What Hollywood really needs is to embrace the fact that some of its male heroes just want to bone.
I’m going to begin with an admission that this piece is an exercise in something rarely if ever considered wise, namely talking about a subject on which my knowledge is limited. I welcome feedback about any mistakes made in the following. With that said, until recently there was something about fan fiction, and shipping, that I never really understood, partly because I’m old but mainly because I always thought of a text being inexorably itself (“it is what it is”), and that the inclusions and exclusions were matters of authorial prerogative and indisputable (“if the writer and/or director wanted it that way, it’d be in the movie”).
Obviously this is a limited and limiting way to look at things, but it took a while for that realization to sink in, which it did through acquiring a tangential familiarity with fanfic, which is another way of saying I don’t read much of the stuff but know a lot of people who do, with whom I’ve discussed it frequently. With the caveat that this may be due to small sample size, the majority of the fic I’m aware of is erotic in nature, based on properties that either voluntarily or not eschew explicit eroticism, and more often than not features non-hetero and otherwise non-traditional relationships, which aren’t represented as often, if at all. The conclusion I have drawn from this is that movies need more gay sex.
Right now, there’s next to none in mainstream film. “More” simply means “any” in this context. And this by no means is a suggestion that it replace all hetero sex. But there is a clear, and loud, desire in film fandom for more non-hetero representation in multiplex fare. The reason this is manifesting now as opposed to any other time is that movies are tiptoeing to the very brink of openness. Two examples stand out: first, the relationship between Poe and Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Poe Dameron is introduced in no uncertain terms as the kind of swashbuckling male hero type that goes back at least to Douglas Fairbanks, and is coded as straight by default. Here, however, there’s a different type of energy between Poe and his stormtrooper-turned-good rescuer, whom Poe names Finn. The film never comes out (to coin a phrase) and says it explicitly, but Oscar Isaac and John Boyega play out their scenes with a chemistry that’s not not homoerotic, and to a fanbase that’s never had the thing itself, “close enough” did the trick. At times since The Force Awakens’ release, it has seemed like the entire internet is a mere venue for homoerotic Poe/Finn fan art. Some artists and writers go to the extent of including Rey in a poly bi triad. The movie, to be clear, has not even overtly hinted at any of this. It remains subtext and fanbase-wide desire, but this is no reason to disregard it. Hold that thought.
The second and more recent example is the friendship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes throughout Captain America canon. This I actually bring up because I have an extremely limited familiarity with Captain America comics and haven’t seen Civil War. The point is, I know this little about the canon proper, and yet still know that an enormous, vocal segment of comics, movie, and comics movie fandom is deeply invested in the idea of Steve and Bucky fucking. Steve having a chaste-ish kiss with a woman once every couple movies wouldn’t preclude this at all. Bisexuality, I can attest firsthand, is a thing.
Ultimately, that’s the best argument in favor of broadening the popular cinema’s horizons in this regard. There is a wide array of sexual orientations – not to mention asexuality – gender identities, and lifestyles that are not represented at all, and there is no reason whatsoever why they should not be. The “what do I tell my kids?” argument isn’t an argument: I don’t know what you should tell your kids about LGBT people. They’re your kids. To be perfectly clear, what’s being proposed here isn’t turning the entirety of popular entertainment into gay porn. Sex doesn’t always have to take place onscreen in order to exist within a narrative. Sometimes it’s more dramatically effective to infer a thing rather than depict it. But it is long past time for popular entertainment to have openly out characters. Art needn’t imitate life in every respect, but it shouldn’t bury its head in the sand either.