Bisexual Trolls and Non-Binary Sprites: The Power of LGBTQ Visibility in “Homestuck”

Note: This contains mild spoilers, especially for Act 7/the ending.

Homestuck‘s 7 year run in April was notable for breaking the boundaries of webcomic storytelling, by using a mix of pictures, animations, minigames, music, and more text than War and Peace to depict a Creation Myth as Videogame that was also a meta-commentary on storytelling. Through Homestuck, writer Andrew Hussie plus many collaborators over the years have created a sprawling epic involving timeline-jumping, retroactive foreshadowing, multiple universes, copious 90s references, Internet culture, and a massive cast of characters, all very distinct with well-developed personalities, interests, and relationships (even those meant to be one-off jokes).

The diversity of its cast has especially been meaningful for Homestuck’s LGBTQ readers, who make up a significant portion of the fanbase. I reached out to a number of fellow LGBTQ female and non-binary fans of Homestuck to learn about what Homestuck means to them. Their responses cover the varied and respectful portrayal of queer characters, friendships, and relationships, the subversion of the Bury Your Gays trope, and the valuable opportunities in finding reflections of themselves, building relationships and community with other LGBTQ fans, and even becoming confident enough to own their identity.

Homestuck Cast by Izzy Abreu

Homestuck Cast by Izzy Abreu

The main cast consists of teams of teenagers from three different universes (and multiple iterations of those universes) working together to play variations of Sburb, a game resembling a cross between The Sims, Spore, Myst, and RPGs whose end goal is to create a new universe. The three player races — humans, trolls, and cherubs — represent varying sexual orientations, but the trolls are particularly notable for their default bi/pansexuality; gender is not a factor in their highly complex “quadrant” relationship system.

The trolls’ default sexuality could be seen as a cop-out, as pointed out by 18-year-old transgender lesbian Roxie J., currently studying in the United Kingdom while volunteering for the Transgender Teen Survival Guide. The trolls do not go through struggles over their sexuality (in contrast to the humans: one of the most powerful moments of Homestuck involves Dave Strider coming to terms with how toxic masculinity affected his perception of heroism, manhood, and gayness). However, the normalization of queerness in the troll universe can have its benefits: “This must be incredible for all the bi and gay kids out there, reading it, and seeing loads of couples that don’t think twice about how they’re dating somebody of the same gender of themselves.”

“I sort of like that the trolls being bi isn’t treated as very important,” adds Middle Eastern lesbian Kayla B., who started reading Homestuck as a high school sophomore. “Sure, I like other women, but I’m also a poet, a textile artist, and a collector of fancy soaps. Those come first when I explain myself, and I like that the trolls also have features besides their sexuality that they discuss more.”

Some of these features have made certain characters fast favourites within the fanbase. Kayla and Hannah E., a 23-year-old queer non-binary web engineer living in Manila, were both heavily inspired by Vriska Serket, a polarizing firebrand troll who flits between antagonist and anti-hero. “[Vriska] made me realize that I didn’t always have to do what other people expected, and that it was OK for me to stand up for myself, even if other people disliked my autonomy,” says Kayla, while Hannah, who has been reading Homestuck since 2013, felt resonance in Vriska as someone living with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Vriska Serket by viria

Vriska Serket by viria

“She was an emotional wreck and it took a while for her to really come to terms with who she was as a person […] that was my struggle with BPD”, she explains. “I thought I was fucked up through and through, couldn’t get my emotions in check, felt too strongly about things. I’d do hurtful things to me and to other people on impulse and by the time I realized what I had done it’s too late. The damage was done. I earned a bad rep, like Vriska, so I rooted for her because I saw myself in her. I knew she wasn’t a bad person, she redeemed herself.”

For Roxie, Calliope — a kindly and creative cherub that shares a body with her more angry and misogynistic brother Caliborn, who ends up being one of the biggest villains — helped her find acceptance with her gender identity, relating to the idea of being tormented by her “male counterpart”.

“I felt I couldn’t separate “Roxie” from “[birth name]”, and that people would only ever see me as male,” she says. “Just as Calliope felt she could not be separated from the one who antagonized her the most, I felt I could not be separated from a group of people who are actually the most likely to harm me!”

Caliborn and Calliope by xamag

Caliborn and Calliope by xamag

Roxie was most struck by how Calliope, who had low self-esteem due to her skull-monster appearance and sometimes sought to hide it, was reminded by other characters that she was already beautiful. “When you’re trans, and talk about how much you feel dysphoria, most people jump to telling you ‘Well, one day you can change that’ or ‘There’s always hormones’ or ‘You can have surgery when you’re older’,” she explains. The other characters’ acceptance of Calliope as she is “really reinforced that other girls will love me even if I don’t have the body I want to yet, or even ever.”.

