QUEER AS ( TELEFANTASY) FOLK

FOR MANY YEARS LGBT PEO­PLE HAVE FOUND A “SAFE PLACE” IN TELEVISION SCI­ENCE FICTION AND FAN­TASY. PAUL F COCK­BURN ASKS WHY

Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

What is it about LGBT peo­ple and scifi and fan­tasy shows?

Back in the late 1980s, I joined a group of Doc­tor Who fans in Glas­gow, a rather an­ar­chic get-to­gether of young men who shared their love of the show not just with fanzines but by get­ting to­gether at least once a week down the pub, which — in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a good night’s drink­ing — was why the group re­ferred to it­self as “Brain­dead”!

But here’s the thing: of the eight-to-ten core “mem­bers” of the group, at least half — my­self in­cluded — even­tu­ally came out as gay, a pro­por­tion that would prob­a­bly have star­tled Doc­tor Kin­sey. Nor did this ap­pear to be an aber­ra­tion; hav­ing been a mi­nor “spear-car­rier” in wider or­gan­ised Doc­tor Who fan­dom, I’d quickly re­alised that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of fans were not just fol­low­ers of a Time Lord from Gal­lifrey, but Friends of Dorothy too.

As con­firmed by the Hugo Award-nom­i­nated Queers Dig Time Lords book — a col­lec­tion of es­says by Bri­tish and Amer­i­can LGBTQ Doc­tor Who fans, pub­lished by Mad Nor­we­gian Press in 2013 —the Doc­tor and his ad­ven­tures had long been pre­cious to thou­sands of view­ers who re­alised that they didn’t match so­ci­etal norms around sex­ual at­trac­tion and gen­der iden­tity.

Phil Collinson — who would work along­side Rus­sell T Davies and Julie Gard­ner as Doc­tor Who’s Pro­ducer and Ex­ec­u­tive Pro­ducer be­tween 2004 and 2008 — cer­tainly felt the con­nec­tion. In a March 2007 in­ter­view, he said: “For me, as a young boy and a teenager, grow­ing up in the north of Eng­land, in a world where I could never imag­ine be­ing a gay man, let alone set­tling down and find­ing some­one, I think Doc­tor Who was re­ally asex­ual. There were pro­grammes like The Sweeney which were very much about men chas­ing women, men get­ting women, whereas with Doc­tor Who you had a show that never re­ally dealt with that.”

But surely that wasn’t the only rea­son

“When you fac­tor in how the Doc­tor was por­trayed as a peren­nial out­sider… fight­ing against forces of con­form­ity and uni­for­mity, then what’s not to love?”

LGBTQ peo­ple were at­tracted to Doc­tor Who? Oth­ers have ar­gued that the Doc­tor, es­pe­cially when played by Tom Baker, ap­proached each new race and sit­u­a­tion with friend­li­ness, ac­cep­tance and the of­fer of a jelly baby. The ap­peal of such a hero, to peo­ple for whom ac­cep­tance may well have been rare, is ob­vi­ous. When you fac­tor in how the Doc­tor was — in­deed still is — por­trayed as a peren­nial out­sider, as the uniquely dressed in­di­vid­ual fight­ing against forces of con­form­ity and uni­for­mity, then what’s not to love?

Yet none of this was overtly cast in a queer light; in­deed, for some con­trib­u­tors to Queers Dig Time Lords, their love of Doc­tor Who was partly down to hav­ing to root out its “queer sub­text” for them­selves.

Overt on­screen recog­ni­tion of LGBTQ peo­ple’s sim­ple ex­is­tence was ab­sent un­til Rus­sell T Davies’s re­shaped Doc­tor Who ar­rived on our screens in 2005. It was sym­bol­ised most ob­vi­ously in the “omni-sex­ual” Cap­tain Jack Hark­ness, played by John Bar­row­man, who kissed both Rose and the Doc­tor equally be­fore get­ting his own spin-off se­ries, Torch­wood.

