In Part III of this article, we looked at how Bash Back‘s narrative and The Family utilize and represent violence as a form of self-defense. In Part IV of “Not By Something as Accidental as Blood: Bash Back,” we are going to look at how the narrative power of violence leads to self-determination and what form or symbol that may take.
Bash Back‘s greatest achievement is how it uses agency, particularly self-agency, to tell another kind of LGBTQ+ story. As has been stated a few times already, violence plays its part, but there is a complex power-dynamic at play. It’s no coincidence that the reader first sees John Doran in a washroom through the perspective of Bastian.
It is a counterpoint to Bastian’s restroom scene at the beginning of the comic, except while Bastian’s power was initially being taken away by a pattern of exploitation and violence, the reader sees John repairing his wounds presumably taken in service to protecting The Family. He is literally sewing himself shut using the finery of Stephen’s towels in front of an ornate mirror. John knows how to take care of himself and the creators of Bash Back further subvert the “gay restroom” trope by showing off the masculine beauty of John’s physicality, its power, and the fact that he wipes away the facade of normalcy, the pleasant poetry of societal acceptance, with Stephen’s good towels, and understands how to heal himself. He looks at himself in that mirror that society forces everyone to see, and truly accepts himself while Bastian sees a reflection of the scarred but powerful person that he could become one day.
It is also interesting to note that John Doran’s character seems to be the first that Fyodor Pavlov and Lawrence Gullo created for the series. It certainly was the first one they revealed. But what is even more intriguing is the story background they created for him. According to Pavlov, John Doran was “an ex-sergeant in the marines who was discharged for being gay before DADT was repealed. Shortly after, he was scooped up by the Family, who keep an eye on these matters, and became one of its most valuable and devoted recruits as an expert in explosives, hand-to-hand combat and sniping. He usually works as muscle and cover for the Family’s more violent operations (liberation of “gay cure” camps, raids on businesses that back conservative politicians, and extremist religious missionary groups), as well as solo hits.” While it’s not certain whether or not the team has kept John’s original backstory, it’s certainly in line with who he is, and what he is to The Family and the overall narrative morality of Bash Back.
At the same time, the team behind Bash Back isn’t afraid to show John’s vulnerability. Lawrence Gullo explains to Towleroad “We’re taking sort of the place we’re supposed to be, where we’re supposed to be victims and we’re supposed to be sexless best friends, and we’re supposed to be the really non-threatening aspect of whatever story, and turning that around. Instead of having queer-coded villains, we’re having really bad ass heroes, anti-heroes, and that was really important to say.” After John gets further injured by the drug dealer, he and Daniel are back at Stephen’s and they have some private time together which is anything but sexless.
It is another contrast to the scene with Bastian and his attacker. Here, the readers get to see an LGBTQ+ sexual relationship, in this case a masculinity, without coercion, or non-consensual aggression. It is tender, even in its interruption, and very human. Fyodor Pavlov’s aesthetic of sensual curves and angles brings this out well. You can see that both men care for each other a great deal. This kind of relationship that is so threatening to some of the most conservative and bigoted aspects of society is the most normal, healthy physical and emotional act between two people that we have seen so far in this entire comics issue. Perhaps that is how it can be seen by some to be so transgressive and a form of violence against the status quo itself.
Tegan Eanelli states with regards to the Bash Back! Projects that they “didn’t solely concern [themselves] with explicitly queer violence. Rather the discourse emphasized a queering of violence. This is to say that participants sought to highlight and show solidarity with all who rupture the fabric of hegemonic violence.” The key word here is “hegemonic violence” or, perhaps, institutionalized aggression and discrimination. But then there is also the term “queering.”
In this sense, it is important to look at queering as something beyond the normative, as more than merely the examination of gender or sexual orientation. Tegan Eanelli in the “Non-Violence Protects the Straight” section of Queer Ultraviolence even states “Queer theory tells us that queering is a verb, a process which eternally problematizes and undoes normative roles.” When you add violence to the act of queering, or “insurrection” as Eanelli puts it, the argument is that it can destroy or subvert assumptions or stereotypes. This is definitely in league with Bash Back and how each situation and character trope presented in the comic is subverted by taking the queer, the Other, something outside of the “normal order of things” and arming it with the violence of the norm, of the system, to take apart assumptions and gain a sense of agency and self-determination.
