Coming Out of the Airlock

When James Corden’s character told the Doctor in a recent episode of Doctor Who that he could, if he wanted, bring boyfriends round to stay, for one fleeting moment it looked as if the good Doctor may have been about to come out of the closet.

He didn’t of course, and of all the characters in a major TV science fiction shows the Doctor isn’t high on the list of those likely to be coming out. However it did serve to highlight one stark omission from the otherwise egalitarian world of Science Fiction TV and film – the openly and actively gay male character.

It wouldn’t be biggest shock to the Sci-Fi world if the new Doctor was gay. This, after all, is the series that gave us Captain Jack, bisexual (sorry, omni-sexual) and loving it, and now a main character in his own right in Torchwood. With several characters in the Welsh valleys being bisexual, British mainstream TV, it seems, is happy to go at least go some of the way. 

Lesbianism, too, is well represented in TV and film. Understandably perhaps, with a predominantly male fan base, who can blame production companies for adding a little girl on girl action to steam up the screens and the after-airing chat rooms?

Cultural diversity is covered and well represented, with aliens of all creeds and colours representing the inclusive society of the intergalactic federations, empires and dominions. The bridge of the original Star Trek was a human cultural melting pot; fast forward to the Next Generation and the Russian, the Oriental and the African American where replaced with Androids, Klingons and Bajorans.

The fear of the gay man doesn’t seem to affect other genres of our geek world. Horror has repeatedly shown that it has nothing to fear from homosexuality. In particular the world of the vampire is filled with homo-erotica. Understandably, perhaps, as it’s hard to ignore the connotations of an older man penetrating the flesh of a young, handsome male. Perhaps not in the abstinent world of Twilight, but Anne Rice’s work, for example is littered with men who practice the love that dare not speak its name.

Even comics are in on the act. There is a gay X-Man, the Young Avengers boasted a gay couple very much in love. Even the comic hero of the moment, Scott Pilgrim shares a house and a bed with a gay man.

Other forms of Science Fiction aren’t afraid to broach the subject either, with a plethora of homosexual characters and themes explored in many novels.

Mercedes Lackey’s Magic series of books is an example of successful Sci-Fi with a gay main character. A special mention goes to Joe Haldeman’s classic The Forever War too for making homosexuality compulsory as a means of birth control. There is even gay science fiction aimed directly at the pink pound, so the concept and the audience are out there, there’s even the Gaylaxicons – conventions for the lesbian, gay and transgendered geek.

It would be easy to point to the mainly male fan base of mainstream science fiction and suggest there is an aversion to gay men. Go to any convention, though, and you could hardly say that a section of society that will happily dress in brightly coloured spandex and wear wigs and masks while carrying shiny accessories attached to shiny leather belts is overtly macho. Accusations of homophobia in fandom and the geek world are misplaced.

Is it the production companies? The overwhelming majority of science fiction TV and Cinema is produced in the States, and the influence of right wing conservatism is well known. Are they keeping the future straight?

There are many successful mainstream dramas with open and happy gay relationships well represented. So the argument that the production companies don’t want mainstream gay characters on TV doesn’t hold up. In Brothers and Sisters for example, the gay couple are the happiest and most settled of all the characters.

Is it fear of damaging the success of a series? With a predominantly male fan base, is there a fear that seeing a gay character in the flesh on our screens is a risk too far? Even given the acceptance in other mediums of homosexual men, is it that we don’t want to actually see it in the flesh. Is Hollywood scared of a gay future?

Much of science fiction is based on conflict, or on war of one sort or another, so there will always be a certain amount of macho swagger as the dog fights ensue. These battles though are only a small part of the journey we make in the company of our heroes. It is in the growth and background of a character that we spend most time.

We grow to have feelings, good or bad, for the characters and it is this emotional connection that makes us care about them.

It is how they deal with their lives and loves while being affected by the issues happening around them that we recognise and empathise with. It is because of this we care about the cause they fight for and why it matters to us if they live or die. Would having some of those characters gay make any difference to an audience that would normally pride itself on being open and accepting? Unlikely.

The more you examine it, the more it seems improbable that there are no gay characters in space. TV and Film space at least.

Ships carrying thousands of beings travelling thousands of light years and yet it would seem that there is not one gay man on board. Or at least one gay man who has a story worth telling.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Torchwood when it is re-booted with serious cash from the US. Will they keep the in-your-face omni-sexuality of Captain Jack or will it fade quietly into the background?

Let Jack be himself and for the moment it is the closest we have to a gay character. Pushing him back into the closet may mean it is a long time before we see another of his kind.

One small step…



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