Why Can’t Spiderman Be Gay? 43

(Yes, I’m late to this. But this topic keeps coming up, over and over again. And I believe in the power of stories to be retold.)

Good question, Andrew Garfield. And predictably, some people have freaked the fuck out about it. (Don’t believe me? Just look at the comments if you want to come up hating humanity.) Kind of like a couple years ago, when some people suggested that it might be pretty awesome if Spiderman were black, and perhaps played by Donald Glover. And some people freaked the fuck out. To me it sure sounds the same as when some people bitched on Twitter about the Bishop of Carlisle in Richard II being played by Lucian Msamati (a black actor). The Shakespeare fandom is just a somewhat different demographic, which generally tends to have better spelling.

I don’t make any secret of the fact that I love seeing existing roles have their gender, race, and sexuality bent. (Hey, I even just talked about it in a quest blog post.)

Now let me explain why.

Stories are by necessity living things. They may be written at a particular time and about particular people, but if that was all they were, we wouldn’t keep reading them, watching them, over and over. And more important, we wouldn’t keep retelling them. We tell the same stories over and over again because there is something magical in them, some vital spark that makes them as powerful today as they were on the day they were written–or sometimes even more powerful. Even more so with legends, because they’re about how human beings relate with each other, with the world, what we think we are and who we believe we can be.

And because stories are about us and about our place in the world, we want to interact with them. We want to see ourselves in them. In fact, stories invite us to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the protagonist. That’s what gives them their power. We connect ourselves with characters who are different races, genders, sexualities, because there is still a fundamental humanity that speaks to us. Different facets of human experience are still human experience.

I get that there are characters who are quite literally defined by some aspect of their race, sexuality, or gender. Shaft would not be the black private dick that is a sex machine to all the chicks if he wasn’t black. But tell me, what fundamental part of the Bishop of Carlisle is defined by his race? What fundamental part of Peter Parker is defined by his sexuality?

What I find so upsetting about people saying Peter Parker can’t be gay, can’t be black, is that they are basically saying the experience of a gay man, of a black man is alien. That they cannot or don’t want to connect to a black man, to a gay man and find that same fundamental humanity and imagine themselves in his shoes even as we are all expected to constantly imagine ourselves as straight, white men. That only a white, straight man could possibly have that experience, that story. That only one tiny facet of the human viewpoint is valid.

That stories are static, dead things that cannot change and grow with us.

And I mourn for their imaginations.

(And you should totally go read: Why Batman Can’t Be Black.)

43 thoughts on “Why Can’t Spiderman Be Gay?

  1. Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 11:13

    he can’t be gay cos it’s not part of the story. his relationships with mary jane and gwen shaped who he is, why he does what he does, his past, present and future (especially the current storyline JMS was writing about children with gwen stacey). then there’s the whole storyline in the 70s when parker stopped being spiderman out of grief in the death of gwen stacey. you take that away, you take away an integral part of his character and his story arc.

    you’re asking a question like, “why can’t scarlett o’hara be gay?” cos, you wouldn’t have a story without rhett butler. same thing here. in fact, the death of gwen stacey was such a shock to the comics community, that it’s considered the end of the silver age of comics, and all that entailed (for a basic overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Gwen_Stacy). for the comics world, it was as hueg as the kennedy assassination.

    _that’s_ why spiderman isn’t gay, and can’t be gay.

    • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 11:37

      So he’s defined by his relationships. Why are those relationships by necessity heterosexual rather than homosexual? Would a boyfriend (Greg Stacey getting killed) be less tragic and heartbreaking for him? Etc. I would argue not.

      • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 13:42

        hah! figured out how to reply. the link gets hidden by the avatar.

        anyway, roger’s take (who’s read far more spiderman than i have):
        17:30 It’s Steel Sapphire and the Black Cat and all the other women
        in Peter’s life
        17:31 It’s like making Captain Kirk gay.
        17:31 His character doesn’t work the same if he’s not hetero

        17:33 I mean, if they want to do a “What if…” issue with Parker
        being gay, fine.
        17:33 If they want to make the Ultimate Spiderman gay, fine
        17:34 But main world Marvel Universe, Peter Parker is a white male
        from Queens.
        17:34 excuse me, a white hetero male from Queens

        interesting semantics point, you keep calling him “spiderman”, which makes me think you’ve never read the comics, whereas roger and i keep saying “peter parker” because we’ve read the comics. your familiarity with the character is superficial and facile, based only on the movies. i concede your point that in the movies, you could make peter gay, it wouldn’t change the story; however, you can’t change the peter parker in the comics. it just doesn’t work.

        also, would like to add that in the marvels ultimate universe, yes, they play as much as they want with characters. in fact, there is a black kid from the bronx that’s spiderman in that series (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-Man_%28Miles_Morales%29). ultimate marvel is a way to address a lot of those social changes and problems. if you’re interested in that, i’d suggest you check out the series.

        • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 13:50

          I’ll reply more fully when I get home and don’t have to try to type everything on my phone, but I just want to say really, we’re going with the comic book fan geekier than thou bullshit? Really?

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 13:54

            no, i’m saying they’re two different characters, with two different backgrounds, just as much marvel peter parker is a different character than ultimate marvel spiderman.

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 14:01

            So it’s okay if Marvel reimagines him, but when people suggest that they give it a goddamn whirl with him not being straight it’s a reason for you guys to jump all over my shit? You are making no sense at all.

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 14:06

            because he’s not _your_ character. how about i go and take your characters, and make them all misogynistic males? that’s my reimaging. how would you like that? how would that make you feel?

            marvel created these other universes (and, indeed, they are alternate universes) to address these issues. but, kirby’s dead. stan lee doesn’t think peter should be gay. so, marvel doesn’t mess with the main canon peter parker.

            as azrael said, why should peter be gay? what possible narrative purpose would that serve, other than pandering to SJ wank nonsense, which, frankly, this is.

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 14:19

            I’d suggest rewriting captain Ramos as a man would be kind of like making Shaft not black, considering it’s a running joke that no one expects her to be a woman. That said, if you wanted to make her straight, wanted to make her a different race, etc, I really could not give a fuck. Hell, if you did want to rewrite her as a man for your trolling bullshit example, go for it, though I would seriously question why you want to interact with that as a character. I got paid for the original work, I’d get paid again for use of my ideas.

            I ask again: why shouldn’t he be gay? Why is this causing so much bitchy ass hurt? I really do not buy originalism as an argument when it comes to people interacting with stories that we tell ourselves over and over again.

            Dismiss it as SJ wank if you want. Not like I could stop you.

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 14:28

            then you go write as much gay spiderman fanfic you want, while we’ll all read the nite gwen stacey died, and revel in its brilliance, its affect on popular culture, and how it changed the way we see superheroes.

            and, it is SJ wank. as i said below, it serves no narrative purpose to make peter parker gay, because at that point, it completely changes his character. as neil gaiman said, you can do that, but it’s not the same character, and you really can’t call it, in this case, spiderman, if you do.

            as for bitchy ass hurt? well, call that a manifestation of disappointment.

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 14:32

            If this has made you disappointed in me, can’t say I’m sorry. I’m pretty fucking disappointed myself.

            And suddenly Spiderman is solely defined by him fucking girls! I am so done.

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 14:35

            yes, actually, that’s the point we’re getting at. pretty much his whole existence in the comic has been defined by him fucking girls. that’s what we’ve all been saying. you can like it, or not like it, but there it is.

            comics are just soap operas of who’s fucking whom, but with super powers. i thought that was pretty obvious.

  2. Reply Keeley Pollock Aug 9,2013 11:33

    The point made by Andrew Garfield was ‘What if MJ is a dude?’. You’re implying that the character of MJ and Gwen Stacy are defined by their gender as well and I honestly would love to see a male version of those characters. There was a storyline written where Superman was raised in the Soviet Union and the creation of the story didn’t destroy Superman for all time, it was an exploration of possibilities. No one was screaming “Superman can’t be Ukrainian!” The thing about fictional characters is that a great deal of who they are is defined by our imagination. It’s just a shame that for many, their imagination just isn’t big enough to embrace the possibilities.

