Hey there Can’t Talk readers–enjoy another great guest article by Nat!
If you don’t see two girls kiss, does it mean they’re not in a romantic relationship?
I’ve been pondering the above question since the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. In that instance, the question was: if you don’t see Josephine Montilyet and the Inquisitor have sex, did it happen? Josephine and the Inquisitor are quite tactile with each other—kissing in public, dancing. They don’t hide it. They’re physically comfortable with each other and seem to enjoy the contact. Now, does this automatically equal sex? No, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen either. However, there are some elements of Dragon Age fandom who feel the relationship wasn’t “real” without actual nude pixel bumping. I’ll come back to this in a moment..
I also watched the Legend of Korra series finale recently. One of the more popular “ships” for that series has been Korra/Asami–I know I was on board. Starting in season three, the writers developed the relationship between Korra and Asami to the point where they were good friends. Really good friends. Korra was writing Asami and not the other “Team Avatar” members during her seclusion in the South Pole, Asami was the one taking care of Korra when the avatar was at her weakest and most vulnerable. Admittedly, these types of interactions could be interpreted in a variety of ways. However, as the denouement of the finale winds down, Korra and Asami share a quiet moment, reflecting on recent events, and decide they need a vacation. Asami wants to see the spirit world and Korra eagerly agrees. The last shots are of the pair holding hands, walking into a spirit portal, and gazing into each other’s eyes for an extended period of time. Like, pretty sure they were still staring when the camera cut away. But, that’s all we, the audience saw. Returning to the original question: if we don’t see the line crossed, be it a kiss or sex, did it happen?
I’m in the camp that tends to argue, with respect to both of these examples, “YES. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, YES.” Going back to Korra, people in a platonic relationship don’t look at each other like that or hold hands for that long while doing it. Hell, I went on a vacation with my straight friend to London this summer and the only time there was physical contact was when we were on the plane and I elbowed her on accident. So that last scene, on top of their previous interactions with each other? Yes, those ladies are in love and skipping around the spirit world.
Some argue if we don’t see the kiss, or the sex, it can be implied the intimate act didn’t happen. To me, the idea is ridiculous, limiting to storytellers, and presents a troubling view of what society values in a relationship and what they want to see as consumers. Would I have complained over seeing some sort of post-coital scene with Josephine? Of course not. Same with Korra and Asami. A kiss would have been phenomenal, however not seeing it doesn’t mean the two characters were not in love and romantically involved. A friend of mine called the latter “queerbaiting,” but I disagree. To me, queerbaiting is Rizzoli and Isles, lots of sexual tension, but zero chance of the writers taking their relationship that extra step (unless that changed in more recent seasons). I would argue that if Korra and Asami hadn’t walked off holding hands and looking smitten, that would have been queerbaiting. For goodness’ sake, the ending of the show was everything but the pair kissing.
I’m troubled by these attitudes because I think such limited views of what constitutes a relationship, and what the audience needs to see to validate it, could inhibit future inclusion of same-sex content. There are many reasons, some valid (e.g. resources), some stupid (e.g. censorship), as to what audiences get to see. Dismissing these relationships because of not seeing “the important physical stuff” is just as bad as refusing to include this type of content. I try to look at the whole picture and not the perceived, or actual, imperfection. Is it consistent with the way the character has been portrayed up until that point? For example, Josephine doesn’t strike me as an exhibitionist and would like be mortified if anyone walked in on her and the Inquisitor doing naughty things. Is it a one-time thing or part of a larger pattern? I’d argue that as Korra and Asami became closer over time, the more we saw them hugging, touching, it wasn’t a one-off incident. In my mind, a well-written relationship stays true to the characters, their situation, and what they want from each other regardless of the level of physical intimacy depicted on screen. Spoiler, folks, there’s more to romance than sex! Let’s remember that when we’re rooting for our favorite couples.