Drawn to Comics: Fan Entitlement, Bullying, Steven Universe and Queer Representation

This week after another great spurt of Steven Universe episodes, another queer woman left Twitter because of bullying and harrassment. It wasn’t from Bernie Bros or gamergaters; this was from people who claim to be fans of the show. This is a disturbing trend that has shown up before in the SU fandom, once when a young fan artist attempted suicide after being attacked for thinning down the character Rose Quartz, and other times when SU artists were attacked for their tweets. This time it happened to Steven Universe Storyboard Artist Lauren Zuke, who was driven off of Twitter after she was accused of queerbaiting and of favoring one ship over another.

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After the recent episode Betas aired, “fans” started harassing Zuke because Lapis and Peridot, two characters who people thought would be in a relationship, weren’t actually in one. Others harassed her because she drew art of the pair, and they’re bigger fans of the Peridot-Amethyst pairing. Seriously, this is what happened. A queer woman who works on the show with the best queer representation on TV was bullied and harassed until she no longer felt safe having a public social media presence.

I know this isn’t exactly comics, but there is a lot of crossover between comics and animation, and this is a widespread problem that also crosses over into the world of comics. And I know I’m about to get preachy, but this is is something that is important, and that I feel like I need to talk about. Queer creators, creators of color, and queer creators of color are often afraid to tell stories about these kinds of characters because they’re afraid of this exact thing happening. This creates an atmosphere where not only are things like sexism, racism, homophobia, the patriarchy, boys’ clubs and nepotism keeping marginalized creators out of animation and comics, but so are fans’ impossibly high and impossibly specific expectations. If we, the fans, contribute to this atmosphere of bullying and gatekeeping, we’re only making things worse for ourselves.

What’s worse, is that we’re making them worse for other people. Not just other fans who just want to enjoy shows like this or who might learn what queerness is from shows like this, but also the people behind these shows, who are often women, queer and/or people of color. Twitter accounts are people; there are real life people behind these accounts. And often when we’re talking about animation, a lot of these real life people are women who might be queer or people of color. Targeting them because they aren’t telling the exact stories we want the exact way that we want isn’t social justice.

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https://twitter.com/arcordo/status/764374722469629952

The shows you watch don’t owe you anything, they don’t owe me anything, they don’t owe us anything, but more importantly, the creators behind them don’t. We should let creators, especially those with marginalized identities, tell the stories they want to tell. They’ve worked hard to get to where they are and they continue to work hard to create these shows and books and this art that we so often take for granted.

I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’ve reacted rashly and lashed out on Twitter before. I’ve called out when I should’ve called in. But I’m working on growing and I’m working to do better, and I hope that others work towards that as well.

This especially troubling because Zuke is a queer woman who is writing for the queerest show on television. She’s exactly what and who we’ve been hoping for. She’s exactly why I write this column every week. And she didn’t even do anything wrong. She wasn’t ableist or transphobic or racist or sexist or homophobic. She wasn’t mean or cruel or queerbaiting. She was just a queer woman who thought she was safe on Twitter, at least safe from the people who call themselves her fans.

I’m not here to tone police, and I’m not saying that racist, homophobic, sexist or otherwise oppressive art should be excused,  but when fans drive a queer woman off the internet because the extremely, extremely specific type of queerness they wanted wasn’t in a few episodes of a show that they like that doesn’t help anyone or anything. Fandoms need to be better than this. The people who make up those fandoms need to be better than this.

This isn’t a win for the fandom; this isn’t a win for anyone.

New Releases (August 17)

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1

Green Lanterns #5

Harley Quinn #2

Suicide Squad #1

Supergirl Rebirth #1

Wonder Woman by George Perez Vol 1 TP

Jem & The Holograms Vol 3: Dark Jem TP

Powerpuff Girls #2

The Wicked + The Divine #22

All New Wolverine #11

Black Widow #6

Gwenpool #5

Mighty Thor #10

Mockingbird #6

Spider-Woman #10

Ultimates #10

Backstagers #1

InSEXts #7

Lumberjanes #29


Welcome to Drawn to Comics! From diary comics to superheroes, from webcomics to graphic novels – this is where we’ll be taking a look at comics by, featuring and for queer ladies. So whether you love to look at detailed personal accounts of other people’s lives, explore new and creative worlds, or you just love to see hot ladies in spandex, we’ve got something for you.

