Ouran High School Host Club is super queer and super great

Welcom

When scholarship high school student Haruhi Fujioka starts the new year at the prestigious Ouran Academy, she has no idea what she’ll be getting into. After accidentally stumbling into the unused classroom in which the host club entertains its female clients, she breaks a vase and must join the club to pay off the debt. Haruhi, apparently a natural at hosting, spends the rest of the series keeping up with the club’s hijinks, presenting as a man so that she can continue making money for them, and developing close relationships with the other members of the host club.

By focusing on a group of teenage boys whose primary goal is entertaining their female counterparts, the one-season Ouran High School Host Club, based on the manga of the same name, addresses young female sexual desire in a way that seems encouragingly direct for those of us used to the roundabout moralizing of Twilight and its ilk.

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In a self-aware parody of shoujo fiction, the boys all inhabit different “types” (the boy Lolita, the strong and silent one, and the prince, for example), and cater to their clientele by playing up those aspects of their personality. Their willingness to put on a show for the benefit of others contributes to the show’s many subversions, and both in terms of gender presentation and sexual orientation, Ouran High School Host Club manages to be one of the queerest shows I’ve ever watched. How does it manage this? Let me count the ways:

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1. Multiple straight characters openly lust after someone they’re holding up as a male sex symbol

Sure, every now and again the boys will squeal over how cute Haruhi looks in dresses, but for the most part their over-the-top, only-semi-joking flirtations happen while in uniform, easily and without hangups. That other students may be watching and are unaware of Haruhi’s situation matters not at all. They’re obsessed with her, and it’s marvellous.

2. Haruhi sometimes refers to herself with the masculine pronoun, because it fits just as well

After getting mistaken for a boy on her first day, Haruhi decides that using male pronouns works just as well, and with one well-placed should shrug, continues on her merry way. One of the few representations of fluid sexuality I’ve ever seen (and definitely the only non-alien one), it’s fascinating to watch Haruhi go back in forth, unconcerned with how others might view her genderbending.

(For the purposes of this article I’m using “she,” since Haruhi tends to default back to presenting as a woman when not at school, but I could just as easily have been switching back and forth, which is in itself pretty great.)

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3. Haruhi’s fluid gender isn’t a major plot point, it’s just part of the premise

So why did Haruhi cut her hair short and start wearing men’s clothing? She got gum in her hair over the summer, got a haircut, and just went with it. There’s a complete lack of fanfare, and aside from an overly complicated plot to fool the school doctor, nothing much is made of her decision. She isn’t hiding, living a lie, or anything so dramatic. It’s just a choice she made that fits her well.

4. The club is headed by “Mommy” and “Daddy”

Club President Tamaki Suoh refers to himself as Daddy, and Vice-President Kyoya Ootori as Mommy. It’s an ongoing thing, and it’s adorable. Club parents!

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5. TWINCEST

Twins Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin have a special “type” all their own, and that’s playing up a homoerotic element of their close relationship. Their clients go bananas when witnessing these “stolen” moments between taboo maybe-lovers, and these two take the show from commentary on shoujo media to full-blown yaoi. To be fair, there’s something about objectifying homosexuality that’s problematic any way you slice it, but the pair are given space in the show to have personalities outside of their fetishized roles, and they undoubtedly make the show sexier.

6. Haruhi’s first kiss is with a girl, and she ain’t even mad

A strange sequence of events sees Haruhi sharing her first kiss with another girl at the school, and her reaction is basically “meh, no biggie.” Have you cottoned on to the fact that Haruhi is my hero yet?

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7. Haruhi’s dad is a bisexual drag queen

EVERYTHING IS PERFECT ABOUT THIS.

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Again, this show manages to do things still considered incredibly scandalous (at least by North American standards) and makes them into a complete non-issue. A widower who heads up his own drag show? Great parent. I love it.

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8. Rival school Lobelia Girls’ Academy. All of it.

When students from Ouran’s rival, Lobelia, come for a visit, the host club is introduced to the girls’ academy’s most popular students, who basically make their school seem like a beautiful sapphic paradise. They invite Haruhi to transfer, pretty heavily implying that she’d be a shoe-in for getting in on all their lady-loving action.

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9. More drag!

