LGBT Issues in Critical Role

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Related terms: Bisexuality
See also: Biphobia, Bury Your Gays
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Critical Role has a decent LGBT representation when it comes to their PCs and NPCs. Both twins (Vex and Vax) have been confirmed as canonically bisexual by their players. Zahra is also heavily implied as bisexual. Major NPCs like Gilmore, Allura and Kima have been established as queer, with Kima and Allura being in a relationship. There have been NPC established as non-binary, with cast making sure they used proper pronouns[1]. Though, admittedly, before that when Mercer referred to a creature/character as "it" (clearly trying to avoid gender specific pronouns), a fan asked him on Twitter to use "they" next time, as it was more respectful towards queer and non-binary genders.

Bisexual Characters

Vax was the first character established as other than straight (thanks to episode 14 and his heavy emotional flirtation with Gilmore) and fans celebrated this admitedly unexpected plot twist, especially after Liam O'Brien confirmed his character as bisexual[2], which a lot of them took as validation of how they "read" the character[3]. Soon after that Vax/Gilmore became one of the most popular ships. However issues with Vax's bisexuality and it's portrayal on the show started showing up in fandom when Liam decided to take Vax in a different direction and develop a relationship with Keyleth. The problems and negativity escalated even more when Vex, second canonically bisexual character on the show, pursued a relationship with a member of the opposite gender as well.

Some fans (a lot of them queer themselves) felt like it was "more of the same" of what they were seeing in mainstream media, where bisexual characters are stirred towards heteronormative relationships that make it easy to erase their queerness.

you have to understand that it’s not about being ‘cool’ or ‘hip’. it’s about the fact that 95% of popular media still only allowed m/f relationships to be shown in a positive light. it’s about the fact that media containing f/f or m/m relationships usually end tragically. it’s about the fact that genre fiction (aka, sci fi, fantasy, etc) with same-sex relationships in the forefront are practically nonexistent, and those that do exist are, mostly, small indie productions with no audience or marketing capabilities. (...)

there are so many people in the world, in this fandom, who are searching the genres and mediums they love, looking for a love story they can see themselves in. for me, that would include a bisexual with a preference for women. for someone else, that would mean two men in love. and i don’t know if you’ve ever had to do this kind of searching, but it can hurt. it can be so exhausting. and what’s worse is when a show gives you hope, makes you think that maybe you don’t have to search for that kind of mirror anymore because maybe it’s here.

so, yeah, people are upset that they’re m/f ships. i’m upset that they’re m/f ships. but, apparently, you have no idea how much a ship can mean to someone.[4]
i find it a little iffy that people think that “It’s okay to be bi as long as you’re in a het relationship” is the message that’s coming across because tbh from my perspective (i’m not saying it’s how everyone else is seeing it), it’s actually been the exact opposite - people were only happy that vax and vex are bi when they were with people of the same gender. these two, who are canonically bi, have been pretty visibly bi (especially vax), and it’s GREAT that when they were hanging out or flirting with the people who have the same gender as them, no one was really complaining, BUT the second that they become involved with people of another gender that isn’t their own, suddenly it’s “UGH, FOILED BY THE STRAIGHTS/HETS AGAIN." (...) the celebration of same-sex relationships shouldn’t come at the expense of bisexuality (and for that matter any orientation that isn’t about just one gender), because then it just trips over the line into biphobia, which these sentiments kind of are, even if they aren’t intended to be biphobic. i understand why those sentiments exist, but we also need to consider these things, you know? a huge chunk of bi-, pan-, ace-, aro-, demi- and grey-phobia is monosexism, which includes homosexuality, and that’s not what should happen.[5]

Other fans didn't feel like the cast should be held to the same standards traditional media/TV shows are held to.

There’s a shitty history of bisexual characters dating someone of the same gender and breaking it off to settle down with a character of the “opposite” gender. But Critical Role isn’t like a television show or a video game, and the story that unfolds is a reflection of what the players want to do. So, I respect Liam’s decision to go for the Vaxleth romance for a multitude of reasons, the main being that Vax was his character and he could do whatever he wanted with him. I don’t think what happened was intentionally some kind of commentary or had any ill will on Liam’s part[6]

A conversation developed on whether or not the cast was biphobic.

