March 16, 2011

The sexuality of “Torchwood.”

Just FYI, this is pretty deeply “Torchwood” geeky, so if you aren't relatively familiar with the show, you may be a bit lost. I highly recommend watching the first two series and the “Children of Earth” miniseries for clarification.

While reading an article online regarding the woeful lack of bisexual characters on television, one of the comments left by a reader got me thinking. He pointed out that the only truly bisexual character was “our beloved Captain Jack.” This immediately rankled, thus necessitating my first ever off-schedule blog post. Thanks, random commenter! (Also, I can't remember if I've already said this somewhere on my blog before, but in case you haven't figured it out by now, I identify as bisexual.)

So here's my argument: the only truly bisexual character on “Torchwood” was actually Owen Harper.

Yes, I mean the doctor guy. It'll make more sense in a bit, just stick with me.

The thing that first attracted me to “Torchwood” was the apparent idea that the characters lived in a world without “straight” and “gay,” where anyone could end up with anyone else regardless of gender. And indeed, each of the five main characters had some sort of romantic or sexual relationship, even if it was as brief as a kiss, with someone of both their own and the opposite gender at some point. However, I believe that there is a distinction to be made between the promised fluid sexuality and the delivered encounters.

The reason I believe Owen is the only truly bisexual character comes from a very brief scene in the pilot episode. When it's revealed that he's using an alien pheromone spray to attract people for the purpose of sex, he initially uses it on a woman. But when her boyfriend comes raging after them with baffled threats of violence, Owen uses the spray on him and invites him along for the night. While the argument could be made that he did it simply to avoid getting beaten up, the look of glee on his face after the man lays one on him and drags him off suggests otherwise. And while it seems like the whole thing is dropped in favor of his varying levels of romance with Gwen, Diane, and Tosh, to me this scene makes him the most honestly bisexual character on the show.

So what about everyone else?

Toshiko Sato did have one lesbian encounter, with an alien bent on manipulating her trust to get into the Hub. While the situation is certainly up for interpretation, my take on it is that it was more about power and control than sexuality. And unlike Owen's casual handling of physical intimacy with either gender, Tosh spends some time wringing her hands about how she's never had sex with a woman before. She's clearly thrown for a loop, which seems pretty unlikely if she were really bisexual. She also goes on to have only same-sex relationships from that point on, with Tommy, Adam, and Owen.

Gwen Cooper hardly counts, since her one lesbian experience was with that sex-energy alien. She's straight.

Now we get to the really sticky ones. These are the two whose sexuality I've probably spent the most time wondering about.

Ianto Jones. Before “Children of Earth,” I would have said that Ianto was the one solid representation of bisexuality on “Torchwood.” He clearly had not just physical but romantic relationships with both Lisa and Jack. Before “Children of Earth” I was thrilled by the ease with which Ianto's sexuality was handled, and how successfully they had shown how a character could love a woman and a man equal amounts. But then... then there was “Children of Earth.” Wherein Ianto confesses to his sister, “It's not men, it's just... him.” Essentially blaming his foray into dickville solely on Jack's uniquely charming persona and supernatural ability to circumvent established sexuality. Thank you, “Children of Earth,” for that painfully exclusionary new bit of canon. The bottom line: Ianto? Not bisexual.

And then there's Captain Jack Harkness. Jack has been identified in numerous interviews as “omnisexual,” not bisexual. Jack is a 51st century human, born in a time and place where humans are spread so thin across the galaxy that they are necessarily adaptable. One of the first lines in the pilot of the series has Jack revealing that he had been pregnant at some point, and if you include the Doctor Who Face of Boe mythology (which, since we're going on stated canon here, I think we must), he will become pregnant again at some point when he's a giant tentacled head in a jar. We also find out in “Children of Earth” that he has a daughter and a grandson living in present time. The point being, in my mind, that Jack does not represent a bisexual character because his particular brand of sexuality isn't anything that exists in the real world.

So there you have it. I've yet to be completely satisfied with any portrayal of bisexuality on television, although there have been a few that have almost gotten there, and a few more that still have the potential to. I would write a whole other blog post on that, but Chris O'Guinn already did it over on AfterElton. Go read the article if you're curious about my thoughts on it, because he said it pretty much the same way I would.

1 comment:

  1. NotoriouslyuniqueMarch 17, 2011 at 1:51 AM

    I've never seen Torchwood (except for that hot scene where the lead character snogs James Marsters *fans self*) but I read that article earlier and I was saddened by how much I agreed.

    I personally think that we bisexuals are the majority of people on this earth. The reason we don't have absolute power and rule with an iron fist is that it is easiest for us to assimilate into the general straight-acting population. This makes the fact that we are somehow discriminated against by both gay and straight population and our existence is often dismissed as some sort of myth..
    I remember one moment that absolutely killed me in my ex-favorite show AWZ. Ben had just come back from Italy and when he learned that Deniz was back with Roman he asked "so your bisexual phase is over?" and Deniz, instead of slapping him like I would have done, casually smiled and said "Yes!"
    Deniz had slept with girls before Roman, and after he had broken up with Roman for the first time, and he had had (out of character and lacking in chemistry but still there) emotional ties to Vanessa whom he left Roman for, so he is most definitely a bisexual character, but they showed it as straight->gay->straight->gay. It is one of the most infuriating things ever.
    It's especially annoying because there are so many wonderful bisexual depictions in books, but those are rarely seen on screen.