“Who Cares if Daryl Dixon is Gay?” Isn’t Exactly What I Meant

As I mentioned earlier this week, I recently guest hosted on “The Walking Dead’Cast” podcast with Jason and Karen. We discussed Season Five, Episode 8, the midseason finale. One topic that came up, almost in passing, was the fact that Robert Kirkman announced that one of the most admired and fawned over characters is straight. That’s right, Kirkman definitely stated that the sexy crossbow wielding, hog-riding, emotionally brooding with super strong shoulders and a mysteriously gravely voice character, Daryl Dixon, is not gay. When I said, “Who Cares?” I meant, “thank goodness we can stop debating that fact.” What I meant was, “it wouldn’t upset me if he was gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, or any other category out there. I Iike the character un-shipped.” I don’t watch “The Walking Dead” for the romantic storyline possibilities. I am a fan because the show, at it’s core, is story of human drama and survival when all that is familiar in the world is gone.

In fact, I find it more interesting to leave Daryl Dixon’s sexual orientation in an ambiguous state. Daryl Dixon is clearly driven by caring about his group. He’s fiercely loyal to Rick, Carol, Carl, Michonne and the rest of the core group. And he’s wrestling with the horrible childhood experience of being abused, both physically and emotionally. I would rather see Daryl Dixon continue to grow and mature into emotional stability than to have the writers try to “ship” him on the show.

However, a fan wrote in and called out “who cares if Daryl Dixon is gay” and made me realized I should have stated why it matters if Daryl Dixon is gay on the podcast. I work in the field of Diversity and Inclusion to create space for people to bring their full selves to the workplace and for organizations to be brave enough to allow differences to be leveraged, respected and valued to bring innovation and creativity to businesses. So, thank you to the listener who gave me a swift kick in my ass and compelled me to leave my day job office and thumb-type this blog post.

Actually, if you consider how much Daryl Dixon’s character has grown, you will realize that HE knows “who cares”. Daryl is not a comic book character so the possibilities are endless with his development. Consider his redneck racist attitude when he was one of the Dixon Brothers in Season One. Daryl closed himself off emotionally to everyone except Merle. He also called Glenn “Chinese”. Glenn is Korean and he spat back that fact at Daryl. Season One Daryl didn’t give a crap about the details of what ethnicity anyone is, least of all this Korean American stranger, baseball hat wearing, ex pizza delivery guy named Glenn. Fast forward to Season Three, Episode Ten “Home”, when Daryl tries to convince Merle to join Rick’s group. Merle flatly states that he knows he won’t be welcome and says, “I can’t go with you! I tried to kill that black bitch. Damn near killed that Chinese kid.” Daryl replies, “He’s Korean.” Understanding that differences make a difference was a learning that Daryl Dixon had between Season One and Season Three of the show. I would bet good money that Daryl understands why it matters if Daryl Dixon is gay.

One of the hardest things to understand about diversity is that there is value in recognizing  differences. Different perspectives bring different thinking and can inspire new ideas and innovative breakthroughs. If we all think and look the same, what a boring existence that would be. And to complicate diversity even more, we have to realize one point of view is not superior to the other. Diversity and inclusion is about leaving space for both/and thinking and rejecting either/or polarization.

What does that have to do with Daryl Dixon being gay? For LGBT fans who watch “The Walking Dead” having one of the beloved main characters be openly gay and accepted by the rest of the main group would be a huge win. Seeing someone like you on TV leaves space for validation. So many people who are different feel shame because of their difference when the mainstream rejects or marginalized them. Why should a Gen X straight Asian American single mom working in Corporate America care if Daryl Dixon is gay? Because I started watching the show when I heard that the Korean American character on the show did not subscribe to typical stereotypes. I could see myself in one of the main characters on this show and now I’m a fan who podcasts and blogs about it. The same logic could follow with an LGBT viewer watching a gay Daryl Dixon kicking ass on the show. That’s why me saying “who cares if Daryl Dixon is gay!?” on the podcast was a lazy statement. Shame on me for not standing up and being an ally to the LGBT community. And thank you to the fan who wrote in to call us out.

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