Whoosh! Issue 24 - September 1998

STORIES OF FLUID SEXUALITY:
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS AND ARE YOU BEING SERVED?

IAXS project #607
By Virginia Carper
Copyright © 1998 held by author
3631 words



Understanding With Stories (01-06)
Are You Being Served? (07-08)
Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries (09-11)
Stories Of Heterosexuality (12-15)
Stories Of Homosexuality (16-19)
Stories Of Other Sexuality (20-23)
Stories That Push The Norms (24-27)
People Behind The Stories (28-33)
What Do These Stories Tell Us? (34-37)
Resources
Biography



Stories Of Fluid Sexuality:
Xena: Warrior Princess and Are You Being Served?



Rupaul, eat your heart out!


Miss Artiphys, Warrior Queen.


Masculine women, feminine men
Which is the rooster, which is the hen?
It's hard to tell them apart today, that way
Sister is busy learning to shave
Brother just got a permanent wave
It's hard to tell them apart today, hey-hey
Girls were girls and boys were boys
when I was a tot.
Now we don't know who is who or even what's what.
    Are You Being Served?: New Look (1975, 308)

Honey, I'm no princess. I'm a queen.
    -- Miss Artiphys, XENA Warrior Princess: HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211)


Understanding With Stories

[1] Stories tell us who we are, and what our truths are. They make known the unknown, and are a way to explore difficult topics. Using stories, we can better understand Xena's and Gabrielle's changing relationship.

[2] One central issue of Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) is whether Xena and Gabrielle are a committed couple or close friends. Fans of the lesbian subtext point to episodes such as THE QUEST (37/213) or ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313) for evidence that Xena and Gabrielle are a couple. Fans of the main heterosexual text rebut that Xena had several male lovers and that Gabrielle is a widow.

[3] One way to explore this question and our response is to compare XWP with another TV show that has sexually ambiguous characters. Does such a show exist? How would comparing it to XWP help us to understand the controversy about Xena's and Gabrielle's sexuality?

[4] Many people have claimed that STAR TREK (TV, 1966-1969) had sexually fluid characters. Captain Kirk had an unusually close friendship with First Officer Spock. Although he had a girl in every port, Kirk was on intimate terms with Spock. The lines between gender and sexuality became blurred when Spock remained emotionally close to Kirk in spite of his Vulcan physiological urge to mate with his promised female companion or die. However, Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator and producer, had stressed firmly that these two characters were heterosexual males.

[5] By contrast, the producers of XWP have said that fans could find a lesbian subtext to Xena's and Gabrielle's relationship if they chose to interpret things that way. The British comedy, Are You Being Served? (AYBS) is more similar to XWP than STAR TREK because Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, the creators of AYBS, wrote one character as sexually ambiguous -- Mr. Humphries in Men's Wear. In addition, John Inman, the actor who played Mr. Humphries, has remained silent on his character's sexual orientation.

[6] How could comparing XWP and AYBS help to understand the controversy surrounding Xena's and Gabrielle's sexuality? AYBS, which aired twenty years before XWP, has dealt with the same questions of undisclosed sexuality. Comparing fans' reactions to AYBS with XWP will aid in understanding the dilemma over ambiguous sexuality on television.


Are You Being Served?

Mr. Grainger confesses he's descended from Salmoneus


Left to right, Miss Brahms, Mrs. Slocombe, Captain Peacock, Mr. Grainger, Mr. Lucas, Mr. Humphries. For more info on ARE YOU BEING SERVED, see Jeff Rice's website (who kindly allowed the AYBS pics) at http://www.clever.net/rice/www/


[7] Set in Grace Brothers department store in London, AYBS highlighted the tension between various people within a business hierarchy. Any slight deviation from this power structure (such as the style of hat each salesman wore to work or the number of frills on the blouses of saleswomen) set off ripples of infinite repercussions within the hierarchy. Adding to this tension were controversial topics, such as the sexuality of older women, and serious subjects, such as Britain's energy crisis of the 1970's.

[8] The cast of characters included:

Young Mr. Gracethe eighty-something store owner.
Mr. Rumboldthe clueless senior manager of Men's and Ladies' Wear Departments.
Captain Peacockthe floor walker with a fondness for younger women.
  
