Disclaimer: This article talks about non-monogamy/polyamory. I am currently in a monogamous relationship, the end result of which will be marriage. I have been previously in non-monogamous and polyamorous relationships.
Today, I set out to write a post that was specifically about the bisexuality of comic book character, John Constantine; and argue how his tendency to fuck demons would definitely make him more pansexual or queer (demons, fundamentally, not being male or female as we know it, regardless of how they present, as they are creatures of a completely different plane of existence, thus making the human gender binary laughably quaint). All that was pretty much blown to shit though, because DC officially announced that popular characters Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn were in a consensually nonmonogamous relationship. Oh, this is very exciting indeed.
You will notice that across most nerd industries, there are still certain taboos that are rarely broached; one of them is that of non-monogamy, polyamory, and atypical romantic relationships. I understand that the powers-that-be in the realm of editing and publishing are mostly dinosaurs who are only just, begrudgingly, opening up their minds to the fact that that two men or two women can get married, and even more slowly accepting the fact that we can no longer marginalize non-whites without creating justifiable uproar; and achingly, sluggishly, understanding that people born as one gender can transition to another, or even transition to the point of non-gender… But, they can’t seem to shake the status quo of what is and isn’t an acceptable relationship.
Marriage and relationships are easy to compartmentalize and once the complexities of things like race, sexual orientation, or gender are resolved, (either by force or choice), marriage and relationships are still marriage and relationships: two entities entering into a secular or religious agreement of trust. Two guys can do it, two women can do it, people of different races can do it, people who were one thing and now are another thing can do it… it’s still just two people though. The straight, white majority cracks their reptilian smiles and says “We can accept that.”
Our world is rife with binary. Any situation can be boiled down into a this/not this statement, (races should intermarry/races should not intermarry, transgender is a real expression of self/transgender is a mental illness, etc.). Polyamory and non-monogamy are fundamentally opposed to binary statements, relative to the execution of relationships, where one or more parties shirk binary and consensually do what they please and what works for them; regardless of how many people are involved. The straight, white majority frowns, their lizard lips pouting, “I don’t like this, it is fundamentally wrong, because it involves more than two people sharing feelings.”
Too bad for them. Polyamory, in one form or another, exists, and has existed, for millennia. Sometimes it was (and is) super chill, sometimes it was (and is) really shitty. You know, like every “Traditional Relationship” throughout human history. If you look at the variances in how people love and are loved relative to beginning of humanity, arbitrarily confining those experiences to two individuals at a time is laughable. “Pairing off,” as we know it, is a fundamental tenet of procreation, not necessarily love. We can put a guy on the moon, we can create electricity from the Sun’s radiation, but we can’t seem to wrap our head around a relationship that isn’t based on an animalistic need to procreate.
“Pairing off,” as we know it, is a fundamental tenet of procreation, not necessarily love. We can put a guy on the moon, we can create electricity from the Sun’s radiation, but we can’t seem to wrap our head around a relationship that isn’t based on an animalistic need to procreate.
Officially making two of DC comics’ most eye-raped characters (I was going to insert links, but thought better of it) an item grants them a certain amount of power and protection that they have not experienced before. It’s been fairly well established that Harley Quinn is probably one of the most tragic characters within the DC universe; having dealt with abuse, suicide, forced estrangement from her child, hypersexualization, and severe mental illness throughout her tenure on the printed page… Despite all that, her alter ego, Harleen Quinzel, is a doctor, someone with a formidable intellect and empathy despite her flaws, and is probably more human because of it. Entering into a relationship with Poison Ivy – a very powerful woman, scientist, and mastermind, is a departure from Harley Quinn’s previous relationships which could only be construed as abusive, (I can’t imagine a relationship with The Joker as anything but severely damaging). Not only that, but Poison Ivy has been pretty vocal about getting Harley out of her relationship with The Joker pretty much since Harley’s inception in Batman: The Animated series.
The lack of monogamy in their relationship is interesting because it allows them the freedom to explore their own lives and sexualities. Harley has had it pretty shitty, and non-monogamy is very different than the codependence of her attempts at a relationship with The Joker; which we’ve seen on page and screen before. I’d like to imagine, for her sake, that this is a chance for Harley to truly become a three dimensional character and to take control of her own destiny. I would also posit that it would grant us some insight into the psyche of Poison Ivy, a traditionally straight character, who commonly uses seduction to her advantage. Where Harley is always motivated through her emotions, to the point of recklessness, Poison Ivy is motivated by her agenda, making them foils for each other. It’s obvious that these characters can teach each other a lot, and interactions between them could be mindblowing. Hell, if the writers could come up with a way to make all future interactions between the two characters pass the Bechdahl Test, that would be truly revolutionary.
DC is notorious for dropping far behind their peers in terms of diversity and they have stumbled onto a little gem that could really help elevate them out of the brambles they themselves planted, as long as they execute it correctly. They have an opportunity to explore a relationship between two flawed, yet robust, characters and to set a high bar of health and understanding in regards to how non-monogamous relationships are presented. By exploring the romance and the genuine love the characters have for each other, and having the sex be little more than a punctuation mark to their bond, DC could open themselves to a whole new level of understanding and readership amongst the queer and poly communities. Furthermore, as the characters are non-monogamous, and not straight, it would allow for really interesting story arcs by allowing both characters to juggle multiple relationships, with different people of different backgrounds. Basically, a perfect opportunity to add rich characters of color or queer/trans voices to a fairly whitewashed publication as well as a prime opportunity for DC to open up their doors to a larger staff of queer artists and artists of color. As hard as any publication tries to shoehorn in diversity, having a staff that’s predominantly CIS gendered, and white (and more often than not, male) executing it can seem a little disingenuous. As comics and nerd culture become more and more mainstream, tapping the life experiences and artistry of the people you are attempting to tell a story about could create a world that is not only fantastic, but real, and tangible.
As comics and nerd culture become more and more mainstream, tapping the life experiences and artistry of the people you are attempting to tell a story about could create a world that is not only fantastic, but real, and tangible.
Of course, they could always seriously fuck it up. When it comes to two females in a relationship, DC already boned up once. To execute a non-monogamous relationship accurately, would require a more carefully executed narrative. I’m not really prepared to give the writer, or DC as a whole, an ‘atta boy/girl/person just for announcing the characters’ relationship – I want to see it. I want to see it done right, and I want to be able to say “Nice work.” I want a major publication house to start throwing around phrases like “sex positivity” and know what it means. I want to see a writer and artist take two popular, wild, and powerful women in love, and not cater to the dribbling fanboy by having them bump uglies in the most exploitative way possible. I want DC to convince me I should have more than ONE of their titles on my fairly lengthy subscription list because, so far, the only person in their universe that can excite me is a demon-fucking Briton with an attitude problem.