Guest writer Ell M. responds to Stephanie Farnsworth’s recent article critiquing LGBTQ+ representation on Supergirl.
There has been one thing the media has always been good at – derailing women. Femslash is that, with two women, with homophobia added on top. I have never had a ship I enjoy without it handling some sort of criticism, but it seems the femslash ships I love have gotten the worst ‘criticism’ by far. If it’s not abusive or toxic then it’s just not good representation because the characters aren’t ‘perfect’.
Here’s something I’ve learned as a creator and a consumer of fiction; well written characters are never going to be perfect. Well written relationships? Same rule applies. If you’re writing your characters to be as human as possible, they’re going to have flaws, and the relationships they build will have flaws. That doesn’t make them ‘toxic’, it makes them realistic. If you’re waiting for two characters to be perfect to consider it representation, you’re never going to find what you want.
Here’s something I’ve learned as a creator and a consumer of fiction; well written characters are never going to be perfect.
Canon, women-loving relationships are rare. When Supergirl’s season two came with Alex realizing she liked girls, one girl in particular, sapphic girls flocked to it. With watching Alex’s coming out story and how much thought was put into it, how can anyone believe it was used as a trope? Two of the five Supergirl writers are LGBTQ+ in some way; a simple look at their Wikipedia pages show that. Alex’s coming out story wasn’t meant to be written as a joke, or a punchline to why she wears an immense amount of flannel; it was a collaborative of firsthand experiences, and with the realness the writers and actors portray the role, how can this important character development have the word trope slapped on it, and then be put behind us, as if it’s had little or no impact? Many people have tweeted Chyler Leigh, the actress that plays Alex, with their stories that have arisen because of Sanvers. One, a Twitter thread of a woman working with a younger girl coming to terms with herself in a comic book store, and two, a video compilation of LGBTQ+ people’s reaction to Alex and Maggie kissing, are only a few of them.
Alex’s coming out story wasn’t meant to be written as a joke, or a punchline to why she wears an immense amount of flannel.
Dismissing Sanvers as ‘poor writing’ completely diminishes the point of why it exists. Sanvers is being written by LGBTQ+ people, for LGBTQ+ people. While there’s sure to be people who don’t connect with it (just like any piece of media, it won’t connect with everyone), ignoring the impact it’s had on other LGBTQ+ people is a naive outlook and ignores the bigger picture. This is why I have categorized my myths to be debunked into two categories: Alex’s sexuality and Maggie’s level of toxicity.
Sapphic solidarity is one of the best things to be a part of. Lesbian, bi, and pan women are stigmatized for liking women, and there’s nothing better than watching them work together to metaphorically kick bigots in the face. There is one thing, though, that separates lesbians from bi or pan women, and that is that they’re not attracted to men.
This can take a long time for some lesbians to realize, and the process of going through it has a name: compulsive heterosexuality. Discerning whether your attraction to men is legitimate or years of societal ingraining can take years. Part of Alex’s speech relies on that: “You know, I mean, I tried. I got asked out [by men]. I just I never liked… Being intimate. I just… I don’t know. I thought maybe that’s just not the way I was built. You know, it’s just not my thing.”
It’s not biphobic to say that Alex is a lesbian when her coming to terms with liking women heavily relies on not liking men. In fact, it could be said it’s biphobic to say Alex is bisexual, because it reiterates the stereotype of bi people ‘choosing a side’. It would be problematic for someone to say Clarke Griffin or Sara Lance was a lesbian, right? The same idea goes for Alex. She is not bisexual; she is a lesbian.
“But she hasn’t said she’s a lesbian, so how do we know for certain?”. To someone who isn’t a lesbian or trying to figure out if they are, someone saying they’re a lesbian may not seem like a big deal. But it is. Alex not saying she’s a lesbian isn’t like the problem with writers forgetting to have their characters say they’re bisexual; lesbian is seen as a dirty word in society. It’s been taken away from girls who need a label to feel comfortable with and it’s been turned into a porn category. How can one expect Alex, who’s just learning who she is sexually, to say the L word in reference to herself? As mentioned before, one thing that separates lesbians from other sapphic women is the lack of their attraction to men. Alex does not hold attraction for men. Therefore, by common sense and process of elimination, Alex is, in fact, a lesbian.
It’s not biphobic to say that Alex is a lesbian when her coming to terms with liking women heavily relies on not liking men.
Of course, this doesn’t mean bi or pan women aren’t allowed to enjoy Alex. Of course they are! Alex’s coming out story, while steered in a mainly lesbian direction, can be relatable to any sapphic woman. Looking back and realizing all the girls you had a crush on when you were younger? Classic sapphic experience. Alex’s story is made to be consumed by anyone who feels connected to it; but remember that she’s a lesbian, and don’t erase that.