  3. Reply Azreal Darkchyld Aug 9,2013 13:02

    Spider-man is defined by his relationships as well as his gender. He’s defined by his relationships, as stated above by emily. But also there are other aspects to it: Norman Osbourne, before he went all Green Goblin and even more psycho (with Dark Reign and the Seige storylines), was a psuedo father figure to Peter. But Norman is also a heavy womanizer and there was a small story arc involving Norman’s son where it came out that Norman didn’t want his son to be gay so there could be a legacy to Ozcorp.

    Then you have the original Venom host, Eddie Brock, who both hated Spiderman AND Peter Parker. Brock was a lunk by all standards and to have his character be given more fuel for Parker being gay could change how his character was seen.

    There are other characters out there as well that might possibly have to be changed and rewritten to get Spiderman’s universe to work. Else, it’d have to be a completely different story if you changed him based on his sexuality.. If you changed him by his gender, then you’d have to completely rewrite reactions of characters and basis for their foil in Peter’s world.

    See, it’s not so much the problem of saying “What if Spider man were gay” or “Why can’t Spider-man be gay”, it’s more then questions of: a) Why do you want to make him gay in the first place? b) Why are you trying to change an already established character? c)What is the purpose of this? (I ask this because there are GLBT superheroes in both universes (Marvel/DC) already, why not give them a chance for the limelight)

    Would anyone care if he’s gay? Yeah, because it’s not canon to the 3 major Marvel universes: 616 (comics), the Ultimate Universe, and the current movie universe (the current ones as of now, not the 3 with Toby McGuire). They aren’t, or rather they -shouldn’t- care that there is a gay spiderman, they should care that someone is trying to change a current universe. Retcons and slashfics are seen by the Canon-followers as crap writing (not crap as in horrible writing (which it could be) but crap because – why would you write that just to change something kind of writing). Like, Brokeback Mountain would not have been the same if i’d been two girls instead of two guys for some reason. (I don’t know exactly why, but it just wouldn’t. They effect isn’t has eye-opening because women have been making out and having sex on tv a lot longer I suspect, but that’s just me)

    There are variants of spiderman already: There’s 2 different spiderwoman (spiderwomen?), a spider girl, a couple of clones, and I think it’s in the Ultimate universe where there is a black spiderman currently. Or was. I haven’t read the ultimate universe in a few months.

    That’s my take on it. Or rather, that’s my view of why people might be upset (I didn’t read the reasons people got angry for Garfield’s stipulation. When I heard about it I went “… what if is nice and all…but that means you’d have to change every major character he interacts with… and some characters are known homophobes. It’d be interesting, but it’s not something you can just change for a movie kind of thing. Too much history has to change.)

  4. Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 13:08

    we are all defined by our relationships, to some extent. not even i exist in a vacuum.

    and, the reason why gwen can’t be a boy is cos of her relationship with her father. as much as you may not want to admit it, girls have very different relationships with their fathers, as compared to boys (and vice versa boys with their mothers). her father was a cop, too boot, a captain (or chief, depending on who’s writing). he was overprotective of his daughter, imposed too many rules, and she rebelled and acted out, part of which was peter. not to mention, NYC cop with the last name of stacey is highly indicative of irish catholic. it doesn’t matter how feminist your mother is, if she’s irish catholic, she would have came with all that baggage. and, irish catholics raise their daughters _very_ differently than they raise their boys. trust me on that one.

    would that have likely happened if it was greg stacey? judging on the way my brother and i were raised, i doubt it. to me, gwen stacey needed to be a girl. it’s all about the context, and i think you’re missing it.

    • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 13:24

      doesn’t seem like you can edit. a better question is, why should peter parker be gay? less than 10% of the population is gay. the chances of him being gay is less than 1/10. other than satisfying SJ wank, what would be the point?

      lets put it in this fashion: in a recent conversation with a bunch of furfags (literally a room of them at the rocky mountain fur con), i had made mention that i just assumed any guy that’s involved with theatre, classical music and the arts is gay. they were really surprised, kinda offended, and rather bewildered. buddy of mine says, “why would you even assume that? <4% of the population is gay. _i_ never assume a guy is gay until he tells me. it's kinda weird, and a little offensive, and a lot stereotyping."

      not being a gay male, and having never never been one, and will never be one, i'm going to go with the room of gay guys, and how they relate to the world. now, would they like to see a gay peter parker? perhaps, cos, hey, that's hot. but, would they actually like it as a character? no, cos dude, you've just fucked up gwen stacey, and in turn, peter parker's story falls apart.

      now, how about asking, maybe peter's bi? i'd totally be down with that, cos you know why? it doesn't mess with his story.

  5. Reply Roger Aug 9,2013 13:49

    I’d just throw my 2 cents in. The character has been established as hetero since the 1960’s. Part of his overall character is his trouble in relationships with women. There is, of course, Gwen Stacy, and then his marriage to Mary Jane (the break-up of which I think was the biggest mistake in Marvel history). It also changes small things, like his relationship with other Marvel characters, like the Human Torch, because of all the attention Johnny Storm got from girls (unless you decide to make the Human Torch gay, too?), or the Black Cat, which was a Catwoman/Batman thing.

    There is a new black Spiderman in the Ultimate universe. He is not as established, so making him gay would be fairly easy. You could also do a “What if…” issue, since the whole Elseworlds thing with Superman was mentioned. You could also do a future story of Peter Parker’s son being gay. But, sorry, Peter Parker is a white, hetero male from Queens. Don’t change him on a whim. It would be like making Captain Kirk gay. You can have a gay captain of the Enterprise, just don’t make James Kirk gay.

    • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 13:52

      I feel as if you have missed the entire point I made about reimagining characters and stories as living constructions. Great, it was some that way 50 years ago. It is no longer 50 years ago. The world has changed. We tell the same general stories differently now than we did then.

      • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 13:59

        yes, and that’s what’s being done in the ultimates universe, elsewhere, etc. you’re a couple years too late to the boat with that criticism.

        it’s like asking, “why can’t this [INSERT CLASSICAL CHARACTER] be different than what the original author intended?” cos that’s not what the original author intended, and is, ultimately, fanfic, be that good or bad. no, ahab can’t be a woman, no, scarlett can’t be a lesbian, and mr. darcy can’t be gay. but, you can write as much fanfic as you want about them.

        the funny thing is, why this rant is so oddly impotent, is that *marvel is already addressing these social justice issues*, and, frankly, has been since the 70s. you can’t change classic characters, but you can mess with them as much as you want in other series, which is what they’re already _doing_ with the ultimates and elsewhere series.

        • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 14:03

          Whee original author is god. Thanks, but I still like Don Pedro as played by Denzel Washington.

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 14:17

            i think azrael has it best: there is no narrative purpose for peter parker to be gay. peter parker is defined by his relationship with women, and has been since he was created. making him gay would destroy that narrative. contrary to this, there is no narrative difference to a black man, white man, nor purple-people-eater playing don pedro (if you’ve read much ado, you’d know there is <0 stage direction or casting notes).

            characterization must serve the narrative. shoe-horning in PC flavors-of-the-day is just bad writing. you might as well ask, "why can't daredevil be able-bodied?" cos it doesn't serve the narrative. matt murdock needs to be blind, otherwise the story doesn't work. as a writer, you ought to respect that reason above all else.

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 14:20

            As far as I’ve observed in my “facile and superficial” understanding of the character, Peter Parker is most closely defined by his relationship with that radioactive spider and his adoptive parents. (and by adoptive parents I mean his aunt and uncle to clarify before someone jumps my shit about that.)

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 14:22

            Yes I have read Much Ado. And you are on crack if you think for one minute Don Pedro was not intended to be a (white) Spaniard. Disingenuous, man. Very disingenuous.

