In Defense of Finn/Poe

[Star Wars spoilers ahead]

Having now seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens four times in eight days, I’m thoroughly obsessed with the movie and have become fascinated by the growing ranks of Finn/Poe shippers: fans, many of them queer, who create art and fiction depicting the film’s two male protagonists as partners, and who hope that Episode VIII might make the pairing canonical.

It’s about time for a Star Wars film to have queer protagonists, just like it was about time for it to have non-white/non-male protagonists (and in this it succeeded, splendidly).

However, I’ve seen a lot of negative responses to this idea, such as “But it’s OBVIOUS they’re just friends” and “Why do you [gays] have to insert sex into everything” and “Why can’t you just let them be friends?”


First of all, it’s worth noting that while queer shippers are always catching flak online for “reading too much into” presumably platonic same-sex situations or “making it all about sex” when it “clearly” isn’t, straight people rarely get criticized for doing the same thing–not just when interacting with fictional worlds, but in the real one, too. If you’ve ever heard a straight person go “OooOOOOOooo is that your boyfriend?” to an 8-year-old girl playing with an 8-year-old boy from the house next door, or “He’s going to be such a ladies’ man!” about an infant boy making cooing sounds at a few baby girls, you know what I’m talking about. How’s that for reading too much into things?

Beyond that, though, straight people–and to some extent queer people, since we get socialized the same way–tend to expect heterosexual pairings in fictional stories whether the signs are necessarily there or not. And they often are, because the people who create those stories also expect those pairings to be there, and they expect that the presence of those pairings will make the stories sell better. That’s why you rarely encounter a movie that does not include any heterosexual sex or romance, whether that movie is about aliens, robots, spies, superheroes, 18th century England, 21st century New York City, or what have you.

The constant ridicule and derision of queer shippers online neatly parallels real-world claims that queer people are “pushing their sexuality” on others. “I’m fine with gay people, but why do they have to shove it in my face?” is a common complaint when queer people do anything other than be silent and invisible. Online and off, good little queers don’t make any mention of same-sex romance or eroticism, and they certainly don’t hope out loud that two characters in a popular film turn out to be queer.

Second, a lot of straight people don’t realize that the beginnings of romance or sexual attraction between two queer people often do look like “just friendship,” because it’s often not safe for us to express ourselves any other way. Being obvious about our interest exposes us to outing, ridicule, bullying, and even physical violence (especially for men, people of color, and trans people). If queer people don’t occasionally read “more” into otherwise-platonic gestures and expressions, we’d probably never find any partners. If you want to know more about this and how complicated it can be, read this Autostraddle article.

So, queer people are constantly in a double-bind. If we avoid trying to read between the lines and always interpret others’ friendly behavior towards us as merely platonic, we’ll pretty much be forever alone. If we do read more into it, we risk ridicule and worse. That’s why it comes across as more than a little insulting and irrelevant when straight people criticize queer people for “reading too much into things.”

(I just want to state for the record that at this point, some queer person over the age of 30 usually shows up and belittles me because they’ve got this figured out and it’s “obviously” so simple, but rest assured that for most of us, especially when we’re still young, surrounded by straight people, and/or newly out, it’s really not simple or easy at all. But guess what, queer people are not a monolith.)

A great example of this in action is the eventual pairing of Korra and Asami from The Legend of Korra. Plenty of queer women saw the signs, but most straight people seemed to be totally shocked when the relationship was confirmed as canon. Some even reacted angrily and accused the creators of pandering to the queer community with this unrealistic development. Yet to us, it didn’t feel unrealistic at all.

Aside from rare examples like Korrasami, queer people are very aware, thank you, that we don’t get any representation in most fictional works (and that when we do, it’s usually marginal and/or negative). A lot of the folks enthusiastically shipping Poe and Finn do not really believe that the pairing will ever be canonical, but for them, it’s a fun sort of escapism anyway. Do you have any idea how condescending you sound when you interrupt with “Come on, they’re obviously just friends”? You might as well burst into the theater on opening night shouting “BUT YOU GUYS, JEDIS AND LIGHTSABERS AREN’T ACTUALLY REAL.” Thanks, Captain Obvious of the Imperial Star Destroyer Ruining Everyone’s Fun Forever.

