Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Queer Icon (Part 3)

Part 3:
Lara and the gay guys

Given how Tomb Raider seemed to be exclusively marketed at the laddish FHM crowd for years – with cleavage shots and cheesecake poses the order of the day – it seems rather ironic that hetero sex symbol Lara Croft ended up emerging as an icon for queer men.

Why was this the case?

As already mentioned in Part 1, Lara has chosen the outsider’s path. Hell, she gets called “outsider” repeatedly in the 2013 game. Not only does she blatantly, and continually, disregard definitions of ladylike behaviour (discussed in Part 2), she proves that heroes don’t have to be the embodiment of heterosexual masculinity – a sentiment that queer men are sure to support as much as queer women. Given that queer men are positioned similarly in terms of society's “what makes a real man” expectations, it's easy for them to admire the adventurer’s shrug-it-off, rebellious attitude. Lara lives her life with style and without apology.

Take this quote from Professor David J. Leonard, extracted from a very good Huffington Post article on gay male identification with female characters and stars:
The women often said to be icons are most certainly women who don't necessarily fit the script of femininity and sexual appeal within media culture. These women challenge and refuse to fit into this sort of commodity culture. They enter into media culture through their own script, their own definition of self. I think these qualities are celebrated and admired, especially within communities that are also depicted and treated as outsiders, as undesirable, and not "normative."
Put most simply, queer male fans identify with Lara and her consciously unorthodox positioning – womanly but also distinctly not womanly at the same time.

At this point it's worth noting that several of the men interviewed for this Tomb Raider piece explicitly stated that they feel closer to women – supporting the theory that queer males align more closely with the female sex... probably because they are also a traditionally non-macho, frequently marginalised group.

It’s like Jason Croft, in the UK, says:
Ever since the first game I have admired badass female characters a lot more than male ones. I feel like I identify with females more than my own gender in general.
Keaton, in the US, adds.
I love Lara Croft because she is just such a powerful, intelligent, and beautiful woman. I think I was drawn to her as a kid because I loved the princesses in Disney and suchlike, so it was easy for me to love a female character who was also able to kick ass. I've always been able to connect with women a lot easier than men, fictional and real, so Lara was such a huge icon and inspiration for me.
Just as with queer female fans, queer male fans see Lara Croft predominantly as a figure of admiration and motivation. They certainly aren’t intimidated or challenged by her power as some heterosexual male gamers reportedly are. “Badass” and “kickass” were adjectives that dominated interviews for this article; and the term “role model” was used a lot, as the following sampling shows.

Andrew, in Scotland:
I think what drew me to her at first was just how badass she was, she was so strong and confident; a perfect role model. Also I really liked the way she looked, her outfit and the gun holsters, I thought (and still continue to think) they're awesome! and to answer the "Why Lara Croft?" part - I guess because she's just been there my whole life, an escape from reality but also a really big part of my reality in a way, I still idolize her to this day.
Cody, in the US:
I was young, growing up in a destructive household, I had an alcoholic mother who was never there for me, and in ways, Lara Croft served as the woman role model in my life. Lara served as my catalyst… I never really was able to see it like that as a child, but now that I look back, I genuinely believe that I was drawn to Lara at such a young age because my mother's role in my life was absent. Lara was, and still is, everything that I want to be, even as a male. Strong, brave, healthy, courageous, intelligent, and stalwart.
Charles, in Honduras:
I don't mean this in a stereotypical way, but simply an observation that most gay men are very passionate (when it comes to) and appreciate strong women. Lara's driven, she's in control, brave, fearless, beautiful, highly intelligent and determined, she also doesn't rely on a partner to help her through things and I think that those elements together make the perfect role model, with the edge/excitement/rush that comes along.
It’s probably worth pointing out that many of the queer men interviewed reiterated that their appreciation of Lara Croft is entirely about her personality – “Lara the person” – as opposed to her physical attributes. They evidently differentiate their response to that of straight men, who may view the video game heroine largely in terms of her overt, and ample, sex symbol qualities.