And all of this culminates in Bastian. For all Bastian starts off Issue #0 on his knees in a restroom at the beginning of the story, his story began far earlier. Bastian came from Virginia and, realizing that he identifies as a boy instead of a girl, he left his parents and his home to create a new life in New York City.
According to a Tumblr post exchange between the team and a fan of the comic, Kelsey Hercs and Lawrence Gullo both wanted Bastian to have a “loving family” that he had to leave because he knew his identity would hurt them in the society in which they have to live. Both writers also wanted to illustrate that “It was also important to show that there are LOTS reasons an LGBTQ youth might find themselves homeless. More than the youth being rejected by their family and kicked out of their home,” and that according to Gullo “all-out rejection is not the only reason a queer youngster may feel unsafe at home … could have meant he was not comfortable enough to come out in the first place. Fostering a home of acceptance and inclusion in the first place is just as important as what you do *after* your kid comes out to you. Your parents can love you – but if that love feels in any way conditional – you may just feel the need to hide from them to spare all of you the heartbreak.”
Yet Bastian finds a new Family. He finds a new life at the New Oxford Shelter after accepting Angelo’s help. He pays it forward through helping the LGBTQ+ community through Stephen and the Shelter while making friends and getting to know his new home. And when this home, this community is threatened, not only does Bastian report this to John and Daniel, but he takes the initiative in burning the print copies of Clark’s story about the Shelter. Bastian, who begins as an exploited character, as a transgender person – arguably one of the most vulnerable people of the LGBTQ+ spectrum in society – defies fear and is inspired by the examples of John Doran and Angelo to use violence as a transformative moment of agency: not only for himself but in defense of those he’s grown to care about, and who are in a lot of ways as vulnerable as he. Bastian’s story in Issue #0 ends in a similar fashion to how it began, but while he also accepts Angelo’s help, he does so as a comrade and a friend, with the potential to become so much more.
I didn’t name this four-part article “Not By Something as Accidental as Blood: Bash Back” arbitrarily. It is taken from a quote by a character in Lana and Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski’s series Sense8. While it also has strong LGBTQ+ elements, it focuses on family that is chosen: even and especially if they are only family because they are all different from mainstream life, and they have to stick up for each other. It’s definitely not a coincidence that a friend of mine linked me to Bash Back after the shootings at the Pulse.
Bash Back raises a lot of real life questions for me as a reader and thinker. It makes me wonder if, in this fictional world that Gullo, Pavlov, and Hercs create if The Family was founded during the Stonewall riots, or if it’s older? Is The Family the only queer mafia in the existence of this world? How many safe houses and shelters do they have? What will be the role of the other characters that the Bash Back team have been working on and will Shoshone, an LGBTQ+ disabled minority veteran warrior reminiscent of the musician and model Viktoria Modesta’s aesthetic become more than an early Family character concept?
For that matter, is there one boss or several leaders of “the Queer Mafia?” Are there rival mafias or organizations with their own group and individual agendas? If so, will they be plot points? Despite Lawrence Gullo’s motto “There can’t be a ‘no fats, no femmes’ mentality in a mafia family,” will this schismatic reality of LGBTQ+ groups or people in such be included or further addressed in Bash Back? And just how could Bastian possibly become “corrupted” as Gullo put it to Graphic Policy when they talked about his character? Or will he follow the path of the protagonist in the Geeks OUT‘s six page “Bash Back?” Perhaps he might become someone who knows an ultimate truth when they are about to to remove a homophobic torturer from this world, that “Some people are made uncomfortable, or are even frightened … when they hear I’m a transsexual. But they should not fear me because I make them insecure or confused or embarrassed. They should fear me because I am their annihilation.”
My hope in subsequent issues of Bash Back to address these potential plot points, characters, and thoughts aside, I would like to make the argument that Bash Back Issue #0 is not a narrative about vengeance. Rather, it is a story about justice in a world where the system and society fails people who are different through either maliciousness or its own inertia. It is a story about community, finding a place in the world, and coming together against danger. Ultimately, when it comes down to it Bash Back is about defending yourself and knowing that, when you do, there will be others that will have your back and be there for you as you fight for your right to exist.
As I said in the second part of this article, Bash Back might not be about blood, but I hope that it will always continue to fight.
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