I want to talk a little bit about Maggie Sawyer.
Regular site readers may have noticed that this is the first thing I’ve personally written about Supergirl since wrapping up the season two recaps at the beginning of the summer. I’m betting that’s struck some people as odd, as I’m not typically the kind of person who has very little to say about things that I love. Well, there are a couple of reasons for that.
This first is that, as I briefly mentioned in our SDCC podcast on Ladies First, I don’t watch cast interviews unless I absolutely have to (and that disaster at SDCC was definitely one of those ‘have to’ moments). I personally find it extremely immersion breaking. Part of it is that I’m a deeply secretive person when it comes to certain aspects of my personal life, and I inject that impulse into how I interact with celebrity culture. The other part of that is that I severely dislike the conflation of who an actor is in person with the characters they play.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with following your favorite actor’s career, but that’s just not how I engage with media. You do you; I’ll do me. But as someone who has little interest in the real-life side of a television show’s production, there hasn’t been a whole lot of content for me to sink my teeth into until very, very recently.
The second is that, probably more out of cowardice than anything else, I wasn’t terribly keen on jumping into the deep end of this season’s discourse. I know that some people can absolutely rip a piece of media to shreds and still ultimately enjoy it, but I’m not really one of those people. I absorb the tone of discourse like a sponge, so if I’m not in the mood for it, or not in the right headspace for it, I have to not engage in it personally.
That’s not to say that I don’t follow it. That would be arrogantly unprofessional of me. But I like to see all the arguments surface before deciding to comment unless it’s something like Code 3.07. Again, some people disagree with this stance. You do you; I’ll do me.
My disengagement with fandom discourse isn’t an indication that I don’t care about other people’s feelings and opinions; it’s that I have learned the hard way from experience that I get very, very burned out and hurt when I wade too deep into the discourse waters.
My decision to try and stay out of the Supergirl discourse this summer, therefore, was an act of self-care. I decided I needed to remain on the sidelines for a while, so that’s what I did.
So why am I writing about Supergirl now? Because Maggie Sawyer’s father has been cast for season three, and I am very, very excited for that. But the number of people in the fandom who were upset by this and who think it’s a terrible idea surprised me.
I’d even go so far as to say I found this baffling at first. From my personal lens, Maggie’s relationship with her family, especially her father, is a dangling plot thread. As family, both blood and found is so incredibly important to Alex, I don’t find it the least bit surprising that their engagement would stir up the skeletons in the Sawyer family closet. Whether Maggie is tracking down her father on her own behest or because of Alex’s influence doesn’t really matter to me, because both paths seem equally logical.
At first, I let a bit of the Fandom Elder Bitterness get to me, and assumed that the reason some people don’t like this upcoming story arc is a generation gap issue. The desire, or even the means, to reconcile with family over something like this is something that’s often not a possibility until you’re an older adult. Even if you came out as an adult, these reconciliations still don’t often happen until you’re… an adultier adult. Deep-rooted bigotry doesn’t usually disappear overnight. These things take time. A lot of time.
Both Maggie and Alex are my age. Many of my queer friends who were outed (myself included) were outed in high school, which means for most of us at least a decade has passed since that traumatic event. The process of trying to reconcile with family is something that many of my queer friends are going through right now, as the Big 3-0 looms just over our horizons. And often, it’s an engagement that sparks the desire to even attempt reconciliation in the first place.
The underlying motivations for this can vary widely: some are looking for definitive closure, some were very close to their families and don’t like the idea of having to exile themselves from the people they grew up with, some are hoping they’ll be able to fill up more than one church pew at the wedding from their side of the family, some don’t want their children to grow up without their family’s culture… the list goes on. But ultimately, these concerns are things you’d expect of people in their late twenties or older. And any of these reasons seem perfectly sound to me for Maggie to choose now to try and mend her relationship with her father.
Now, I am also aware that some people never want to reconcile with their families. That’s entirely valid if that’s how you feel, and I’m not here to stand over you and insist “you’ll change your mind when you’re older.” Many of you won’t, or can’t, and that’s perfectly valid too. I also have queer friends who slammed the door and never looked back, even years or decades later. So it’s not entirely a generational thing, despite my kneejerk reaction pointing me in that direction.
However, to deny that Maggie might want this for herself, or the value of portraying this aspect of the queer experience through specifically Maggie’s character, really isn’t fair. We, queer ladies, are all individuals, with unique experiences, wants, needs, and desires for our media representation. Maggie Sawyer is precisely what I want from my media representation, but that’s perfectly fine if you don’t agree with me. Just because Maggie’s story doesn’t appeal to or apply to you personally, it doesn’t mean that story doesn’t speak to somebody else.
And speak to me it does. While Alex was my favorite character in the first season, and she’s still definitely a solid second place as of season two, her coming out story doesn’t apply to me personally. It is authentically queer to me, especially the bits about having a friendship fall to pieces because one or both of you doesn’t realize the feelings involved are romantic and not platonic, but it doesn’t really apply to me beyond that.
Like Maggie, I got forcefully outed in early high school. It was incredibly traumatic, and so like Maggie, I will often lie about it to not scare the crap out of queer friends who are just coming out now. It also often takes a majorly triggering event for me to even talk about what happened to me, just like Maggie. Everything about Maggie as a character, from her extreme difficulty with coping with intimacy and her own emotions to her Ride or Die attitude about Alex and Alex’s family, has me pointing at the television screen in disbelief saying, “that’s me. That’s absolutely me.”
