queering the blockbusters: the case for giving captain america a boyfriend
The introduction of a queer character to the superhero movie canon wouldn’t just be a win for diversity, it could also dispel deeply held and damaging stereotypes that haunt mainstream media.
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Following the release of Captain America: Civil War in April this year, a hashtag started trending on Twitter demanding that Marvel #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend. The call came from the strong and vocal fan community living in the wilds of Tumblr, backing the romantic entanglement of Captain America and his longtime pal Bucky Barnes. In the original comics from the 40s, Bucky was just a sidekick. However, in the recent Marvel films, he's both Captain America's best friend and long-term brainwashed nemesis. Somewhere in that re-imagining, the internet decided they were desperate to see the historic frenemies make out.
This sort of online wish-fulfillment isn't new; fans are constantly agitating for pairings they wish to see. But this recent call felt different. Sexual tension aside, Captain America really could be the perfect character to finally bring homosexual relationships to superhero movies.
Here's the main argument against giving Captain America a boyfriend: if queer audience want a gay superhero, we should just invent a gay one rather than mess with Captain America's established movie storyline. That reasoning doesn't quite work, because it tokenizes "the gay superhero" by implying real superheroes can't possibly be queer, so we need to slap together some new ones. It fails to consider the rich options for representation that queering an existing superhero presents. After all, every openly gay person has a coming out story, they're not born into the world totally known and accepted. Can't gay superheroes do the same?
Sexuality and romance in the current Marvel films don't do much except give heroes a relationship to increase the stakes of whatever struggle they're in. There's no technical reason that relationship couldn't be a homosexual one. Except, of course, for the fact we're simply not conditioned to expect it.
After all, every openly gay person has a coming out story, they're not born into the world totally known and accepted. Can't gay superheroes do the same?
Queering Captain America wouldn't be a first: in the 90s, we were given our first gay comic book superhero, Northstar. In a sense, it was a positive step, but his story was a nauseating pastiche of heavy handed moralizing (complete with him adopting an AIDs positive baby).
No one is saying translating this to the movies is an easy task. Theorizing about how to inject some LGBTQ action into a blockbuster is a minefield of representation, story structure, fan service, and plot sensibilities. That is, except in the case of Captain America. The thing about the queer Captain America theory is that it isn't just a random whim that thousands of fans came up with — it's already kinda there.
I have no interest in negging the Captain America origin story — I love his relationship with Peggy, but I also love his hypothetical relationship with Bucky. The link he shares between these two people, whom he loves, but is also constantly emotionally tormented by, has the bones of a pretty meaty exploration of bisexual relationships. Perhaps Captain America always felt a pulled towards Bucky, but couldn't even comprehend it during the more repressive 40s? That was until they both woke up to find themselves in a far more accepting world. A world where super serums exist and Norse gods fly around hitting things — in context, bisexuality doesn't feel like much of a jump.
Captain America could be a real breath of fresh air for troubled bisexual representation. When we are lucky enough to actually have a bisexual on the screen, they tend to be evil and sexually promiscuous. Even in the Marvel universe, the only bisexual characters are Mystique — a shapeshifting and treacherous villain — and Loki, the god of lies. Having someone like Captain America, who is a wholesome American white bread hero, in a bisexual relationship would do a lot to de-stigmatize queer identities in the mainstream.
When we are lucky enough to actually have a bisexual on the screen they tend to be evil and sexually promiscuous.
Certainly, there is hope for queer inclusion in superhero stories. While the vast majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the TV and film arm of Marvel) has been frustratingly safe and unambitious with their representation, the comics have progressed in leaps and bounds since the early Northstar attempts. We've seen the addition of queer romances like Hulkling and Wiccan, and older character Iceman being outed by a psychic snoop as always being a gay character. They even had their first same-sex wedding in 2012, when Northstar married his long term partner Kyle.
It's understandable that we're probably going to have to work up to someone like Captain America getting a boyfriend, considering he represents a kind of good and pure masculinity — I mean, he famously punched out Hitler on the front of his comic. No doubt we'll start by slowly introducing sexual diversity in the back ranks, gradually acclimatizing people to the idea that superheroes can be attracted to any gender they want. And that will be exciting to see — but it wouldn't it be great if we could just skip past it all and give Cap a boyfriend?