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 14:25

            Actually, I would also argue that from the perspective of a writer, narrative is subservient to character. Characters drive the narrative in good work, not the other way around.

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 14:33

            yes, well, i would disagree with you on that one.

        • Reply David Merriam Aug 9,2013 15:20

          Huh…that raises a good point. When something is written and produced not by the original creator, doesn’t that to some degree make it “fan-fic,” even if it’s with the original creator’s consent? The only difference seems to me whether property rights are still established.

          Since Spider-man’s creator is still alive, I suppose it makes sense that he would have the final say. But what about after he’s dead? Certainly Disney wouldn’t drop the cash-cow that is Spiderman after Stan Lee’s death, but then you can no longer get the original artist’s authority. What makes it anything but glorified fan-fic at that point? Batman’s creators are both dead…would they have approved of his recent works? More importantly, does it matter?

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 15:23

            neil gaiman had a really good response for that. i’d have to dig for it. it was several years ago (search by LotR fanfic, and gollum).

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 15:27

            The boundary is getting really fuzzy these days, but rule of thumb is that if it’s done with permission and licensed and makes money, it’s not fanfic. If it’s done in some way with the blessing of the rights owner (which is not necessarily the same as the original creator), it’s not fanfic. But then you get into public domain stuff (like Shakespeare) and then it all becomes creative reimagining.

            And then at that point it’s fan purists trying to police everything. :P I’d rather see art as a living entity myself. The original is important, but locking it in amber and saying it can’t change is… well, I think I’ve already made my opinion on that known.

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 15:33

            well, for there we can agree to disagree. while i respect your opinion, i’m a classicist, and would prefer it hew as closely to what the original artists intended, be that good or bad. i think when we interpret it too much to our own whims, it loses something, and becomes solipsistic.

          • Reply David Merriam Aug 9,2013 15:37

            You must have hated the new Star Trek movies, then.

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 15:47

            lawl, i loathed the new star trek movies, due mainly to just the absolute idiotic things done in the plot. creating a black hole in the solar system? WTF? that would be bad. and, then there was the stupid red matter. not that i had a problem with the red matter, but what the hell did they need the drill for?

            then there was eric bana’s character. i have a time machine, i can go save my family! but, instead i’ll just hang out here and mope.

            i haven’t watched the new movie, cos, dude, as much as i love benny, he’s no khan. that, and starfleet does really terrible, stupid things that made my head assplodey.

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 15:53

            Into Darkness would have made your head combust, man. It actually pissed *me* off, and obviously you and I have really different opinions about this kind of thing. (I was mostly just like… why are we doing Khan again, and not even as good as the first time, when you could be doing something new? And then Khan’s blood is made of macguffins and /gurgle)

          • Reply David Merriam Aug 9,2013 16:05

            Khan’s blood, but not his crew. Of course. Because they’re not magical mystery men like he is.

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 16:08

            I KNOW RIGHT

            And yes I was exactly the same. Like ask the way through the movie I was sighing and facepalming. The only reason the last third wasn’t one long “SERIOUSLY???” was I would have gotten kicked out of the Alamo.

          • Reply David Merriam Aug 9,2013 16:05

            I liked the first one, but the second one I can honestly say I did not like. I ruined it for my fiance in the theater, what with all the sighing I did in the last third of the movie.

          • Reply David Merriam Aug 9,2013 15:35

            Yeah, I think the problem is that there seems to be this mentality that a revision replaces the original. The Lion King didn’t replace Hamlet. :P

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 15:33

            The longer a work is out there, the more society has changed around it. I honestly have no idea how Shakespeare would have felt about the race out gender of his characters being changed. It’s be immersing to know, but if he didn’t approve would we have to listen to him? But I feel like it doesn’t matter to a certain extent, because at some point, the art begins to being to the people who love it and keep it alive. If you want top keep your story unchanging, you can’t really let it interact with people who will read it differently than how you saw it. Once you’ve sent it out into the world, you’ve really given up most of the control. You can’t decide how people will read it or want to change it… the best you can do is say, well that can’t be canon as long as I control the rights.