The most popular canon same-sex female pairing in the fandom, by far, is of Kanaya Maryam and Rose Lalonde, a troll/human pairing whose love and shared struggle became core to Homestuck. 19-year-old Fenn, a lesbian from London who has been reading Homestuck since 2012, found joy in experiencing their romance, which eventually helped them be at ease with their sexuality: “I remember one of the times I was catching up on the colossal archive while my excited friend watched over my shoulder. I happened to be on a Rose and Kanaya log, and they asked: ‘Do you ship Rosemary? Good things happen with Rosemary.’ And good things happened indeed. When I reached the absolutely stunning panel where they kissed, I was practically giddy with glee. Suffice to say, I was in love with their love.”

Rosemary by ikimaru

Rosemary by ikimaru

31-year-old London-based illustrator Kate Holden, who works with voiceover group Voxus on the highly popular fandub project Let’s Read Homestuck, directly credits her role as “teenage lesbian space vampire” Kanaya as the impetus for her acceptance of her own sexuality:

While I was lending my voice to Kanaya, she was quietly influencing me in her own helpful way. […] I’d been in the dark about my sexuality for a long time. I knew I wasn’t into guys, but attempts to discuss attraction to women were always met dismissively; I was too feminine in presentation, too introverted, too much of a straight arrow to be one of those lesbians, I was clearly just shy and not used to men yet. I decided to identify as Asexual, and was happy for a number of years as just that. But as I lent my voice to Kanaya’s understated yearning for the smart, driven and intimidating Rose Lalonde, it sparked recognition […] I realised we were both looking for the same thing.

There aren’t any overt trans characters in Homestuck, asides from the late addition of Davepetasprite2, a (highly adorable if strobe-y) fusion of the sprite forms of human male Dave Strider and troll female Nepeta Leijon that has a temporary but quickly resolved crisis over their gender and is now considered canonically non-binary. However, trans headcanons are common, especially with Roxy Lalonde, Rose’s mother/daughter whose name hinted at a possible trans history.

Davepetasprite by princessharumi

Davepetasprite by Princess Harumi

Roxy Lalonde by Weiwei

Roxy Lalonde by Weiwei

“When the last two letters of her first name are finally revealed, they’re referred to as ‘The final two chromosomic symbols’,” explains Roxie, who adopted Roxy’s name after admiring her ability to work through major issues like alcoholism as well as her interest in stereotypically-masculine things like science and technology while still being very feminine. “This was shocking to me because, well, I’m a girl with XY chromosomes. It really felt to me as if this was alluding to Roxy being trans, and regardless of whether she is or not, the line has cheered me up on many an occasion.”

Much of Homestuck’s success in portraying LGBTQ characters and relationships comes down to Hussie’s ability to write them in a realistic, non-fetishistic manner. For 24-year-old South American lesbian María, her trust in Hussie’s writing came from seeing moments in the story that reflected real life, even in very fantastical settings. As an example, she brings up Rose and Kanaya’s first date, “but neither of them are sure if it’s a date-date or if they’re just going out as friends. The very same thing had just happened to me days earlier. The whole thing with never being sure if it’s really a date because it’s not weird for two female friends to do things together? Perfect.”

Holden adds, “When straight and/or cis people write stories about Gender Sex Minority characters they have this tendency to focus on the drama of being different, and how exotic and exciting and tragic and maybe sexy that is to them, but what we actually want from stories is just the same as any bestselling romance or thriller or sci-fi or fantasy — but with more gender and sexual diversity. So maybe the guy gets the guy at the end, or the girl gets the girl, or somebody non-binary becomes happy in an asexual platonic relationship with lots of friends. We want to see ourselves having a happy ending, not to be tragedy porn for straight people to gasp, ‘oh they’re so brave!’ about.”

Homestuck’s finale, Act 7, was released on April 13, 2016, very soon after a lot of media uproar around the Bury Your Gays trope and the increasing numbers of female LGBTQ characters killed off on screen often for seemingly pointless reasons. Homestuck does have a reputation for its high death count: almost every character has died at least once, with multiple versions of the core cast having died multiple times. However, death does not render a character irrelevant: it is a necessary Leveling Up step for player characters to gain God Tier powers (kind of like superheros with conditional immortality) and many characters achieve greater prominence after their deaths, contributing to the story as ghosts or helper sprites. (Indeed, some characters, such as the predecessor troll players from a different timeline or Kanaya & Vriska’s teammate Aradia Megido, enter and influence the story as ghosts.)

Many fans see Homestuck’s use of death-as-equal-opportunity-narrative-device as a subversion of the Bury Your Gays trope. Both Kayla and María pointed out that narrative deaths only really count as Bury Your Gays if it resulted in a sheer reduction of LGBTQ characters in the story, was implied to happen due to their sexuality, or denies the opportunity for LGBTQ characters to achieve the same kind of happiness as straight characters — none of which applies to Homestuck.

