Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bisexual Steve Rogers and the Heteronormative Default



Heteronormativity is the belief that people fall into a distinct gendered binary (man or woman) in all aspects of human behavior and relationships, enforcing rigid socially constructed ideas of gender and sexuality. It is based on the notion that heterosexuality is the only or default sexual orientation, thus all romantic and sexual relationships must fit into the rigid confines of heterosexuality. This ideas is false, incredibly damaging, and sadly extremely pervasive in many cultures. It even can influence how we view homosexuality, creating a kind of light-switch with only two settings, gay or straight. This “light-switch” idea is so common in our cultural consciousness, that almost every story functions on the default assumption that everyone is heterosexual unless explicitly labeled homosexual.

So, what does this have to do with the beloved alter ego of Captain America? Simple, Steve Rogers is bisexual. No, seriously. Let me explain.

If we are to dismantle heteronormativity we have to actively alter how we view relationships and sexuality. Ideally, we should already view everyone as fluid until they identify otherwise, but I find that breaking the binary all together is far more effective in demonstrating the pervasiveness of heteronormativity. So, for the sake of this experiment let’s shift our default assumption to bisexual.

Let’s start by looking at the movie Captain America: The First Avenger and assume Steve is bisexual, until proven otherwise. Right off the bat many people with point to Steve’s relationship with Peggy Carter and it’s obviously romantic connotations as proof of his heterosexuality. While I won't dispute that there is most definitely a romantic relationship between them, of which I'm a huge fan, but that doesn’t disproves Steve's bisexuality. After all, bisexuality is an attraction to people of any gender. Another important thing to note is there are no sex scenes or even implied sex in this film. Any assumptions we make will be based on platonic interactions and emotional intimacy.

Out of the gate Steve and Peggy’s interactions do not fit into standard romantic cliches. Steve is introduced to Peggy as a passive observer, and a subordinate. They do not directly interact until the cab ride before he is transformed, while they do have an intimate conversation, that has implied romantic subtext, it is clear they are not in a romantic relationship or even courting each other.

Even in later scenes that do have heavy romantic subtext, like when Peggy discovers Steve is kissing another woman and Steve assumes Peggy is involving in some sort of sex act called “fondue” with Howard Stark, it is still unclear if a romantic relationship has been established. These scenes are less about romance, and more about using gender coded behavior and sexist stereotypes as a narrative devices to show more about the characters, i.e. Steve’s insecurity and Peggy’s guarded nature. These are two coworkers and friends, who might have sexual or romantic interest in each other, but at no point in the film do they refer each other girlfriend/boyfriend. (I might also add that neither of them ever says “I am heterosexual” out loud. Which means Peggy Carter is bisexual too, but that’s a post for another day.)

Now, let’s compare Steve’s relationships with Peggy to his relationship with Bucky. They too are coworkers and friends, who have an established relationship and even share several emotionally intimate scenes. Bucky is the reason Steve goes behind enemy lines in his first real act as Captain America. When Bucky is presumed dead Steve is devastated.

Sure, at the start of the film Bucky and Steve go on a double date with two women, but again this doesn’t disprove bisexuality in either of them. The only notable difference between these two relationships is that Steve and Peggy kiss, but considering the lack of any sexual or romantic interaction up to that point it would be easy enough to assume it is their first/last kiss. Thus it doesn’t confirm an establish relationship, much less disprove Steve Rogers’ bisexuality.

Kissing aside, the only real difference in the narratives of both relationships are the genders of the individuals involved. If we are to look at them through our default bisexual lens, it is not only clear that Steve Rogers has romantic feelings for Peggy, but it shows a very real likelihood that he was also in love with Bucky. Based on this assumption and the lack of an established relationship with Peggy the narrative of Steve’s relationships takes on a whole new, and complex dimension.

Is Steve’s lack of self confidence fed by an unspoken love with his best friend? Was Peggy aware of it, and chose to not express her own feelings until after Bucky died? I’ll leave all these questions to fan fiction authors to answer.

Strong relationships are important part of the narrative of a good story, even comic book action films. Steve’s love for Bucky, be it platonic or romantic, is what drove him to become Captain America. Likewise, Peggy's affection and support helped Steve on that journey. We can also see that those relationships are important no matter the genders of those involved. Peggy and Bucky both have a profound impact on Steve’s life. Both character appear in person or at least are mentioned in every film Steve is in. Most relevant to the topic at hand though is that there is no way to disprove that Steve Rogers is bisexual, since both relationships are equality strong and emotionally intimate.

The point that I’m trying to make is that the writers of this film, and media in general, do not even try to differentiate the presentation of a friendship between two men and a romance between a man and woman. Why? Because it is assumed that the audience will automatically code the men as heterosexual, and thus know implicitly that their relationship is platonic. Likewise, they rely on the assumption that because Peggy is a woman, she will automatically be viewed as a sexal/romantic partner for Steve.

This is true of how all relationships are portrayed throughout the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Which explains why there is so much speculation about Black Widow’s romantic involvement with the other Avengers. She is a woman and they are men, and thus all her interactions with them are coded as sexual/romantic even when they are intended to be seen as platonic.

It would be lovely if we didn’t have to label people at all, but we are all taught from a very young age and reminded on a daily basis to default view our world through a heteronormative lens. These ideas harm everyone. Which is why it is important to be aware of and actively dismantle them.

Don’t forget, Steve Rogers is bisexual.


3 comments:

What an absolutely awesome idea. I choose to adopt this thought from now on!

that last gif Tho.... Tho two are world class teases :D Irresistable force, meets unmovable object and kiss...

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