#LanceIsBi: The Voltron Fandom's Expectations for Representation
How one fandom’s desire for bisexual representation reflects larger queer issues in media.
Queer people desperately want representation in media. While straight characters make up 93.7% of all characters on broadcast TV, according to a report from GLAAD, that leaves a paltry 6.4% to represent the wide and diverse group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, genderqueer, intersex, and asexual people in America. For the purposes of this article we’ll be using the umbrella term “queer” when discussing the community as a whole.
There just aren’t enough queer people on TV and those that identify as bisexual feel especially slighted.
“When I was a teen grappling with my own sexuality, I was desperate for LGBT content, especially if it involved bi/pan characters,” remembers Enjayas, a genderqueer pansexual fan of various TV series. “I’m over a decade older now and I’m still desperate for queer content because that’s how little of it there is in geek/nerd media.”
Bisexual characters are especially hard to come by. Of the 6.4% of queer characters on TV, only about a fourth of them are bisexual and that doesn’t even guarantee they’ll be positive representation. Many bisexual characters are seen as, according to GLAAD, inherently untrustworthy or lacking a sense of morality.
Bisexual characters like Camilla on FOX’s Empire, who killed her own wife and then in the same episode killed herself, or Frank Underwood on House of Cards who regularly murdered, betrayed, and slept with anyone to obtain power, are the norm.
Often times those characters don’t even use the word bisexual. In addition to Camilla and Frank, Piper on Orange is the New Black is one of many characters who seemingly fits the label of being bisexual but the writers refuse to use the word.
So without many bisexual characters to choose from what can fans do?
Well, in the case of Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender, many already see one character as bisexual, even if the show hasn’t said it outright.
Premiering in 2016, Voltron: Legendary Defender is a reboot of the popular ‘80s franchise which sees a group of five space pilots swept up in an alien war. Shiro, Keith, Lance, Pidge, Hunk, and later Allura all pilot giant robot lions that form into the mighty robot Voltron. Depending on whom you talk to, Lance is bisexual.
So how did this happen?
Many fans, like Angie Munoz who does livestreams in character as Lance, read into the subtext of scenes like an early season one episode, where Keith reached out to Lance after surviving an attack on their base, as the first sign of some possible feelings developing between the two.
“We see a moment like that and analyze it,” Enjayas says, “like that it could mean something more than just a friend supporting a friend.”
Enjayas takes that a step further, seeing Lance’s competitiveness with Keith or his respect for their leader Shiro as unrealized crushes. Much of that comes from Enjayas’ own history growing up and having to question her own identity.
“A lot of LGBT people go through their youth not quite being able to put their finger on why they feel different or, as in Lance’s case, why they idolize that one guy so much (Shiro) or why that other one really gets under their skin (Keith),” she says.” It’s not hard to read into those interactions as something more if you’ve literally walked that path yourself”
Others like Riley, who runs a Voltron blog on Tumblr, reads into some more subtle signs as possible confirmation Lance is bisexual.
“A lot of the backgrounds in scenes where Lance is a major character are colored in the bisexual flag (pink, blue, and purple),” Riley says. “As an animation and art student I know that color theory is important when conveying subtle messages.”
To Isaac, a gay Voltron fan who regularly discusses the series online, it’s pretty simple. “I don’t think you can be straight in space.”
But if Lance isn’t confirmed as bisexual in the series, why do so many fans see him that way? Hazel, a bisexual Voltron fan who regularly cosplays at conventions, explains why fans will write fanfiction or come up with theories about Lance being bi. “When there isn’t enough representation in mainstream media, we use what we have to project,” she says.
That’s very much the case for Shardy, a bisexual fan who contributes to the fandom through fanfiction, artwork, and zines. Lance is her favorite character because he’s closest to her in personality so she projects many of her experiences onto him.
“I see this guy in this show who clearly prefers the opposite gender,” Shardy says, “but if he were bisexual, maybe it could be because he’s nervous around his own gender? Maybe he doesn’t want to risk humiliating and outing himself by hitting on a straight guy?”
This reflected her own realization that she was bisexual. “That’s exactly how I felt around other women. Nervous, scared, maybe I should just stick to guys since it’s safer, makes me less vulnerable.”
With all these theories and projection onto the character, many fans have started to hope that Lance could be confirmed as bisexual in a future episode of the series. Much of that hope stems from the fact many of the Voltron creative team previously worked on the Nickelodeon series The Legend of Korra, which ended with two of its main women characters (who had previously been in romantic relationships with men) in a relationship together.
