“Stargate Universe” responds to controversy over lesbian body swapping episode

After reading my comments in this week’s BLWE about Stargate Universe‘s body-swapping episode that results in Ming-Na‘s lesbian character Camile having sex with a man, a spokesperson for the show contacted me to clarify a few things.

But first, here’s the statement Stargate Universe creators Brad Wright and Robert Cooper posted on the Gateworld forum this morning, after being barraged with complaints via email and Twitter from LGBT and disability rights groups responding to criticism of the episode on a handful of blogs and websites (including AfterEllen.com):

Recently, a casting breakdown was released to agents for a upcoming character in our television show, Stargate Universe. The character, Doctor Eleanor Perry, is a brilliant scientist at the top of her field, who also happens to be a quadriplegic. As part of a science fiction conceit that is core to our series, Perry’s consciousness is temporarily exchanged with one our series main characters, Camile Wray, who is a lesbian. In the course of the story, Perry has the experience of being able bodied for the first time since she was a child. At the same time, Wray, temporarily encumbered by Perry’s physical disability, experiences the unconditional love of her life partner.

The language of the breakdown was insensitive and inaccurate, and we sincerely apologize to those who may have been offended. The audition pages that have been under scrutiny were from an early draft and released out of context. It is our desire and intention to portray both characters with dignity and respect, while remaining mindful of the ethical issues we’re raising.

What I take away from this is 1) whoever wrote the casting sides screwed up, especially when they described Eleanor as only able to “finally experience intimacy” by having sex; 2) in addition to seeing Eleanor in Camile’s body, we’ll see Camile interacting with her partner Sharon as a paraplegic in Eleanor’s body; 3) Brad and Cooper were smart to apologize and do so right away (the story only broke out in the last day or two); and 4) “Camile” is actually spelled with one “l” not two, despite IMDb and the Syfy channel frequently using two l’s (I also confirmed with the show’s spokesperson).

But this statement doesn’t really address the problem of showing a lesbian having sex with a man, especially in the context of lesbians almost never having sex with women on TV, so I focused my conversation with the MGM spokesperson on that.

According to the spokesperson for the show, Camile’s relationship with her partner Sharon (Reiko Aylesworth) is her anchor throughout the stressful events she encounters, and although Sharon will only be seen occasionally, their relationship is referenced throughout the series and clearly established as the only truly stable and healthy relationship on the series.

He also confirmed that we will see “physical intimacy between Ming-Na and her partner equal to the intimacy heterosexual characters on the show.” That’s good news, considering that has only happened a few times on broadcast or basic cable TV (the last time was the two seconds you saw between Callie and Erica on Grey’s). It also means we’ll actually see two women physically involved before we see this episode (since Camile visits her partner on Earth in episode 7, and the body-swapping incident happens around episode 16 or 17).

As for the Eleanor/Camile body swapping episode specifically, he told me sex between bodies (i.e. body swapping) is introduced early in the series, and is an ongoing moral dilemma on the show with serious moral consequences, and this event is no different.

Bottom line? They’re still showing a lesbian having sex with a man, but this is just one of many incidents of people swapping bodies to have sex with other people; there will be negative repercussions to this; and at least they’re also showing — or more accurately, suggesting (since primetime television never really shows characters having sex) — two women having sex.

Unfortunately it still plays into the whole lesbians-sleeping-with-men pattern on TV, and we’ll have to wait and see exactly how that plays out, since the devil is truly in the details when it comes to dialogue and editing. And I’m not sure how this is going to avoid reinforcing negative and inaccurate stereotypes about long-suffering disabled people who aren’t really whole, etc., although that isn’t really my area of expertise.

But if what they’ve told me is true — that the show isn’t employing the same double-standard around physical affection between same-sex and heterosexual couples that we see everywhere else on TV, and that this is just one of many body-swapping incidents so it feels organic to the series, and has negative consequences — I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on the lesbian visibility and see how it turns out. At least for now.