Sales staff of Ladies' Wear:
Mrs. Slocombethe senior supervisor, an older woman in search of a good time.
Miss Brahmsthe junior saleswoman
  
Sales staff of Men's Wear:
Mr. Graingerthe senior supervisor, who has worked at Grace Bros. since 1926
Mr. Humphriesthe senior salesman with an eye for fashion
Young Mr. Lucasthe junior salesman, who pursues sex with Miss Brahms.
  
Mr. Mash and
Mr. Harman
the building support staff

Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries

And I am unanimous in that!


In some episodes, it was suggested Mrs. Slocombe had a 'thing' for Mr. Humphries.


Quite a lot of ladies thought twice about me. It's the second thought...
    Erotic Dreams of Mrs. Slocombe, 1981, 807

MR. RUMBOLD (on the phone) Well is he or isn't he? YOUNG MR. GRACE (on the phone) How should I know? People have been asking me that question for years.
    The Junior, 1979, 701

[9] In the show's premiere episode, Mr. Humphries had only two lines, but he quickly became a favorite of viewers. Dressed in his natty three piece pin-striped suit, Mr. Humphries caught people's imaginations. When asked, "Are you free?", he usually replied in his high tenor voice, "I'm free!" However, when he answered the phone in his department, Mr. Humphries would speak in a deep bass, "Men's wear".

[10] What was striking about Mr. Humphries was his effeminate characteristics. Off duty, he dressed flamboyantly in bright colors. When he walked, he wiggled his hips. In social situations, he was apt to take the role of the woman. In The Clock (1974, 201), he descended the stairs from the elevator to the department floor while holding Mr. Lucas' hand.

[11] While they prepared for the store's opening, Mr. Humphries would regale his sales mate (either Mr. Lucas or Mr. Spooner) with tales of his adventures of the night before. Both men assumed that his partners were men. Piqued, Mr. Humphries would retort, "Now, why are you always supposing that?"


Stories Of Heterosexuality

[12] In discussions about gender, heterosexuality is considered the socially acceptable "rule" by which sexual orientation is determined. Unless their behavior lies outside the defined bounds of heterosexuality, a character is assumed to be "straight". Since Xena and Gabrielle's characteristics and personality traits meet many of today's "norms" for women, they can be considered straight. However, Mr. Humphries would not be considered the "norm" because of his feminine walk and falsetto voice. But as both T.V. series developed, the characters' sexuality became more undefined.


Xena

Brush your teeth, comb your hair, wash your faces...


Xena and Ulysses share a moment.


[13] Xena had close relationships with several men: Borias, the father of her son; Marcus, her lover; and Petracles, her ex-fiancee. In DESTINY (36/212), she became attracted to Julius Caesar, who used her devotion to capture and torment her. In ULYSSES (43/219), Xena was willing to love Ulysses until she heard that his wife was alive. In KING CON (61/315), Xena was wary of Rafe, the con artist, because she knew of his bet to make her kiss him. Meanwhile, Gabrielle dryly observed how attracted Xena was to Rafe.

ULYSSES (43/219)

XENA [Gabrielle] believes that everyone has a soul mate on earth made just for them. ULYSSES Yes, yes. That's exactly how I feel. Like I've found my soul mate.
...

XENA Gabrielle, you've been so good for me. I don't think I would ever have let myself feel the way I feel now about Ulysses if it wasn't for you teaching me how to love. GABRIELLE Did you say love? XENA Yeah, I guess I did. GABRIELLE I guess we'll be staying on a while in Ith...

KING CON (61/315)
GABRIELLE So, you and Rafe, huh? He's not too bad, is he? XENA You mean for someone who makes his money cheating others out of theirs? Yeah, he's a prince. GABRIELLE I didn't say he was perfect, but you saw him with Joxer. You have to admit, he's smart, he's funny, he's handsome-- XENA Arrogant and self-centered. GABRIELLE Your typical bad boy. Just your type.

Gabrielle

[14] Gabrielle is a widow who married Perdicus, a soldier from her village of Poteidaia. When Gabrielle is taunted by Callisto, who killed Perdicus, she shrieks and races away because she still grieves for Perdicus. [A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214)] Before her marriage, she had several deepening friendships with men. In THE TITANS (07/107), she became close to Philius, the young priest, so close in fact that Xena, at first, believed that the two young people had had sexual relations.

RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205)

GABRIELLE Perdicus... I know what love is now... it's life. Everything's united by love alone.


Mr. Humphries

[15] Mrs. Slocombe, who was always fond of Mr. Humphries, became enamored of him. Because he only liked her, Mrs. Slocombe resorted to drinking while on the job. In desperation, the staff advertised in the personal columns for a date for her. When that failed, Miss Brahms told Mr. Humphries to show some affection toward "poor" Mrs. Slocombe. At the Royal Ballet, Mr. Humphries sat between the two women. While Mrs. Slocombe consoled herself with rum chocolates, Miss Brahms showed Mr. Humphries what Mrs. Slocombe liked. Within minutes, he grabbed Miss Brahms, and fell to the floor kissing her. (Erotic Dreams of Mrs. Slocombe)

Erotic Dreams of Mrs. Slocombe

MR. HUMPHRIES Put in `Male companion of the opposite sex'. MR. KLEIN That's a waste of print and money! MR. HUMPHRIES In my experience, it's better to be safe than sorry.


Stories Of Homosexuality

[16] When AYBS first aired in 1972 in the United Kingdom, homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Before the U.S. Stonewall Protest of 1969, police routinely jailed citizens who were homosexuals. By 1995, when XWP debuted in the United States, many people were marching in annual Gay Pride Parades or attending openly gay bars.


Xena

...'cause you never know when you'll lock braces!


Xena and Gabrielle share a moment.


[17] Fans of the subtext have stressed that the kiss that Xena gives Gabrielle in THE QUEST (37/213) is evidence that they are a couple. Minya, in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), immediately grasps that Gabrielle is Xena's partner. In BLIND FAITH (42/218), because her love for Gabrielle is so great, Xena is willing to lose her eyesight to save Gabrielle.

A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)

MINYA The whip is mine. The frying pan is yours. Hower is mine! (Pointing to Gabrielle) She's yours.

BLIND FAITH (42/218)
PALAMON Is your friend really worth all this? XENA I'd give my life to save her. PALAMON You see? Friends make you vulnerable. That's why I don't have any.


Gabrielle

[18] Since the murder of her husband, Gabrielle has grown closer to Xena. In FORGET ME NOT (63/317), Ares, the god of war, confronts Gabrielle on her deep love for Xena and uses that against her. Once in his debt, Gabrielle ceases to be his major rival for Xena's affection.

FORGET ME NOT (63/317)

ARES There is no point to living. Don't you get it, Gabrielle? Maybe that's the Source for all your pain. All you've been through with Xena, all she's put you through, maybe you finally realized that it all adds up to a big, fat, zero. GABRIELLE I know, it's because of what I did; it's because of why I did it. ... ARES Well, there she goes without you. Kinda makes you feel second best doesn't it? Yep, Lao Ma must be important alright; Xena would never do anything like this for you. Funny isn't it? You give up your family, your home, your blood innocence, your daughter, all because of Xena. And yet, it's like nothing compared to the debt she owes this woman. ... GABRIELLE I wanted to betray her. I gave her everything, and it meant nothing to her. I hated her for loving someone else. I wanted her to hurt, I wanted her to be punished. And I almost got her killed. My hatred and jealousy almost destroyed my best friend.


Mr. Humphries

Another day, another inside leg!


Wilberforce Clayborne Humpries.


[19] During the show's first season, Mr. Humphries was considered by many to be the stereotypical gay man. That prompted the gay community in the United Kingdom to protest that the character promoted homophobia. In response, Mr. Croft and Mr. Lloyd wrote episodes that emphasized Mr. Humphries' humanity. In the 1990's, the U.K. gay community came to regard Mr. Humphries as a "camp" icon since he was a compassionate and loyal friend to the rest of the sales staff.

Cold Comfort (1974, 104)

Reporting to work, Mr. Humphries spies Captain Peacock still bundled up. Mr. Humphries (opening his racoon coat) Masked Stranger, take my body but leave my jewels alone. Captain Peacock (unwinding his scarf) Good Morning, Mr. Humphries. Mr. Humphries (realizing it is Captain Peacock) Well, in that case, I withdraw my offer.


