Why do you think you know that Taric is gay?

A skin that can be worn by League of Legends character Taric; it is very pink, features large gems and furry legwarmers, and is accessorised with a very poofy hairdo

This week, there has been discussion about whether League of Legends character Taric should come out of the closet as a gay man (by Todd Harper, Patricia Hernandez, and Kristin Bezio). It is argued that having a character be openly gay, rather than ‘wink and a nod, maybe’ gay, would represent a positive shift in the game’s diversity. From what I gather about League of Legends, I suppose it probably would; but the assumptions underlying this discussion are not at all welcoming of diverse forms of gender and sexual expression.

It’s claimed that by ‘remaining tight-lipped about his life outside of the league’, Taric as a character is furthering the idea that being gay is a hush-hush thing that should be kept out of public view and just whispered and giggled about behind closed doors. Todd Harper lists a few ways that Taric’s sexuality could be included in the game; maybe he has a boyfriend character, for example. This would, Kristin Bezio argues, positively reinforce sexual diversity, rather than simply using it as an in-joke.

I don’t disagree with the value of both fictional characters and real-life human beings coming out of the closet. I’ve benefited immensely from other people speaking and writing publicly about their identities and experiences. If there was someone like me on British TV, I would have a much easier time explaining my identity to my mother. But by assuming that Taric is gay, people are contributing to heteronormative assumptions from which I have only been able to escape in recent years, thanks to other people coming out and being public about their diverse gender identities.

Only because of other people coming out and speaking about their identities do I know that gender-variant people are not always defined by labels relating to sexual orientation. I’m not against coming out, but I am against the assumption that everybody will or should manage their social lives and personal identities in the same way. And even though I don’t play LoL, this call for an apparently feminine male character to come out as gay is deeply troubling to me as a genderqueer person.

People usually read me as a masculine woman. In queer circles, I regularly have to witness a look of disappointment on someone’s face when I refer to my partner with male pronouns. I always feel like I’ve not quite measured up to their expectations. Sometimes I wonder if people think I’m a tourist, as they turn around and decide to talk to someone else.

I’m no tourist. I’ve struggled with my gender identity for far too long. I was bullied at school for years on end for being different. I spent my university years trying to hide from the truth and turn myself into the very model of heteronormative femininity. I looked great. I felt hollow, ashamed and somehow separated from other people, like I was talking to them from behind a curtain. Slowly, tentatively and mostly privately, I’m now embracing my gender identity, and I feel the happiest I’ve ever felt in my life. By a wide margin.

I think that if I were a League of Legends character, Todd Harper would be asking me to come out of the closet as a lesbian.

The assumption that I’m a lesbian stems, I feel, from two insidious viewpoints that creep around like woodworms, undermining the structure of supposedly inclusive communities. The first is the cissexist assumption that I must identify as a woman, simply because I am blatantly glowing with all the outward signs of an estrogen-rich bloodstream. The second is the arguably heteronormative assumption that since I’m masculine, I must be exclusively attracted to women.

You can be the most well-meaning and liberal person in the world and still lay those nonsense assumptions on me. I was once chatting to an academic on a train, who turned out to be a world leader in gender studies. They clumsily blurted out “if you’re genderqueer, how can you be in a relationship with a man?” I then found myself in the awkward situation of explaining that gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing, to someone who founded a gender studies department at one of the most successful universities in the world.

So, first of all, maybe Taric is not gay. Maybe he loves women almost as much as he loves gems. Maybe he doesn’t identify as a guy. Maybe he just doesn’t know yet. Maybe he doesn’t need to explain his gender expression in terms that fit your worldview.

Or maybe he is gay, and he doesn’t feel the need to navigate the complex network of social connections between the League and the LGBT community through the rather culturally-specific rite of passage of coming out. Maybe Taric belongs to a culture where coming out isn’t the best option for him or for his family. Perhaps his privacy is very important to maintaining his connection with the community he grew up in. It doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t doing his bit to break down homophobia in that community, but the challenges might not be navigable by the same means that they are in your culture.

So yes, by all means badger Riot Games for some homosexual relationships in League of Legends. But please don’t assume that Taric should be involved in them. Arguing that Taric should come out is the very opposite of inclusive; it’s an expression of cultural hegemony and heteronormative cissexism.