“I think there’s an expectation that Voltron will do the same thing,” Shardy points out. The idea of Lance actually being confirmed as bisexual in the series delights fans to no end.
(A group of Voltron fans cosplaying as Lance at a convention. Note the Bi flag. Image courtesy of miraidreamer12.)
“He’ll still be the kind-hearted, flirty, leggy boy we’ve come to know him to be,” says Enjayas, “It wouldn’t define him. It’d just be another facet of his character – and that’s a really important message I wish I’d had more (or at all) as a kid.”
“If they do I will actually cry, “ Andy, who runs a Tumblr account dedicated to Voltron, admits. “It’ll be such an amazing moment for the bi community.”
Fans such as Andrew, who runs a pop culture blog, have full faith in the producers of Voltron to pull off such a reveal. “I think (the creators) are sensitive and intelligible enough about the series and their fanbase to handle it.”
The possible complication, however, is that there isn’t any agreement amongst the fanbase on how Lance being bisexual should be handled. Many fans feel that the only way for Lance to be confirmed as bisexual is if he ends up with one of the male characters, in particular Keith. (That notion of course discounts any idea of polyamory which in itself is a whole can of worms when it comes to representation.)
This seems to run up against what’s presented in the show itself, that Lance has a huge crush on Princess Allura.
Some feel that if Lance were to end the series in a relationship with Allura it wouldn’t be the best for queer representation. After all, if Lance dates Allura he’s not really bisexual right?
Questions like that directly reflect prejudices from some corners of the queer community that bisexuality is just a phase or that if you’re bi and end up with someone of the opposite sex you’re really just straight.
“I’m a bisexual woman but I married and had a child with a man,” explains Shardy, “It doesn’t sit will with a lot of people so I get told a lot that I don’t really count as a queer.”
Shardy is sure that if Lance were confirmed bisexual but ended up with a female character, some fans wouldn’t be pleased. Many even see Lance as exclusively gay and do whatever they can to minimize his feelings toward the many women characters he’s flirted with.
“Fandom has a pattern of rejecting female characters so (the fans) can have their ‘gay ship’ (ship being two characters fans want to see together) which is fetishizing male/male relationships,” explains Hazel who admits to having done the same thing when she was younger.
Some fans will look to any source they can as support for their headcanons (how they view the series). A recent example was an interview Den of Geek conducted with Lance voice actor Jeremy Shada. In reference to a scene in season four where Lance help makes a milkshake and to the popular Kelis song “Milkshake,” I asked if Lance’s milkshakes bring all the boys and ladies to yard. His response?
“Oh, 100%. Lance’s milkshakes bring errbody to the yard, I can say that much,” Shada said.
Social media blew up. Anywhere that Voltron fandom had a presence was deluged with posts quoting the article. Many fans were rejoicing. Finally, this was the confirmation they’d been waiting for. Bi Lance was now canon.
Reactions like this frustrate some fans, including Shardy, “They (the fans) tend to read too deep into every little joke and offhand comment made by cast and crew. To take (Shada’s answer) as confirmation someone is bisexual… that’s not how bisexuality works.”
To Shardy, a true confirmation of Lance being bisexual should come from the character directly. It should be about his character growth and his story.
“One issue with bisexuals is that it feels like our identities have to be determined by other people,” Shardy says. “Our own voices are never enough and it’s exhausting. Lance being confirmed bisexual is because of a joke by his voice actor. The colors of the scenery behind him. Multiple genders being attracted to him instead of the other way around. It’s not his own character that confirms his identity. That bothers me. That infuriates me.”
This type of discourse, according to Voltron fanfiction writer Taylor, goes on, “almost daily.”
(The romantic paring of Keith and Lance, known as Klance, is one of the most popular ships on Tumblr.)
Some of that discourse is fueled by fans who insist the production staff who work behind the scenes on the series are queerbaiting (teasing a queer character or relationship without actually confirming it).
“They’ve been implying it slowly this whole time,” insists Riley, “If they (the creators) weren’t going to have LGBT+ representation they should come out and say it instead of getting everybody’s hopes up.”
Isaac also agrees that the people behind Voltron have been “dropping hints”, pointing out that members of the cast and crew have “either implied that Lance is bi or even dodged the question.”
It’s true that some of the cast and crew have joked or mentioned shipping in various public appearances or on social media. Never in a way that assures it will happen but simply acknowledging fans passion for the series.
That doesn’t stop a small group of fans from outright demanding DreamWorks and the producers behind Voltron make Lance bisexual. In one extreme case a fan threatened to leak spoilers unless Klance was made canon.
