To say that 2016 has been difficult would be the understatement of the very year that statement is trying to describe. Over the course of these 12 tumultuous months, pop culture lost a lot of its most beloved figures. And the LGBT community, geeks, and marginalized people everywhere suffered one loss after another.
We were stunned to lose David Bowie only ten days into the new year, and Alan Rickman only four days after that. Three days into February, we lost Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and two weeks later, Vanity of Vanity 6. Four days after that, we lost Italian philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco and American author Harper Lee on the same day.
We are passengers on the Hogwarts Express, watching the windows frost over as the Dementors pass through the train cars.
We started to wonder if we were experiencing the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, more commonly known as frequency illusion, which happens when the thing we've just noticed suddenly seems to be everywhere around us. But 2016 got real. When an artist creates work that fortifies our lives, that makes us feel seen and appreciated, when our entertainment connects us with our own humanity, the people who have created it become important to us. But 2016 was unsympathetic. By early springtime, we had started to personify this Gregorian calendar year as though it was a mythical figure whose job it was to take lives. And, like a psychopomp drunk on vodka and Redbull, 2016 raged on.
We are Luke Skywalker returning to the Lars homestead to find black smoke billowing out from the courtyard.
In April, we lost Miss Shangay Lily, the Spanish drag queen, radical feminist, queer activist, and founder of Spain's first free gay magazine, Shangay Express. We lost Chyna, the professional wrestler. And the next day, we lost Prince. We lost Prince. And in May, we lost comics artist Darwyn Cooke. In June, we lost boxer and champion of Black civil rights, Muhammad Ali.
But it wasn't only famous creative people and public figures whom we lost. On a Saturday night and Sunday morning in June, while some of us were ourselves out dancing at nightclubs, 49 members of our LGBT community were murdered at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
We are Willow watching Tara be hit by one of Warren's stray bullets.
Some of us couldn't even find solace in art or entertainment, as we tried to cope with the secondary traumatic stress of this event, reading the last texts sent from victims inside Pulse, while the mainstream media denied that the massacre was motivated by homophobia.
We are Harry Potter remembering Cedric Diggory's body lying on the ground in a graveyard full of Death Eaters, while the Ministry for Magic denies that Voldemort has returned.
We celebrated the most unified Pride month most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. And then, five days into July, a Black man named Alton Sterling was murdered by police in Louisiana, and the day after that, a Black man named Philando Castile was murdered by police in Minnesota, and on that same day, Pokémon GO was released, and many of us looked away from racism and police violence, and down at our phones. Black lives matter. And Black lives continue to matter, even though many of us don't know what we can do to end police violence against them.
We are Mrs. Everdeen, watching the Peacekeepers drag Katniss away.
Also in July, we lost Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami and Québécois musician and comics artist Geneviève Castrée. In August, we lost Gene Wilder. In September, we lost The Lady Chablis, a transgender woman who worked as a drag queen and nightlife entertainer and was made famous by her appearance in the nonfiction novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and its film adaptation. Three days later we lost trans actress and activist Alexis Arquette. In October, we lost the writer and founder of Caliber Comics Gary Reed, then animator and color designer Michiyo Yasuda, then comics artist Steve Dillon and ecofeminist science fiction writer Sheri S. Tepper.
In November, we lost the singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen. The next day was Election Day, and the phrase "the struggle is real" took on a whole new meaning for people all over the world. And many of us lost what remained of our faith in our country’s democratic process.
We are the Jedi who felt the disturbance in the Force when Palpatine issued Order 66.
Still reeling from the Electoral College decision, many of us didn't even notice the Transgender Day of Remembrance, on which 87 people who died as a result of anti-transgender violence in the past year were memorialized. Many of us were more focused on the rash of hate crimes reported after the election.
Still planning for how our world might change, we watched police in North Dakota militarize against peaceful protestors trying to stop a private corporate business from installing an oil pipeline that would endanger the safety of the water on the Standing Rock Reservation. We watched indigenous people and their allies be brutalized. And on the same news feed, we read that Ron Glass had died. On Christmas Day, we lost singer and LGBT trailblazer George Michael. And then, two days later, we woke up to the news that we had lost Carrie Fisher — our Princess, our Rebel, our mental health advocate.
We are Katniss Everdeen staggering through the rubble of District 12, after the Capitol's air force launched a retaliatory bombing raid there.
Many of us — women, queer people, Black people, Brown people, immigrants, children of immigrants, the disabled — have cause for concern and a permeating sense of dread about what might happen after Inauguration Day in January. We are as nervous about what might be imposed on us as we are unsure of what might be seized from us. And we don't know if we can tolerate any of it, because we feel like we've lost so much already.
Yet, we have gained.
In March, in issue 4 of the re-launched Jughead series from Archie Comics, Jughead Jones was revealed to be asexual. And one of the main characters in a comic published for 75 years made this misunderstood orientation a little more normal. In April, the first male US Senator to come out as LGBT, Harris Wofford (D-PA, 1991–1994), did so in The New York Times, after announcing plans for his second marriage — this time, to a man. And we gained a new Black Panther series — written by MacArthur Genius and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates (author of Between the World and Me) — that prominently features a black lesbian couple.
In July, a Pokémon GO player named Pinknose took over the in-game gym at the Westboro Baptist Church and set it up with a pink Clefairy named LoveisLove. And we were reminded that every little gesture is meaningful. In August, we gained Flame Con 2, and soon after that we got confirmation of Flame Con 2017.
In September, we got official confirmation that Wonder Woman is queer. And because 2016 was the 75-year anniversary of this character, we got a set of US postage stamps with a now canonically queer female superhero on them. In October, JK Rowling revealed that Albus Dumbledore's past will be the focus of future installments of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film series, the most newsworthy detail of which is that Dumbledore is gay, and that will be apparent in the narrative. We gained a lesbian character in a Star Wars novel, crushing on Ahsoka Tano, a fan favorite, especially among younger audiences. We gained the "San Junipero" episode of Black Mirror.
Throughout the course of 2016, we gained Kim and Kim, a new comic with a trans woman as a protagonist that was actually written by a trans woman, Magdalene Visaggio, as well as Gumballs, a new comic written and illustrated by a trans man, Erin Nations. We gained Ian Alexander, an Asian-American trans boy on The OA. We also got news that the most heroic lesbian in Gotham City will have her own series when DC launches the new Batwoman in March 2017. And later that same month, Marvel will launch America, featuring the flying, dimension-hopping, virtually indestructible Latinx lesbian, America Chavez.
But more important than queer representation in our favorite fiction, or future party plans, in 2016, we gained new awareness. We gained proof of our resilience. We regrouped, we mobilized. We gained resolve. We were reminded that love is a superpower, and we are born with it, and it can't be taken away from us — not by law, not by tragedy. We were reassured that we are, all of us, in this. Together.
We are Buffy telling Dawn: "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me."
In the new year, let's continue to strive for visibility and recognition, starting with our comic book characters, and not stopping until we're shown the dignity we deserve, until we can be hired regardless of our gender expression, and get the health care that we need regardless of our legal status, until we can build families our own way, and know that our lives matter. Let's meet Giles in the library. Let's form our Order of the Phoenix. Let's not stop defying Panem. Let's equip our Rogue One.
2017 begins in less than three days. Let's do this.