In their haste to get a panel out about Good Omens in time for Dragon Con, the Urban Fantasy Track overlooked adding a single non-binary panelist despite the massive non-binary representation included in the show.
You would not expect to attend a Wonder Woman panel and not see a female panelist, or a Black Panther panel without people of color being in prominence. This year at Dragon Con, I unfortunately attended a Good Omens fan panel which was utterly lacking a non-binary panelist, despite there being twenty million non-binary angels and demons in the show, including the protagonists themselves.
Presented by the Urban Fantasy Track, “Apocalypse Now? A Good Omens Fan Panel” promised “a moderated fan-panel discussion of the popular Amazon Prime series based on the beloved book by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett”, but what actually happened felt more like a book-focused Bible study presented by panelists who not only looked down on their entire target audience, but had hardly any background knowledge of the show they were supposedly experts on.
Good Omens premiered on Amazon Prime on May 31st of this year, and ever since then, my friends and I have been watching it over and over again, reading interviews and articles, sharing theories, studying costumes, following everything Neil Gaiman posts on Tumblr, founding fan groups, planning events, and eagerly anticipating going to Dragon Con to meet other fans that shared our level of enthusiasm and dedication. This panel was the one I was looking forward to the most.
I had my first doubts about the panel when the moderator introduced himself as a Catholic pastor. While I have no issue with religion (and am Christian myself), the history between various churches and the LGBTQ+ community has clearly been rife with problematic behavior. Placing someone who is heavily involved in the church in a position of moderating a panel for a heavily LGBTQ+ show is asking to alienate the potential audience before we even begin, especially if there’s not even an initial affirmation of allyship to establish trust. The only panelist that identified themselves as LGBTQ+ mentioned being ace (or asexual) which is not a sufficiently diverse background for the full spectrum of experiences depicted in the show. The track director should not have made one person responsible for representing an entire community.
I had further concerns when they started the panel with a patronizing series of questions about who had read the book and when. While I read Good Omens the book long before the mini-series, it’s not a requirement to enjoy the series. Further, the moderator told us he was surprised at how many of us had read the book first in an extremely patronizing tone. (Unfortunately, this arrogant elitism wasn’t just contained in the Urban Fantasy Track. Another fan shared an even worse experience from the BritTrack’s Good Omens book panel, “Pratchett & Gaiman: Lessons for Preventing an Apocalypse” where the panelists even jokingly asked those who had not read the book to leave the room, which is an extremely harsh, gatekeepy rejection for those in the audience who clearly wanted to attend or they would not have been there.)
The follow up introductions were not significant improvements, with a high amount of attention being paid to the panelists’ relation to the religion and to the Good Omens book, rather than the TV show that the panel purported to be about. In fact, we rarely seemed to delve away from the topic of religion — and specifically how they dealt with their religion while watching Good Omens. To be clear, discussing theology and Good Omens can be done well. I spoke with another cosplayer on Sunday night and the conversation delved into an amazing discussion about the knowledge of good and evil, angelic gender identity, and what it means to test humanity to destruction. The distinction is that all of these relate back to overarching themes within the show, not the panelists’ personal struggle to reconcile their religious background with a satirical take that points out the flaws of religion itself. A well-applauded comment from an LGBTQ+ audience member perfectly illustrated the disconnect. They spoke about their personal struggle to reconcile their religious background with who they are and how the show finally helped with that. Overcoming lifelong persecution surely has more meaning than a handful of people deciding to not take offense at satire.
We’ve written previously that Good Omens is a Love Story, per canonical information from Neil Gaiman himself via Twitter and other sources. At the fan panel, the panelists discounted this clear intent from the author as nothing more than headcanon and explained the story could be read in any way. While Neil is extremely generous in supporting people reading the story in any way, one wouldn’t expect this topic to come up as a way to derail a discussion of canonical events. The M25 fire never gets dismissed as a headcanon that people can read in any way, and neither should the love story.
One panelist even cited that it could maybe be a love story, but it was clearly an ace (or asexual) story, which she went on to explain meant it wasn’t in the category of romance.
This is insulting towards ace and ace-spectrum individuals. As someone who is both demisexual and married with two children and has had significant involvement with ace people of many varieties, there is no single way to be ace. Being ace does not exclude a romantic relationship necessarily, nor does it exclude the possibility of a love story. A love story doesn’t have to look like Romeo and Juliet to be considered valid. Love comes in all forms and infinite possibilities, and not wanting to have sex doesn’t make you ineligible to fall in love or have a romantic partner.
In regards to headcanon, the panelists continued circling back to the book, their obvious area of expertise, rather than the show itself. They were not willing to see new things as canon, and they protected what had been their literary experience for the last 30 years with an attachment as strong as Gollum had for the One Ring.
