TV + Movies

Loki’s Bisexuality: A Win For The Gays Or Disguised Tokenism?

“Must have been would-be-princesses, or perhaps, another prince?”

“A bit of both. I suspect the same as you.”

A yelp caught in my throat. Tears threatening to spill. Scene repeated over and over again. Words ringing in my head like a chant. They did it! They actually fucking did it!

Calls made, feelings shared, shrieks exchanged.

But then the moment passed. And reality caught up. Then came the rage. And now comes a rant.

Loki, as a fictional character, is not Marvel’s property, no matter how much Marvel wants to claim it as its own creation by buying the rights to all original texts; Loki is the God of Mischief from Norse Mythology, brother to the God of Thunder, Thor. The fun, chaotic anti-hero was adopted by creators Stan Lee and Larry Lieber as an anti-thesis to Thor and the Avengers for Marvel Comics back in 1962, with the comic ‘Journey into Mystery’ No. 85.

Before Marvel came along, Loki existed as a trickster, shapeshifting God, capable of being a scheming coward who cares only for shallow pleasures and self-preservation. He’s by turn playful, malicious, and helpful, but he’s always irreverent and nihilistic. In addition to that, Loki’s shapeshifting abilities can be termed, in the modern world, as genderfluidity since he spent most of his time in Norse tales presenting as a woman. In fact, according to one myth, he turned himself into a mare and, after having sex with the stallion Svaðilfari, he gave birth to Sleipnir, an eight-legged foal. His bisexuality and gender-fluidity are canon, according to the crucial texts of Norse literature, Prose and Poetic Edda.

Now to Stan Lee and Larry Lieber’s credit, Loki’s characterisation in the comics included most of his idiosyncrasies and yes, his sexuality and gender fluidity as well. In the original Marvel comics, Loki is referred to by the king of Asgard as “a child who is both” in a moment in which he is in his female form. Additionally, in ‘Young Avengers #15,’ Loki says, “My culture doesn’t share your concept of sexual identity. There are sexual acts. That’s it.”

The adapted material follows the norms of the original material – respecting Norse Loki’s history and adding more nuance and complexity to his otherwise very straightforwardly evil character, giving him more and more chances to become a fan favourite. And when Marvel Studios casted Tom Hiddleston to play the character on the big screen, the love for this character only multiplied, with the brilliance and talent that Hiddleston brought to the character.

After several hundred movies and deaths, fans were offered the Loki series on Disney+, that revolved around the journey of a Loki, out of his timeline, stuck in the bureaucratic jail of agents and time-keepers, running after different versions of himself from alternate universes, one of that being Sylvie, a female Loki variant. This show explored many facets of Loki’s personality that MCU had not shown before, the confirmation of his sexuality being one of them. Director Kate Herron said on Twitter.

While the inclusion seems like a very sweet gesture, the timing of it needs to be kept in mind. The source and adapted material both include several mentions of Loki’s sexuality and gender fluidity (as mentioned above) and yet it took Marvel Studios nearly ten years to merely acknowledge a fact that has always existed. The first Thor film came out in 2011 and it is now, in 2021 that we’re getting a mere piece of dialogue hinting towards his true identity, with no exploration of the said identity later in the show.

While I completely side with the argument of sexuality not being the only identifier of a queer person’s expression of self, and that fictional queer character’s storylines should not only revolve around their queerness, this tactic being implemented by a multi-billion-dollar franchise – with worldwide reach – seems a bit off-putting, if you ask me. Considering how the fact has always been there. If his sexuality wasn’t such a big deal and had always been a factor if not his plot line, then why did it take Marvel ten years to acknowledge it? Sure, Loki’s journey in the MCU hasn’t been about romantic or sexual love, rather his journey and character development revolved around familial love, acceptance and finding a sense of belonging. But then why, as soon as he became the center of a series, was he given a love interest? A love interest that is literally him from an alternate timeline presenting as female. Saying that it’s his narcissism coming into play very nicely omits the self-incestuous nature of that relationship.

Marvel has no qualms about exploiting that unethical relationship, turning it into a catalyst for Loki’s change of heart, but making his bisexuality a subplot (because let’s be honest here, it won’t be a plot point now) is a little too much? If that isn’t blatant tokenism, then what is? Marvel Studios would go out of their way to refute any conversations about shipping two characters of the same gender, like they did with Captain Marvel, with the film’s directors stepping in and clarifying that nothing gay was going on, and that the relationship between Maria and Carol was purely platonic. Even more recently, Anthony Mackie, who played Sam Wilson on The Falcon and The Winter Soldier shut down any possibility that his character’s friendship with Bucky Barnes could be anything more than “just a friendship.” And yet they want the brownie points for acknowledging the sexuality of a borrowed fictional character that has always been bisexual.

Of course, the other side of this argument is that homophobic Marvel fans (which constitute of about 75% of the Marvel fanbase) consider this canonisation as a pleasing tactic for the queer fans, that “divulges from Loki’s true plot” and makes it more sellable to “the gays”. I personally would not even consider this statement truly false, if we of course don’t take into consideration the homophobic undertones. Marvel did try to bank onto the popularity and demand of more queer characters in the media (keyword try). They thought this small confirmation would drive queer fans into a frenzy, all the while maintaining their numbers in conservative countries like China, India, etc. While no heed was paid to the absurd nature of Loki and Sylvie’s relationship, all censorship and constriction was diverted towards their sexualities. Add to this the other facet of Loki’s identity, his genderfluidity, which still hasn’t been acknowledged openly and was merely hinted at in the closing credits, there is no dialogue regarding his gender identity or expression. Additionally, Sylvie is refered to as the ‘woman variant,’ which conveniently erases all conversation around Loki’s gender identity. If that isn’t textbook cis-straight privilege, then I don’t know what is.

In the end, they still made their bucks, they still got the praise with little opposition and they yet again got away with doing the bare minimum. I believe that critique is important, because I sure did enjoy Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Loki and the show as a whole, but what is critique by an unknown queer writer if not a rant persevering?

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Srishti is a brown, bisexual mess of anxiety and nerves. Her train of thoughts travel at crazy speeds, cross crossing each other, never staying put. She believes in the power of self expression and introspection, which are her two main motives to write. Srishti is currently an undergraduate English literature student at SGTB Khalsa College, Delhi University. She aims to write for big production houses and impact millions of lives just like her idols and inspirations do, but impacting even a handful of lives would be a good start.
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