It would be wrong, though, to sug­gest that Doc­tor Who is the only television fan­tasy drama to have at­tracted strong LGBTQ in­ter­est over the years. Star Trek fan­dom has long held close the idea that, par­tic­u­larly in the 1960s, the se­ries used the “cover” of sci­ence fiction to dis­cuss ev­ery­thing from racism and the civil rights move­ment to Viet­nam and the Cold War.

Many LGBTQ fans were at­tracted to the sup­pos­edly Vul­can phi­los­o­phy of “In­fi­nite Di­ver­sity in In­fi­nite Com­bi­na­tions”, but it would be in the early fan conventions inspired by the show where many would dis­cover a safe space where “peo­ple could dress and act [how­ever] they wanted, like noth­ing so­ci­ety was ex­pect­ing” — in­clud­ing openly gay (and openly “flam­boy­ant”) men. That, in­ci­den­tally, is ac­cord­ing to Betty Jo “Bjo” Trim­ble, the woman who spear­headed the mas­sive 1967 grass­roots letter-writ­ing cam­paign which en­sured the orig­i­nal Star Trek se­ries was com­mis­sioned for a third sea­son.

Decades later, speak­ing with news web­site PrideS­pace, orig­i­nal Mr Sulu ac­tor Ge­orge Takei — who him­self is gay — ex­plained how he had “qui­etly” tried to con­vince se­ries creator Gene Rod­den­berry to in­tro­duce a hu­man LGBTQ char­ac­ter into the film se­ries. “Gene said he knew that the LGBT is­sue is a civil rights is­sue, but he had to keep the show on the air as a television se­ries, and if he pushed the en­ve­lope too far he wouldn’t be able to ad­dress any of the is­sues. He’d be can­celled,” Takei said.

“Same thing with fea­ture films now: big­ger bud­get, higher risk.”

While 21st-cen­tury Doc­tor Who has been ac­cused, on oc­ca­sions, of hav­ing a “gay agenda” — pre­sum­ably for sug­gest­ing that (a) LGBTQ peo­ple ex­ist, and (b) this isn’t in­her­ently a bad thing — the suc­ces­sion of all-too-of­ten “is­sueled” Star Trek se­ries only oc­ca­sion­ally skirted around ideas of sex­u­al­ity and gen­der. It’s never crossed the line; in­deed, writer and pro­ducer Bran­non Braga would later ex­press re­gret at the Star Trek brand be­ing over­taken by other net­work TV shows when it came to in­clud­ing LGBTQ char­ac­ters on screen.

One of the most no­table of these was Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer, which sen­si­tively revealed that Willow, one of its main char­ac­ters, was a les­bian. More re­cently, vam­pire se­ries True Blood has tem­pered its un­doubt­edly mus­cu­lar ho­mo­eroti­cism with al­le­gor­i­cal ref­er­ences to the LGBTQ rights move­ment.

The all-con­quer­ing Game of Thrones, in the mean­time, has no­tice­ably upped the ante when it comes to the lev­els of bloody, ruth­less vi­o­lence and ex­plicit gay and bi­sex­ual sex al­lowed onto our television screens — the lat­ter ac­tu­ally be­ing far more no­tice­able, it has to be said, than in the orig­i­nal books by Ge­orge R. R. Martin. (Martin has sug­gested that’s be­cause, in his books, none of his point-of-view char­ac­ters are gay, so it’s only ref­er­enced in­di­rectly.)

Doc­tor Who has long proved that’s it’s pos­si­ble for television shows with per­cep­ti­ble LGBTQ sub­texts to also be main­stream hits. As we move fur­ther into our sup­pos­edly less ho­mo­pho­bic 21st cen­tury, in which the geeks seem to be in­her­it­ing the Earth, will LGBTQ fans ac­tu­ally lose some­thing as those hints and sub­texts be­come more ob­vi­ous and main­stream?

“The all-con­quer­ing Game of Thrones has no­tice­ably upped the ante when it comes to the lev­els of bloody, ruth­less vi­o­lence and ex­plicit gay and bi­sex­ual sex”

CLOCKWISE: GAME OF THRONES; BUFFY THE VAM­PIRE SLAYER; TRUE BLOOD

THE DALEKS OF DOC­TOR WHO

DOC­TOR WHO: WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?

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