Keep It Queer is an original, biweekly feature on my blog where I talk about being queer and all the various things this has meant to me over the years. Sometimes this will also involve me babbling about LGBTQ books. It's also a chance for others to share their stories.
So. This week: when things you really don't expect to be queer end up queer. Or, how the finale of a children's cartoon surprised me beyond my wildest dreams and was the best Christmas present ever.
If you haven't seen the ending of the Legend of Korra and you haven't heard about it yet, I'm surprised, because it's been all over the Internet, but if you don't want to know because spoilers, stop reading now.
So, last Friday, the finale of Korra aired, and at the end, Korra, our wonderful, kick-ass female protagonist walks off hand-in-hand with her wonderful, kick-ass female friend, Asami, into a brightly glowing spirit portal, to take a vacation. Just the two of them, clasping each other's hands and gazing into each other's eyes as romantic music swells and the series comes to an end. The series creators have since confirmed that yes, Korra and Asami are indeed canon.
I realise countless others have already written many words about this topic, more eloquently than I ever can. (I refer you to this beautiful piece that I retweeted on Twitter the other day.) But I have a lot of feelings, and nowhere for them to go except here.
Earlier this year, one of my friends, who is British Indian, started watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. I watched ATLA myself for the first time over three years ago, so I was really excited to finally have a friend in real life I could talk to about the show. She loved it, and we kept talking about how awesome it was, a whole fantasy world with NO WHITE PEOPLE. None at all. That's the sort of thing you can do in fantasy, you guys. And it's absolutely brilliant.
I was really excited for Korra before it came out, but I found Book One (or the first season, for those of you who don't watch these shows) a little disappointing, so I stopped. Besides other issues with pacing and worldbuilding and character development, the romance in Book One between Mako and Korra didn't interest me in the slightest, and I had a feeling they were endgame. I was already shipping Korra and Asami back then, and I never thought there was any chance they would actually end up together.
But a couple months ago, my friend said she'd started watching Korra and although she didn't like Book One much either, she told me things got better after Book One. She convinced me to keep watching, and I loved it! The other stuff got better; Mako and Korra broke up, much to my relief. But still, I never thought Korra and Asami would get together in a million years. Even though I felt that their friendship was growing deeper than ever and I recognised that Korra was coming to trust Asami more than anyone else and Asami was always there for Korra when no one else was, I thought, "No way would this become canon. It's a children's cartoon! And both Korra and Asami have dated Mako and NO ONE WOULD EVER GIVE ME BISEXUAL CHARACTERS IN A CHILDREN'S CARTOON EVER."
Then That Scene happened. That Scene where Korra comes back after having been away from her friends for three years, and she's got a new haircut and Asami compliments her and she blushes. She blushes, which never happens in these cartoons except when a character is talking to someone they like romantically.
I hoped against hope, but I still thought, no way.
I spent most of the past two months telling my friend how Korra and Asami should just become girlfriends already. I did it jokingly, knowing it would never happen.
It happened. In a children's cartoon populated with people of colour and an overwhelming number of impressive female characters, the brown protagonist walked into the sunset with her girlfriend. Despite having dated boys before.
Yes, I'm frustrated that we still aren't able to have better representation than this. Because this can still be taken as "ambiguous" by people who just refuse to accept reality. I wish Korra and Asami could have kissed in the final scene. I'm not one of those people who think that this scene was more intimate than a kiss would have been. Every other couple in these cartoons get to kiss. But not Korra and Asami. It frustrates me, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate this all the same. The creators of the show have done their best, working with the limitations that are unfortunately placed upon them. I hope one day we can do even better. But today we have this, and this one thing, these two characters holding hands – this already makes me so incredibly happy.
It's hard even for me myself to process how much this means to me. Avatar: The Last Airbender gave me a world full of characters of my colour. The Legend of Korra went beyond that and gave me a female character of my colour walking off into the sunset with her girlfriend.
I never thought this could happen. Look at me. I shipped it so hard from the very first time they appeared on screen together, and I thought all the while that it could never ever happen. Even when the hints started to appear, even when I desperately wanted it to happen, I thought I was just being delusional. But I wasn't. I was right. I was finally right. For the first time in my life, a queer ship of mine sailed when I didn't expect it to.
When I read an LGBTQ book, I know it's LGBTQ before I even read it. I know that these two characters will have a queer romance, and that's great! But take, for example, Harry Potter. When there were seven books and not a queer character in sight as you read the series, and people shipped queer ships and none of them were ever going to become canon. Imagine any YA/children's series which isn't an LGBTQ series, and think – if you started to read the series and there were, say, two female characters who were both dating boys. And you thought the female characters might actually be great together, so you shipped them. Would you ever believe they could really end up together at the end of the series?
I wouldn't. Because I have been shown time and time again that it doesn't happen. But last Friday, it happened in a children's cartoon.
Here's to hoping it happens again, and again, and again. And better, and better, and better.