Back in the TARDIS

BCN 125 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 125, June 2014

Book review. Queers Dig Time Lords – edited by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas. Published by Mad Norwegian Press, 2013.

  • “The protagonists were not required to demonstrate their heterosexuality at every turn. Anyone could go with the Doctor, if they’d make that leap.”
  • “The show wasn’t saying ‘You should be like this.’ It wasn’t even saying ‘Why aren’t you like this?’ ”
  • “The show accepts us whoever we may be.”

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Queers Dig Time Lords is a collection of essays that seems to think it’s great being a… gay fan of Doctor Who. Or in a few instances, a lesbian fan of Doctor Who.

Naturally I gravitated to the one essay that had the word “Bi” in the title. But it turned out to be disappointingly full of biphobia.

Though admitting that Captain Jack was portraying some lazy biphobic stereotypes, like being greedy and promiscuous, the essayist Tanya Huff doesn’t find any problem this (whereas it was always one of the things that kept me from being able to like the character or watch Torchwood).

Her description of Jack as “being sexually attracted to both sexes – and pretty much any other sexes that came along, though for now let’s stop at two” unfortunately reinforces the biphobic notion that bisexuality is inherently trans*phobic, by presuming that everyone falls into one of two binary gender categories. This stereotype is not borne out by my own feelings or those of any bisexual I know, so I’m especially dismayed to see it included here so pointlessly, when the truth – that you don’t have to resort to science-fictional aliens or the fifty-first century to find more than two genders; they’re already part of the human experience – is so much more interesting and important.

Quick digression: the trans representation in this book is embarrassingly poor, with only one essay being written by a trans person or even mentioning trans perspectives – though it is I think the best essay in the book (as does the person who lent me Queers Dig Time Lords, who asked me to read that one while we were in the pub, so we could talk about it before I went away with his book. So he went to the bar, I read, and by the time he got back with our drinks I was utterly engrossed in the wonderful “Same Old Me, Different Face: Transition, Regeneration and Change” by Susan Jane Bigelow). I just wish hers had not been the only acknowledgement of trans people in the whole book.

But the most irksome bit of biphobia, to me, in this most apparently bisexual of all essays, was the premise that gave it its title: “Bi, Bye.” After rejoicing in the dynamic between Captain Jack, the Doctor and Rose, the writer bemoans that Jack goes off to Torchwood, she dismisses Rose and the Tenth Doctor as “heteronormative,” and she says River Song “locks down the Doctor’s heterosexuality.”

As someone whose previous four or five relationships have been mixed-gender, I feel uneasy. Does this essay want to dismiss my bisexuality, too? The author bio mentions “her wife” and I can’t help but wonder whether I’d be found more legitimately bisexual if I had a wife instead of a husband.

I know these are ridiculous things to be thinking, but it’s especially disheartening that an avowedly “queer” book has brought me to such unhappy musings, brought on by the external reinforcement of my internalised biphobia.

(Don’t worry, I know not to be taken in by her. I mean, someone who dismisses two of my favorites with no more than “the less said about the sixth through the eighth [Doctors] the better” is clearly looking at the whole world very differently from the way I do!)

The only other essay that had much to say about bisexuality is unsurprisingly about… you’ll never guess… well, it’s called “Seven Ways of Looking at Captain Jack.” This one rejoices that he’s behaviourally bi and polyamorous, even if he wouldn’t have any use for those labels himself, which delights the bi poly writer of this essay, Mary Anne Mohanraj. “Jack loves everyone, Jack would like to have sex with everyone,” she writes, and it’s fair enough for her to say that’s “a reflection of my own reality” but I wish there’d been some mention that this is not the reality of every bi person, as it’s stereotypically expected to be.

This essay also asserts that the show is portraying Jack’s sexuality as “normal” by the fifty-first century. The essayists rightly point out the problems with this: it implies bisexual polyamory is “more ‘evolved’ than monosexual monogamy.” (Here’s another misconception about bisexuality that irritates me: that “everyone is bisexual really”…or else they should be because it’s better. Some people really aren’t bi. Most of them, in fact. And that’s okay! A thing doesn’t need to be    (cont p13)“more evolved” or even more prevalent – as these essayists believe both bisexuality and polyamory will be in the more accepting future – to be legitimate.)

Despite this caveat, they also seem to think it’d be pretty cool: “Who wouldn’t like their desires to be universal?” Mohanraj asks, envisioning “a world of happy bi poly people,” but I can’t help but shudder. If nothing else, Doctor Who has always been about protecting and celebrating individuality and choice in the face of baddies like the Daleks, or the Cybermen, or Skagra: who are evil precisely because they want to make everything in the universe assimilated, undifferentiated, just like themselves. We don’t need that.