It looks like Once Upon a Time is finally going to have queer characters, but don’t bring out the confetti just yet. While this may be seen as a bold, praise-worthy move by the show, there are a lot of reasons this turn of events is causing mixed feelings.
In an interview with EW, showrunners Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis revealed that this year they are going to introduce a queer romance into the show. In true fashion, they did not explain much and left it to speculation as to who the couple will be. With the announcement that Jaime Chung, who plays Mulan, will be returning for both halves of the season, fans have began to speculate that Mulan and Aurora (Sarah Bolger) are the couple in question, despite no news of Bolger returning. We last saw Mulan in season three when she joined the Merry Men after finding out that Philip (Julian Morris) and Aurora were expecting. Mulan had initially gone to the castle to confess her feelings for Aurora but Aurora told her about the pregnancy before she had the chance. The scene was relatively ambiguous and the only way to tell that Mulan was there for Aurora and not Philip was use of common sense and an interview with Chung after the episode aired.
So here’s where I have a few problems with how this is going down. First off, in the interview, the quotes from Horowitz and Kitsis made a lot of LGBTQ people upset, and rightly so. Kitsis said, “We know that community have been big supporters of the show and we would love to be able to tell a love story that reflects that.”
Using the phrase “That community” is similar to saying “those people” and then continuing to imply that they have been unable to tell a queer love story is a bunch of crap. Horowitz threw in “We want the show to reflect the world as it is now” and “It’s something we think is due and important to do on the show.” If they intend to reflect the current world, then they should probably reconsider a lot of what they’ve been doing since the only people getting happy endings are straight, white, and cisgender.
The show has some terrible POC representation in addition to the nonexistent LGBT representation and when fans question it, they are labeled “haters” for demanding better representation. Four years ago when Once aired, it was billed as a twist on classic fairy tales, but it’s not a twist if the same groups are seeing themselves represented.
Fan reaction to the news points to a large problem in the fandom. When it was first announced that Chung was returning, many fans decided to jump on the good ship Sleeping Warrior (Mulan and Aurora), which is fine except some people used it to start in on the Swan Queen (Emma and Regina) hate that frequents the fandom.
Some fans have decided to start posting things like “You don’t want representation, you just want Swan Queen” and telling the LGBTQ community should be happy with whatever representation they get. This is another instance of the LGBTQ fans being “othered.” God forbid Swan Queen shippers who have been watching the show since day one and shipping Emma and Regina very early on actually continue to want to see that romantic relationship happen.
In a perfect world, we would be able to wish for more than one queer couple. Since it is not a perfect world, many LGBTQ fans, including myself, are concerned that they will give us a queer couple with new characters or guest stars (Sleeping Warrior for example) and just leave it at that, instead of using it as a stepping stone into more LGBTQ representation. Basically, that this queer couple will be a way to shut us up.
The announcement that a queer love story is being added to the show has fueled homophobia and you don’t have to look far for it. Homophobic comments are flooding the official Facebook page and the comments sections of articles that wrote about it, and I imagine Horowitz’s Twitter mentions are a hot mess, based on the few tweets I saw to him. I’m not naive and I know that homophobic people exist but these comments are never addressed. The poor treatment of LGBTQ fans is never addressed. Horowitz interacts with fans on the regular but he usually makes a blanket, “I love all ships” or “I love all fans” statement, without actually addressing the bullying that is occurring. There is very little support for LGBT fans, which allows all of this homophobia to fester and grow, like mold you just can’t get rid of. A mold that says things like “This is a family show! I can’t let my children watch if there’s gay people!” and “I have nothing against gay people, I just don’t want it shoved down my throat!”
I’m also really bothered that they needed to make this a big deal and be like “Hey look at us, we’re actually doing what you’ve been asking for, we’re throwing you a bone.” Well, I don’t want a bone, I don’t want leftovers, I don’t want scraps, I want that steak that everyone else is enjoying. I want to be treated like everyone else. LGBTQ fans/shippers want to be treated like the straight fans/shippers. We want options, we want to have choices, we want to see ourselves represented on screen. We want fairy tales that represent us. We want Swan Queen in addition to other well developed queer relationships. It’s not fair that we’re told to settle for whatever comes. It’s not fair that we don’t have a lot of couples and characters to choose from. Nobody’s ever looked at people who ship straight ships and said, “What? You have one couple, why do you need more?”
A lot needs to change and I know I’ve barely scratched the surface with this but the point is, LGBTQ people shouldn’t have to demand representation. It shouldn’t take four years for a show to acknowledge that the LGBTQ fans matter.