Yes, Finn/Rey is heteronormative, but not all straight romances are created equal.
In the case of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we’re seeing a potential interracial relationship develop between a black man and a white woman–and although this idea has its own set of complex issues, the fact that it’s heteronormative isn’t my main concern.
Besides commentary about Finn’s supposed cowardliness (which is a different rant for another time), I’ve seen some about how Finn/Rey lack chemistry plus they’re het, therefore they’re boring. The arguments are curiously similar to complaints that arise when black female characters are potential love interests in any relationships. I’ve been trying to parse why these comments irritate me and I think the problem is that this discourse feels very limiting, because while het relationships are normalised, het relationships between a black person and a white person aren’t viewed the same as het relationships between two white people.
Black men in mainstream media are often portrayed as the following tropes: exaggerations of stereotypical male behaviour, fetishised/hypersexualised mandingos, or desexualised gentle magical negroes (and these are issues that I’ve seen ignored in mainstream feminist discourse and in lgbtq discourse). Black male characters aren’t always like Finn, who is well-rounded; fearful, yet brave, gentle, but strong, earnest and a total goofball at the same time. He’s the antithesis of a tertiary smooth-talking walking racial stereotype.
There could have been scenes that portrayed Finn as overtly dominant, aggressive, and angry. There could have been scenes that framed his emotions and his masculinity as threatening while framing white male masculinity and aggression as perfectly normal. But Star Wars: TFA manages to elude these frustrating depictions. I didn’t feel any overwhelming discomfort about Finn’s characterisation. I didn’t feel like there was a glaring white gaze killing my enjoyment of him, and it’s almost sad to say that relief washed over me as I walked out of the theatre because of this.
TFA also avoids framing Finn as either undesirable or lecherous.
Now, by virtue of Star Wars being a family franchise, it’s unlikely that there’ll ever be scenes that sexually objectify Finn, but I still appreciate that I won’t have to squirm at commentary about his penis size. I won’t have to roll my eyes at Rey dating him just to piss off her parents. I won’t have to listen to her wax poetic about his chocolate skin. I won’t have to sit through scenes where he’s got no speaking lines, but he’s walking around shirtless in a loincloth while everyone else is clothed. I won’t have to cringe at discussions amongst the guys about Rey’s appealing whiteness in comparison to dark-skinned women. I won’t have to rage at attempts to demonise black women by having them sneer in Finn/Rey’s direction with added commentary about white women stealing our men.
There are so many gross stereotypes and portrayals of interracial relationships between black men and white women, and I have so many negative associations due to that, but a potential relationship between Finn and Rey is so appealing to me despite the negative baggage.
It’s appealing because Finn isn’t objectified and dehumanised for the sake of the white audience. He simply exists in this world without his race affecting people’s perception of him–without his race affecting Rey’s perception of him. They have a relationship that so far is built on sharing similar painful experiences, and having a mutual respect and affection for each other. Rey isn’t a trophy for Finn and Finn isn’t some sort of exotic exploit for Rey. Their bond has this indescribable warmth and sweetness, and conjures the same sort of feeling hearing “I love you,” “I know” inspired in me as a kid.
I sincerely hope that fandom starts digging beyond the surface. I hope that we consider Finn’s unique position as a black male protagonist in a major scifi franchise when writing/discussing his relationships with his potential love interests instead of dismissing them as fulfilling the status quo.