It should be noted the team at DreamWorks or the Voltron producers have never openly promised fans that there would be queer representation in Voltron. We reached out to DreamWorks for comment on this article but didn’t receive any response.
As recorded by the Let’s Voltron Podcast, at New York Comic Con executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos stated, in response to a question about LGBT representation in the series, “we’re fighting to create as open and as broad a spectrum of characters as we can.”
Executive Producer Lauren Montgomery followed that up with, “we can’t give you any definite answers.” In the past Montgomery has also posted art of the Voltron characters on her personal Twitter supporting respect for all minorities including LGBT people.
The closest anyone from the creative team has come to teasing fans with the possibility of queer representation was when Den of Geek interviewed story editor Tim Hedrick before the series premiered. When asked whether there would be representation like fans had seen in Legend of Korra he responded,
“I think I’ll just let that play out as we go. No comment on that question.”
Could that be interpreted as a tease? It could be read that way sure, but if you look at the comment in context he was basically being asked to possibly spoil a future plot development. That and the series was only about half written by the time of the interview so ideas for certain characters may have been in flux. He just genuinely might not have known.
Several of the fans we spoke with for this article feel as though the fandom is basing their expectations on things that aren’t actually in the series itself. In effect, the fandom is queerbaiting itself when the show hasn’t offered any hard evidence Lance is bisexual.
Hazel puts it more bluntly, “Lance being bi is solely a creation in fans minds but, for many, it’s being taken as fucking word of god.” She totally understands why fans are so passionate about it though. “If you love something so much you want to project as much as you can into it even with shows that may not represent (your identity) at all. Which I get it, but that’s also leading to expectations that may or will fail.”
Would it be great if Lance were confirmed as bisexual? Yes, of course. It’s heartbreaking there’s so little queer representation on TV. However, it may not be up to the creators of Voltron whether they get to include queer representation in the series.
Bryan Konietzko, co-creator of The Legend of Korra, admitted that while Nickelodeon was supportive of ending the series on a queer romance there were limits to how far they could go. Voltron could be under similar kinds of limits.
It’s not fair to demand something from the creative staff that may not have any control over the situation. Voltron is airing all over the world and there are strict regulations on content featuring queer characters in many countries.
Fans like Enjayas understand the kind of constraints the series might be under. “At the end of the day, it’s not my show and I know there’s a lot of bureaucracy that can hamper getting things like that on the screen. Even more so when it’s a show that has to sell toys to kids.”
So what are fans left with? Well, the series is only half way over. There are still another 39 episodes to go which is plenty of time for any of the characters to come out.
Even then, so far none of the characters have directly come out as straight. That’s enough for some fans, according to Andrew.
“Sure there are some fans who won’t be satisfied until there’s a physical in show reveal, but I truly think most #LanceIsBiers will be satisfied within that grey area of plausibility,” Andrew says. “Lance’s bisexuality is like a Schrodinger’s cat of both existing and not existing if you will.”
Shipping in Voltron is completely valid. To everyone who enjoys Lance being bi, don’t stop. To everyone who cosplays as Lance? Don’t stop. Having your own headcanon can be very important, as Hazel points out, “(it’s) helpful for many who connect with the characters we love so much.”
Also know that you aren’t alone. Just for this article alone we spoke with fans who identified as bisexual, genderqueer, pansexual, transgender, gay, questioning, panromantic, and asexual. The Voltron fandom is an extremely diverse place.
If seeing Lance as bisexual helps anyone in the fandom get through the day? Don’t stop.
Also be sure to remember there is media out there with confirmed queer characters. Series such as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Shadowhunters, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Legends of Tomorrow all have bisexual characters that are hilarious, strong, and extremely relatable.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Shadowhunters are particularly noteworthy since they prominently feature two of the only eighteen bisexual male characters on TV. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend even featured its bisexual character coming out in a brilliant song and dance number.
It’s not enough, but bisexual characters are there.
The recent Legend of Korra comic is also extremely open about its queer romance and doesn’t shy away from confirming several characters as queer. There are also hundreds of webcomics made by independent creators that have all kinds of representation.
No matter what, fans such as Enjayas will continue to love Voltron and see the characters however they want. “I’m just going to enjoy it for what it is and if things don’t go the way I’m hoping? I’ll always have my headcanons!”
Andy puts it very simply.
“Even if they don’t confirm it? Lance will always be bi in my heart.”
Shamus Kelley thanks all the Voltron fans he spoke with for this article. He couldn't have done it without them.Follow him on Twitter!