If they were real bisexual people, this wouldn’t be a conversation we needed to be having, but they’re not. they’re characters, who are written by straight people

as someone who’s been told, multiple times, that bisexual people will always “choose” to be straight and/or settle down, like bisexuality is a phase you could grow out of, shit like this hurts me. and i’m not the only one who’s been told shit like this, by both straight and gay people, so the fact that a bunch of straight people keep making that choice is a little biphobic, yeah.[7]

As if Vax isn't still openly bi while dating Keyleth. Come on. He's still portrayed as being attracted to men even when he's currently in a relationship with a woman. And Vex, even with her crush on Percy, has flirted with Zahra and Pike. You rarely ever see bi representation where the person keeps their sexuality while being in a relationship or having a crush on a person. They're doing a good job.[8]
I’m wondering where it is said that any of the cast members are straight? For all you know they could actually be bisexual themselves and have fallen in love with someone of the opposite sex. It doesn't seem right to argue about biphobic playing when that argument is based on an assumption that the players themselves are heterosexual.[9]
bi perc’ahlia fans seem to be implying that bi people who are disappointed in this becoming canon are saying that bi people in an m/f relationship aren’t really bi which is, frankly, ridiculous

of course bi people in m/f relationships are bi. if this were a conversation about real people, this conversation wouldn’t even be happening. however, the matter stands that this isn’t about people- this is about fictional bisexual characters written by straight people who both chose to pursue m/f relationships.

another argument seems to be that this is a private game, and they don’t owe us representation. this is also true, but i would say that most of the discussion isn’t in actual anger, but in disappointment. the cast doesn’t owe us anything, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a choice they made. a choice that, unfortunately, mirrors a lot of bullshit that bisexual people have to put up with- the idea that, eventually, we’ll ‘settle down’ or ‘grow out’ of our same sex relationships and choose to be straight.

again- this is a discussion about the choices that straight people made in telling a bisexual story, not actual bisexual people. to conflate that into being the same thing is missing a key point of context and is splitting the community right down the goddamn middle.[10]

Vax and Vex are not the only bisexual characters on the canvas. Matt confirmed on Talk Machina episode 4, at about one hour and fifteen minutes in, that Allura is bisexual. Allura showed romantic interest in Tiberius early in the stream, and is currently in a relationship with Kima, a woman.

Cast approach to LGBT characters

Some fans have an issue with the way cast portrays their LGBT characters and how they behave outside of the game.

The real problem I have is with how the cast, mostly the guys, treat male/male sexuality out of character. Here are a few of the things that’ve tugged at me.
  • The running joke that Liam and Sam (who are respectively married and straight) are having sex, in which the punchline seems to be that they’re both guys.
  • The running gags, if you’ll excuse me, about Fjord being “acquainted with seamen” and liking to put balls in his body and “swords” in his mouth.
  • Taliesin telling a crew member that Caduceus was “gayer” than Molly and liking lots of twitter posts about Caduceus being gay, only to sneer at tumblr for shipping him with a guy and more time hinting at Caduceus not understanding sex than than anyone’s spent seriously considering a male character being gay in the second season.
  • Matt introducing two men in the revolution storyline and trying to do the bare minimum of implying they’re married (they live together, at one point one tentatively calls the other his partner, they’re hugging when the Mighty Nein spies on them, ect) without having to concretely say they’re together.

One of the show’s favorite jokes is gay men, even when they aren’t trying to be malicious. [...]

I’m not saying Critical Role’s being “problematic” or demanding them to force representation, I just wish they would cut back on making fun of gay men. It gives everything a bit of a weird, unwelcome energy, and doesn’t really take into account that the things they joke about can have a serious effect of the audience that watches them, especially the ones who they’re isolating.[6]

While discussing Campaign 2's femslash discourse, one fan remarked:

And if something is to be addressed as concerning I’m more worried about the lack of mlm romance[11]

When Sam's character Taryon Darrington came out several fans took to Twitter to express their displeasure at the way that storyline was handled and how Vox Machina (and players behind the character) behaved, turning the initial scene into more of a joke. They were so vocal in their displeasure that Matt Mercer felt require to address the controversy[12]

Not all fans agreed the scene was offensive.

Tary came out when they were at a bar, and there was some confusion over if he actually liked women or not, and Vox Machina (and a very underpaid barkeep) set him up with an npc they’d met at the end of the Whitestone arc. To their credit, Vox Machina (Vex) made sure Taryon was okay with it (”scared, but excited”). In the morning, Tary met with Pike and Grog and definitively decided he was gay, in what was an admittedly hilarious scene. he then threw up, which wasn’t too bad because it was already an ongoing joke that Taryon puked easily. Over all, it was handled relatively well and it was really nice to have a relatively sweet, if brief, character arc (that settled later on, with Tary confronting his father) that dealt with having internalized homophobia.[6]

Gilmore's Fate

Despite this ongoing discussion, the cast's support for LGBTQA+ issues and fans is obvious and appreciated. After episode 57 aired, only days after a tragic shooting at a gay club in Orlando[13], the cast offered a tribute at the begging of the show with Matt Mercer talking about the tragedy while the cast held up colored pages that, as a whole, formed the color spectrum on the LGBT flag. A lot of fans were very moved by this display of support, proud to be fans of a show that did not shy away from supporting its queer fans.