About Zoya

Zoya is a freelance writer and historian. Their particular interest is in video games: design, history, and how virtual worlds are inseparable from real-world social and economic networks. Zoya has written a book about the Dreamcast, is Editor of Memory Insufficient games history e-zine, and Deputy Editor at Gamesbrief.
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16 Responses to Why do you think you know that Taric is gay?

  1. Cuppycake says:

    I’ve already praised Zoya several times for reading this, but thank you. So much thank you.

    I wanted to write about this, but needed some time to formulate the thoughts in my head. Trying to drag this character “out of the digital closet” because he looks and acts according to stereotypes isn’t a way to get diversity to happen. That’s not what I want. A commitment from Riot to bring in some characters that openly challenge heteronormativity is wonderful, but I think any assumptions of Taric’s sexuality are wholly based on our stereotypical visions of what someone is gay is like.

    Why couldn’t any other male characters in LoL be gay? Why couldn’t Swain be gay? Or Xin Xhao? Or Rammus? I mean, really, any of them could be. And when I play, I’m pretty sure I make many of them gay in my head. They don’t need to be wearing pink to be gay. And they don’t need to be wearing pink to be female, either.

    • Cameron says:

      That’s my first response as well? But it’s also the case that gay men have a lot of internalized homophobia, and in part that manifests as this really awful attitude towards effeminate men. Like I’ve heard/seen gay men say things about how effeminate men are making some sort of a choice to be too femme (whatever that might mean), about how they’re not real men or “if I wanted to sleep with women I’d be straight,” on and on. So on the one hand I totally get the “why do these ridiculous gender signifiers mean Taric is The Gay One?” and on the other hand we could use more representations of effeminate men, both straight and gay.

      Confusion and ambivalence, I has them.

  2. Great article with some exceptional points! By presuming a stereotyped character has to be gay and has to identify as such *absolutely* only further reinforces a very narrow and misinformed understanding of gender and sexual orientation. I’m reminded of a line from a book on crossdressing I read in my undergrad that said marked, stereotypical visual clues are held onto so tightly because it’s the only way to distinguish between “us” and “them” for people who are unable to accept a non-heteronormative individual. And it’s this “us/them” distinction that needs to be dropped.

  3. Joseph Jin says:

    I personally, have never thought of Taric as a homosexual. Although I agree that his character is slightly on the more “stereotypical” idea of a gay guy, His lore just BARELY tips on his personal life. Which to me makes it a little fun because you don’t really know what he is. They just say he likes to keep his life private and because of that I don’t feel they need to reveal if he is or not.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I am by no way advocating that gay characters should not be added to the game (in fact I feel the opposite), I just feel that Taric is fine where he is. It’s unknown whether he is gay or straight. To me he was meant to be ambiguous, strong willed, and fights passionately for what he wants.

    His lore is centered around him being a defender of good. He was smart (thirsty for knowledge), good looking, and most of all someone who just cared for others. For someone who garnered a ton of fame, I see it as more of he just wants to be known for what he does and not by anything else. Which to me makes sense why they left him so ambiguous. He doesn’t care about what he is, he just helps others and does a damn good job (both in game and in lore). It fits his character and I don’t feel that his sexuality NEEDS to be brought out for any reason.

    I do however agree that Riot should release some characters with different sexual orientations even if were just in lore (X’s lover ____ was killed in battle and so they fight for the death of their former lover). It would be a breath of fresh air to me personally.

  4. 01d55 says:

    Something that’s not immediately obvious in this discussion is Taric’s voice – it’s very deep, unmistakably male. That, the bone structure of his face (more clearly visible in the portrait for his default skin) blunt the effeminate associations of the stereotypes they’ve played to (an official/fictional publication, the Journal of Justice, which is embedded in the game client, once reported his involvement in musical theatre.) and code him overall as a gay man.

    Ezreal is the butt of the majority of cissexist jokes in the League Community. I’ve seen little pushback from anyone at the official forums, Rioter or otherwise, against the ubiquitous “lol Ezreal is a girl” jokes.

    I do hope that Riot chooses to have more than one gay champion. To have only one is to make that one a token.

  5. Jesse says:

    i haven’t played LoL all that recently but i did for a couple years…my impression, and maybe i’m wrong, is that this is bullshit. The only reason anyone ever thought Taric is gay is because he has gems on his costume and his colors are pink/purple/light blue. Players have been calling taric “gay” as a negative term since his character came out, and now Riot is trying to play it off as if “oh no, he actually is gay! so it’s ok!” is total bullshit.