When the host club guys realize that Haruhi might be swayed by Lobelia’s offer, that she might in fact want more women in her life (either romantically or not), their first impulse is to show her that they can fill this area of her life, too. So break out the drag! Logic! It’s in there somewhere! That their efforts are framed as just another costume change is refreshing, as is the normalization of fluid gender presentation. Drag for all!

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What it comes down to is that I love this show, and it’s on Netflix so everyone should be watching it.

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Weekend Reading List: Summer camp comics and Chicks in Science

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  • On her blog, s. e. smith discusses how writing, aghast, about the existence of internet misogyny doesn’t go far enough.
  • Much is written about convention harassment, but we don’t talk nearly enough about the ableism often present at these events. “My cane is not a costume” is a great place to start. [Speculating Canada]
  • A Microsoft employee was caught taking upskirt photos of women around the company’s campus, and has since been charged with voyeurism. [Ars Technica]
  • A guest post over on the Border House explores the toxic environment women have to deal with in EVE Online.
  • Also from the Border House: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and a strange, fantasy-destroying case of slut-shaming that seems like a real missed opportunity for the game.
  • Comic Book Resources tears into the cover of the new Teen Titans #1, teaching us all a lesson in art and anatomy.
  • BOOM! Studios has just recently released the first issue of Lumberjanes! It sounds amazing (Buffy meets Gravity Falls!), is written by Noelle Stevenson (whom I love), and Autostraddle has a great interview with co-creators Grace Ellis and Shannon Watters! There’s also preview art!
  • Some idiot asked about “chicks in science” at a Center for Inquiry panel discussion, and Neil deGrasse Tyson used it as a jumping off point to talk about his experiences with racism, both as a child wanting to grow up to be a scientist, and in the scientific community itself. It is a mic drop if ever I heard one.
  • Genderswapped Disney characters seem to be A Thing nowadays, but these paintings by Sakimichan are really something else. [Moviepilot]
  • Earlier today, the internet blew up with the news that researchers had found a species of insect that had a supposed “female penis.” It pretty quickly became apparent that the female organ—the gynosome—was nothing like a penis (it is, in fact, a bit like the sea horse’s ovipositor, and I am shocked that not everyone knows as much about sea horse reproduction as I do). Anyway, io9′s Annalee Newitz has a great piece about how this sort of sensationalist journalism is not only misleading, it’s bad for science.

Top image: Lumberjanes #1 cover.

 

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BAMFiles: Claudia Donovan

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Warehouse 13, everyone’s favourite silly and lighthearted fantasy show (or just mine? I don’t know!), is back this week, and what better way to celebrate than by recognizing the awesomeness that is Claudia Donovan.

Introduced in season one as the villain, Claudia quickly stole the show as an unabashed badass who was always quick with a quip. Avoid the next few sentences if you want to remain spoiler-free, but Claudia, orphaned at a young age and raised my her older brother Joshua, managed to survive on her own for ten years when he mysteriously disappeared. She checked herself into a psychiatric hospital when Joshua’s attempts to contact her from another dimension made her think she was hallucinating but, once she realized what was going on, nothing stopped her from trying to free her brother. Fast forward a little, and Joshua is safe and sound and Claudia is now a full-fledged agent of the Warehouse.

So let’s keep a running tally of the Cool Stuff Claudia Does, shall we?

Computer genius? Check.

Hacker extraordinaire? Indeed.

Master lockpick? Done.

Super adorable bestie? Yup.

Great hair? Need you ask?

Despite her evil nemesis beginnings (and the occasional return to badness, habits are hard to break) Claudia has a wonderful heart, a wonderful father-daughter relationship with Artie (who, let’s face it, needs her just as much, if not more, than she needs him) and is poised to become the next nearly-omniscient Caretaker of the Warehouse.

Oh, and she also sings:

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Weekend Reading List: Gummy bears and #BrienneForever

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Top image: “Sheik” by Yu Endoh

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Weekend Reading List: Doctors’ Doctors and zombie-slaying squads

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Top image by Koroa

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And never the twain shall meet

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Rooting for specific relationships happens to be one of my favourite pastimes, and the more absurd and unlikely the better. In fact, if they exist in totally different worlds, that’s ideal. They’ll never meet, and there will never be an opportunity for writers/producers/actors to botch the job and disappoint me. No one will betray their true love, bad dialogue will never ruin the moment, and people won’t die right when things are at their best (looking at you, Whedon). Their love will stay safe and perfect in my brain, where it belongs.

So in honour of all the one-night hookups and epic love stories that will never be—crackships, if you will—here are some of my favourites. (Obvious spoiler warning is obvious.)

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Like anyone else would suffer them (by justinripley.tumblr.com)

1. Joffrey Lannister and Draco Malfoy

Aside from the aesthetics, aren’t these two a match made in heaven? Annoying, evil, privileged, and spoiled, it just all fits. And sure, Draco ends up reformed and Joffrey ends up dead (thank GOD), but had they met, maybe they would have softened each other’s edges? After a tumultuous (and hot) beginning, they might have given each other the love and support they needed to become just that little bit kinder? Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but at the very least, if they’re busy getting their rocks off with one another, it means they’re leaving the rest of us alone.

 

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Let me clutch this book to my breast as if it were you

2. Rory Gilmore and Hermione Granger

Indulge this grown-up eager-beaver bookworm for a moment. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see these two together? Academic rivals, constantly pushing each other to excel, sniping at each other with vocabularies no one else can understand, forced to work together on some class project, late nights, ink smudges, library stacks… This stuff writes itself. Hermione needs someone on her level, and Rory’s relationship with Paris has shown that she has a great give and take with someone as focused and dedicated to hard work as she is.

 

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Cool. (By Kazeki)

3. Frozen‘s Elsa and Jack Frost

LONG LIVE THE ICE QUEEN AND KING. I don’t care that Rise of the Guardians was actually a pretty mediocre movie. (It had its moments. Russian Santa Claus using famous composers instead of cuss words? Rachmaninoffing amazing.) I don’t care that Elsa is being hailed as a metaphor for queer sexuality. Jack Frost is a cutie, and Elsa deserves someone who can actually snuggle up to her at night. Besides, “the cold never bothered me anyway” is a great pickup line.

 

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Is that a codpiece or are you just happy to see me?

4. Eowyn and Brienne of Tarth

Marginalized lady fighters finding solace and acceptance in each other’s arms is possibly my favourite story that I’ve never actually seen. I lovelovelove Faramir (and I’m more than a little attached to the idea of Brienne and Sansa ending up together) but come on how perfect would Eowyn/Brienne be? Think of the sparring montages! The post-battle bandaging! They are so perfect for one another it hurts. They look amazing as a pair, and they even have the same dramatic helmet removal down pat.

 

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Beep beep and vworp vworp indeed

 5. The TARDIS and the Magic School Bus

Because why the hell not. The TARDIS is sexy and the Magic School Bus has a great sense of humour. Done. OTP.

(Also River Song is totally a young Ms. Frizzle, so this one isn’t even that improbable.)

 

Top image: The meme’s original art is from Hyperbole and a Half, by the fantastic Allie Brosh

 

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Weekend Reading List: Ghibli girls and warrior women

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Weekend Reading List: Style, Streetfighter, and children’s stories

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  • First up for your viewing pleasure, an “X-wear Through the Ages” poster! [modHero Tumblr]
  • Felicia Day, always delightful, takes to her blog to explain the difference between complaining about Michael B. Jordan being cast as the historically-white Human Torch, and being disappointed that the role of Tiger Lily will go white actress Rooney Mara in a rebooted version of Peter Pan.
  • GitHub engineer Julie Ann Horvath recently left the company, and shared her hellish experiences dealing with the social network with TechCrunch. There’s intimidation, a lack of respect, sexual harassment, all that good stuff.
  • So the Veronica Mars movie continues to be a great success, so much so that a sequel is already being proposed. Kristen Bell is apparently on board, and creator Rob Thomas says the next film would centre more on the unsolved case and would maybe resemble Chinatown. Also there may be a Dick Casablancas-centered web series. You know, just for fun. [TVLine]
  • The Atlantic takes an amazing, in depth look at gender parity in the workplace, putting together international statistics on math skills, unpaid labour, executive positions and more.
  • The Nerds of Color really want Marvel to cast an Asian American actor as Iron Fist, and have some solid character-building reasons to back it up.
  • Despite the nostalgia surrounding Street Fighter II, it was undeniably racist as hell. [NPR Code Switch]
  • This New York Times piece, titled “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature,” tackles the heartbreaking lack of characters of colour in the stories children are exposed to, and includes some really wonderful sentiments, among which: “Children of color remain outside the boundaries of imagination. The cartography we create with this literature is flawed.”

Image by Kris Anka

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A song of ice and feminism: Part 2

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Morgan Inslee

Welcome to part two of my rapturous love letter to the women of A Song of Ice and Fire. In part one I dealt primarily with the Starks and women who occupy more traditionally female spaces, but this time, it’s all about the warriors. So unsheathe your sword, draw your bowstring taught, and let’s get right to it. (As usual, spoiler warnings for all the books.)

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Pau Norontaus

Brienne of Tarth

“Ser Colen,” Catelyn said to her escort, “who is this man, and why do they mislike him so?” “Because he is no man, my lady. That’s Brienne of Tarth, daughter to Lord Selwyn the Evenstar.”

“A daughter.” Brienne’s eyes filled with tears. “He deserves that. A daughter who could sing to him and grace his hall and bear him grandsons. He deserves a son, too, a strong and gallant son to bring honour to his name… I am the only child the gods let him keep. The freakish one, not fit to be a son or daughter.”

Brienne is the personification of the old adage that women must work twice as hard to be taken half so seriously. A knight and a fighter, she is perhaps the clearest example of a woman occupying a man’s space, and no other character will ever let her forget it. We are first introduced to Brienne mid combat. Though skilled, against the backdrop of a king’s tournament she is hopelessly out of place, and the scorn of the crowd is obvious. Despite the jeering, the taunting, and the bet to take her virginity, Brienne still desperately wants to be a part of the knight’s mythology. She wants that chivalry, that honour, for herself, and becomes first a member of Renly Baratheon’s kingsguard, and shortly after the sworn vassal of Catelyn Stark.

Brienne struggles so hard against the expectations placed on her. She’s at once too much of a woman, and not enough. Too much of a man, and not enough. There is no place where she feels completely herself, this is not a world that will make room for her. She’ll have to push and fight and never stop trying, and she’s fiercely committed to doing just that.

It’s actually fairly difficult for me to write about Brienne, because she is my favourite, and I’m so, so afraid for her. She’s honest, courageous, and without guile, and that’s a dangerous combination to have if your end goal is to survive in Westeros. She’s also one of the characters who best shows the permanent danger of rape. She sleeps lightly, and makes sure there are locked doors before she goes to bed at all. She is keenly aware that, as a woman traveling the world without a retinue of loyal men, she is—despite her height, strength, and skill—a target.

There is a nobility to Brienne, an idealism that persists even in the face of extreme hardship, and it makes her one of the most amazing characters in the series.

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Cody Vrosh

Asha Greyjoy

“Cunt again? It was odd how men like Suggs used that word to demean women when it was the only part of a woman they valued.” 

“Got to touch one… or two, or ten. I have touched more men than I can count. Some with my lips, more with my axe.”

Proof positive that ASOIAF has a little something for everyone, Asha Greyjoy swashbuckled her way into everybody’s hearts in A Clash of Kings. The last remaining child of Balon Greyjoy (her brother Theon having been sent to Winterfell as ward), Asha has never been limited by her father. Balon sees her as his heir and, what’s more, an heir worthy of the Iron Islands. Let’s take a moment to remember how we’re introduced to Asha. Theon returns to the Iron Islands, pompous and absurd, and Asha passes herself of as a shipwright’s wife so she can get a better sense of who this brother of hers, a brother she hasn’t seen since childhood, has turned out to be. When Theon confronts her, she calmly replies that she wasn’t lying, she does have a husband—her axe—and a suckling babe. And then she takes out a dagger from between her breasts. You guys, I’m dying.

Asha just doesn’t give a fuck about you or your weird, archaic gender roles. She’s going to fight. She’s going to captain her own fleet. She’s going to inherit her father’s title, insisting on calling the entire ceremony “her” queensmoot. She’s quick, deadly, and a natural leader, and she’s so, so very fun.

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Sir-Heartsalot

The Sand Snakes

“Some men think because they are afraid to do.” —Tyene Sand

“Give me back my spear, Uncle. Cersei sent us a head. We should send her back a bag of them.” —Obara Sand

Every once in a while, the books give glimpses of pockets of female spaces that act as havens, powerful sources of support for those perpetually disenfranchised. We see it briefly in the Tyrell gardens, and again among the Mormount women. But nowhere is it as clear as with the Sand Snakes, the illegitimate daughters of Oberyn Martell, Prince of Dorne.