Then, there’s another aspect of Sanvers to discuss: Maggie has never been toxic towards Alex.
Maggie has been nothing but supportive for Alex. While it may have started in a joking manner of, ‘Wow, you… do realize straight women don’t act like that, right?’, when the implications became serious, Maggie quickly turned into someone Alex needed;
Alex: “Maybe it’s just a phase. You know, maybe it isn’t real.”
Maggie: “No, it’s real. You’re real. And you deserve to have a real, full, happy life. Okay? Tell your family. This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to you, and you shouldn’t have to do it alone.”
Alex: “I have you.”
Maggie: “Yeah, you do.”
And even though Alex’s family have been nothing but enthusiastic about her journey (Kara was only upset because she felt like her troubles never gave enough room for Alex to figure out her own), it’s nice having someone who actually understands what you’re going through. Maggie was more than just Alex’s support, because Maggie knew what Alex needed to hear. That she was valid, that she was going to be happy, that she always had someone she could talk to.
When Maggie lets Alex down, it’s sad, yes, but it was for unselfish reasons;
“Well, we’re at really different places. And everything is changing for you. And everything is going to feel really heightened and shiny. And you should experience that for yourself, not just to be with me. And I shouldn’t get involved with someone who’s just fresh off the boat. Those relationships never really work out. I’m here for you, but as a friend.”
Maggie doesn’t turn down Alex to support a ‘gold star lesbian’ rhetoric, and she certainly doesn’t laugh in Alex’s face. Assuming Maggie, as a ‘more experienced’ lesbian, wants the worst for Alex, and wants to treat her like garbage, only echoes a harmful idea that lesbians prey on less experienced women.
Looking at the situation logically, Maggie’s reasons make sense. We’ve only seen her for a couple of episodes, but it’s obvious she seems to have commitment problems, as she mentions several exes in a short amount of time. Maggie also doesn’t reject Alex because Maggie thinks she’s better than her due to more experience; she rejects Alex because she wants Alex to figure herself out before getting into anything serious, with the seriousness just happening to be Maggie herself. She wants Alex to do some inner soul searching before diving headfirst into a relationship. But also, she wants to be there for Alex as a friend. Maggie is one of the only gay people Alex knows. A bad end to a romantic relationship could leave Alex all alone, with no one who understands to confide in.
It sucks to be gay, sometimes. It sucks even worse to be gay and alone.
Is Alex bitter at first? Of course she is; the girl she has a crush on rejected her, and she voices that. But by the latest episode, ‘Medusa’, Alex understands why Maggie let her down;
“You know, when you first suggested that I was gay, I denied it. And then I thought that it was just about you. I mean, how could I not like you? But, you know, deep down, I think I still wasn’t comfortable that that was my new normal. But it is my new normal. And I’m happy that it is. ‘Cause, I don’t know, I finally I get me. And now I realize that it wasn’t about you, but it’s about me living my life. So, thank you.”
It takes Alex realizing her being gay is about her, not Maggie, and a near-death experience on Maggie’s part, for Maggie to think, Screw my issues. I really like her, and I want her to know that.
The scene at the end of ‘Medusa’ where Maggie gets the courage to kiss Alex is one of the greatest LGBTQ+ television moments I’ve seen. My heart swelled so much I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. Maggie has always been on Alex’s side, even if Alex didn’t feel like it, and Maggie realizes that Alex is worth the consequences. She even admits that she thinks she was wrong;
“I was so stupid. And I guess I was kind of right, that you came out for me. And that scared me. But… life is too short. And we should be who we are. And we should kiss the girls that we want to kiss. And I really just… I want to kiss you.”
In no way is this ‘Maggie taking what she wants’, or dismissing Alex’s feelings on the matter. If Alex had felt angry and hurt by it, would she have kissed Maggie a second time?
The idea of Sanvers only being beneficial for Maggie is completely ridiculous. This relationship, and Maggie in general, have helped Alex in realizing who she is. Alex’s life has got better since realizing she was a lesbian. Since when has television ever done that? It’s only been five episodes, but Supergirl has written a better LGBTQ+ love story than most people have tried writing in several seasons.
This isn’t to say Sanvers is perfect. It’s Alex’s first true relationship; there are going to be bumps in the road. Calling it ‘toxic’, though, is farfetched. The Joker and Harley Quinn are toxic. Fifty Shades Of Grey is toxic.
But a woman realizing she’s gay and falling in love with someone who wants nothing but the best for her is anything but.