Indeed, the finale of Homestuck, while ambiguous, implies a happy ending for many of its characters, including shots of Kanaya and Rose looking over their new world. Holden feels that the happiness of Rose and Kanaya in the endgame was crucial to the story’s success, and that Hussie understood this: “In spite of the meandering and pacing issues caused by the structure of Homestuck and how it was made, Hussie showed he pretty clearly understood what he was doing and how narratives work. There was so much build-up to Rose and Kanaya as a couple, they were both so clearly mutually devoted and they’d overcome so many issues in their relationship that it felt like their happiness was absolutely required for the ending result to be considered a success.”

For a media product primarily produced by a straight cis man, Homestuck has been able to achieve what many others are struggling to do: create a wide range of relatable narratives for LGBTQ readers, allowing them to find not only themselves but also friendships, communities, lovers, and family welcoming of their gender and sexual identities. It was willing to critique its own homophobia and present LGBTQ characters in fully realized ways. While the core webcomic itself has ended, its influence and spirit will live on — largely due to the respect it accorded its misfit ragtag fandom. Very apt for a story that started and ended with a group of Internet friends from different backgrounds getting together to have fun.


Are you following us on Facebook?

Profile gravatar of Creatrix Tiara

Creatrix Tiara's philosophy is to sign up for anything that look interesting, which gets her into some fun adventures. She's passionate about liminality, inclusivity, and intersectionality, especially in arts, media, tech, games, fandom, education, and activism. She is currently looking for jobs, opportunities, and things to sign up to in Australia and beyond.

Creatrix has written 12 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. I like Homestuck, and I enjoyed hearing these people’s stories about it. I think it did a lot of things right. Rosemary and Davekat are excellent and I was uncomfortably nodding along at the part about Vriska and BPD because… yeeeeeeeeeep.

    However, does literally any nonbinary person think that Davepeta is decent rep? They are a boy and a girl magically smooshed together and they show up just a little bit before the end. We aren’t even told if they live or die in the end. Like… seriously, come on.

    • Hi! As a nonbinary person, Davepeta is the first representation I’ve seen of myself in basically any media ever. They might be “a boy and girl magically smooshed together” to you, but to me they represent what it is to be nonbinary. I’m sure not all nb people feel the same, but I love davepeta and their representation for our community. They are one of the only representations we see of ourselves, and they are a pretty realistic one. I’d like to include some dialogue from when we first meet them to accentuate my point:
      DVPA: maybe you should stop calling me dave? my name is davepeta now .
      JPRS: Yes you’re right. I’m sorry Davepeta. No offense, but the Dave part of you is sort of the fly in the ointment here, so when I look at you, that tends to be who I see.
      […]
      DVPA: now im like this whole new neat kind of sprite with legs again and claws and shit and id prefer that my new identity be respected please!

      That is basically a conversation I’ve had with one of my friends. Davepeta might not have gotten a cool endgame (not that many characters did) but their portrayal as a nonbinary character was realistic. They struggled with their gender identity, they had friends who they had to explain it to, but at the end of the day, they were just a sprite havin fun and RPing. Like it says in the article, their arc was not about ~~being different~~ it was about them as a character. That’s the kind of stuff I want, and I consider davepeta at least decent representation because of how realistic of a character they are, I can identify with them even if they are a cat-troll and a bird-human smashed together by magic.

    • what hapenned with Davepeta?
      I believe Davepeta escaped with others in the dream bubble (not including Vriska or LE).

      There is a theory about this topic which is the HOMESTUCK META THEORY by Seer of Doom on tumblr.
      I’m not sure if I can put link here so I will just leave it like this.

  2. I remember getting into Homestuck and thinking, oh my gosh, Rose is just like me. She was the character I identified with through the whole story. Incredibly inspirational.
    And then as I was coming to terms with my sexuality, I moved into the part where Rosemary really becomes a thing. Like, as Rose was developing this relationship with another girl, I was realizing that that was a part of me. I think that was a really important thing for me to see.

  3. This article is amazing and omg I had a similar experience as one of the people in this article: I just thought I was asexual but reading homestuck and specifically when rosemary happened, that was when I realised I was a lesbian! I mean of course it was more complicated than that but reading about them I realised that this is what I want and it really helped me to be ok with my sexuality

  4. Ahhh so great (and surreal?) to see Homestuck mentioned on Autostraddle! It has been absolutely formative for me. The way sexuality was a non-issue for trolls, especially. It felt so good reading about them. And John being called out for his “I’m not a homosexual” line!!!!! Justice at last!

    I remember being SO GRATEFUL for rosemary becoming canon and I still am. Hussie is not faultless by a mile but LGBP kids I feel he did right by, at least.

    (also omg so many people have the roxy-is-a-trans-girl headcanon?? yessss)

    • Haha hi cecil.

