What do you do when you encounter queer characters in fiction? If you're Bastal, a user on the Bioware forums, you start a topic complaining that said fictional work does not cater to your whims, and by golly, that's an outrage.
Bioware is the company responsible for creating the video game Dragon Age II, the source of Bastal's complaint. In the game, it is possible for the player's character to flirt and form romantic relationships with non-player characters, or NPCs. (This is not an unusual feature for games these days. The Fable series has a similar system.)
Bastal's problem is that a male NPC tried to flirt with his male character. According to Bastal, this means Bioware has "neglected their main demographic: The Straight Male Gamer." He also thinks that "there should have been much more focus in on making sure us male gamers were happy," and "Its [sic] ridiculous that I even have to use a term like Straight Male Gamer, when in the past I would only have to say fans."
Never mind that he had the option to tell the NPC "no." Never mind that he was in no way obligated to return the flirtation or even acknowledge it beyond clicking the button that would make it end. Never mind that not every fan is male, not every male fan is straight, and that not every straight male fan is narrow-minded and incapable of dealing with the presence of queer people in a mature and adult manner. Simply by admitting in-game that queer people exist, Bioware has betrayed him.
One wonders how Bastal would react to the situation in real life. (Here we are going out on a limb and assuming that any human being, let alone a queer male, would find Bastal attractive enough to flirt with.) If an imaginary male flirting with another imaginary male is enough to get his panties in a twist, I do not foresee a good outcome should a similar situation occur in reality. This worries me, not for Bastal, but for any queer person unfortunate enough to come into contact with him.
But there is a bright spot on this horizon. Namely, for once, I am not alone.
Bioware's David Gaider took the time to set Bastal straight, using polite and easily-understood language. As he explained it, "The romances in the game are not for 'the straight male gamer.' They're for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention."
He could have stopped there and I would be willing to start a write-in campaign for David Gaider for President. But he continued. Six beautiful paragraphs ensued, explaining majority privilege, why Bioware did not bow to it when designing this game, how making NPCs bisexual gave everyone the most options for the optional romance subplots, and furthermore, "the person who says that the only way to please them is to restrict options for others is, if you ask me, the one who deserves it the least."
The book-publishing world had its own upset when author Jessica Verday submitted a short story to the "Wicked Pretty Things" anthology. The publishers liked it, and asked her to change just one little detail: make one of the boys in her male/male romance into a girl.
At this point Jessica Verday stood her ground, and politely but firmly withdrew her submission. On her blog, she elaborated further, writing "Wesley and Cameron's story isn't an agenda or an issue. It isn't an 'I have to prove something to the world' story. [It] is a love story," and informing her queer fans that "You are not wrong or a dirty little secret for being who you are. [...] You should not be made to feel inferior."
This would be inspiring enough if it were just Verday taking a stand. But as soon as Verday went public with her side of the story, the online writing community exploded, and one by one, other authors began to withdraw their stories from the anthology.
As of this writing, six authors have pulled out of the project in protest, including Lesley Livingston, Karen Mahoney, Lisa Mantchev, and Brenna Yovanoff. In addition, author Melissa Marr asked that her name be removed from the publicity and advertising of the anthology.
To see so many writers stick up for the presence of queer characters in fiction is positively heartwarming, even if the source of this show of solidarity means that queer characters still have a long way to go.