I was 12 when Tim Burton’s Batman Returns hit theaters. I didn’t know I was a lesbian. I didn’t even know the word “lesbian.: All I knew was I never wanted to stop watching Michelle Pfeiffer crawl around in her leather Catwoman suit.
There is something inexplicably, indisputably sexy about supervillains.
Demi Moore as Madison Lee in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct. Famke Janssen as Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand.
I’m getting a little breathless just typing about it.
It’s weird, then, that everyone around me recoils in shock and horror when I say, “It’s time for a lesbian supervillain!”Oh, I know, I know: We’ve had Lucy Diamond and Dark Willow. Even Xena took a walk on the bad side. But in the end, all of those lezzers were redeemed. What I’m talking about is a an unwavering menace, bursting with hubris and drawling monologues and sex appeal — and love for the ladies.
I think lesbians are scared of lesbian supervillains because we have been — rightly — conditioned to yearn for positive portrayals of lesbian characters. We preach it at AfterEllen.com. GLAAD preaches it, too. Because positive portrayals of LGBT characters effect positive change in the fight for equality. But on the flip side of that coin is the unspoken knowledge that we will only have achieved true equality when writers treat queer characters the same way they treat all other characters.
No one walks away from Harry Potter going, “I suppose all orphaned Englishmen are predispositioned to be sadistic, power-grabbing Dark Wizards.” Or from Spider-Man going, “Alas, every scientist who loses a loved one in a tragic accident ends up setting the world on fire.” Or from The Devil Wears Prada going, “All successful busineswomen are heartless wenches who own an assortment of tasteful scarves.”
There’s no need to shy away from the idea of a lesbian supervillain as long as — and this is key — she’s not a supervillain because she’s a lesbian. And as long as she doesn’t tap into any of that propagandistic nonsense about gay people being predators or sexual deviants. There are gazillions of reasons evil characters do evil. Voldemort did it because of genetics and arrogance and fear of death. Doc Ock did it because his brain was hijacked by his octopus suit. Miranda Priestly did it because — well, because she actually deserved to be worshiped.
Us gays have had it hard, haven’t we? Fauxmosexuals on reality TV, lezzing it up in the most trashy way possible for the cameras. Bisexual TV characters trotting out their queerness for ratings stunts. Repressed/closeted lesbians stalking/obsessing over openly gay lesbians and slashing them to pieces/blackmailing them into relationships in dozens of movies. We’re nervous, is what I am saying. Nervous that if we give our consent to create a lesbian supervillian, we might be complicit in tearing down all the positive visibility we’ve built over the years.
But times, they are a-changing. It really is getting better. Do we need more positive, authentic lesbian characters in movies, TV and books? Absolutely! But we also need to be open to the idea that lesbian characters should get kicked around sometimes too.
Now, let me see a Batman movie where Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy run The Dark Knight through the ringer, with all the swagger and sexiness they do in the comic books. And in the big screen version, let’s make that subtext the main text.