      Homestuck was such an incredibly strong influence on my life. During some really tough years, it gave me validation, community, and (of course) some media to enjoy too, haha. Though it has lots of issues, and the ending isn’t particularly satisfying, I do genuinely believe all those articles about how groundbreaking it was for the medium of webcomics etc are really only barely exaggerations.
      You can see Homestuck’s influence in so many things.

  5. I have an online friend who has been trying to get me to read homestuck FOREVER

    Since way back in the day when it hadn’t updated in, like, years and av club was doing thinkpeices on it and the dangers of things that get too popular too fast

    Now that I know it’s come to a conclusion I might actually get into it

    The art and hypertext type thing / narrative rule breaking is Def 100% my Shit

  6. *flails* I’m really glad that someone wrote this. ^^ Now I have even more reasons to love Calliope/Roxy. Ugh, so many feels about that pairing now! T_T

    I was really into Jane. I headcanon’d Jane as a trans girl. I loved the you tube vids I found of her hanging out with Dirk and complaining about Jake. And the vids of Jane hitting on Roxy. Ohgods. Jane and Roxy as trans girls and in lesbians. *fans self madly*

    Nepeta was my favourite troll even though my patron troll is Tavros. I loved seeing an aspie cat girl into shipping. Aka, close to who I am lol. She’s weird, sweet, eccentric, devalued by others, and pining over someone that’ll never return her feelings unless in death. I wish that she had more storylines. I wasn’t happy with Davepetasprite even though they were kinda cool. I wanted Nepeta to do something really cool and valuable. Like, I imagine that she could have reached god tier and stolen the souls back for her friends.

    I wanted more Feferi too. I wanted to see how she used her privilege and if she would have become some kind of leader. Fefetasprite was awesome and needed more character development than, “awwww! she’s so sweet!” Whyyyy do the sweet characters get the least time to grow and become amazing in their own respects? T_T

    Homestuck is far from perfect. I think Hussie really played favourites, but there were definitely a lot of good things.

  7. I looooooooooved this article from the moment you first posted it. I think one thing we don’t talk about enough re: Homestuck is that it’s specifically a creation myth, a story about procreation and the beginnings of cosmology, and that that’s a very specific and important kind of human narrative that LGBT folks….tend to be shut out of. (Adam and Eve, not adam and steve). I always found it pretty depressing that I never saw myself as someone who could be around “At The Beginning”, that people like me were deviations that came around later in most traditions and histories.

    Homestuck completely changed the game, in that respect, and that’s an incredibly unique and powerful message for LGBT people, I think.

  8. I was shocked seeing an article on autostraddle about… Homestuck! Homestuck has been the greatest journey in my life and Rosemary.. oh boy! It is the best ship of all time, Hussie did a great job on creating a “same sex” inter species couple. The development of their relationship was the main thing that made me love the web comic, all their struggles and waiting was finally repayed. One con of the comic- I expected a much greater ending, a more metaphorical one. I was hoping for an ending showing how much struggle is put into achieving great things in life what would have made Homestuck a tale about growing up and becoming an adult. Thanks autostraddle for this great article!

    Love y’all!

  9. Honestly, I love the fact that Homestuck was covered on autostraddle.
    The comic has helped me through times where I needed something to relate to. There were so many characters that I connected with, but the ones that I connected with the most were Karkat, Kankri, The Sufferer, Aranea, Vriska, and Terezi.
    The Vantas family due to their struggles because of their blood colour rendering them social outcasts and not really being taken seriously. Aranea and Vriska because people see me as someone long winded and someone who conflicts with themselves often and tends to contradict themselves, and Terezi because despite not having a handicap like her with her blindness, I have mental handicaps which can hinder my thinking and progress.
    Seeing characters that I could relate with in such a way has really helped me realise that who I am is okay and I don’t have to feel guilty about being who I am.

  10. As an avid (background) advocate of homestuck, I thought this article was really good and well written. Then on the flip side, I’m also laughing because the chat log that was linked would confuse the ever loving frick out of someone who doesn’t know the thousands, or even hundreds if you just wanted the gist (at the every LEAST the events leading up to and following [S] Game Over), of pages of context that came before. That thought and the un-homestuck’d reader trying to have the slightest clue as to what that whole conversation before it got to the reason as to why it was linked amuses me.
    But no yeah, quality article very good.

  11. I am so grateful for the existence of this article! I remember starting Homestuck as someone who was still uncomfortable around members of the LGBTQ+ community, mostly because I had no idea what they’re like and hardly knew what the term “LGBT” meant at all. Now, I can fully accept and support this community. Homestuck has definitely changed me and I am proud of hanging on to the fandom to January. It’s definitely worth a look, if not for the action, adventure, comedy, and drama, then for the relatable and accurate representations of the LGBT community. (I’m also incredibly happy because Rose and Kanaya got married!)

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.