It is that tribute that made the discussion stemming from the controversial cliffhanger of that episode so much more emotional. At the end of episode 57, Vax is invited for a walk by Gilmore. In one of the biggest plot twists of the show, Gilmore is later revealed as Rakshasa, a devil Vas had killed earlier on, back to take his revenge on Vax'ildan. Because the episode ended with that reveal, as the Rakshasa attacked Vax, some fans became very concerned about the fate of the real Gilmore, speculating about the man's possible "off screen" demise. Gilmore's possible death, combined with the recent RL tragedy and an overall 2016 trend of writers killing off queer characters for various, often small or irrelevant reasons, made some fans even more emotional (reactions that would perhaps be less emotionally charged were the other events not a factor). One fan went as far as to tweet their concerns at Matt Mercer saying:

(...) At the top of this week's episode, you and the rest of the cast did a wonderful tribute to the LGBTQIA+ community in light of the recent events in Orlando, so touching that it moved many to tears, myself included. I am queer; I am non-binary and I am aromantic and asexual so the fact that some of my favorite people on planet earth took the time to recognize this and offer their support meant a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to so many other people.

(...) However, all of that will mean nothing if Gilmore is dead. If Gilmore is dead, Critical Role will be added to the list of shows on the "Bury Your Gays" TV tropes page. Do you know how many people have been killed off on TV so far this year? Dozens. Well ovr twenty-five now.

(...) Critical Role is keeping me alive, and I know it's doing the same for many others. It was supposed to be the sunspot on a week otherwise shrouded in darkness. Now, I'm laying in the dark and chewing my fingernails and trying in the dark and chewing my fingernails and trying not to feel sick over how my feelings will change if this show falls into that trap.

There are so many other ways to fell that story without killing a pivotal, very visible, and unabashedly queer character. Maybe you already have all that planned and I'm overreacting and Gilmore will be fine. But on (t)he fifty-fifty chance that he's not, I am BEGGING you. Truly on my knees, PLEADING with you: Please, please, please do not bury your gays. PLEASE stop killing us.[14]

And while Matt usually doesn't comment on reactions to plot and cliffhangers in the show, the unfortunate timing of it made him respond[15] to reassure the fan that he would never use the trope, going so far as to call it "a pit of storytelling laziness"[16], leading some to believe that Gilmore was alive even before the next episode aired.

Not all fans thought the Bury Your Gays trope applied to Critical Role, due to the show's format[17] or because Gilmore's death wouldn't be because of his sexuality; some going as far as saying they opposed what amounted to a "plot armor" if no queer character could be killed because of that trope[18][19].

References

  1. ^ Matt Mercer's tweet confirming correct pronouns for a character, accessed November 8, 2016
  2. ^ Celebratory Tumblr post, posted May 26 2016, accessed November 15, 2016
  3. ^ Tumblr post from May 27th 2016, accessed November 15, 2016
  4. ^ grandwretch's answer to an ask, accessed November 15 2016
  5. ^ ledamemangociana's answer to an ask posted Oct 22 2016, accessed November 15 2016
  6. ^ a b c Critical Role and Gay Men, Archived version
  7. ^ grandwretch's answer to an ask posted Oct 21 2016, accessed November 15, 2016
  8. ^ Response to grandwretch's tumblr post
  9. ^ Response to grandwretch's tumblr post
  10. ^ grandwretch's follow up post posted Oct 21 2016, accessed November 15, 2016
  11. ^ CR2108 Beauyasha/Beaujester Discourse, Archived version
  12. ^ My War Is Already Won (What happened with Matt Mercer? I saw your post,...), Archived version
  13. ^ Wikipedia page on the Orlando Pulse shooting accessed November 18, 2016
  14. ^ tweet by ssydster posted Jun 17 2016, accessed November 18 2016
  15. ^ Matt's comment in a Reddit thread addressing the tweet. Accessed November 18, 2016
  16. ^ Matt Mercer's tweet posted Jun 17 2016, accessed November 18, 2016
  17. ^ comment by sparkas on a Reddit thread, accessed November 18 2016
  18. ^ comment by FlyingRock on a Reddit thread, accessed November 18 2016
  19. ^ comment by AmbroseMalachai on a Reddit thread, accessed November 18 2016