JUST WHEN YOU THINK IT’S SAFE TO GO BACK IN THE TV WATER
To keep things interesting (for you and for me), I’ve decided to reserve this first page for whatever I want to write about each week — whether that’s nominations for the Woman of the Week, a news roundup, highlights of relevant tweets, or a rant about something relevant to the site.
This week, it’s a rant. About (surprise) lesbians on TV. Specifically, about the new development involving the only leading lesbian on TV next season: Ming-Na‘s Camille on Stargate: Universe.
If you haven’t been following our coverage of the upcoming Syfy series that debuts in October, here’s a short summary: Ming-Na plays Camille Wray, an openly gay HR exec who is among a group of scientists and soldiers whose ship, Destiny, gets trapped on the other side of a Stargate (a transportation device to other galaxies), forcing them to work together to figure out how to survive, and get home. Camille’s long-time partner back on Earth, Sharon, is played by Reiko Aylesworth, in an occasional guest appearance (they figure out how to communicate with Earth as the season progresses).
Camille will be the first leading lesbian character on American primetime TV to be played by an Asian American, and she’ll be the only leading lesbian character on American primetime TV next season (unless you count Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy, but given the little screen time she gets, I’m not — she’s more of a supporting character, even if she is now a series regular).
Camille and Sharon will be separated by millions of light years, so the two will almost never be in the same room together, which means it’s already a fairly safe way to include a lesbian character — you get cool points for including a lesbian, but you can mostly ignore the fact that she’s gay because she’s conveniently partnered with someone who’s never around.
But at this point, a leading lesbian character with no on-screen personal life is better than no leading lesbian character, right?
Then we get the news this week that the series is planning a body-swap episode in which a heterosexual quadriplegic inhabits Camille’s body in order to drink and have sex with men.
No, this isn’t Fake Gay News — I wish it was!
Here’s the official casting call for the character of Eleanor, tentatively slated for episode 16:
[ELEANOR PERRY] (35-40) and quite attractive. A brilliant scientist who happens to be a quadriplegic. Affected since childhood, her disability has rendered her body physically useless. However, after being brought on board the Destiny as the only person who may be able to save the ship and her crew from certain annihilation, she is given temporary powers that enable her to walk again and to finally experience intimacy. Strong guest lead. NAMES PREFERRED. ACTRESS MUST BE PHYSICALLY THIN. (THINK CALISTA FLOCKHART).
In the casting sides, they show Eleanor-as-Camille first flirting with and then kissing co-worker Eli Wallace (David Blue), but he stops her and says, "it’s not you, it’s, it’s Wray. And not that I wouldn’t want to with her, she’s very attractive, I just don’t think would want to with me."
Eleanor-as-Camille says "I understand," and then proceeds to have sex with the group’s leader, Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle).
Here’s how the casting sides describes the lead up, after Rush walks Eleanor-as-Camille to her room on the ship.
INT. DESTINY – WRAY’S QUARTERS — NIGHT
They enter. And then they’re kissing. Softly at first, but with swiftly increasing intensity.
RUSH’S POV: WRAY is staring back at him as she removes her top, revealing her undergarments.
RUSH — doesn’t miss a beat, and they embrace again.
So let me get this straight (pun intended): not only will the lesbian character presumably not have any actual lesbian relationships with anyone on board the ship, she’ll be shown kissing at least two men, and having sex with one of them?
Wow. And this is from the network that, when they received a failing grade from GLAAD a few weeks ago, said "we need to work harder.” If this is working harder, I’d hate to see what slacking off would look like.
There are so many things wrong with this development, I could devote an entire Visibility Matters column to it. But I’ve written so much over the last few years about what’s wrong with lesbian and bisexual visibility on TV (or the lack thereof) that I’m just going to quote from some of the readers who wrote in to tell us about this news:
Cate: "The problematics of this, from the perspective of disability rights and education, to the consent issues implied, to the fact that they’re going to have Eleanor use a gay woman’s body for straight sex … words actually fail me."
Licia: "What I also personally find particularly disturbing is that the men go along with this knowing that Wray is gay — there’s a lot of consent issues wrapped in this, as well as the idea that het sex cures all for Eleanor Perry."
Misha: "It’s like they want it both ways — to reap the benefits of being inclusive without taking any risks. God forbid a lesbian actually has sex with a woman on TV! We’ll find a way to get her in bed with a man, even if it takes an elaborate body-swapping scenario!"
You can read many more horrified responses on this LiveJournal post, and no doubt in the comments on the last page of this column in a few hours.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a Stargate that will take me to a galaxy where lesbian characters are actually gay.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: The series creators have responded to the controversy, and a spokesperson for the show called me today to explain more about the episode and the lesbian relationship. Read their comments here.
— by Sarah Warn