By clinging to the traditional canon and ignoring the changes the mini-series made in an effort to protect what they perceived as the author’s intentions, they truly threw down an insult showing their lack of basic knowledge of who created the show in the first place. Neil Gaiman’s name alone appears on the script book, and he was heavily involved in all aspects of the mini-series. He made many sacrifices, halted projects, and poured several years of his existence into making this mini-series the amazing work that it is. While Terry Pratchett could not be there, the act of making this show is some of the most involved work we’ve seen from Neil Gaiman and was a clear act of love and remembrance of a dear friend. In their haste to put Neil the Book Co-Author on a golden pedestal, the panelists seem perfectly willing to dismiss Neil the Showrunner as a run-of-the-mill corporate shill who almost ruined their beloved book.
We’ve previously covered how Good Omens is a radical non-binary representation. When this was brought up in the panel with a question of their views on it, the topic was quickly changed and ignored. The panelists gave token platitudes along the lines of gender being an irrelevant social construct. They even suggested that everyone is just a little bit androgynous, aren’t we?
The answer is no. If we were all non-binary, we would all be using gender-neutral pronouns. There would probably not be a superfluous amount of blue and pink marketed at every age level. People I know would not experience severe social and physical dysphoria or fear losing their jobs, homes, or families by stating who they truly are. Gender is a complicated and multi-faceted thing (as exhibited by the variety of portrayals of it in Good Omens). Pushing it all to “we’re all really the same” is just another dismissive gesture. And it is inexcusable when we have the first canon representation of a non-binary hero couple in what is supposed to be a supportive environment.
One panelist did bring attention to Pollution as a non-binary character. This was appreciated, especially as Pollution is the only character who uses they/them pronouns throughout the mini-series. It is worth noting, however, that pronouns do not necessarily indicate gender, and there are canonically twenty million non-binary angels and demons also present, a fact no panelist seemed to be aware of. However, it was at least an attempt to steer the conversation to LGBTQ+ representation before it was drowned out again.
Later in the panel, after the question specifically addressing the non-binary nature of the show, the panelists continued to ignore these themes. The archangel Gabriel was referred to as a cisgender man and the archangel Michael was referred to as female, when obviously, neither of those are true. I could not stand up and correct this from the audience, but had there been a trans or non-binary panelist the issue could have been addressed easily from the stage, and some otherwise excellent points could have been made without alienating anyone.
After all, Gabriel’s personality and gender presentation ARE reminiscent of cis men, and Michael IS a fascinating example of a non-binary character being portrayed via the combination of a female actor and a masculine character name. I’m sure this is what the panelists were trying to communicate, and they could clearly see it was what the audience wanted, but they lacked the collective knowledge and nuance to pull it off.
Not only were characters’ non-binary identities ignored — audience members’ non-binary identities were ignored as well. The moderator continually gendered people in the audience. I was misgendered as ma’am when I was called on. At the time, I was wearing a current era Crowley cosplay (masculine-presenting) complete with binder and gender affirming make up. I cannot change my body shape, but I can ask that those in charge of moderating a panel that is groundbreaking for the non-binary community use more care in their words at the very least.
Numerous other individuals were addressed as “Sir,” “Ma’am,” and my personal most cringe-worthy “Young lady.” I do not know if any of those individuals were misgendered as I do not know them personally. I do know that every single time the moderator opted to use those terms, I winced.
And this is why it’s so important to at the very least include a member of a marginalized community in the panelist guest list. I cannot stress how much more important it is when it is the first mass media representation of that marginalized group. The non-binary community is so underrepresented that it was a relief to come into the light for the first time with Good Omens. And it hurt when this panel seemed determined to shove us back into our corner.
Ultimately, we were given the gift of groundbreaking representation by Neil Gaiman and the rest of those involved with Good Omens. The fans appointed as panelists stepped into their roles without having spent enough time within the show fandom to even become aware of the gift, much less what it means to be non-binary.
Dragon Con is better than this. In the past, they have addressed issues swiftly and satisfactorily. I hope that this is a reminder to them to not let another marginalized group feel this way. What would have been a happy and fascinating panel about an amazing show instead turned into a largely off-topic discussion on how the book made people feel about their religion, with the few bright moments coming from LGBTQ+ audience members who shared their own stories.
Perhaps next year Dragon Con can host a Good Omens panel that includes non-binary panelists who are fully invested in a show that accurately portrays their life. I hope that those in charge in the Urban Fantasy track understand the importance of representation and why it matters both in our media and in discussions thereof. Or maybe the next Wonder Woman panel I attend will be run completely by men. Time will tell, but I am hopeful that Dragon Con can grow better.
Article Co-Written by Corellon Johnson
Author: Caspian Casillas
Caspian is a non-binary geek, cosplayer, traveler, and when need be accountant. They have been traveling full time in an RV since January 2018 and enjoying geek life and cosplay builds on the road. They own and manage Storybook World Travel, a Disney travel focused travel agency.
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