Usually, when I write these posts, I get the ideas for the topics from something I’ve seen recently, but for some reason nothing I watched over the past couple of weeks has made me think about gender/sexuality representation. So, I had to cast my mind further back, and then I remembered iZombie, the fun, entertaining little show with a different spin on zombie fiction.
I’m always looking for LGBTQ+ representation, so I was somewhat disappointed at the show’s lack of actual queer characters. However, the show’s premise does lend itself to some interesting opportunities for representation—when zombies eat a person’s brain, they temporarily acquire some of that person’s traits, and apparently, these traits include sexuality. But, since you’re essentially mixing two personalities, things can get complicated (and sometimes lack continuity). There are only three instances in Season 1 when Liv or Lowell eating a brain affects their sexuality, so it’s not the largest sample, but I still think they’re interesting to look at.
Some spoilers for iZombie after the jump.
The first time that happens is probably the most complicated and curious of the three. In the second episode, Liv eats the brain of Javi Abano, an artist who had a very strong sexual drive and had many female lovers. However, when Liv eats his brain, she also begins to show interest in women. But that doesn’t happen with any other brains of heterosexual men she consumes, and she is still attracted to men all the time. It’s strange that a heterosexual person’s brain, albeit one with a high sex drive, would cause same-gender attraction. It seems like, in the writers’ mind, increased sexual drive is somehow linked to bisexuality, which is harmful stereotyping. Also, it’s strange that Javi appears to have been heterosexual, whereas Liv is suddenly experiencing similar-gender attraction. Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t explore this any further than some flirtatious body language.
I do have a couple of theories that could explain Liv’s sudden interest in women, other than shoddy writing. First, since Liv was suppressing her sexual desires in general since becoming a zombie (because there’s a chance she could infect the person she has sex with), it’s possible that this brain simply reawakened them, and she is actually bisexual. This is, of course, conjecture, unless explicitly shown in the series further on, but I’ll take my headcanon bisexual characters when I can’t have the real thing. Another possibility is that Javi’s attraction to women was so strong that it simply transferred to Liv along with his artistic talent.
However, if it is a person’s sexuality which is transferred, it would make more sense if, after eating the brain of a heterosexual person with a high sex drive, Liv simply became more attracted to men. Especially given the fact that Liv eats the brain of a woman with a high sex drive later on, in episode 8, and becomes more horny but doesn’t seem to experience sexual attraction to women. I feel like there should be a distinction, which the writers failed to grasp, between sex drive and the relation between your own gender and the gender(s) of the people you’re attracted to. For instance, a heterosexual woman is attracted to men, but a homosexual man is also attracted to men, so it’s important to make the distinction of which part of the equation gets transferred when eating someone’s brain—their sexuality or the gender(s) they’re attracted to (that is, whether the zombie becomes attracted to gender(s) the “brain donor” was attracted to). And most of the time it appears to be the former, with the exception of Javi’s brain, which causes Liv to feel similar-gender attraction, even though Javi appeared to be heterosexual.
Which brings me to the last instance which also backs up the sexuality transfer theory—when Lowell eats the brain of a gay man in episode 7 and stops being sexually attracted to Liv for a while. Despite this, he still seems to like her in a romantic/platonic way and they still have a good time on a date. Unfortunately, this is not explored any further and it seems to be little more than a strange plot device to allow for some emotional bonding between Liv and Lowell, as though a straight man and a straight woman can’t bond emotionally because they’re thinking about sex all the time.
It’s also important to point out that it’s usually a couple of defining personal traits that get transferred upon eating someone’s brain and, while I think that one’s sexuality is important and can be, but isn’t always, a defining characteristic, that’s not always the case. Queer people are people like everyone else—they have talents, personalities, and vocations that define them more than their sexuality. While it’s understandable that iZombie is still a new show and hasn’t had time to explore the full potential of its ideas, I hope (against my skeptic tendencies when it comes to possibilities of LGBTQ+ representation) that at some point we will get a story about a queer person whose sexuality doesn’t transfer to a zombie who ate their brain. That being said, while from a scientific point of view the existence of zombies is quite improbable (depending on how you define a zombie) and the transferring of memories and personality by eating is impossible, human brain and personality are complicated and it’s interesting to see how the fusion of two personalities affects characters.
Despite my fascination with transferred zombie sexuality, it would be great to have actual recurring/regular LGBTQ+ characters and queer zombies. It would also be interesting to explore to what extent one’s sexuality can be influenced by eating brains and what characters decide to do about it. If a straight zombie eats a gay person’s brain and, while affected, falls in love with someone of the same gender, does that feeling wear off along with the effects of the brain? Do they keep being in love or do have to keep eating gay people’s brains to stay in love? Lowell’s feelings for Liv didn’t seem to change after eating a gay guy’s brain, even though he didn’t like sexual contact with her, so it would seem zombies still care about people despite the brains they consume. But perhaps if the zombie didn’t already have feelings for someone else, they could fall in love with someone under the influence of their last meal.
The idea of transferring personality traits and sexuality is a fascinating one and there are countless possibilities to explore on how that could affect characters’ personalities and lives. However, so far, iZombie has only done that in rather perfunctory and gimmicky ways. Even though TV’s record of exploring sexuality in insightful and sensitive ways isn’t great at all, here’s hoping against hope we’ll get at least some more analysis of zombie sexuality and that it won’t make me cringe.