Monday, December 22, 2014

On Being Known (Or, Korra Feelings Forever)

I had to write about this.

I had to.

Before we begin, let me post an appropriate warning: this post will contain spoilers for the series finale of The Legend of Korra. Just one, really, but that "one" does happen to be the very last scene of the show. Now, here's the thing: I never spoil people with stuff. Not even when they ask me to. But this is too big. It's too important to me for me to be politely vague about the details.

I don't think your viewing experience will be ruined if you keep reading. But I understand wanting to stay 100% in the dark about something, so jump off now, if that's how you feel.



If you know me, then it's no secret that I love The Legend of Korra. Love it. I give it top priority at Comic-Con. I got up early every morning for a week to play the video game before work because that was the only time I could - and I am neither a huge gamer nor a morning person. My third tattoo is Naga, Korra's polar bear dog (also named my bike after her). I love it.

Korra is a character I felt a kinship with immediately. I would've killed to have had her around when I was growing up. As a kid, I had a very hard time connecting with the girls on the shows I watched. They were often outnumbered and overshadowed by the boys - boys who got to be the team leaders, the fiercest fighters, the most completely and complexly developed. I loved losing myself in fiction, but I resented being a girl for a very long time because none of the characters in the stuff I was consuming felt like me.

That changed, albeit gradually. For me, it started with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and kept going. It's still a process, though. I still have trouble fully finding myself in characters, and I still want to - that's not something that has changed for me between the ages of 8 and 28.

And that's part of why I connected with Korra so hard. Since the series began, she has been fierce and flawed and full of heart. She has defined her own femininity. She has grown and matured and struggled, and I could relate to it all, in my own way. It meant, and will forever mean, so much. As the end of the series approached, I was profoundly sad - while I knew I'd always have my Blu-rays (all the special features, guys), it felt like I was about to lose a friend. A kindred spirit.

But then the finale arrived. And whatever I was expecting, it was wildly eclipsed by what I actually got.

Korra began the series with a friendship that turned into a romance with a male character. She ended it with a friendship that turned into a romance with a female character.

I'm not a big, "shipper," - that is to say, I don't really attach myself to specific romantic couplings if I can help it. I try to surrender to the narrative when I watch or read something, at least on the first go around. But I had to admit, this particular lady-pairing (I'm standing by my use of this term, you're welcome) - initially something of a dark horse in the fandom, especially given that heterosexuality is pretty pervasive in American children's programming - was really fun to think about. As the series progressed, "dark horse," evolved into, "Wait...this seems like a legitimate thing." Just seeing two women with a close, healthy friendship was refreshing and wonderful, and possibility of getting more suddenly felt much closer than ever before.

Then, it happened. And it meant everything to me. It means everything to me. When people say, "Media representation matters," they are not lying. There is no denying it. I have not been able to stop smiling, to stop feeling so full and happy and...acknowledged...since watching. I was already pretty emotional about Korra's recent PTSD struggles, but this...this...I could never have imagined, when I started, that I would get this.

That series co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino both released statements obliterating any argument for a platonic or ambiguous reading of their final scenes by declaring that they were 100% romantic and that this end result had been their intent for quite some time, made a great thing even greater. That Konietzko included the line, "Despite what you might have heard, bisexual people are real!" in his statement, for me, made a greater thing the greatest.

As it happens, it was a similar feeling of acknowledgement that helped me finally come out at the beginning of this year. That came from The JV Club podcast (again, I will never shut up about it), which happens to be hosted by the voice of Korra, Janet Varney. She often acknowledges that some situations that arise in discussions would be similar (or different, depending) if the parties involved were gay or trans or bisexual, etc. To have my orientation, which is often erased or ridiculed (and we're not the only ones, I'm well aware), acknowledged and included so naturally and automatically finally helped me feel safe and ready.

To begin the year with a moment like that, and to end it with a moment like this - with a character I love on a show that I adore challenging heteronormativity in such a beautiful and authentic way just. Means. Everything. I feel known. I feel like this is an opportunity for so many people - older than me, younger than me, whatever - to see themselves or their friends or their families reflected back at them in the characters they love and identify with.

I'm so happy and hopeful and proud.

Note: I am not the boss of you, but Mike and Bryan's names in the body of this post link directly to their statements on their Tumblr pages, both of which are really quite incredible and which I highly recommend reading.