I’ve never been a fan of Dr Who. I tried watching a few episodes and just didn’t enjoy them at all. I might never have heard of Torchwood were it not for a discussion in my online writer’s group about gay leading men. Suffice it to say, I started watching Torchwood and absolutely loved it, and was totally taken by leading man Capt. Jack Harkness.
Science fiction, as both a literary and TV genre, has been dominated by straight white males for decades. Arnold Schwarzenegger immediately springs to mind, in roles from Terminator to Total Recall. In more recent times, Christian Bale and Tom Cruise have been leading the manly-man roles in science fiction films like Minority Report, Mission Impossible, and Equilibrium. Given that a good number of these films are based on the works by SF greats like Philip K Dick, Asimov and others, this straight white male syndrome seems prevalent in the genre. While I might be missing numerous instances of homosexuality in science fiction (I think some of China Mieville’s characters are of more open and fluid sexuality), I failed to think of any notable instances of gay sci-fi heroes off the top of my head while I could come up with a two page list of straight white male heroes.
When I heard that Capt. Jack Harkness played by John Barrowman was of deliberately vague/ambiguous/different sexuality, I couldn’t help but wonder how they’d pull that off in a genre that demands a certain amount of ass-kickery and machoism, and on TV no less. Capt. Jack, who is described as omnisexual (he’ll sleep with humans of any gender, androids, aliens etc.), is not only quite open about his sexuality but he is the leading man, courageous, intelligent, charismatic, mysterious and all the other awesome things who’d expect from an alien-hunting time-travelling trench-coat wearing hero. For once the token gay character hasn’t been relegated to side-kick, buffoon, comic relief, or histrionic place holder. Jack’s sexuality is just a part of who he is as it should be, not some kind of character frosting added for the sake of political correctness or humour.
Torchwood as a series is open to LGBT themes. In the first season alone, every member of the Torchwood team locks lips with a member of the same sex, and in some fairly raunchy lesbian scenes. Kudos to the BBC for not censoring this, for not trying to sweep Jack’s eccentricities (he was pregnant once) under the carpet and portraying sexuality in life as it really is: just a part of who the person is and not the defining characteristic. As the series progressed, the gay love scenes between Jack and his various consorts were included just as any straight love scene would be. In the fourth season, now partly produced by Starz in the States, Jack is seen in pretty graphic, mostly nude gay love scenes. This is a triumph for TV, not for titillation’s sake, but because the producers didn’t deny the character his romance. There are as many straight love scenes as there are gay; Torchwood is by no means a ‘gay’ series, its leading man just happens to like sleeping with men sometimes. What I find even more interesting about Torchwood is that Jack’s love interest, Ianto Jones, played by Gareth David-Lloyd is actually straight. He only has feelings for Jack, not for men in general and doesn’t want to be called queer. This says a lot about love and how loving the person is more important than what’s between that person’s legs. Torchwood really goes the extra mile when it comes to examining the relationship dynamics between cast members as well as the various types of love one can feel for another, regardless of gender.
Having watched numerous interviews with John Barrowman (who actually looks alarmingly good in a dress and high heels) I think the man is pretty awesome. He’s open about his sexuality and doesn’t shy away from the topic. Given the current global climate towards alternative sexuality (such as Russia banning pride parades and certain countries revoking gay rights) we need more people like John Barrowman. He is certainly a role model for young men and even young women who might be afraid of being who they are. Here’s a man who can don a trench-coat and pull off the leading role in a high octane sci-fi series or can don false eyelashes and tights for a stage production. And why the hell not?
As a writer of science fiction and a fan of the genre, I’d like to see more Capt. Jacks in leading roles, and endeavour to include alternative sexuality, not as salacious tidbits, but rather as mere aspects of character in the stories I write. Now how about a lesbian or transgender leading role? I really look forward to the day that one’s sexuality becomes as immaterial as one’s eye colour. Until then, I salute Capt. Jack and the applaud the creators of this character. He truly is a role model and hero for the 21st Century.
Do you watch Torchwood? Any thoughts on homosexuality in science fiction?