If you have a comic that you’d like to see me review, you can email me at mey [at] autostraddle [dot] com.

Mey Rude is a fat, trans, Latina lesbian living in LA. She's a writer, journalist, and a trans consultant and sensitivity reader. You can follow her on twitter, or go to her website if you want to hire her.

Mey has written 574 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. I’ve been meaning to check out SU, and I may still do that, but even if I enjoy the show I’m not going near this fandom with a ten-foot pole. Not after this. It’s things like this that make me so cautious about engaging with any fandom in the first place. Even when it looks like it should be a safe place, demographically, that doesn’t mean anything if folks’ behavior is this toxic. This makes me very sad.

    Unrelated: has anyone been reading the latest run of Detective Comics (“Rise of the Batmen” I think?) with Batwoman? I love Kate Kane to pieces, but after watching her solo series crash and burn in the most offensive way possible, I’m kind of gun-shy about stories with her, and I’d like to know if any Straddlers have opinions, because I value your opinions very much.

    Also Unrelated: I’m getting Star Wars Vol. 3 in the mail today and I’m SO EXCITED because this is reportedly the arc where Doctor Aphra’s queerness comes to light. I already loved Doctor Aphra so this just makes my life even better. I do still have a sinking feeling she’s going to die in the last issue of the Darth Vader series, tho.

  2. This is an excellent summary of exactly what went wrong here (most other articles were just summaries of *what* happened, without examining broader implications). Some fans need to learn the difference between this kind of behavior and calling out creators for actual harmful stuff (like when Batgirl, I believe, had that sudden transphobic line, fans called them out, and the creators realized what they did wrong and changed it without anyone having to feel threatened).

  3. Mey, thank you for your thoughtful and honest take on this. As a devoted SU fan, I’m really disheartened ?. How can people react so hateful and claim to be fans of a show that’s about love, inclusivity, and empathy?!

    Also, I feel that you shouldn’t even need to clarity that you’re not tone policing. That should be obvious. I’ve seen way too many instances in which abusers refuse to take responsibility for their actions and instead accuse others of tone-policing them for calling out the abuse.

  4. I love you guys – I really do – but isn’t fans going ballistic because the specific type of queerness they want isn’t in a few episodes of a show that they like at least half of why this very site exists? It was, for example, the entirety of your coverage of Faking It, and it’s a mode that is indulged far too much here.

    • To I think some articles on this site can be a little bit nitpicky about things? Sure. Is the content abusive in its criticism? No, and that’s why I keep coming back to autostraddle even when I disagree with certain posts. You can have a contrary opinion to someone without engaging in vicious personal attacks.

    • Do I think some articles on this site can be a little bit nitpicky about things? Sure. Is the content abusive in its criticism? No, and that’s why I keep coming back to Autostraddle even when I disagree with certain posts. You can have a contrary opinion to someone without engaging in vicious personal attacks.

  5. Thank you for this. I adore this show so much, and while I understand that with anything in life there is always some dumb asshole who ruins it for everyone, this simply cannot happen. We already struggle to have ANYTHING so nice, so meaningful and important. Ugh. I wish there was something more to be done to make this better. The loudness of your voice, here, is a good start.

  6. Ugh, this makes me so sadddd. Also, I find the criticism strange because in the SU world the relationships tend to be fluid and uniquely based on the individuals involved. It’s not like Lapis/Peridot having a relationship means Amethyst/Peridot don’t have one or won’t have one in the future…

    I want to have the nice things. Why can’t we just have the nice things?!!?

