After reading my comments
in this week’s BLWE about Stargate
Universe‘s body-swapping episode that results in Ming-Na‘s
lesbian character Camile having sex with a man, a spokesperson for the show contacted me to clarify a few things.
But first, here’s the statement Stargate Universe creators Brad Wright and Robert
Cooper posted on the
Gateworld forum this morning, after being barraged with complaints via email and Twitter from LGBT and disability rights groups responding to criticism of the episode on a handful of blogs and websites (including AfterEllen.com):
Recently, a casting breakdown was released to agents for a upcoming character
in our television show, Stargate Universe. The character, Doctor
Eleanor Perry, is a brilliant scientist at the top of her field, who also
happens to be a quadriplegic. As part of a science fiction conceit that is
core to our series, Perry’s consciousness is temporarily exchanged with one
our series main characters, Camile Wray, who is a lesbian. In the course of
the story, Perry has the experience of being able bodied for the first time
since she was a child. At the same time, Wray, temporarily encumbered by Perry’s
physical disability, experiences the unconditional love of her life partner.
The language of the breakdown was insensitive and inaccurate, and we sincerely
apologize to those who may have been offended. The audition pages that have
been under scrutiny were from an early draft and released out of context.
It is our desire and intention to portray both characters with dignity and
respect, while remaining mindful of the ethical issues we’re raising.
What I take away from this is 1) whoever wrote the casting sides screwed up,
especially when they described Eleanor as only able to "finally experience
intimacy" by having sex; 2) in addition to seeing Eleanor in Camile’s body,
we’ll see Camile interacting with her partner Sharon as a paraplegic in Eleanor’s
body; 3) Brad and Cooper were smart to apologize and do so right away (the story
only broke out in the last day or two); and 4) "Camile" is actually
spelled with one "l" not two, despite IMDb and the Syfy channel frequently
using two l’s (I also confirmed with the show’s spokesperson).
But this statement doesn’t really address the problem of showing a lesbian
having sex with a man, especially in the context of lesbians almost never having
sex with women on TV, so I focused my conversation with the MGM spokesperson
According to the spokesperson for the show, Camile’s relationship with her
partner Sharon (Reiko Aylesworth) is her anchor throughout
the stressful events she encounters, and although Sharon will only be seen occasionally,
their relationship is referenced throughout the series and clearly established
as the only truly stable and healthy relationship on the series.
He also confirmed that we will see "physical intimacy between Ming-Na
and her partner equal to the intimacy heterosexual characters on the show."
That’s good news, considering that has only happened a few times on broadcast
or basic cable TV (the last time was the two seconds you saw between Callie
and Erica on Grey’s). It also means we’ll actually see two women physically
involved before we see this episode (since Camile visits her partner
on Earth in episode 7, and the body-swapping incident happens around episode
16 or 17).
As for the Eleanor/Camile body swapping episode specifically, he told me sex
between bodies (i.e. body swapping) is introduced early in the series, and is
an ongoing moral dilemma on the show with serious moral consequences, and this
event is no different.
Bottom line? They’re still showing a lesbian having sex with a man, but this
is just one of many incidents of people swapping bodies to have sex with other
people; there will be negative repercussions to this; and at least they’re also
showing — or more accurately, suggesting (since primetime television never
really shows characters having sex) — two women having sex.
Unfortunately it still plays into the whole lesbians-sleeping-with-men pattern
on TV, and we’ll have to wait and see exactly how that plays out, since the
devil is truly in the details when it comes to dialogue and editing. And I’m not sure how this is going to avoid reinforcing negative and inaccurate stereotypes about long-suffering disabled people who aren’t really whole, etc., although that isn’t really my area of expertise.
But if what they’ve told me is true — that the show isn’t employing the
same double-standard around physical affection between same-sex and heterosexual
couples that we see everywhere else on TV, and that this is just one of many
body-swapping incidents so it feels organic to the series, and has negative
consequences — I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on the lesbian visibility and see how it turns out. At least for now.