(Yet, a universe in which people with mind-control powers can shoot lightning out of their fingers and use laser-swords made out of magical crystals to block laser blasts is easier for some people to grok than the idea that queer people might exist in it.)

So, sure, based on the material in The Force Awakens, Finn and Poe might be headed towards a romantic relationship (or a one-sided crush, maybe on Poe’s end) or they might be headed towards a deep platonic bond. Poe might be sexually attracted to Finn or he might just admire his bravery, ability, and sense of right and wrong (as well as being pretty grateful to him for saving him from the First Order). Finn might be falling for Poe or he might be starting to love him as a friend, the first friend he ever had, the first person to ever look at him as a human being and not as a programmed killer, the first person to give him a real name. Poe might have given Finn his jacket to keep because Finn looks sexy in it, or because he’s grateful and wants Finn to feel like a part of the Resistance.

Or…it could be all of the above.

Because here’s the truth that all of this ultimately reveals: even for straight people, romance and friendship are not all that different. They are not mutually exclusive categories. The hints and signs of one may be the hints and signs of the other. One may grow out of the other, and although it more often goes in one direction than the other, a passionate romance can, in fact, transform into a deep platonic connection. It has happened to me. It’s probably happened to more people than you think.

When you look at it that way, Finn/Rey–the “obvious” romantic pairing that people always use to try to disprove the possibility of a Finn/Poe pairing–is neither so obvious nor so inevitable. If Finn and Rey were of the same gender, or if we lived in a backwards world in which queerness was the norm and straightness was the weird anomaly, we would find plenty of ways to read their relationship as purely platonic. (Just like we currently find ways to read two women making out or fucking as “just gals being pals.”) Finn asking Rey if she has a “cute boyfriend” would be an obvious sign of jealousy–not of her boyfriend, but of her. Finn grabbing Rey’s hand would “obviously” be because he’s trying to help her run away and that’s how people always help each other run away in the holovids he grew up watching. Rey’s horror and fury when she thinks that Kylo has killed Finn? Well, obviously, they’re close friends and anyone would be horrified and furious if someone murdered their close friend. Hell, she even calls him “my friend” in the last scene she has with him, where he’s lying unconscious at the Resistance base. “My friend”! How much more obvious can you get?

Finn’s behavior towards Rey might also be familiar to any queer person who has ever tried to convince themselves (consciously or otherwise) that they’re actually straight, any queer person who took a while to figure out that they’re queer. Think about it: Finn grew up brainwashed by an evil, violent regime that demanded complete conformity. I doubt he saw many queer male role models there. He sees a beautiful girl (yes, queer people are able to notice and appreciate beauty in people of genders they’re not into) and thinks, “This is how a man behaves with a beautiful woman.” As we’ve seen, Finn is not at all immune to some (adorable) macho posturing now and then.

Again, that’s just one reading. Another is that Finn is bisexual. Maybe he’ll end up interested in both Rey and Poe, and there will be a painful love triangle. Or maybe they’ll be poly and there won’t be. Maybe Rey is a lesbian. Maybe Finn is a sappy romantic asexual. Who knows? Isn’t it fascinating?

The reason it’s so ambiguous right now isn’t (just) because the film’s creators want to build tension and curiosity for the next film. It’s also because the line between romance and friendship is itself ambiguous. True, in many movies–especially ones centered on more on romance and less on space battles–it’s made very blatant and obvious, because that creates drama and is more interesting for (some) moviegoers. People like to see the sexy [person of their preferred gender(s)] who clearly and obviously comes on to someone who could be them. People like the black-and-whiteness, the reassurance that romance always looks this particular way and you can’t miss it. It’s a fantasy as much as Jedis and lightsabers are; we’re just lulled into thinking it isn’t because the characters look like us (especially if we are white and conventionally attractive) and the settings look like places we’ve seen or heard about.

But back here in the real world, romance and sexual attraction don’t always announce themselves like stormtroopers raiding a village on Jakku. (Thankfully.) Sometimes it looks exactly like Finn and Poe in that movie, whatever the gender combination. Other times it looks more like Finn and Rey, or Han and Leia, or, hell, R2D2 and C-3PO. (I think, though, we can all agree that it almost never looks like Anakin and Padme.)