Stories Of Other Sexuality


XWP

[20] What Xena and AYBS share is their commonsense approach to other ways of sexuality. In XWP: BLIND FAITH (42/218), Vidalis, the Royal Chamberlain, is an openly gay man. He is respected for his vast knowledge of matters of refinement. Impressed with his courage and panache, Xena and Gabrielle prompt Vidalis to join Palaemon as his sidekick, which he does.

XENA The cure is Egyptian Senna. You can get it in Athens, but by the time we get there it will be too late. VIDALIS Egyptian Senna? I have that growing in my garden. Well, can't make a good face cream without it. ... VIDALIS You know, he and I dealt with those guards quite handily. I think I might follow him and see if he needs a sidekick. GABRIELLE It's pretty good work if you can get it. VIDALIS Gabrielle, you are a great lady. GABRIELLE Thank you, Vidalis. VIDALIS Shame about the hands though.

[21] XWP: HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211) introduces a male transvestite, Miss Artiphys (Karen Dior a.k.a. Geoff Gann) as a beauty contestant. Miss Artiphys tells Xena that although he is a man, his calling is to be a woman. Xena's response, "May the best person win". Miss Artiphys eventually wins the title of Miss Known World and kisses Xena in gratitude.


AYBS

[22] AYBS: Diamonds Are A Man's Best Friend... (1973, 106) presents a transsexual friend of Mr. Humphries. Arm in arm, Mr. Humphries and his friend enter the store. Watching them say good bye, Mr. Lucas admires the gorgeous woman and envies Mr. Humphries' luck. When he hears the truth, Mr. Lucas shakes his head in disbelief, and tidies up the counter.

MR. LUCAS That gorgeous woman? Your friend? MR. HUMPHRIES He's much more settled since he had the operation.

[23] In many episodes of AYBS, either Young Mr. Grace or Captain Peacock proposition the young women employed at Grace Brothers. But in Mrs. Slocombe's Expects (1977,501), an openly homosexual man propositions Mr. Humphries. As part of a sales gimmick, Mr. Humphries, dressed as a biker, stands at the men's counter and comments, "I wish I could afford that". A well dressed man comes to buy a cashmere sweater, and later a silk scarf, and a velour hat.

Mr. Lucas (to the customer) Will that be all? CUSTOMER (gestures to Mr. Humphries) Buy the same for my friend here. MR. HUMPHRIES What? CUSTOMER I'm rich. I'm alone. And I want you to come up to my apartment for a drink. MR. HUMPHRIES (shakes his head) I don't think I can afford that.


Stories That Push The Norms

[24] Society has defined what is masculine and what is feminine behavior. When a person of one sex displays characteristics of what has been classified as those of the opposite sex, other people may become confused or wary of them. In contrast, XWP and AYBS routinely show ordinary people engaging in behavior beyond the "norms" of societal definitions.


XWP

[25] For example, Xena, known as the Warrior Princess, has commanded an army and led troops into battle. But when Salmoneus wants to find out who is sabotaging the Miss Known World Pageant [HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211)], he asks Gabrielle to pose as a contestant. When Xena volunteers to enter to contest, Salmoneus is surprised for he never thought of the beautiful Xena as feminine.


AYBS

[26] Unlike many other straight men, Mr. Lucas does not reject Mr. Humphries' overtures of friendship. During store functions, they dance together and hold hands. In Cold Comfort (1974, 202), he comes to work with white ice skates hanging over his shoulder. Mr. Humphries exclaims, "Oh look! It's Sonia Henny".

[27] In Happy Returns (1978, 606), Mr. Lucas is assigned to play Little Boy Blue for a company ballet production. Because the costume is too tight, he is embarrassed to take off his raincoat. But then Mr. Humphries dances in as the Fairy Prince, in a tighter costume. Flinging off his black raincoat, Mr. Lucas exclaims, "Oh, well, if he can, so can I!"


People Behind The Stories


XWP

Forget Monica Lewinski, check out *this* hair!


Liz Friedman, at the Burbank 1998 con.


[28] Liz Friedman, a producer, is open about being a lesbian. Moreover, her feminist sensibilities are incorporated into the show. For example, one of her rules for the writers is that they must write Xena as they would any male character. This leads to unexpected story lines, such as HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211), which pursued the concept of true beauty beyond conventional understanding of the idea.

