Column: The Question of Immunity - Queer Villains in Fiction

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The antagonist is just as important as the hero. In the context of our community however, is it something to be retired?

For decades, we had to live with the tired old narrative: the Sissy Villain.

According to TV Trope’s website, the definition of a Sissy Villain is: “An antagonist whose heart is as twisted as his wrist is limp. Due to social stigmas against male femininity and ‘unmanliness.’ there's a strong tendency in fiction to assign effeminate traits to villains: flamboyant mannerisms, delicate voices, light builds, prissiness, femininely pretty looks, grandiloquent speeches, giggling, love for poetry and opera, impeccable fashion sense (not always in men's clothing), fondness for Persian cats, etc. Evil, it seems, is swishier than a silk skirt.”

In the past, if the villain’s same-sex attraction wasn’t stated outright, then they were “coded” as being gay, bisexual, or sexually ambiguous. Many were given stereotypically effeminate traits, as a way of coding the antagonist as queer. These days, we know that femininity isn’t something to be ashamed about, nor is it something that can be used to visually signify someone’s gender or sexuality - but in the past, this was how they dehumanized us. By making us ashamed of something that shouldn’t be.

Our community has appeared in popular films or media as only one stereotype - the villain, mostly because that was the only way mainstream society could stomach seeing us - when we erased the lines of morality as an antagonist, we also erased the norms of conventional gender and sexuality.

The historical portrayal of transgender people until recent decades has been even more questionable. Many horrible interpretations in the past have caused public confusion and derision towards the understanding of our people - by stereotyping us as deranged or pathological.

In our modern time and era, there is great harm in portraying us as depraved, horrible people without a single strand of goodness. (Or alternatively, being shown as tragic figures who ultimately die at the end of our narration.) It’s problematic - but I disagree with retiring it entirely.

Instead, I say we throw away the stereotypes and give rise to better antagonists. By doing this, we allow complex, three-dimensional characters to exist - without censoring the entire LGBTQ community and how we as people interact with the world as a whole.

By pushing a standard of untouchable goodness in LGBTQ characters, we are robbing our characters of the very thing that makes us human: Flaws. Without flaws, the people portrayed in our media would be flat. LGBTQ characters would be diminished even more because of the same thing we tried throwing out: stereotypes. In this case, it would be a stereotype of morality itself.

This works whether we’re the hero or the antagonist, because the grayness of varied human morality doesn’t come in black or white.

We aren’t perfect - we aren’t always heroes. And that’s OK.

Jae Kanella is a South Florida native, cat parent, and avid reader. Jae’s pronoun preference is they, their, them. They enjoy writing stories, articles, and making music. Puns and the band Queen gives them life.


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