Anonymousasked, "If the Transformers do not have a gender, why should they have a sexual orientation? This is in regards to your analysis of KO, which wasn't really an analysis but rather a fanboy's wishful thinking. The truth is, there is no sexual orientation among them because sexual orientation is a human concept. That, and your 'Knockout needs to be gay because we need more gay characters' is a real social justice move, not an analytic one."
MOSHY! Is that you, Moshy? Oh goodness gracious, I feel… I feel so honoured to be visited by you ; my heart is all twitterpated!
It’s true that transformers, lacking human gender, would not have human sexualities. However, this is not to say that transformers would lack gender altogether (there are multiple gender systems proposed by fans, from my tri-gender system to systems that see each frame type as a gender), and it also does not mean that they would lack sexuality. However, you specifically said “sexual orientation” which would refer to preferences within a gender system, so I won’t accuse you of being against sexuality.
I have never claimed to be entirely analytic. I believe that since Transformers is an important show watched by many children, it has a hand in shaping the perceptions of these children about such things as gender without being blatantly about said things. In my recent gender discussion post, I talk about how it’s important to have cybertronian “female” characters because cybertronians are seen by children and many adults to be cyphers for humanity, and so the presence and depiction of “female” cybertronians informs how the humans see human females. It is the same way for sexuality.
Sexuality should probably never be openly discussed in Transformers beyond maybe a human kid character mentioning he has two moms or something along those lines. But all the same, many character traits or pieces of dialogue can ring true as allegories for human sexualities. For example, Rattrap in Beast Wars commonly made comments about his appreciation for The Ladies~, informing the audience that he was presenting himself with recognisably Straight Male behaviour. When Grimlock in TFA goes heart-heart steampuff gaga for Blackarachnia, this again is a stereotypically Straight male coded reaction in cartoons. Likewise, Blackarachnia’s interactions and backstory with Optimus in TFA have Straight Person overtones to them, implying a past love relationship. Many male reactions to female characters in media are not seen as demonstrations of their sexuality, but they are indeed just as blatant as a wolf whistle from a man to another man followed by “sweet butt.” Or maybe I should say “sweet rims.”
I’d really like it if more gay characters could appear in media separated from unfortunate stereotypes. The fact remains though that sometimes a stereotype is all some people have to go on. Some people want to see more characters like them in media. Some of those people will be gay people looking to see gay representation, and they might see that in Knockout’s classically camp demeanour and interactions with other members of the male cast. This comes down to the rub of the matter concerning Knockout :
Some people will see him as gay.
Others will see him as simply vain.
Both interpretations are valid.
A character can mean many things to many people. When it comes to analysing and interpreting a character, we can take into account their canon actions in the story, the thematic effect of their actions in a story, the way they relate to the society that created their story, and the personal biases of each reviewer when discussing them.
I think it is closed-minded to ignore the way characters relate to the society that created them when analysing them. If we ignore a society’s cultural expectations and impact on a character and story, we could well see a character in a French movie portrayed with a + shape theme who sacrifices himself for others over and over and say “Ah, it is Plus Man, the positive superhero!” without understanding the larger cultural assumptions about the character : he’s a Jesus analogue. It’s exactly the way puns work : words rhyme and have multiple connotations, just like character concepts and actions rhyme with culture and carry additional connotations. It’s the reason that a Japanese mystery show had the breakthrough revolve around the victim walking on her knees into her apartment, explaining why she wound up so far away from her murder site with shoes on. The investigators had thought she must have been moved, or dressed in shoes post-mortem, and that the shoes by the door were hers. The shoes by the door were left by the killer to blend in with other shoes left by the door in a Japanese house. And the victim had also been in a hurry, walking on the floor on hands and knees to get her keys because… in Japan, you don’t wear shoes indoors. Without this cultural context, none of the mystery, none of the investigators’ confusion, none of the solution revolving around the killer admitting her horror at the victim’s actions (plus the victim was sleeping with the killer’s husband so this was a last straw, not that wearing shoes inside is that big of a deal), makes sense. Transformers Prime exists in an American cultural context because that’s the culture of the grand majority of its writers and producers. When characters say things or perform actions onscreen, these things are presented to the audience with the assumption that the audience will understand the cultural connontations of the words and actions.
When a character gives a thumbs up, that’s culturally coded. When a character says, like, yanno, um, says like, like all the time, that voice acting / writing is culturally coded. When a character speaks in a rough voice with a slight drawl, that also has connotations for that character’s interpretation. All based on wide stereotypes that pervade our media. Thus when a male character compliments a female character’s chassis, it could be a compliment, or he could be straight and be hitting on her. When a male character compliments a male character’s chassis, it could be a compliment, or it could be almost the least offensive way to show a character is gay in a kids’ cartoon. When a character is obsessed with being tough, and showing off to friends, and breakin da rulez, and doing daredevil actions, and saying “bro”, he could be showing how much of a straight teenage male he is, like Smokescreen, or it could all be a coincidence. When a character is vain, concerned with the appearances of himself but also others, forms a close relationship with a male colleague, speaks in a delightfully lilting and campy manner, and is a bit hedonistic, these could be stereotypical effeminate gay man stereotypes, or it could just be a coincidence. All of these interpretations are just fine, but we owe it to ourselves to discuss them in their cultural context.
I want to reiterate how interpretations change with each viewer, and how most are perfectly valid, and don’t interfere with or ruin the canon. If someone thinks that the canon hints at Ratchet being in secret, doomed, tacit love for Optimus, then that’s really not interfering with the canon or ruining the story. If someone looks at Prowl and Jazz from G1 and thinks they are totally hot for one another, then that is their interpretation that I can only be baffled at, but not give a definitive “no that’s impossible” to. If someone thinks that Blackarachnia and Optimus in TFA were just best friends before certain spoilers, and not in love, that’s great and reasonable too. Love is great, friendship is great! And most of all, if someone likes gay robots, their thoughts cannot hurt you.
Transformers are meant, as characters and as toys, to be tools for people to project themselves and their imaginations on in order to use storytelling and play to entertain and to make sense of our physical skills and our world. Play with transformers has many facets, both the physical and mental challenge of converting the toys, as well as the mentally stimulative story-based play that can be as simple as “VRRRMMMM POW good Optimus kicks evil Megatron” to long involved stories about WHY good Optimus kicks evil Megatron. Both styles of play are important for children and adults. But toys are more likely to be played with, and stories more likely to be engaged with, when there is an aspect to them that pulls in the audience. If that aspect is as small as one viewer thinking “oh cool, that character is like me,” even if that’s just their personal interpretation, I see no problem.
Sexual orientation may well not exist among Transformers, but it does exist in the larger audience for transformers, and the culture that informs the audience’s appreciation of transformers. In this manner, just as it’s powerful for a girl to see a “girl” transformer and thus see herself in the show, it can be powerful for a gay person to see a “gay” transformer and thus see themself in the show. That is why Knockout as gay is a perfectly legitimate interpretation of his character, and why it should be permissable for people to aspire to have more characters that are gay.
Also, seriously, people saying Knockout is gay doesn’t cause angry wasps to attack you or anything.