Gotham, Renee Montoya, and the Downside of the Visible Queer

This is reposted, with permission, from Sam’s personal blog, where it appeared yesterday.

Last night on Gotham, Renee Montoya got laid. After my initial fist-in-the-air reaction, I settled back down to Earth and thought about it. And I have conflicting thoughts.

Full disclosure: I have pretty conflicting thoughts about this show in general. I really don’t care much about this version of James Gordon and his heroic pain, nor do I care about Harvey Bullock and his rough-around-the-edges anti-hero pain. I’m the only person on the planet who doesn’t think this version of the Penguin is that great (wow, a creepy and effeminate psychopath!) and I hope that after this season his story is done, if the show continues. I wish the show were a little bit more diverse with where it spends its story time, because so far it’s white man o’clock and the evil black woman. I think they’ve wasted Barbara by keeping her creepily cooped up in a clock tower, unless that’s meant to be foreshadowing, but I don’t think the writing on the show is subtle enough for that kind of foreshadowing. See screencap of Harvey Dent, below:

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But also I still watch, because Montoya is there and because I like their take on the organized crime families of Gotham, and I love their version of Catwoman (so far).  I even sort of like Fish Mooney? Anyway, as is often the case for me, I love the side characters and can’t stand the main characters, but the side characters still make it worth watching.

So here we are in bed with Renee and Barbara. On one hand, Gotham put its money where its proverbial mouth is. It put a canonically queer woman into the show and then she was actually queer on screen. Okay, yeah, she’s supposedly queer because they told us she’s queer, but she acted on her romantic feelings for a member of the same gender, so there is no question of her sexuality, and it can’t be waved away as a “non-issue”. Lookin’ at you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., right? In a world of Once Upon a Time and Rizzoli & Isles, shows that only use queerness for exploitation, it’s nice to have another show to put in the positive category, and it’s nice to have it be a superhero show. But there are a lot of shows with queer women now, so maybe I expect a little more.

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That leads us to the other hand. There are three ways this can end: Barbara goes back to Jim, Barbara goes crazy, Barbara dies. I suppose Barbara and Renee could end up in a long-term, relatively healthy (for a drama on television) relationship, but I honestly think there’s a better chance of Bruce Wayne becoming Superman. Meanwhile, nothing about Barbara and Renee’s relationship has been portrayed as healthy. They were mixed up with drugs and/or alcohol, and Renee has been pining all this time after Barbara, despite being told multiple times that that was over. And now Renee is the person who’s sleeping with the hero’s girlfriend.

Because let’s be really clear here; the hero of this story is James Gordon.

Ten years ago, I think I would have basked in this moment for awhile. The queer women in bed together, kissing like actual adults kiss (when they are adults interested in romantic and sexual relationships), not wearing clothes. I don’t know how I feel now. This was played off as a teaser, as a “gotcha” moment at the end of the episode. While Jim talks, we see Barbara with Renee, looking conflicted. The show ends, we’re supposed to be shocked. Mostly I’m worried. And sad. I want more for Renee than to be the Other Man. She deserves better.