Introducing the Rainbow Guard

Welcome friends! I’m Sam, and among a thousand other things, I’m a lifelong fantasy nerd and a queer trans man. I love everything related to A Song of Ice and Fire, The Witcher, Lord of the Rings, and so many other book, film, and TV franchises, and I’m particularly interested in the depictions of gender and sexuality in them. My background is in literature and gender studies, where I’ve done lots of work in transgender theory, queering musical theatre, and the power of personal narrative.

I’m a huge believer in the idea that the personal is political and that to disengage parts of ourselves when we read a book or watch a show or study a text holds us back individually and as a culture. So when I’m reading something like ASOIAF, I’m approaching it from the point of view of someone who has lived in the closet, as someone who spent years wrestling with identity, as someone who has only recently started being referred to by my name. This type of marginalized subjectivity brings to light different points that a more straight-forward reading might miss.

Martin’s text lends itself to this sort of analysis; after all, struggles with identity form the core of so many of his character arcs. I’m interested in ASOIAF’s queer elements, from explicit same-sex relationships to cross-gender expression and everything in between. I’m interested in Westerosi hetero- and cisnormativity and the complicated relationship that characters have with those expectations. I’m interested in Westerosi archetypes (particularly the True Knight, the Good Queen, and the Princess in the Tower, as well as the Seven). I’m interested in the Westerosi institutions and how they disenfranchise those who don’t conform to gender and sexuality norms.

Donning the Rainbow Cloak

Which leads us to the Rainbow Guard: not this blog, but Renly Baratheon’s Rainbow Guard from whence I lovingly stole the name. Some people take this as a cheap shot at Renly’s sexuality¹—but to be completely honest, I love it. I think a lot of nuance can be read into the choice to adopt the rainbow as a primary symbol of his campaign.

The Kingsguard is traditionally clad in white cloaks and armor. Indeed, the color white becomes emblematic for the order: they are the White Cloaks, live in the White Tower, write their histories in the White Book. White symbolizes many things: purity, innocence, chastity. It’s a color easily stained, and we’ve seen those white cloaks stained, literally and figuratively, throughout ASOIAF and the accompanying texts.

While the white, much like the black of the Night’s Watch, serves to unify, to strip the knights of their former identities in a fundamental way and present them as one body in service of the king, the colors of the rainbow differentiate them as distinct, identifiable individuals. All seven of Renly’s guards wear the matching striped cloaks, but each individual member is associated with their own color. The entire visible color spectrum is represented in the rainbow, but when all the wavelengths are seen together, they produce white light.

Something as simple as modifying the dress code may seem superficial or even irrelevant in the face of war, something that Catelyn Stark no doubt dismissed with her “knights of summer” assessment, but this utilization of the rainbow metaphor signifies a queering of the institution itself.  It is a rejection of homogeneity, a recognition that values individual identity as an integral part of the collective rather than something that must be subsumed and forsaken to be integrated into the collective. This ideal can be seen in practice as well as theory in the departure from the Kingsguard’s traditional prohibition against holding lands: one of the members of the Rainbow Guard, Bryce Caron the Orange, is the lord of Nightsong and does not appear to have given up that rule for his spot in Renly’s guard.

This willingness to challenge time-honored traditions and societal norms is something that defined Renly’s short-lived campaign for the throne. After all, while the laws of inheritance in Westeros may be murky at best, it’s pretty clear that Renly doesn’t have a legal claim to the throne while his older brother Stannis lives. But Westeros’s male-preference primogeniture, in addition to seeing many cruel tyrants throughout history inherit the throne, is a system entirely based on heterosexual reproduction, one that disfavors women, queer people, and those unwilling or unable to have children.² I do not mean to imply that Renly’s motives for pursuing power were pure or idealistic. But for Renly to insert himself into an institution that doesn’t make space for him and people like him seems to me like a profoundly queer sort of audacity.

It is with that same queer audacity that I begin this blog. High fantasy remains primarily the domain of the heterosexual cisgender white men; I approach a literary canon that doesn’t make space for queer and trans people and insert myself in it nonetheless. I will be reading queer themes into texts where authors may not have intended them, reading characters as queer who straight readers perceive as straight by default. I challenge you: don your rainbow cloak and join me.

Endnotes

  1. George has gone on record as saying he did not intend the Rainbow Guard to be a comment on Renly’s sexuality; regardless of his intent, I think its metaphoric value cannot be overstated, not as a jibe toward his sexuality but as a treatise on the expansive, inclusive nature of queerness. 
  2. For more thoughts on Renly Baratheon and his Rainbow Guard, listen to me discuss this with Ian Thomas Malone when she graciously invited me on her podcast Estradiol Illusions for The Peaches of Renly Baratheon episode.

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