But Is It Gay? How ClexaCon Changed My Mind

I’ve been really blessed throughout this process of working on my webseries, After Oil. My co-creator, Jessica Naftaly, and I were able to bring the pilot episode to New York Television Festival back in October and chat with TV development executives looking for “fresh” new material.

We knew walking into these generals that we were in a weird niche. We were “gay”, but not gay enough.

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Why? It’s a little high concept. It’s set in a global oil crisis. It takes place i Appalachia. A kid gets murdered. Oh yeah, and the main character is bi.

I didn’t walk into writing the After Oil scripts looking to make a statement. Whenever I start on a new story concept, I feel my characters out. I’m rolling a die in my brain. What ethnicity is this character? What’s their sexuality? This world I live in is diverse, and so is my imagination. Straight, white, and male has never been the default in my brain.

So when I met Briar as my main character, I knew that she was black and bisexual. I also felt she had a girlfriend, who was white and gay. I wasn’t being intentional with how I made these choices.

But after attending ClexaCon, I’ve begun to realize… maybe I should.

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Let me head this up by saying, I’m not a “good gay”. I’m not a shipper. I haven’t watched Carol. And I haven’t watched The 100. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when After Oil was accepted into this year’s ClexaCon Film Festival. For those who don’t know, Clexa is the shipname of characters Lexa and Clarke from the show The 100. This was a canon gay couple who were not token but main characters. So when show writers killed off Lexa, the community was devastated. To rub salt in the wound, Clexa wasn’t the only canon ship to be slain in 2016.

It’s not a coincidence. It’s a pattern. If we’re not token, or filling in a stereotype, LGBTQ female characters are, in general, far more likely to bite the bullet.

It’s part of the reason why I’ve never engaged with the community. So much of queer content falls under the same three umbrellas: dramas about coming out, rom-coms about coming out, or “camp” genre flicks. But what I love to watch and write is horror, or pseudo-intellectual thrillers like Inception or WestWorld. This, also, isn’t a coincidence. This is the industry’s way of saying that the “queer experience” can be one of two things: a joke or state of existential conflict.

This isn’t to bash these types of films and shows. The queer experience can be laughable and painful. But queer content is kept in these boxes because this is the lens the Man™ in charge feels comfortable viewing the LGBTQ+ community through.

This is the harsh truth. The “pull” of well-represented queer characters just isn’t enough on its own to sell me on consuming media. We’re seeing more diversity than ever before in film and TV. It’s not good enough. As a queer woman in this industry, I have a choice. I can settle for representation “where I can get it” or settle for watching the content I love where I am missing on-screen.

The solution is pretty straightforward: go gay or go home.

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More options means betters options, by default. Because I identify as bisexual, I understand that I have more diversity in my stories than the average straight white guy. It’s impossible for my sexuality not to color my worldview, but my sexuality has never been my identity. So yeah, I have main characters that are straight, or white, or male. Sometimes all three. I love those stories. I want to see them produced or published.

But after attending ClexaCon, I realize I have a responsibility not just to write from my perspective but to represent my perspective.

It sucks. I don’t want to be pigeonholed. And I’ve never wanted to make my characters an “insert” of myself. But until our entertainment reflects the diversity of my imagination, I need to be that change.

Which means I need to go full gay.

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I didn’t get it before. I guess I was fine with settling with watching the same leading straight men and women. I had gotten comfortable with inserting myself into those characters. But then I met the Clexa fangirls. And the vidders. And I saw what it meant to them, to have those characters on-screen.

And for a moment, I imagined what it would feel like if I had a character, like that, that I could see myself in.

I may never be a true fan of The 100 or Wynonna Earp. But I can be a part of this conversation.

I can be a part of this movement.

Quick plug. If you want to see me put my money where my mouth is, and support queer content while you’re at it, you can watch the pilot for After Oil on YouTube right here.  ALSO, if you always thought Harry Potter was missing some gay lady werewolves, you can follow my fanfic Stick Stone and Bone on Ao3! I plan to post new chapters every Friday.

What sort of representation do you want to see on-screen? Let’s chat. Leave a comment down below!

Shai Cotten