, and the absence of characters like us tells us a lot about the roles we’re expected to play in the real world.

We can, and deserve, to be heroes too.

Images sourced from Rotten Tomatoes.

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