Whenever somebody begins with the phrase, “No offense, but…,” rest assured that it’s probably going to be somewhat offensive, especially where gay issues are concerned. No matter how progressive our culture seems to be on the surface, beneath that glossy, shiny exterior plastered with photos from Pride Parades, individual state marriage equality victories, and cover stories about TV shows that prominently feature gay characters and story lines like Modern Family, True Blood, Faking It, Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, Teen Wolf, etc., being gay is still considered abnormal, taboo, and just plain wrong. This week, the interwebs are
buzzing freaking out with news that AMC’s The Walking Dead’s Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) might be gay.
The Walking Dead (TWD) is a largely desexualized, hyper-masculine TV show. By that I mean that the characters rarely engage in sexual behavior with one another (save for the Shane-Lori-Rick love triangle in seasons 1 and 2, and Glenn and Maggie’s relationship, but still, you can count number of sex scenes over the course of all 4 seasons of TWD on one hand), and that much of the show is built around killing zombies. Even though, on the surface, it seems like nothing more than a show about carving up the undead, it’s actually a brilliantly written show that frequently focuses on the intricacies of the human condition and how humanity can be tested in devastating ways that often lead the characters to make character-compromising decisions in order to stay alive. It’s often subtle and the stories tend to stretch over the course of entire seasons, instead of the one-off episodes that most shows use to tackle certain issues. In short, strip away the blood and guts and walking corpses, and you have a show that studies the human condition and our basic instincts.
So, where does human sexuality fall in a show about a zombie apocalypse?
Here’s my take: Should our government fall tomorrow from the spread of a rapid-spreading zombie virus, and everything that we know and love disintegrates into memory, I’d still be gay. I’d still love my boyfriend. I’d still want to have sex. Ok, it would be hard (pun so not intended), what with that constant need for survival, but those urges wouldn’t disappear altogether. Fans of the show look to Glenn and Maggie as the shows central couple; against all odds, they find their way back to each other, through zombie hordes, deaths of loved ones, sicknesses, and separation in the wake of warring communities. In between look-out shifts, they have sex and they kiss and hug and their love is something viewers consistently root for. Other than that, there isn’t really romance or brief interludes where other characters sneak off behind zombie-free trees to ravage each other. There was the short-lived relationship between Tara and Alisha, who lived under the Governor during the first half of season 4. Nobody (characters on the show and fans alike) seemed to bat an eyelash. In fact, the show spent no time unraveling the possible inner turmoil of being a lesbian in a post-apocalyptic setting. It just was.
So why is the possibility of Daryl Dixon, the question of which has long persisted online, being gay such a hot topic? Recently, TWD writer and creator (of both the graphic novels and TV series) Robert Kirkman fueled speculation of Daryl’s sexuality in the letter column of The Walking Dead #130. Comicbook.com draws parallels to Jesus, a character in the graphic novel (that hasn’t appeared in the TV series…yet), who is “a tough character and all around badass, who also just happens to be gay.” This is what Kirkman had to say:
“All I can say is that it’s been discussed. We have very specific ideas about Daryl’s sexuality (or the seeming lack thereof), and if there’s ever a quiet period in the show where he’s not consistently distracted by crossbowing… we’ll tackle it in the show.”
Since that admission, the internet took a collective breath before (predictably) freaking out. Because masculine manly men like Daryl Dixon couldn’t possibly be gay. Take a look at some of the reactions from around the web:
First, let’s take a look at Daryl Dixon’s character on The Walking Dead. He’s never exhibited any ounce of interest in any female on the show. Granted, he’s been Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) right hand man, in charge of keeping peace and protecting the group from all threats, but still, there hasn’t been any one moment that any astute observer can hang assurance of Daryl’s hetero- (or homo-, for that matter) sexuality on. For all intents and purposes, he’s been more or less asexual. Sure, there was a moment with Carol when they first reached the prison in season 3 (that no doubt many Carol-Daryl shippers dock their boats at), but they were always more like friends than anything else.
Establishing his asexuality, let’s now take a look at his surroundings. Daryl (presumably) grew up in the mountains of North Georgia. He and his racist brother Merle grew up under the “watch” of neglectful parents. He got lost in the woods for 9 days as a boy and learned to live off the land. Before the apocalypse, he was a drifter and followed Merle around. He has no discernible personality and growing up a) in the deep south and b) around a racist and (almost certainly) homophobic brother, if Daryl were gay, it is likely that he would never have acted on his urges or feelings. It’s also possible that he’d be ashamed or hate himself for being gay given how he was raised, so it’s not unlikely that Daryl is gay but fights hard to repress how he feels, allowing his asexual presence on the show to make sense. If an observant fan of the show gives any thought to this, then it’s impossible to ignore Robert Kirkman’s implications that the show “will tackle” Daryl’s … issues.
In any case, why is this still a point of contention? Why is the revelation of a gay character news? Why does it still cause an uproar? Why do some people think that a gay character on a TV show is doing one or more of the following:
- Filling some sort of quota
- Adding to some sort of “gay agenda”
- Being forced by the media to push the “gay lifestyle down our throats”
- Pandering to only a small percent of the population because that’s what the media wants
- Trying to drum up controversy which will lead to higher ratings?
Are we still so resistant to the idea of homosexuality that the thought of a gay character surviving a zombie apocalypse is ludicrous?
Why, on a show brilliantly crafted to comment on the human spirit and condition, which has taken time to peel back the layers of a young girl (Lizzie) who exhibited early signs of a serial killer in the season 4 episode “The Grove,” one of the most powerful, gripping, and heartbreaking episodes of any TV show that I’ve ever seen (ever), is homosexuality a source of contention for so many of its viewers?
Why is it still such an issue for so many Americans in general?
It just goes to prove that, despite all of our advances, we’re really only advanced as far as our media is concerned. It’s amazing the (hyper) reality that the media can create for those of us who can see past labels and only see humans and the human experience. Regardless of whether or not Daryl Dixon is gay, this kind of reaction to out-characters (or celebrities) is still irksome.
One person on Twitter had this to say:
A gay Daryl might go a long way to help combat the still-prevalent stereotypes of gay men and could help to shed light on what it means to be gay in a country that, despite all the banners and laws, is still pretty homophobic. Don’t believe me, just check comment sections all across the internet.