    They should just make jax, lee sin, graves, and cho’gath gay and then watch everyone get pissed off.

    If making a character gay soothes the appetite of homophobes who say “finally! we all knew he was gay cuz he wears pink” then you’re doing it wrong.

    • Ashera says:

      That reminds me, I was disappointed that Kog’maw and Kha’zix are both referred to with male pronouns in the lore. They’re horrific creatures from the Void! They shouldn’t adhere to earthly genders! Cho’gath, also of the Void, is referred to as “it,” and Kog’maw seems even less human.

  6. Lycastus says:

    There is of course no reason Taric has to be gay – that’s a narrow-minded assumption.

    But if he did come out, it would be great if this happened through the revelation that he was in a relationship with Graves (or some other suitably masculine, presumed-hetero male champion with no clashing lore). Just to make the point: “Yes, some gay guys are effemenate and wear pink. Some/many/most aren’t.”

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  8. Chris Smith says:

    Yes thank you forever for writing this forever. That is all.

  9. Llamaentity says:

    Great post, thanks for sharing! Also, good comments above!

    Just the fact that Taric’s character description notes that he prefers his privacy, and yet people are trying to assign a sexual orientation to him based on assumptions and try to force his character to stop preferring his privacy… well, it’s really frustrating that some people feel this way about a character in a game, because some of the same people feel this way about real world people that they have similar assumptions about. This can be quite damaging.

  10. Doone says:

    Very interesting article. Thanks for sharing your experience :)

    I have a question but I don’t want it to be perceived as attacking or debating the article; it’s NOT what I want to do here. Instead I want to ask a question about stereotypes in art and how Riot can handle character lives and personalties through graphic depictions.

    I play LoL. The characters all have backstories, but mostly their portraits are done in such a way to tell their stories visually. Stereotypes can be poisonous in this regard. For homosexuality it tends to be portrayed rather overtly and in stereotypical manner (which doesn’t adhere to what I know about real people). How should a character like Taric be portrayed to get his story across *if* he was gay/bisexual/trans? What’s the best way to do the visual side of the story?

    I want to add too that I don’t take for granted that sexuality matters at all in portaying characters; as a matter of the playing the game it’s irrelevant. It only becomes relevant when players want to engage in the fantasy of playing and to therefore know the stories of the characters involved.

  11. I can see where you’re coming from here, but I think where Taric and your personal experiences differ is that Taric isn’t actually a person. He’s a character that’s already been pre-established in a game where he’s coyly implied to be queer; and it would be a great deal easier for Riot as a team to write his backstory as gay, rather than introduce an entirely new character to add an LGBT element.

    You’re right in that they could make any of the League characters queer, and not just the one who’s already campy, but I suppose there’s… mythos already there. Both actual in-game lore and fanbase assumption. Really, he owns it. Nothing in-game shames or comments on how he goes about his Leaguing, and as noted in Todd’s article, the general playerbase does actually like Taric. They even like his goofy 80s skin – otherwise you’d never see it.

    I don’t see it as especially fair to take those who are for molding the design of something fictional to have a sexuality as those people also wanting (or even considering) to apply that to Actual People who have made an identity for themselves.

  12. Eraziel says:

    Actually, it would be much more of a good service to the LBGT people if they could create a gay couple that does *not* reflect common stereotypes. Let Tarics sexuality be unknown, but create some nice backstory for other characters. And no, by this I do not mean the classic “hot lesbians who exist to pandes to the male gaze” trope.

    I’m not that much into LoL, but when I first saw Taric, I was immediately reminded of the “glitter-paladin” that originated in WoW during the Burning Crusade era.
    As many know, the class colour for paladins (usually bulky, do-good heroic melee fighters who are deeply rooted in Warcraft lore) is pink. Until the tier 5 class armour set, every paladin set had been either yellow/golden+red or “steely”. With T5, they introduced a lavender-coloured crystalline armour that looked pretty much like a power rangers suit. (http://wow.mmozone.de/files/2011/08/paladin-t5-set.jpg ).

    Players soon made fun of the set’s look and included plushy ornaments, glitter and a handbag: http://img245.imageshack.us/img245/6040/pallyt5altqm3.jpg
    It seems to me that Taric was the atempt to mock the altered glitter paladin in order to give him prowess as a rather serious fighter. but that’s just my thought ;)

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