And back here in the real world, romance and sexual attraction can be very much not-obvious, especially when it happens in ways that are stigmatized and erased all the time. Yes, you can go years without realizing that your best friend is in love with you. You can, in fact, go years without realizing that you’re in love with your best friend. (Been there.) You can convince yourself that you’re not attracted to them, you’re just admiring them for their “objective” beauty. (Been there too.) You can tell yourself you’re jealous of their new partner because you miss spending that much time with them, not because you want to be their new partner. 

You can also choose not to act on feelings that you have. Two people can want to fuck each other and yet not fuck. Two people can be in love and yet not date. And this can be okay, and they can be happy with the friendship that they have without always regretting not having “given it a chance.” Sex and romance are not as inevitable and unstoppable as the movies make them seem, and for many people, they aren’t even the primary focus of their interpersonal lives.

Even if Finn and Poe don’t end up together in those ways, even if the rest of their on-screen relationship continues to look only like cinema’s most adorable bromance, that doesn’t actually mean they’re not sexually attracted to each other and/or in love. Or maybe it does. Who knows?

And while there will always be a canonical Finn and a canonical Poe, fans still get to do whatever they want with those characters in their own art and fiction. “Canon” doesn’t mean “real” because none of these characters or stories are real. People made them up. Other people are free to make them up in different ways, to have gay Poe and bi Finn and lesbian Rey and Han who didn’t actually die (sobbing) and Kylo who comes back to the Light Side (or doesn’t) and Captain Phasma who meets and falls in love with General Organa but doesn’t want to desert her cause (or does).

That’s why I’ve got no beef with anyone who simply says, “I see Poe and Finn as just friends.” (And I can’t complain about a movie centered in part on a close friendship between two men of color.) By all means, see them however you like!  But don’t act like seeing them as lovers or partners is somehow ridiculous or empirically inaccurate. Guys, it’s a story. We threw out any notion of empirical accuracy the moment the famous blue words appeared on the screen: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”


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In Defense of Finn/Poe
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16 thoughts on “In Defense of Finn/Poe

  1. 1

    Shippers are accused of “reading too much into things”? That’s hilarious. Isn’t that pretty much the definition of a shipper?

    Actually, what I find odd about the complaints you speak of is that they seem to assume shipping queer relationships implies you’re queer. Most of the people I’ve seen who ship male/male romances are straight women. I don’t know why anyone would assume male/male shippers are queer themselves. Considering how common it is for straight men to fantasize about lesbian relationships, I find it rather odd that people don’t consider the opposite.

    1. 1.1

      Yeah, there is also that. I do think that for many (though not all) male/male shippers, there is a sort of investment in queer representation in media that the detractors find silly or irrelevant, like, “who cares what their sexual orientation is?”

  2. AMM

    Back when the Hunger Games books were coming out, I got into a brief disagreement on a blog with someone who was convinced that Katniss’s feelings towards Gale and Peeta were romantic. I tried to point out that someone who has spent basically her whole life in imminent danger of dying and trying to keep her loved ones from dying is not likely to be thinking about romance, but got nowhere. The trope that all stories are about (heterosexual) romance trumped everything.

  3. 4

    There was a census on AO3 (Fanfiction platform) which I found verx interesting.


    Especially this part:

    Heterosexual Female Slash Fans – Of M/M fans surveyed, 25-36% were both heterosexual and female.
    M/M Fans: Sexuality and Gender – The largest demographic in M/M fandom is bi/pansexual women.

  4. 5

    I am so tired of the angst of the people who write slash complaining that other people are somehow trying to make them or shame them into not writing m/m or f/f or some other combination besides m/f. As long as slash has been written in fandoms – and I’m old enough that I remember fan fiction before slash (I’m pretty sure it was the summer of 1972 when the first rumors of someone using scenes from the TV show ‘proving’ that Kirk and Spock were lovers started circulating) and when Mary Sue had no name (Paula Smith named her around 1973) – the vast, vast majority of fact fic stories being written have been slash.

