I wasn’t going to post this. I thought, “Eh, I’m probably just over-thinking it.” I mean, a bunch of new showrunners wouldn’t DARE to march into a show and completely dismantled a character and couple that is among the most popular LGBT characters/pairings on TELEVISION, would they? Especially when the audience is STRONGLY defensive of both the characters, the relationship, and most especially, the things that make them unique. They wouldn’t gut one of the most colorful LGBT characters around, surely?
Then today I saw a few things on Twitter that stopped me in my tracks. Fans EXCITED, BEGGING, to see a single HUG between this couple. This after moments of them holding hands were CUT from the final print of season 2, episode 1. This, a number of really gigantic leaps backward from a simple KISS at the end of season 1.
Maybe I’m overthinking it. But as more of these “tiny” things add up, the more I get a sinking feeling that I might be seeing a thread of homophobia running here. That someone — be it the books’ creator, the shows producers, or the network itself — is demanding that Magnus and Malec be less gay. Less out. Less flamboyant. For the comfort of all the delicate homophobes out there that quietly (or not so) grumble their complaints. (Although why they would be watching any Freeform show is beyond me, since they’re one of the most progressive networks for teens and young adults…)
Anyway, these are some thoughts I wrote down after seeing part of ANOTHER Twitter conversation earlier this week:
The Queerness of Magnus Bane
There are a lot of outbursts in Shadowhunters fandom over LGBTQIA+ representation –usually some complaint that there isn’t enough of it, or that what there is isn’t right. That Raphael Santiago should be pansexual and/or in a relationship with Simon Lewis (thus making him gay, bi, or pan also), or that Isabelle Lightwood should be bi or a lesbian and/or involved with Clary Fray (again, altering both those characters’ canon sexuality). There’s nothing wrong with this kind of discussion, necessarily.
As a bi woman, I find the idea of a TV universe entirely peopled with LGBTQIA+ characters silly. That’s just not the way the world works. But that kind of reality is exactly what fanfiction is for: we can make all our imagined dreams come true.
What I want to discuss springs from something I caught a bit of recently on Twitter, which brought to mind a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, and even mentioned briefly in my discussion of the first two episodes of Shadowhunters S2. Specifically: the de-feminizing of Magnus Bane.
In season 1 of Shadowhunters, we were introduced to arguably the most powerful character on the show: The High Warlock of Brooklyn, Magnus Bane. An eccentric, flirtatious character presented as a unique individual unafraid to wear flashy clothes and flashier makeup. He moves with feline grace, using his hands, body, and face in ways that might sometimes be stereotyped as “feminine.” He likes glitter: in his clothes, his jewelry, and on his face. He is unabashedly bisexual, to the degree that it’s never made an outward issue at all. He’s obviously and outwardly attracted to Alec Lightwood, but clearly has a complicated past with Camille Belcourt.
The point is, Harry Shum Jr.’s Magnus Bane bends gender expectations. The way he dresses, the way he moves, his cosmetics, his hair. He is never not masculine, not manly, but he breaks the barriers of what a man is expected to be, do, sound and look like in western culture. He likes fashion. Jewelry. Antiques. Art. Men. But he is still fully a man (and also enjoys the ladies). He can be alternately butch and terrifying, and then fey and gentle. He is powerful and wise, but also soft and vulnerable. Magnus is not trapped by the limits of expectation. He can move an entire loft to another part of town in a flash, then warn you about your crow’s feet in the next moment.
This season, there has been some discussion about the change in Magnus’s look and his attitude. Apparently, there was talk in some quarters of fandom that people were unhappy with him being “too gay” or “too feminine” last year. There is concern among others that this may be the attitude of the new producers as well, and that is why Magnus’s season 2 wardrobe has gone drab and boring (and apparently, bought from the same store Alec buys from). His hair is styled, but there’s no color in evidence, and his clothes are mostly black and other dark colors. His attitude and behaviors read as more stereotypically masculine/manly. He is still graceful, but that is as much a function of Harry Shum Jr.’s natural physicality as anything.
The question becomes: have the producers given in to pressure from fans and/or the network that Magnus was “too feminine” in season 1? (I hope it’s not the network. Freeform is one of the most progressive when it comes to casting and storylines. Although they do seem to deal more easily with cisgendered lesbians and female to male transgendered folks than gay men or male to female transgendered people.) It has been said that Magnus’s new wardrobe and attitude is just part of the show’s overall tone becoming darker. However, why should that change Mangus’s entire manner? Would he really stop wearing high fashion because things suck around the Shadow World? Does he stop using his entire body to express himself because Valentine is back?
