CSI’s Mixed Track Record on LGBT Characters

 
 

Sara Sidle is attacked by gay killer Adam in "Committed"Men Do it Too

CSI‘s track record on gay men is slightly better, but not by much. In May 2001, at the end of the first season, "Evaluation Day" examined the case of a disembodied head discovered in the trunk of a car. The deep wounds on the head prompt Catherine Willows to declare it "Definitely a crime of passion," just as she had earlier that season on "Friends and Lovers."

The head belongs to Victor Da Silva, whose body is soon found stuffed into a foot locker. When the CSIs examine Da Silva’s home, they discover — in his closet, no less — a photo of Victor standing with someone who has been cut out of the photo, except for a multiply-pierced ear. They soon discover that the ear belongs to Fred Applewhite, who is Victor’s ex-lover. When Victor broke up with him and began dating someone new, Fred’s jealousy erupted into a violent argument in which Fred killed Victor. He tried to stuff the body into a foot locker but because the head wouldn’t fit in, he cut it off and put it in the trunk of his car to dispose of later.

"Evaluation Day" is another example of homosexual jealousy that escalates into murder. While crime statistics do prove that victims are often killed by those who are closest to them, and "crimes of passion" are frequently depicted on television shows, it simply underlines negative stereotypes when gay characters kill their lovers.

Last month on the fifth-season episode "Committed," the CSI team investigates the murder of an inmate in a male psychiatric ward. Because the ward is populated by mentally insane killers of all types, there seems at first to be a plethora of possibilities. But it soon turns out that the prime suspect is a serial rapist who had been in a sexual relationship with the victim. In this episode, the man’s gay relationship is presented by the CSIs as something positive coming out of a decidedly negative environment.

However, in the episode’s twist, it turns out that the gay man was the victim of an incestuous, controlling relationship with his mother, who began molesting him in childhood and has recently joined the psychiatric ward as a nurse. After she realizes her son is in a positive relationship with another person (the fact that the relationship is homosexual seems incidental), she kills her son's lover by smothering him, and then her son tries to cover it up by banging his dead lover's head on the floor to make it look like he died from blunt force trauma.

"Committed" is marginally more positive than "Evaluation Day" because the rapist’s relationship with another man seems to be the most healthy relationship he has ever had. Even though the rapist makes openly homophobic statements denying that he is "queer," it’s unclear whether those denials are truly homophobic or whether they were words that his mother told him to say. It’s clear that the CSIs themselves believe his relationship with the other man to have been a positive experience. It’s too bad he also had to be a mentally insane rapist and victim of incest on top of covering up a murder.

Transgender Transgressions

Transgender characters have experienced the most negative stereotyping on CSI, but they have also seen the most improvement. The second season episode "Identity Crisis," which aired on January 17, 2002, opens with Gil Grissom (William Petersen) recognizing the work of a killer he had previously encountered — Paul Millander, who kills other men using the same method used in the murder of his father, which he witnessed as a child. The episode undergoes a relatively circuitous route to its conclusion that involves Gil Grissom having dinner with Paul Millander, his wife, and adopted child, but finally finds its focus when the team visits Paul’s mother.

At Mrs. Millander’s house, Catherine Willows sneaks upstairs and discovers a frilly pink girl’s bedroom. When she rifles through the drawers, she finds items that would more normally belong to a boy — baseball cards and the like. Mrs. Millander admits that she used to have a daughter, Pauline, but she claims that her daughter died. Further investigation proves that Paul used to be Pauline. The episode also suggests that Pauline might have been intersexed — a condition that is not the same as transgender, and is glossed over in a vague and confusing manner.

At the conclusion of the episode the team returns to Mrs. Millander’s house to find that Paul has murdered his mother and committed suicide. In a recorded suicide message he says, "I just can't do it anymore. I've lost hope." Sadly, Paul’s suicide is the most accurate depiction in the episode of the trauma that many transgenders go through.

After "Identity Crisis" aired, GLAAD issued a statement criticizing CSI for continuing "a long-standing Hollywood tradition of portraying sexual minorities as dangerous criminals and homicidal maniacs." GLAAD also pointed out that "Identity Crisis" was only the second time that a female-to-male transgender character has appeared on television; the first was during a 1999 episode of L.A. Doctors. "To have the second female-to-male character presented as a vicious, matricidal serial killer is profoundly disturbing and deeply offensive."

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