Social Justice Steve Rogers and the Radical Queerness of Fandom

“the best kind of captain america is the kind i know would disappoint my grandparents” –whatwouldcaptainamericado

People who are outside the Captain America fandom, particularly the fandom as manifest on Tumblr, are often confused by my incredibly vocal love for Captain America. I wear a Captain America cardigan, like, all the time. If you invite me to your party, you will probably hear me, at one point, with near weepy intensity, blathering on about how great pre-serum Steve Rogers is. You probably shouldn’t invite me to your parties.

Love the way he is always trying to punch people with his weak, noodle arms. [art by bactii]

Love the way he is always trying to punch people with his weak, noodle arms. [art by bactii]

But America connotes rabid conservatism and capitalism at its most destructive. America is not really a fab place, to put things mildly. So why would I, a super queer socialist, be such a huge fan of a character who is, ostensibly, the “captain” of all this? Because Steve Rogers is emphatically not for America as we know it. 

There have been a lot of good analyses of why Steve Rogers would not be a tedious conservative, and would instead embrace a more progressive and liberal politics. And it all has grounding in canon. After all, Steve Rogers is a poor Irish Catholic who went to art school and spent his formative years surrounded by cool artsy socialist queers in 1930s New York. Steven Attewell outlines this all quite well in his essay “Steve Rogers Isn’t Just Any Hero.” There are numerous examples in the comics of Steve being explicitly critical of his country, perhaps the most well-cited of which is his speech in Spider-Man #537:

page2captainamerica

Moments in the MCU hint at this as well (“I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from” and “this isn’t freedom; this is fear”). But fans on Tumblr have also criticized the MCU, specifically those parts written by Joss Whedon, for simply perpetuating an incorrect characterization of Steve as a two-dimensional patriot. I wouldn’t be so quick to demonize Whedon*; as Attewell’s article shows, Whedon did want to include a scene where a more politically vocal Steve “talks about the loss of the social safety net that existed in his time, including the need for affordable healthcare for everyone.” The whole team behind the Avengers, not just Whedon, should up their game and ask why this scene was cut but Steve’s dumb “there’s only one God, ma’am” line was included. When I first saw the “God” scene, my brother and I simultaneously turned to one another in the theatre and whispered “AMURRICAH.” Because “Amurricah” is what that scene screamed, even though I firmly believe that Steve Rogers is really anything but “Amurricah.” This post is a good example I’ve seen recently of such criticism. “MEET ME IN THE PIT WHEEDS” screams Tumblr user razzledazzy. It seems that the Cap fandom on Tumblr is channelling some of the dumb scrappiness of pre-serum Steve and I, for one, am delighted by that. Canon tells us that Steve Rogers is a progressive fellow — and Tumblr kicks it up a notch further. Tumblr loves the idea of Steve being a complete PR nightmare, speaking his mind about everything. He’s planting himself by that river of truth alright, and he’s being a little shit about it.

[art by blueandorange]

[art by blueandorange]

Steve being fully prepared to fuck up some anti-vaxxers is a popular headcanon on Tumblr, but perhaps the most popular interpretation of his character is the one where he is very, very bisexual. Do you want to plaster yourself and your home in a bisexualized Cap symbol? Because you can do that.

bisteve

[art by asaethiel]

Fandom interpreting characters as gay is nothing new. And there has already been plenty of criticism of fandom’s obsession with attractive, white, cisgender guys fucking. Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes is nothing radical and is not particularly interesting in and of itself. Things get more interesting when the Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes pairing deals with bisexual erasure (just because Steve’s with Bucky now doesn’t mean he wasn’t totally into Peggy Carter (but, I mean, who isn’t totally into Peggy Carter?)) or when one of them is not cisgender. I’ve seen some interesting headcanons where Bucky is genderqueer, or Steve is trans (and the serum functioning akin to superpowered testosterone is a special kind of wish-fulfilment, but a cool one). Then there are the Steve/Sam fics that touch on racism and the issues faced by interracial couples in modern day America. And fics where Sam is trans. And fics about asexual and/or aromantic Natasha (and aro Natasha is especially delightful when you consider her arrow necklace). Identity politics is not unique to the Cap fandom, as these comments on “curative” vs “transformative” fandom indicate.

[M]en tend to be in the curative fandom, while transformative fandom is predominately women—and/or queer people, POC, etc. Why? Because the majority of professionally-made media is catered towards a straight white male demographic, leaving little room for ‘outsiders.’ Outsiders who, if they want to see themselves in media, have to attack it and change it—hence slash fic, hence long essays claiming that Hermione Granger is black, hence canons about trans characters or genderqueer characters.

LordByronic

However, I am continually drawn back to queer readings of Steve Rogers in particular. This is what fascinates me. The very fact that Captain America is constantly mischaracterized as a good ol’ fashioned patriotic Christian makes it all the more radical that some scrappy queers are fighting to claim him as their own. This is fandom coloured by politics. This is a fierce but overall joyous carving out of a queer space. And if you got a problem with that, you can meet me in the pit.

*I’m a lot more willing to say mean things about Whedon now, after witnessing the catastrophe that is his characterization of Natasha in Age of Ultron. So, go ahead and fight Whedon. Fight him for me.

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