Coding is a long and tumultuous discussion, one that touches on everything from stereotypes to representation and diversity and it is controversial at best, but in recent years I’ve seen fandoms begin to point to unpopular or disliked characters who happen to have queer or neurodivergent coding and call them offensive and demonizing to these populations as they are villains/bad people while popular and liked characters are given leeway, even when they too are villains/bad people and sometimes even display far more damaging stereotypes or are far more offensive. Speaking as an individual who identifies as pansexual and demiromantic, as well as someone who could be classified as neurodivergent, I find this to be extremely detrimental to the populations at hand. We can’t simply point to a character we dislike and call their coding offensive because we don’t like them, especially when their coding is not only recent, but doesn’t exactly pertain to why they’re unpopular.
Joker has become a commonplace example of this in recent years. Joker has very clear queer-coding, in fact in some comics it goes past coding. Batman: Cacophony features the Joker pretty happily accepting what he perceives as a sex request from another man. And beyond that, his coding is blatant. It isn’t gay coding like we see in modern versions of Poison Ivy or in Gotham‘s Oswald Cobblepot, because the coding shows preference for women as well, Joker’s coding is bisexual or pansexual, but is it really offensive like people say? Sure, Joker is a villain and an abuser, but does that make his coding offensive? I’m gonna say no, as a pansexual myself, nothing in Joker’s coding is offensive, and none of it is tied to his villainy or his abusiveness, those traits are not meant to convey that he is queer. His flirting never comes off as overtly predatory either, in fact when it comes to other men he’s clearly setting himself up as the submissive partner.
To say that Joker’s coding is offensive would be to say Poison Ivy’s coding is, which I have yet to see. Poison Ivy’s coding is far more guilty of pushing damaging stereotypes than Joker’s. Ivy hates men, is the victim of a man’s abuse, and loves a woman while hating that woman’s boyfriend. While the first can be a thing and I most definitely have heard of lesbians who are also misandrists, there is an implication here that Ivy is only displaying sapphic coding because of her abuser, and that when she is canonically a lesbian, it is only because of him. And while the comics give very, very solid reasons for Ivy to hate Joker, I guarantee you’ve seen this trend of the lesbian who hates a man purely because her crush is in love with him, and I guarantee you’ve found it offensive there. Ivy having justification doesn’t make it any better. But these problems with Ivy’s coding are ignored, blatantly, while Joker’s flaws that have no relation to his coding are treated as demonization. Why is this?
Well, simply put, Ivy is a popular Gotham Rogue, Joker is not. Similarly, Edward Nygma, the Riddler, is also queer-coded. Edward’s flamboyant, flirts with men and women alike, and is effeminate to a fault. He’s also a weak, narcissistic, obsessive, arrogant jackass that thinks everyone else is an idiot. None of his negative traits are held up as examples of how his queer coding is offensive, because he’s popular.
Popularity is the only reason no one has called out Edward or Ivy for being offensive, even in cases where they most certainly can be seen in that way. Joker is called out, sometimes his coding, which has very clearly been acknowledged in more than one comic as canon, is erased, and he’s relegated to being straight when his coding clearly displays otherwise.
And Joker’s queer-coding isn’t that old, it first showed up in The Batman Adventures in the 90s, the same time as Ivy’s sapphic-coding. Renee Montoya, one of the first canon lesbian characters in the DC universe, first appeared in 1992 and Kate Kane first appeared in 2006.
Now on the other hand, neurodivergent coding is a little different. I think you all remember the Martha incident of BvS and while I won’t talk about much in terms of criticism, I will say one thing to all the fanboys making fun of Bruce and calling him a baby: BvS is one of the few times on screen Bruce has shown actual behaviors associated with PTSD, something he has in canon. This is usually erased, because PTSD is most definitely considered a weakness and Batman can’t possibly show that right? But at the same time all of his Rogues can be the most stereotypical offensive demonizations of mental illness and get off scot-free or aren’t masked at all.
Yeah, that’s totally how suicidally depressed people self-harm.
Now the face was called out, but a lot of stuff isn’t. Pushing Harley, who is at best codependent and at worst manic, past her original form to full-blown psychotic is not the way to handle things. Turning Bane into an idiot because of his addiction when he originally had eidetic memory and is fluent in several languages is way more offensive than making a strong man like Batman crumble because of PTSD.
There is a point where we need to learn how to differentiate between offensive coding and simply disliking a character. And for anything I do think Batman fans, especially Gotham Rogues fans, tend to pick on Joker, and I can’t say I blame them, he is overused and poorly written and pretty stale, but I can say that calling his queer-coding offensive is attacking a problem that isn’t there. If more people called out the fact that the comics don’t make him believable, or don’t write him well, or code his neurodivergency in offensive ways, that would be attacking a problem that exists, but as it stands, they’re just yelling out thin arguments that don’t really hold much weight.