When Irvine based multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and TV fan Jenna Mason-Brase was fourteen she fell in love with a teen drama called Pretty Little Liars. The show was full of gripping drama and excitement, but more than its YA storylines, Mason-Brase was drawn to its four strong female main characters, one of whom, Emily, was queer. Excited to finally see a character on TV she could relate to, Mason-Brase tuned in week after week following Emily’s adventures, including her relationship with a young queer woman Maya, one of the first queer characters Mason-Brase got to know, and unfortunately watch get murdered before her full story line could develop. The tragedy crushed young Mason-Brase and many other queer girls coming of age watching Pretty Little Liars in Orange County and all over the world.
“Queer women have been getting killed off television for a long time,” says Mason-Brase, a young, well articulated woman who definitely serves old soul vibes, “this year a string of deaths had our community crushed, but also determined to make our voices heard.” TV writers killing off queer women characters at disproportionately high rates is apparently A THING and has become a seriously contested issue in fandom communities. It’s drawing outrage from fans who are calling for fair representation of queer characters, and are questioning the use of violence in their narratives at such higher rates than non queer, non women characters.
Maya’s death was the first of many executions of the tired trope Mason-Brase was exposed to, and has since fought against through her music and art, a conversation that will certainly take place at an event Mason-Brase is co-hosting this weekend: the LGBTQ+ Comic Con Fan Meet Up this Sunday, July 24th, at Upstart Crow Bookstore and Coffee House in Downtown San Diego.
Mason-Brase has become an underground phenomenon in fandom circles because of her pop infused music inspired by character storylines, landing her a feature by BBC America, and countless likes, reposts, and shares. But her music-fandom legacy started when she was a bright eyed eight year old after watching Peter Pan.
“For years I wrote songs about characters that I didn’t share, or that I had future plans to share without revealing what inspired me to write them,” says Mason-Brase. She primarily writes about queer characters, but also platonic relationships, siblings, identity, and depression that characters experience. Fandom folks make up almost all of Mason-Brase’s fan base, and much of her music is a result of what fans request through sites like Tumblr, a website that has served as a space for many teens and young adults to find and create community. “It can be very strange when someone finds my music randomly online and likes it, only later to discover the song is about an alien or a clone or something. I’d write these songs whether people cared about them or not.”
This past March, a fan favorite and queer woman named Lexa was killed off a popular CW show called The 100. Her death caused an outrage, mostly because it felt so unnecessary to fans, Lexa was the commander of an entire empire, but was killed by a stray bullet in what felt like a marginal moment in an episode where she finally reunited with her girlfriend, a moment LGBTQ fans had been waiting for.
“It affected my friends more than I’ve ever seen a story affect them,” says Mason-Brase, who was moved to write a song about both the tragic death and the response to it, which culminated in a lyric video put together by Mason-Brase and her fans from all over the world. She knew her involvement couldn’t end with just a video, so she got the ball rolling on creating a meetup for queer fans at Comic Con. “My goal with the meetup is to create a safe and celebratory space for queer fans to come, meet each other, have fun, and celebrate themselves.”
Mason-Brase believes that LGBTQ fans at this year’s comic con are feeling more hurt and marginalized than usual. “Many of us feel betrayed. We’ve been hurt by our favorite shows, and by the deadly tropes they’ve chosen to write into our favorite character’s story lines.” But even though many are feeling ostracized, Mason-Brase feels optimistic about the potential for LGBTQ community through fandom. It all starts with the commitment to making their discrimination heard in a way that will get some real, lasting attention. After all, picking up a guitar and singing out the pain has worked for plenty of other movements—why not this one?
“We may not have a fandom or a show to call our favorite right now, but we do have each other. We’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, non binary, and queer individuals who have pride, strength, and a lot of heart.”
LGBTQ+ Comic Con Fan Meet Up this Sunday, July 24th, at Upstart Crow Bookstore and Coffee House in Downtown San Diego, Seaport Village, 835 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101. 1-4 PM, All Ages, free.