Here’s Jason again:
… I certainly never thought Lara was extremely sexy. Though she was a beautiful woman, I was never drawn to her impossible physique. I didn't drool over her chest, I just saw her for a person. I don't think she influenced my sexuality, just made me respect women more in a non-sexual way.
Raymond, in the US, comments:
I don't think Lara has had an impact on my sexuality per se, but she has made me a tougher person which has helped me with certain expected obstacles in my life. Though as a gay man I was able to appreciate Lara for Lara, she was more than just a figure and big boobs...
Keaton, in the US, sums up this point nicely:
… I never objectified Lara as many who are attracted to women probably would because of her killer looks, and I never had a sort of crush on her. I respected her like I would a role model or even a great friend, so I think this was a major factor in realizing that I was gay.
Returning to the Huffington Post article on gay male fandoms, this comment from Professor Heather Love seems of additional relevance to Lara Croft and her devoted queer male following:
[O]ne can analyze this attraction [to female icons] in terms of what these figures represent: a highly stylized femininity and toughness combined with abjection, a kind of overexposed and highly theatrical situation of longing and self-making.
A strikingly beautiful, hyper-female appearance? A formidable personality? A softer core and hurt hidden deep beneath a sneering ice queen exterior? Lara Croft ticks all of these boxes – even though her secret softer side has only been more pronounced since Crystal Dynamics took the franchise reigns with the release of Tomb Raider: Legend in 2006.

Now, of course, there are more than fifty shades of gay, and being drawn to female characters – particularly whose gender attributes receive a cartoonishly extreme treatment at times – does not mean that we can adopt the clichéd thinking that all queer men specifically want to be women themselves. It’s more about valuing and appreciating female qualities as opposed to their masculine equivalent.

Alex, in Canada, offers a non-binary perspective:
Here was a woman who, while definitely not afraid of her femininity, wore combat boots and military clothes and wore her weapons as proudly as she did her make-up. A lot of badass female characters give me the impression that they're cool because they do things like men do, but Lara never did. Lara wore her guns differently than the men she fought, she took different strategies, all in all did things better because she actively took different methods than all the men did, if that makes sense.
She taught me that I don't have to abandon the things that deemed me feminine by society, that femininity can be a useful asset, and that even if I'm in one of my more masculine phases, that I don't have to feel like my femininity is a weakness.
Female Illusionist Sapphire Bleu-Valentine, in the US, adds:
I have always been enthralled with feminine heroines and the idea that a woman can be a hero. As a female illusionist, I’d admire all things feminine and for me, feminine is POWER and STRENGTH. That is what I admire greatly in Lara Croft's character.

Rule 63 "Lawrence Croft". Source: ihaslemons

Lara Croft is perpetually a figure of difference. And that difference is liberating. So the Tomb Raider (Classic version especially) is free to be both an accomplished action hero, and a gorgeous woman who conducts herself with a sassy attitude and style that are distinctly non-masculine. The two aspects aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, together, they make her more formidable – devastatingly competent even. Unstoppable.

This successful combination of "contrasting" qualities is a big part of Lara’s appeal for queer fans. She shows what can be achieved by embracing all aspects of your personality. And given that behind the flamboyance of handstand ledge ascents and swan dives we get glimpses of her humanity, the character emerges as the full package deal.  To queer male fans, Lara Croft is the perfect woman – the perfect person – even if she is not "normal" society's definition of such.

Let’s leave it to Joshua and Charles to conclude.

Joshua B, USA:
[Classic Lara] does things with the elegant, posh finesse of an Englishwoman and manages to come out on top every time. She knows she’s attractive but doesn’t use that to get what she wants. She’s confident, beautiful, fearless, and sexy. She isn’t just some stone-cold badass, either; she has a wonderfully kind side and always wants to make sure genuinely good people can come out safely, like with the Russian general in Tomb Raider V, or the Australian soldier in Tomb Raider III.
Charles, Honduras:
Lara's clearly a sex symbol, but I personally don't think that it's a defining thing in Lara's case, because of the strong aura that she oozes naturally, it's a sense of power, confidence, self-esteem and stability and I find that very attractive in a person, and something that I put into practice simply because it works and It makes me feel great.
Also combat boots are hot, haha!

Next up:
Part 4: The question of Lara’s sexuality

Also read:
Part 1: “You become who you’re meant to be.”
Part 2: Lara and the ladies


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