Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Pride Spotlight: Queen Maeve From ‘The Boys’

Welcome to the first installment of our 2022 Pride Month Series! For the entire month of June, we will be highlighting different members of the LGBTQIA+ community who we think are great examples of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQIA+ community and in mainstream media. Today’s article focuses on Queen Maeve from The Boys, a conflicted and flawed superhero whose bisexual identity is a central part of her arc. 

Since its premiere in 2019, The Boys has focused on examining all the ugly aspects of celebrity culture and society as a whole. Superheroes created by the corporation Vought International appear to be battling the forces of evil. But in reality, they often cause the very problems they are brought in to solve. Their marquee group is the Seven, led by the charismatic and psychopathic Homelander. But the Boys, a vigilante group led by Billy Butcher, are determined to expose their crimes to the world and bring down a corrupt Vought in the process. With deliberate nods to real-world politics and nerd culture alike, The Boys is able to subvert expectations and dive into topics often ignored or considered taboo on other series. 

One such topic is the commodification of sexuality, which is explored through Queen Maeve. The Boys’ answer to Wonder Woman, Maeve is seen as a strong and capable warrior who stands up for what’s right. But in reality, she is burnt out from years of hiding her bisexuality and dealing with Homelander’s abuse. Originally joining the Seven out of a genuine desire to do good, Maeve is cynical and no longer believes that she can make a meaningful difference with Vought pulling the strings. Dealing with PTSD and forced to work with her abuser, she turns to drinking to numb herself and gives up on fighting the system. But after a plane crash where she and Homelander are unable — and in Homelander’s case, unwilling — to save hundreds of civilians, Maeve begins to question her own apathy as she deals with her guilt. Starlight’s idealism also begins to make an impact on Maeve as she reevaluates the kind of hero she wants to be. 

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But it’s Maeve’s season 2 arc that shines a spotlight on queer representation and the kind of empty corporate pride gestures that are commonplace today. Homelander incorrectly outs her as a lesbian (and by extension, her secret girlfriend Elena) in a television interview as another way of controlling her psychologically. Vought spins the event into a marketing opportunity to fight back at a #HeroesSoWhite hashtag aimed at the lack of diversity on the Seven. Maeve is forced into promoting herself as Vought’s first LGBTQ hero, losing control of the one thing about herself that Vought didn’t own. Maeve’s scenes in Vought’s Dawn of the Seven film (parodying The Avengers and Justice League) become a coming-out saga featuring Maeve rescuing a woman as her romantic interest, but of course, stopping before a kiss that may offend conservative viewers. 

Vought uses #BraveMaeve to push Pride initiatives and twists everything about her sexuality to fit their own interests, even deciding that she should publicly identify as a lesbian because it is a “better sell” than bisexuality. In one brilliant scene, the marketing team at Vought pitches Maeve and Elena on their plans and manages to hit on just about every queer stereotype. The moment hits home for any queer person, but the biphobic rhetoric especially will be familiar to any bisexual person who has been told they are not queer in the “right” or socially acceptable way. Elena is naturally not thrilled about her personal life being used for their narrative and doesn’t fully understand that Maeve is playing along to keep her safe from Homelander. 

Determined to find a way to keep Elena safe and continue their relationship without compromising her sense of self in the process, Maeve gets fellow Seven member Deep to dive to the wreckage of the plane she and Homelander failed to save. He finds a GoPro with footage proving Maeve and Homelander left the passengers to die, which will ruin Homelander’s image if it sees the light of day. Knowing that Homelander will do anything to remain beloved by his fans, Maeve plans to use it to blackmail Homelander into leaving her and Elena alone (even if it implicates her in the process). But Elena sees the disturbing footage, and despite her understanding that Maeve is also a victim of Homelander’s, she can’t get past it and leaves to have some space from Maeve and from Vought. 

With nothing to lose and a lot of pent-up anger, Maeve finally does the right thing and teams up with Starlight to stop Stormfront. She uses the crash video to force Homelander to let Butcher and Ryan go as well as leave herself, Elena, and Starlight alone. While Homelander remains dangerous and increasingly unhinged heading into season 3, it appears Maeve has regained her will to fight. In the recently released trailer for the third season, she is actively working against Homelander with the Boys. It remains to be seen what consequences this will have for her, but it’s a satisfying new twist in her arc from bitter and scared victim of abuse to formidable adversary. 

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Through Maeve, The Boys skewers the empty gestures by corporations and the wider media towards the LGBTQ community. The only storyline for Maeve that Vought is comfortable with is one where she is out and proud, yet not so queer that she alienates their wider customer base. They want her relationship to mimic a traditional heterosexual one, down to asking Elena to dress in menswear since Maeve’s style is more feminine. Maeve’s sexuality, which is supposed to be hers and hers alone, is commodified and used to score social justice points while selling merchandise covered in sparkly rainbows. Vought is despicable and not a meaningful ally to the LGBTQ community, but with one “lesbian” hero, they can wave off any critique. 

Maeve is one of the most layered bisexual characters on television today, played brilliantly by Dominique McElligott. Her storyline can be uncomfortable to watch at times for its unflinching exploration of biphobia, PTSD, and abuse. But it is necessary and well-executed, calling out the hypocrisy and homophobia in entertainment and in politics while remaining compelling.

The Boys season 3 premieres June 3 on Prime Video, with the first two seasons available to stream now. Be sure to check out our other Pride Spotlights this month!

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