I think every queer person has a few queer media characters they relate to above all others. One is typically the first queer character they ever related to. For me, that’s Santana Lopez on Glee. What happens to Santana in season two is viscerally personal to me, because it’s a story about being outed that’s played out in real time. I relate to it because how Santana reacts to being outed isn’t too far off from how I reacted, and the empathy the storyline gives to this narrative is deeply validating.
But ultimately, Santana’s story begins and ends in her teen years and very young adulthood. It’s not relatable to me in the present. From my lens, Maggie is sort of a spiritual successor to that narrative. You have an adult who is the same age as me, who went through the same experience I did over a decade earlier, who turned out just fine in the end.
I don’t even really have the words to explain how much I needed Maggie’s season two arc. I don’t think I need the words because the reasons should be self-evident here. Like Maggie, I have difficulty talking about my feelings in the present tense, because boy are there a lot of them. Articulating what she means to me as a character is emotionally difficult because she’s just that important. So naturally I was a tad upset that people didn’t like the direction the character took in season two, and/or the direction the character will be taking in season three.
But I think my reaction is probably the best illustration of the issue at hand. When it comes to queer representation in media, it is a highly personal experience for queer consumers. To see ourselves represented at all is still a relatively modern phenomenon, let alone having a wide enough variety of queer characters that we can now pick and choose a favorite.
I am very used to media creators saying to queer fandom in the past, “You get whatcha get, you should be glad that ya got it.” It’s now on me, and other queer individuals my age, to resist the urge to turn around and spout that same line at those who still feel like their needs aren’t being met.
But respect is a two-way street here, and trying to understand why a queer individual does or doesn’t like something requires dialogue. Ideally, fandom discourse should be an exchanging of ideas and feelings with the end goal of finding ways for all of us to live in relative harmony and improve both the quality and quantity of queer representation in the media.
So after taking some time to talk to some people on why they didn’t like Maggie Sawyer in season two, or why they don’t like her upcoming story arc, I came away with a better understanding of their point of view. I even agree with some of the talking points I commonly see.
For example, I don’t like that Maggie was treated more like a recurring character than a series regular in season two. Floriana Lima’s ‘demotion’ to a recurring role seems like a more honest contractual arrangement for how Maggie’s character is used in Supergirl’s narrative, considering what we’ve seen of it so far. However, I don’t like that this plot is on the backburner in the first place, and a lot of time was wasted in season two on things that were infinitely less important to me than Maggie.
The crew insists that fans won’t notice a difference in the attention paid to Maggie’s story in season three due to the ‘demotion,’ but to me, that just reinforces my opinion that she’s been used too little in the first place. Lima’s been spotted on set quite a bit in the past few weeks, so she’s definitely filming a healthy chunk of material, but I’m also not naïve enough to assume this wasn’t intentionally scheduled this way to give the appearance that Maggie is used a lot more than she actually is.
I certainly don’t think this is going to be another case of the crew of The 100 inviting queer fans to watch the filming in an attempt to offset eventual outrage, but I would be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind. I’ve been in queer fandom a long time: I know better than to put blind trust in any show runner or writing team, regardless of their track record. It’s always better to wait and see.
I did notice that both Maggie and Alex got some prominent shots in the SDCC trailer for season three, though that trailer was kind of a big ball of nothing content-wise. Unfortunately, as of now, we’re going into this new arc for Maggie blind. But I am cautiously optimistic; because this is a story I want to see.
I know 2016 has the queer fandom primed to react very strongly and very negatively at the first sign of trouble with a queer character, or even just to plotlines they don’t personally care for. That’s absolutely fair and deserved. But sometimes I feel like we’ve been primed to overcorrect from our previous years of lavish praise.
I can’t speak for everyone, of course. However, I personally feel a lot of pressure from fandom to have not just an opinion, but also a strong opinion, one way or the other on every little corner of the queer fandom spectrum. And for me, this is a recipe for discourse burnout.
So where does that leave me, as one of the people who will be recapping Supergirl season three for you? Well, I want to make sure that you know I’m not just sticking my fingers in my ears because I disagree with some of the critiques of the show, both about Maggie Sawyer and other characters that spark divisive fandom opinions. I see you, I hear you, and your opinions are valid, even if I don’t always agree with them.
I also want to be very clear in saying that I believe everyone is entitled to relating media on a personal level, and my own very positive bias towards Maggie’s upcoming storyline in no way invalidates the opinions of those individuals who find watching this content damaging or hurtful.
You are not required to watch every piece of queer content just because it’s queer. If you don’t relate, or if you don’t like it, we’re lucky enough to finally live in an age where you can find something else that’s a better fit for you. Don’t feel like you have to like a ship, stan a character, or watch a show just to be a part of the queer culture zeitgeist. I’ll do me; you do you.
Rest assured, if Supergirl fumbles this, I will be the first person lighting the torches and handing out the pitchforks. I will be ten thousand words deep into the rant of the century before you can say “Bury Your Gays” if they kill Maggie off, or if they’re disrespectful in any way to her storyline.
But for now, I want to be optimistic. I want to believe that a show can (for the most part) live up to my expectations, or possibly even exceed them. My intent isn’t really to persuade those who disagree with me, more to explain why I feel the way I do with the hope of fostering understanding between different lived queer experiences. At the moment, I am 100% Ride or Die for Maggie Sawyer, and I hope I still will be this time next year.