Every one of them is cooler than the last. You’ve got warrior Obara, strong and deadly with a spear. “Sweet” and “pious” Tyene who has a terrifyingly in depth knowledge of poisons. Beautiful Nymeria who’s rarely without at least a dozen daggers scattered around her person. Sarella who’s mother was a ship captain from the Summer Isles, and who may or may not be off studying to become a Maester, disguised as a man. And let’s not forget the young ones, including little “Lady Lance” Elia, who always smells like horses.

After the death of their father, the Sand Snakes each speak to their uncle, Doran Martell, urging him to declare vengeance on the Lannisters and King’s Landing. In response, he has them all imprisoned so that they can’t, you know, start a war. That’s just how dangerous they are, how willing they are to go ahead and start a bloodbath.

I can’t properly express how much I love Dorne and its inhabitants. Oberyn in bisexual and intensely proud of his army of daughters. Nymeria was in bed with twins Jeyne and Jenelyn Fowler when she was told of her father’s death. There are just so many wonderful moments, and even the Sand Snakes’ cousin, Arianne Martell (whom I will get to eventually) is great. Dorne seems like the greatest, most progressive part of Westeros, and it also bears mentioning that the Martells and their ilk are the only characters of colour that become truly central to the plot.

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Marie Thorhauge

Ygritte the Wildling

“‘I know one thing. I know that you are wildling to the bone.’ It was easy to forget that sometimes, when they were laughing together, or kissing. But then one of them would say something, or do something, and he would suddenly be reminded of the wall between their worlds.”

Heading in the opposite direction of Dorne, we (finally) come to Ygritte, the fire-kissed Wildling from Beyond the Wall. Ygritte, aside from being a badass, knows what she wants, and what she wants is Jon Snow. Jon, a member of the Night’s Watch who has recently joined the Wildlings in an attempt at espionage, cares for her, but is at first unwilling to break his vow of celibacy. Once he gets over that, however, they begin a relationship that is one of the most equitable and caring of the series, though Jon at least knows it won’t last.

When the fallout eventually occurs, Ygritte deals with being dumped in what is perhaps the greatest way possible: She shoots him in the leg and storms his castle. It might have cost her her life, but boy did she not take rejection lying down. All joking aside, Ygritte stands out as more than Jon Snow’s lover. As a woman who has never been exposed to the courtly etiquette south of the wall, she has no attachment to the more traditional femininity espoused there. A spearwife of the North, she fends for herself and has no hangups about her own sexuality. It’s a refreshing change from all the intrigue and subterfuge on King’s Landing, and puts her in sharp (and favourable) contrast to the secret-keeping Jon.

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Weekend Reading List: Inadequate representation and imperfect armour

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  • The Mary Sue has a two part interview with Dark Horse Comics’ Scott Allie. In part one they discuss Buffy, Tomb Raider, and keeping fans happy, and part two takes on women in comics more specifically, Hellboy, Veil, and more!
  • Also from the Mary Sue, the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film released a report on gender representation in 2013, and the results are pretty dismal. Among many disheartening statistics is the fact that only thirty per cent of speaking roles last year went to women. Oh and only three percent of women on screen are Asian. Also at three per cent? Female aliens and other fantasy races.
  • Ever looked at female armour and seen exactly the same things done wrong again and again? What you need is Female Armour Bingo! [Bikini Armor Battle Damage]
  • Geekosystem has a followup to the Toronto Comic Con “cuddle a cosplayer” debacle. It’s weird.
  • Jezebel has a really beautiful piece about the endemic levels of rape, and how deeply infuriating it is that personal safety is a daily concern for women.
  •  The creators of Desktop Dungeons made a conscious decision to include more and better-portrayed women in their game, but found themselves falling back on the sexist tropes with which they were familiar. The Atlantic chronicles their efforts, missteps, and what they learned.
  • If you happen to speak French, here’s a great interview with illustrator Élise Gravel. [Camp Ouareau]
  • I stumbled across this perfect response to your typical “why don’t men/white people/straight people have their special clubs/scholarships/history months” whining, and had to share.
  • Last night I got to see the new Veronica Mars movie, and it was stupendous. Go see it! And in the meantime, here’s the trailer.
  • Everybody loves Tove Jansson these days, and for good reason! BBC News talks about the Moomins, and the influence WWII and Jansson’s relationship with Vivicka Bandler had on the adorable trolls/hippos we all know and care for.
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