Readers, you’ll forgive me if this article comes too late to be relevant. With the finale to Legend of Korra, the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon sequel, occurring a few weeks ago, odds are you’ve already glutted yourself on essays, rants, and fanart all commemorating and commiserating the show. And, of course, you’ve already squeed yourself silly about the ‘obvious’ ending in which Korra and Asami, the show’s most prominent female leads, pledge themselves to each other in a literal beacon of queerness, lady love, and Thelma and Louise-style vacation plans.
I’ve received many submissions on the matter; Korra is a bit of a bastion of hope for brown girls. She’s kickass, headstrong, and the hero of her own story. By hooking her up with Asami, the creators have effectively reversed the trend we’ve come to expect — basically they leave the boys out in the cold with Mako, the old beau of both characters, practically forgotten. The episode ended with the two stepping into a pillar of light and holding hands while they looked meaningfully at each other. I, like all of you, was breathless watching this but unlike all of you I didn’t believe it.
I’m not about bi-erasure and I have no patience for the biphobia that’s rank in primetime television, but I’m not sold on this ending for Korra and Asami. I will not deny that I shipped them from the beginning — pretty girls who can take care of themselves? duh. But I don’t think their love story was justly constructed. While I felt that their affection for each was never invisible or removed from the story, I don’t believe that these actions, which can easily be read as tenderness between friends, is true queer representation.
Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators of the show, have since confirmed that Korra and Asami are indeed a couple (taken from their Tumblrs):
But in the style of the whole ‘Dumbledore is Gay’ reveal, these revelations and confirmations only come after the series is over. There is no time or room to fully explore this relationship within the show. The finale, even, could be and was interpreted by many as a gal-pal road trip into the sunset. As subversive as it is to include a same-sex intimate relationship in a children’s show, it’s not true queer representation if people can leave the room thinking that these two are just ‘really good friends.’
I’m not saying I need a full make out session to cement my belief in Korra and Asami’s love, but what I do need is less room for interpretation. If the series ended with Mako and Korra holding hands as they walked off in to the Spirit World, the audience would be sure that they were ending the series as a couple. Since Korra and Asami are working against 1) the fact that their relationship hasn’t made an obvious appearance yet and 2) same-sex romantic relationships are not typically seen in kid’s cartoons, it’s not clear from the ending that they’re together.
This is of course vastly simplifying the nuances of romantic and sexual relationships. Intimacy can take on many forms and doesn’t always have to be feverous kissing. A relationship can, of course, be signified by something as subtle as tender gazes and hand-holding. But subtlety doesn’t have a place in the LGBT movement. When bisexuality is literally laughed at on television, missing from Google results, and generally despised by straight and gay people alike, subtlety doesn’t help anyone.
Maybe Nickelodeon would have pulled the finale if Michael and Bryan had made the relationship any more obvious. Regardless, we can’t just be happy that in the nebulous ever after of the series, Korra and Asami are in a biracial bisexual relationship. This could have been one of the first and few non-white same-sex relationships we saw on television and it could have been a shining beacon of bisexuality awareness, but all it is is two great female characters holding hands and looking at each other.
Ah well, a girl can dream: