Like so many gay nerds, I devotedly watched the last season of Battlestar Galactica. Let me tell you, as a queer boy, I feel cheated. No, I am not just complaining that Apollo didn’t have another towel scene (Although . . .). Nor am I complaining about the fairly predictable ending (The Galactica crew, more or less, are the progenitors of our contemporary world who settled on earth 150,000 years ago – Gee, did they just phone it in?).
Instead, I am less-than-impressed by the show’s consistent ineptness around queer sexuality. For the record, I don’t count Baltar’s pajama-less pillow fights with the female “three” and “six” as queer. I think of that as soft-core hetero porn.
BSG apologists might stop reading now. Tune in next time at CoG when we will be discussing how to combat black mold and soap scum with grace and dignity.
For those whose first association with Battlestar Galactica still involves the soft, shiny, feathered hair of Dirk Benedict, allow me to update you. The “reimagined” Battlestar Galactica (BSG to its friends, Mr. Galactica, if you're nasty) has actually been a critical and commercial success. During its four seasons on the air, it did not fear treading into contemporary political quagmires like abortion, the Iraq war, or religious zealotry. The topic that was just too hot to handle, however, was queer sexuality (If I am really honest, BSG also had an uneven hand around questions of race, even with its racially diverse cast (including a Chicano lead!) – but that is different entry).
Way back in 2006, the gay fans asked Ron Moore, the executive producer of BSG, why such a savvy and thoughtful show totally ignored queer sex and sexuality. “It's a fair question,” he responded at the time, “I think homosexuality definitely exists in the world of Galactica, but I frankly haven't found a way to portray it yet. It's a texture that I'd like to introduce into the series without doing ‘the gay episode.’”
Yeah, because the last thing that you would want to do is create a sensationalized queer character for a one-off story line. I mean, it’s not like you would give us a maniacal lesbian incarnation of Captain Bly, would you? Surely, BSG would treat queer sexuality as part of daily life and not add a queer character just so that she could be immediately killed off by her ex-lover, right?
Oh, except that was exactly BSG’s decision. Yes, in response to gay people’s complaints that we weren’t represented in the BSG universe, they handed us the psycho-killer-lesbian-from-outer-space miniseries two years ago. In that train wreck, lesbian Admiral Cain (who unknowingly had an affair with a cylon) was the antithesis to the gruff, but kindly, hetero patriarch of the show, Commander Adama. If Adama was reasonable, Cain was psychotic. If Adama sought humanity's survival, Cain lived for revenge. If Adama balanced his military power with the civil government, Cain wanted a tyrannical dictatorship. In the end, the lesbian had to go -- Shot no less by the former cylon lover who she was torturing for information. As I recall, we were not amused.
This last season, BSG decided to up the ante by outing (Well, "sort of" outing – More on that in a minute) the long-suspected queer character Lt. Felix Gaeta. Yes, he was [sort of] out of the closet just in time for him to be executed for treason. So, when BSG did acquiesce by giving us queer characters, those characters always had to die, die, die. And who says that science fiction is hostile to queer people?
If the apologists are still reading (and, really, I implore you to stop), they are probably saying, “But, GayProf, you just don’t get it. See, it’s an alternate universe where sexuality doesn’t matter and our narrow identity labels don’t apply. The BSG crew has fluidity in their sexuality. They are beyond our hangups around sexuality.”
Nice try – If it didn’t matter in the BSG universe, then why didn’t we see men hooking up with other men week after week? Why weren’t women pilots taking time out of their busy day for a little womanly love? If sexuality was so fluid in this fictional universe, then why were none (o) of the main human characters ever in bed with somebody of the same sex?
Now, it’s true that I’ve never been trapped on a doomed space voyage for years on end; however, I imagine that sexual experimentation probably would help pass the time. Goddess knows that we saw every possible combination of hetero sex on the show.
And that brings us to the “sort of” outing of Mr. Gaeta. How do we know that Gaeta was queer? Well, you would have to have watched the special “webisodes” entitled “Face of the Enemy” for that information. Wait – Are you not part of the 1.4 percent of the viewing public who bothers watching webisodes of their favorite shows? Oh, gee, then you wouldn’t really know he was queer. For never once, not at all, did the actual televised show make any direct reference to his sexuality – Ever. In fact, “Face of the Enemy” was filmed long after production on BSG had ended – Leaving open the question about whether the cast was even aware there was a queer story line.
So, what did we learn from the webisodes? Well, Mr. Gaeta was having a relationship with the male Lt. Louis Hoshi. He also had a previous relationship with a female cylon “eight” who used information from him to execute scores of innocent humans. If one were inclined, one could suggest an argument about this representation as anti-bisexual (Though I am content to leave it as anti-queer). Gaeta, while an idealist, always ended up on the wrong side of every issue (And, let me point out again, he was shot -- for treason (Oh, and did I mention that he had already been shot once before and lost a leg? And some people say that sci-fi encourages queer bashing.))
BSG Apologist: “Aren’t you forgetting Lt. Hoshi, Gaeta’s lover? I mean, he got to be Admiral of the fleet! How do you account for that, GayProf?”
Oh, no, I haven’t forgotten Lt. Hoshi, though everybody who isn’t queer probably has. I am certain that the number one question on everybody’s mind when he was made Admiral was, “Who is that guy?” I won’t linger over the fact that he resigned the admiral position, claiming that he was much happier to be a lieutenant who took orders rather than gave them (Way to empower queer people with authority!). What I will note is that nothing on the televised show would have given the regular viewer any knowledge about Hoshi’s sexuality. In fact, did Hoshi even have more that twenty lines of dialog in the entire four seasons BSG was on the air?
I have started to think that there is a new way that purveyors of popular culture are dealing with queer discontent. Queer activists and regular gay viewers are becoming more adamant that our favorite programs acknowledge our existence. Yet, producers of sci-fi just aren’t that interested in rocking the [hetero] boat. To quote Ron Moore, this time discussing his queerless Star Trek days, “The truth is that it was not really a priority for any of us on the staff.” Hey, you can’t get more honest than that.
It isn't their priority, but they can't avoid queer demands entirely, so they have created the “open secret” approach to sexuality. Rather than include queer characters as full equals with their hetero peers, we are given side characters whose queer sexuality is only “unofficial” or known in the “expanded lore.” We can see this, for instance, in Harry Potter’s Dumbledore. The most powerful wizard in those books was only vaguely hinted at being queer when he had a deep friendship with another wizard (Who turned out to be a psychopathic killer – ahem). Yet, none of the books say anything explicitly about Dumbledore’s desires for a same-sex romantic relationship (Unlike the hetero characters, who almost all end up happily partnered). The only way we “know” Dumbledore’s sexuality is through J. K. Rowling’s later claim that she intended for him to be gay all along. Apparently it slipped her mind to include that little tidbit in the actual text.
We can see a similar pattern in ScFi’s other highly ranked show Eureka. The producers like to claim that Eureka represents a type of utopia where race, gender, and sexuality just don’t matter. For a town where such things don’t matter, apparently there is only one gay man to be found. Vincent, the town’s chef, is popularly discussed as gay, but (to my knowledge) never explicitly so in the show beyond slight hints. Certainly, he never is in a relationship. It’s just another “open secret” where his sexuality is known, but never needs to be explored on screen. And, of course, he is the most minor character in the cast. In fact, I couldn't even find a picture of him to include here. So, here is Apollo naked instead. I think it is an ad for mink coats or something:
Popular media has consented to allowing queer characters to exist, but only if their sexuality never has to be seen as equivalent to the hetero characters' relationships. If we are quiet and closeted, in other words, we are just fine. If you are a pushy queer, like that bossy Cain woman, expect the worst.
This is a pretty half-assed approach to queer liberation. Covert representations of queer characters are better than no representation at all, I suppose. The problem with such “open secrets,” though, is that they reenforce the closet more than they tear it down. To find out about these queer characters’ sexualities, one has to do more sleuthing than Angela Lansbury. Queer sexuality becomes information only for those “in the know.” Keeping that information out of the canonical representations implicitly upholds the notion that queer sexuality is something that needs to be guarded against lest that it scare the horses or offend the general public. Eve Sedgewick reminded us many years ago that closetedness is a performance “by the speech act of silence.” Well, BSG’s silence around queer Gaeta and Hoshi’s sexuality was deafening. Apparently in space, nobody hears you come out.
In what seems like a desperate bid to keep the queers watching, Ron Moore has now promised that there will be gay characters on his new show Caprica. This time he really, really means it. Maybe he does, but I'm not holding my breath.
Throughout BSG, we never saw any actual romantic intimacy between the male characters. To my mind, it’s still a sad day when television has no problem showing a robot disembowel a human or the near heterosexual rape of a young woman, but can’t stomach showing two men kiss each other out of affection.