    Are the Finn/Poe slashers going to start complaining that some has written mpreg or alpha/omega stories about their favorite basic m/m ship and be all upset about it as being uncanonical, too? Will Poe not make the next battle because Kylo is afraid for their baby Poe is carrying? Or maybe Luke has been hiding out raising the child(ren) he had by Snokes to keep them from the Dark Side. Is it a touching love story of light side/dark side relationships or was Luke raped? My mind is blanking on an alpha/omega plot, but I’m sure that somewhere someone is writing one as I type.

    To paraphrase Yoda: Read it or do not read it. There is no complaining about someone else’s taste in fic.

    As of 12/17/15 noon, there are already 44 stories on AO3, most of them shipping Poe and Finn and Rey in some combination.

    And there are pages and page of new TFA stories in The Pit of Voles.. er… fan (which doesn’t provide a convenient count in their search function)

  5. 7

    Maybe angst is too strong a word but, Miri, people ship and slash EVERY possible relationship. To expect any characters to be exempt from it is just naive. Heck, there are pieces out there where John Adams proves to Thomas Jefferson (in perfect scansion and stage directions from the 1776 script) that not all men are created equal. (nudge, wink)

    If anyone is pearl clutching about a Finn/Poe ship… what rocks have they been hiding under for the last 40 years? If anyone is wondering if they can/should ship Finn/Poe/Rey/Kylo/Chewie/the list goes on… again, this is not new territory in SW fandom.

    My take on a breathless or anxious anyone’s “what if Finn likes Poe?” is “well, d’oh.” And if anyone standup and defends their interpretation with an indignant ‘how dare anyone assume that Finn and Poe can’t be shipped!” – again, d’oh. What rock have they been under? People ship and slash characters all the time in much more improbable combinations and have been doing it for many, many years.

  6. 10

    This reminds me of the silliness that followed when JK Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay. Since Dumbledore’s queerness had nothing to do with the storyline, I didn’t really see the point in her announcing it, nor did I see any reason to protest her announcing it. It all just seemed very contrived, at least to me.

    I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with people writing fan fiction about or even just theorizing about these two characters being gay, because it’s only natural for queer people to want to see queer relationships represented in their favorite films. I know I got all excited when it looked at though Clair in Heroes was going to have a relationship with her roommate Gretchen, and I was disappointed when nothing really came of it, ’cause that would have been really sweet.

    But um… I also think people are reading too much into it. For one thing, Disney is not about to make a movie with a gay couple in it – at least, not yet. We just aren’t yet at the point where “family entertainment” is going to espouse anything other than conservative “family values”. For another thing, I saw nothing in the movie that would at all suggest the characters were into each other, and when a movie plot is going in that direction, there are *always* hints when one person has a romantic crush on the other. The audience is let in on it though dialog, innuendo, longing looks shared between the characters, and so on. In Adventure Time, for example, it was pretty obvious that Princess Bubblegum had a romantic history with Marceline.

    I’m of the mind that it’s a bit silly to see gay relationships around every corner, and I think its more out of wishful thinking that anything else; but neither do I blame people for wanting it to happen. It will be really nice when we will get GLBT characters as a matter of course, instead of having them inserted into plots as an afterthought, or only as a way to appeal to the GLBT market.

  7. 11

    I feel torn on Finn/Poe. On the one hand, I can see that that kind of queer representation would be fantastic. But on the other hand I’m like, “Argh, can’t they be friends; how often have I ever seen a male friendship portrayed as based on open, honest admiration for each other and not insulting each other and making jokes about women?” Because I think that answer is never, though I admit I don’t see a lot of movies/TV shows.

    When I think about it I keep coming back to an article that I think was on Mary Sue, about Black Widow’s movie plot and how it was kinda problematic but mostly just because there aren’t that many women who *get* plots, so it’s hard not to reinforce some stereotype or other. More stories = more opportunities so you’re not left with one character bearing the burden of Representing Women. At least that’s what I took away from the article.

    So that’s where I go back to with Poe and Finn; there just ought to be more stories so we can have queer Star Wars heroes *and* respectful, supportive friendships on-screen. (Seriously, I know guys in real-life friendships that treat each other great, but I can’t think of any I’ve seen in films where there’s not some kind of rivalry or power imbalance or just plain “guys just show affection by being jerks to each other, right?”-ness.)

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