          • Reply David Merriam Aug 9,2013 15:39

            That reminds me of something I read once about Stephen King and The Shining. He had a lot of problems with what Kubrick did with the movie, and felt it really went away from what he was getting at in his book. Eventually they did the remake, and it wasn’t as good. Sometimes author intent gets in the way of a really good story.

          • Reply Rachael Aug 9,2013 15:42

            That can actually be a real issue going from books to movies. The two tell stories very differently a lot of the time. Or just think about the Watchmen movie. It was a very faithful reproduction of the comic. Can’t day it was a great movie. If nothing else, trying to make it exactly the same begs the question of why a movie was necessary to begin with, I think.

          • Reply David Merriam Aug 9,2013 15:49

            True, and I would argue that the one major change from the comics to the movie that they did do in Watchmen (revamping the ending) worked much better than if they had stayed true to the comic’s ending.

          • Reply Emily Aug 9,2013 15:50

            you can do a reimagining, but don’t call it whatever it’s based on, without qualifiers.

            there’s an excellent reinterpretation of tchaikovsky’s swan lake, where the cast is almost all male, and it’s very gay. it’s called Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. it was never called tchaikovsky’s swan lake (which is too bad, since tchaikovsky was gay).

            classics get reimagined all the time, but call it something different that the original. it stops being the original when you deviate that much.

          • Reply David Merriam Aug 9,2013 16:02

            I’d argue it stops being the original the moment you decide to make a new version of it. There are a gazillion “Christmas Carol” adaptations out there, but not one of the movies is the original work. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves. Why bother with the messy subjective definitions of where the line is, when you can just accept that every new adaptation carries with it the opinions of the director, the screenplay writer, the actors, and everyone else who worked on the film? Les Miserables the book is very different from Les Miserables the musical, which is itself very different from Les Miserables the movie-musical. Heck, one of the reasons I love going to see the same musical in live theater is that I could watch a million Javerts, and each one would bring something different to the telling of it.

  6. Reply David Merriam Aug 9,2013 15:33

    I would argue that spiderman can’t be gay for practical reasons. One of the big reason superhero movies have been successful is that the heroes are well-known. Movies like The Green Hornet or other similar-themed movies never generated much buzz in part because they were bad movies but also because nobody knew who the hell the Green Hornet was (as an example). Spiderman, X-men, Batman, etc remain successful partly because even non-geeks recognize these iconic characters. Deviate too far from who they are and you risk losing that powerful marketing tool. Everyone knows Batman’s parents were killed when he was young. Likewise everyone knows Spiderman loves Mary Jane (Gwen Stacey, until recently, I don’t think was part of that universal knowledge). Deviate too far from the source material and you risk losing tickets…so if I were a producer trying to make a lucrative enterprise out of a spiderman movie, no, I don’t think I’d agree with making spiderman gay. It’s just too risky of a move.

    From an aesthetic point of view, I think the argument that making spiderman love a guy ruins the quintessential spidey is absolute bullshit, and belongs in the same category as people complaining that the earlier spiderman movies ruins him because he didn’t make his webslingers. It’s “hardcore fans” crying about their holy texts being defiled, and the only people who really should have any say about it is those involved in creating the character (and since Stan Lee said no, I suppose that’s that from my perspective, out of respect to his intellectual property; but again, that’s less a story issue and more a respect for the creator issue).

  7. Reply Kat Aug 10,2013 17:30

    David said basically what I would above. I’m of the opinion that if there’s a market for a gay Spiderman, go for it, but I probably would not be the audience for it. I like the canonical story as it is. That’s not to say that with a marvelous script and incredible actors it couldn’t be done. But I also think that simply changing the gender or sexuality of a character is not enough to make it worth seeing. I would much rather have a new gay superhero with his own mythos than change one I really like already.

    As to the Shakespeare example…I’ve seen tons of gender flipping, placing the settings in Detroit, etc. It can work beautifully. It also can botch the play so badly I walk out. So it’s not say gay Spiderman couldn’t be done, but it would have to be beyond “good” to work, and even then, quite a gamble.

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