  7. Back in my day (like 2003, pfft) we had a little thing called fanfiction, and if the people in the movie or show weren’t smooching the way you wanted them to, you just wrote your own version of the movie or show. Maybe these dudes need to get into fanfiction rather than tearing someone apart on the internet for not making the characters smooch like they wanted. >_>

    • Yes! It’s so weird being in fandom now and remembering fandom in the mid 00’s. On the one hand, it’s so great that we can advocate for more queer representation and get it, which is something that is still mind boggling to me and I’m so glad that people (especially young people!!) have such high standards now, but, on the other hand, fanfiction is where you get to make what you want happen in the book/TV show/movie happen. You can’t expect creators to respond to your every whim.

      (But also I got into the Harry Potter fandom right after the whole Harry/Hermione Ron/Hermione mess (or on the tail end of it) so ugly fandom meltdowns totally happened back in the day too even if I wasn’t really there for them.)

      Also I think some of it is the dramatic change in fandom culture from arguing from a place of “what is canon is most important” to a place of “what is feminist/SJ/anti-oppression is most important.” When what you’re arguing for is about your interpretation of a text, I think it’s easier to be a bit more removed from it than when what you’re arguing about is really about your personal identity and your place in the world and your values.

  8. What’s so frustrating is that this is symptomatic of people who have had so little representation that we expect every little bit of representation to be all things to all people. We put all of our hopes and dreams and needs into a very tiny handful of things that speak to us, and then we expect the world out of one show.

    At the same time, it’s something about the entitlement of social media culture, and how we now feel that we can say anything to anyone, including people who before were not available to us, and how the self censor of courtesy and humanity seems to be lost when there’s no one to hold anyone accountable for being rude, abusive assholes.

  9. Twitter harassment has become a huge problem (obviously). For heaven’s sakes, Gabby Douglas can’t even stand slightly differently than her teammates in a medal ceremony without horrible bullies manufacturing outrage about it. And as Cameron Esposito pointed out this weekend, the problem when public figures or creators are driven off of Twitter by trolls is that Twitter isn’t recreation for them – it’s part of their workplace.

    I really enjoy Twitter, but it can be such a cesspool. Ugh.

  10. I’m way behind on the new Steven Universe episodes but JESUS CHRIST PEOPLE. We are supposed to be better than this. “We should let creators, especially those with marginalized identities, tell the stories they want to tell.” This is VERY IMPORTANT! We should all be shouting this from rooftops.

  11. This is why I’ve dropped out of most fan communities for show, somewhere along the line people started to take fan shipping way way too far. I first noticed it back with Legend of Korra with the whole Makorra vs. Korrasami fights on Tumblr and elsewhere, but Steven Universe is about 100x worse.

  12. @Alecia I’ve been reading Detective, mainly because I love the character of Stephanie Brown, and I’ve been pleased with how they are handling Kate. She has been chosen by Batman to lead a team and prepare them (Cassandra Cain, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Clayface [I can’t remember which version]). Kate is probably the main character but it doesn’t really focus on her personal life, it mainly focuses on her family life, the relationship with Bruce and her father. In the first issue she does talk with Renee and their past relationship is brought up.

  13. I think of social media as both one of the best and worst things that happened to the relationship between fandom and content creators. On the one hand, when a show messes up, we can tweet the writers and explain our point of view. That’s especially useful because it gives minorities a voice. On the other hand… Twitter being a platform built for instant reactions, many use it to express criticism by lashing out immediately after seeing or hearing about the harmful thing. When a show or comic does something harmful and the showrunner/artists/writers come online to a ton of people sending one message expressed with clear, respectful tweets but also snark, passive-aggressiveness and insults, I think they’ll focus on the insults as a self-defense mechanism to dismiss the criticism completely (usually “angry shippers”). I’m like 80% sure that many (if not most) writers think of the movement for a better portrayal of LGBT characters as a horde of angry young lesbians who think they can bully the entertainment industry into making everything gay. “Illiterate teenage girls” is one such comment I read by someone who was defending a TV writer. The writer responded by praising Twitter’s auto-block feature. I’m honestly getting worried that some content creators will be petty enough to start working against us and try to paint all criticism as cyber bullying.

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