I don’t want to think this was a purposeful decision on the part of the producers to make Magnus more stereotypically masculine, and thus more ‘acceptable’ to some parts of the audience. That does a great injustice to one of the most interesting and colorful characters in YA literature, and worse to the young people in the audience who are his fans.
Magnus has been embraced by a large section of fandom for the very reason that they see themselves in him: the outsider, the guy who doesn’t fit in to societal expectations about love, about attitude, about being quietly and properly behaved, about how a person of a certain gender “should” behave, or speak, or look. The guy who says screw you to people who hold those expectations and expect him to fill them. Magnus is Magnus, and anyone who doesn’t like it can jump in a portal to hell and hang out with his dad.
Which they usually don’t, because 9 times out of 10, they need his help or cooperation somehow. He is a figure of benevolent strength, but one to be feared when it comes to injustice or threats to those he cares about. He could blast the city into dust, but he is a warlock with, ultimately, a caring, generous soul. His differences have separated him from the majority of beings, but those he lets in, he loves abundantly. A lot of people need that inspiration.
Taking away the flash, color, and glitter makes Magnus less… Magnus. We still love him, because Harry has embodied him in such a way that he’s ensconced deep in our hearts, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Magnus Bane, the most powerful warlock in the world, was too “girly?” Really? The inventor of the most widely used mode of transportation in the Shadow World, too flashy? Too colorful? Too gay (AGAIN: BI)?
This season, he seems to dress more and more like Alec every week. Does that mean Alec is just gay enough, then? (And that’s not even getting into issues of bi-erasure with Magnus. Yes, he’s in love with a man, and may spend the rest of Alec’s mortal life with him — but he’s still bisexual. There are also questions about de-sexualizing/sensualizing Malec. Moments of hand-holding were cut from final premiere print.) There are a lot of serious issues that could spring from this discussion. It’s not enough for LGBTQIA+ characters to simply be part of the cast: they have to be as varied as actual members of that community are. Magnus is not butch–he’s certainly not in the books. Why does he need to be on TV?
I want to see Magnus’s hair tipped pink again. Why can’t he have his characteristic hairDOs instead of just a hairCUT? I want to see him wear shining silk brocade. A snappy dressing gown. A Nehru jacket. A purple velvet tux coat. A ruffly shirt. A cravat. A kicky scarf. Nobody dresses Magnus Bane off the rack!
I don’t want just punk rock black eyeliner. I want the glitter gold. The navy kohl in the graphic shapes. With and without lipstick. I don’t just want black nail polish, I want it to match his outfit. I don’t just want to see him move with grace, I want him to move with a flourish. Cast magic not just with a snap and flick, but with the slightly nutty wild grace demonstrated by Clary in This World Inverted. He seems so sanitized and macho this season. We want the sensitive, magnificent, fabulous Magnus back. The one who looked like he was expecting to be kicked when he admitted his attraction to Alec. The one who looked like Alec punched him when the Shadowhunter accused Magnus of being shallow and playing games. The one who always got salty when people touched his clothes. Who moved through the world with sass and a kind of eccentric joy and alternating annoyance and bemusement.
What was wrong with that character? Harry Shum Jr. is a terrific actor who uses nothing more than his eyes and face to express a magnificent range of emotions, not to mention his artistic use of motion. Thousands of us fell in love with him exactly the way he was. No one wants to think that homophobia or cisgenderism was the reason his character has undergone the kind of change he has between the 1st and 2nd season of Shadowhunters. After all, the new season takes place immediately after the end of the last. We can certainly accept Harry’s even more fit physique (I mean, why wouldn’t we?) but changing the character’s behavior, his manner, his dialogue? That’s fishy, at least to me. Our bigoted society has chosen to label points on a spectrum according to our wrongful idea of only two genders, and declared that everyone has to be plunked down on one end or the other, never to stray toward the opposite.
There is no room for that kind of limitation on Magnus Bane.
To those of you who have complained that Magnus was too “feminine,” I don’t even know what to say to you. I only wish you could see the disdainful look on my face. Go watch Vampire Diaries. Everybody there is very butch and always seems to wear black. Oh, and take the new wangsty music and mopey teen brooding scenes with you.
Yeah, so I’m feeling cranky, honest, and unwilling not to speak my mind today. #writersresist