Invisible sexuality cannot and does not make a difference.

I found out the other day, while perusing internet speculation as to why Doctor Who and Sherlock showrunner Steven Moffat deleted his Twitter account on Saturday, that River Song is bisexual.

You know, I’ve been watching Doctor Who for almost two years now, and have seen the entire series at least twice all the way through, and I don’t think River’s ever been seen to be in a romantic relationship with a woman, nor has she ever shown more than platonic interest in a woman, nor has she really ever been given screen-time with women besides her mother except in her debut.

I am not trying to erase her sexuality. I don’t take kindly to people who say “Oh, she says she’s bi but she’s never actually dated a girl so she’s probably just saying that for attention/to get guys/stupid other excuse.”

But for a fictional character, this Word-of-God declaration is totally empty.

River is bisexual, Moffat says, and now he can claim that his show features a complex and interesting queer character. But there’s no worth for the viewers, because River does not display queer behavior. I don’t look at River and think, wow, how great it is to see someone like me on TV, because I am never shown the ways River is like me. River’s entire being, literally from when she was born till the day she died, revolved around the Doctor, and she is never given screen-time in which she can explore any other endeavors, romantic or otherwise.

Canton Delaware III is another example of this. Canton is badass. Canton helps the Doctor and Co. defeat the Silence and save the world at the beginning of Series 6. Canton is apparently gay, but his coming out comes from, not a nuanced consideration of what being an FBI agent who has just been dishonorably discharged for the crime of being in a committed gay interracial relationship in 1969, which, hello? Characterization central! But instead from a throwaway, joking line at the end of the two-parter he stars in.

Remember when Harry Potter was done, and JKR decided she could finally safely say that Dumbledore was gay the whole time?! That’s what this is. It’s saying “Oh, by the way, the stuff I write is totally diverse, look at this gay character! Never mind that there is basically no evidence of his being sexual, let alone homosexual, in the entire seven books he was featured in.”

The point of choosing to queer positively portrayed characters is that they become role models and rallying points. Captain Jack Harkness is a well-developed character, a huge fan favorite, and happens to be pansexual. Felicia Day’s Charlie in Supernatural Season 7 was a breath of fresh air, because she broke with the sort of lesbian stereotype you’d (sadly) expect from that show, and was an engaging, multi-talented, and complex individual who happened to be a lesbian.

It’s only by showcasing a complete and nuanced individual and also engaging their non-normative sexuality in canon (rather than yelling “Hey, that character from that show I write? They’re gay!” on Twitter) that the character can act as proof that queer people are people too.

14 thoughts on “Invisible sexuality cannot and does not make a difference.

  1. Yeah seriously. There is more in-episode evidence of Amy being bisexual (flirting with herself) then with River being bisexual.

    Can we also talk about how characterization in Doctor Who has been lacking in general? Canton is a good example of character who could be used effectively if we just knew more about him, and what we do know about him is given in like two lines. Nefereti and the Chauvinist (honestly forget his name) were interesting and had a dynamic going but the relationship seemed forced (why wouldn’t it, it was revealed and resolved in like 10 minutes). Even Amy and Rory’s recent divorce was resolved in two seconds where any other show would have taken time to develop it.

    Doctor Who is really starting to suffer from Sitcom syndrome. Where all this crazy stuff happens to the characters on a personal level and then is resolved by the end of the episode.

    • Yeah, there’s been a lot of rushed characterization already this season, and I Am Not Pleased. Moffat is giving himself so many opportunities to have diverse and interesting characters and long-running plots, and he just keeps throwing them away. I feel like River’s appeal was her mystery, and that’s been over-explained and (imo) poorly done. On the same note, it would have been more emotionally resonant to spread the Ponds’ divorce plot out over the whole five remaining Pond episodes and then resolved it in The Angels Take Manhattan. Instead it’s like it never happened.
      Ugh. I’m very frustrated.

  2. With all of the writers on Doctor Who, you’d think someone might have thought more about characterization. Every relationship seems forced at this point, even between Amy and the Doctor. Arthur Weasley was a breath of fresh air because he and Rory have had to only engaging relationship thus far this season.

    • Also, (in my personal and completely uninformed opinion) I think that River is almost more pansexual than bi. Part of me even thinks that she isn’t necessarily interested in anyone sexually. It’s like she and the Doctor are like very close companions than a married couple.

      • I almost agree with you there – River is seen as sort of a cougar character because she’s interested in babyface Doctor and she uses her sexuality as a weapon (via the hallucinogenic lipstick and stuff) – but she only really seems so predatory because she’s set as a foil to the incredibly chaste Doctor. Amy’s character is far more sexual than River’s has ever been (River smooches the Doctor; Amy tries to jump his bones. River flirts with her husband; Amy does sexy costumed roleplay in bed with her husband. Etc.)

    • Yeah, it’s really starting to get to me. And I loved Arthur Brian Pond Williams Weasley, but I also felt he rolled with the “Okay I’m on an alien spaceship in the future with dinosaurs and Egyptians and robots and stuff and my son and daughter-in-law have been jaunting around with an alien in his space box for the last two years” thing a little too quickly. It’s not that I wanted him to be another Jackie Tyler, but seriously.

  3. You totally have a point. In fact, I feel the same as you so much that in my stories, only the characters that actually have sex (on or off screen) are gay, the sexual orientations of the others are simply never mentioned because it just isn’t important to the story.

  4. “But there’s no worth for the viewers, because River does not display queer behavior. I don’t look at River and think, wow, how great it is to see someone like me on TV, because I am never shown the ways River is like me.”

    Aaaaah. Yes. This is perfectly true and perfectly worded. This is why Rowling missed the mark with Dumbledore, too…

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