[29] During her session at the first Xena/Hercules convention (Burbank, California, January 1997), Ms. Friedman addressed the subtext issue, "What we intend about the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is irrelevant. It's really your show and how you want to take it is fine".

[30] Robert Tapert, the executive producer, echoed her sentiments in his interviews: the relationship was "whatever you [fans, individual and collective] want it to be".

[31] In an interview in STARBURST #228 (UK), Renee O'Connor (who plays Gabrielle) discussed the subtext issue: "I think we play our characters very true to each other; we have an honest friendship, and we love each other; that's all there is to it. People just read into it what they choose to see. . . It's sad that people have to pigeonhole our characters, because our relationship is so multidimensional that you can't really place it into one mind or another".


AYBS

[32] John Inman, the actor who plays Mr. Humphries, came of age in the era of "don't ask, don't tell". Unlike Liz Friedman, John Inman is silent on his sexuality. He has revealed that he had a love when he was twenty-four, but none since. Fans meeting him at autograph signing sessions, however, have noticed that he is quite effeminate.

[33] In an interview by the BBC online magazine OI ("John Inman, An Androgynous Sex Symbol" [March 1998]), Mr. Inman was asked what he thought of being called an "androgynous sex icon". He replied, "Well, if that's what I am, it feels wonderful!! I'm very happy being me. I don't really want to be anyone else".


What Do These Stories Tell Us?

Proof that deadwood floats to the top


Mr. Rumbold was also known as 'old Jug-Ears'.


A satisfied team is an efficient team.
    -- Mr. Rumbold: Our Figures Are Slipping, 1973, 102

[34] To increase sales in his department, Mr. Rumbold must inspire the assorted group that he manages to function as a team. The group of people ranges from the overly sexed and sarcastic Mr. Lucas to elderly Mr. Grainger, who resents the intrusion of the Ladies' Department on his floor, to Mrs. Slocombe, the head of the Ladies' Department. Mr. Rumbold needs to convince these people to set aside their differences and join together. Humorously, however, when they actually do join forces, it is to thwart Mr. Rumbold.

[35] For example, to increase sales, Mr. Rumbold opened the store early. The sales staff so resented coming in early that they sabotaged his scheme by refusing to sell to the afternoon customers. (No Sale, 1976, 402). When he had security cameras installed, the staff plotted to convince him that the cameras were bad for his health. (Big Brother, 1974, 204). In their plans to thwart Mr. Rumbold, the staff did not care about anyone else's gender or sexual orientation.

MR. LUCAS You still on the fence? MR. HUMPHRIES Why yes. That way you can see what's growing in both gardens.
   (Shedding The Load, 1978, 604) [36] Mr. Lucas was commenting on Mr. Humphries' sexuality. Although he regarded him to be a homosexual, Mr. Lucas is still not quite sure. Mr. Humphries' answer was the one that he expected since Mr. Humphries summed up his point of view as, "Just because I have an affectionate nature, I have all sorts of friends -- sizes, shapes and sexes". (Fifty Years On, 1976, 405)

[37] What AYBS tells us is that fluid sexuality is not that unusual. Since society's definitions of sexual norms change often, fluid sexuality is quite common. Perhaps we can regard Xena's and Gabrielle's relationship as fluid, and see what Mr. Humphries sees -- what is growing both gardens.


Resources

AYBS

Subtext for AYBS

Interview with John Inman

XWP maintext focus, Gabrielle and Joxer Romantics Society

Xenaquest's Xena Subtext Page



Biography

Virginia Carper Virginia Carper
My goal is to be a garden variety human being. My friends know me as a squirrel. I am, however, a card carrying member of the Squirrel Lovers Club, and do squirrel studies. The FRB.GOV means that I am in U.S. Federal Government Service, and proud of it. My husband, the Civil War Buff, introduced me to things military. Together, we have visited every Civil War battlefield in PA, DEL, MD, W. VA., VA, and NC. I am also a disability activist. My family watches XWP for the marvelous things Xena does and for Joxer, the warlord with autism. (Yes, we all have various disabilities.)
Favorite episode: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302)
Favorite line: Xena to Gabrielle: "Are you alright?" Gabrielle: "I just had to get rid of my squid friends." LOST MARINER (45/221)
First episode seen: WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Most of season three

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