“I know I look like I could go either way.”—Kima
One of the most interesting topics that David Simon talked about in his recent interview with The Wire superfan and sports writer Jason Whitlock is the way the show handled sexuality. Whitlock admitted that the character of Omar went a long way towards changing his view of homosexuality, and asked why Simon decided to make the badass stickup artist gay. Simon gave a pragmatic response–there was no way for a man to be openly gay in either of the show’s ultra-masculine hierarchies, so the only man who could be gay (openly, that is) had to be one of the few characters who functions outside of these systems (it is worth noting that there are at least two more systems where it is incredibly difficult to be openly gay–sports and politics, both worlds which, like the police department and the corner, revolve around the perception of power).
Simon went on to say that in all of the years he spent covering and writing about the BPD, there were no openly gay male officers. The only exception was for women. In both real life and the world of The Wire, it is acceptable for a woman to be a lesbian. In fact, it might even be preferable. This has its roots in stereotypical notions of gender identity. If men and women sit on opposite sides of the gender spectrum (and they don’t necessarily do that, but this is the way the stereotypes conceive of it), then a homosexual man is seen as less manly, and therefore less worthy of inclusion into a man’s world. A lesbian, on the other hand, is seen as more masculine than other women. Therefore, she will be accepted into that world ahead of a straight woman or even a gay man.
These complex sexual politics play out clearly with the show’s other openly-gay character, Kima Greggs. She is introduced almost immediately as a lesbian, but it is not until “The Buys” that the show both addresses and then moves past the issue of her sexuality. In fact, her entire approach towards her homosexuality, as seen in this episode, is to try to be defined by something deeper.
In the previous episode, we learn that Kima long ago came out to her coworkers. The topic first comes up when she is on the rooftop taking pictures of Bubbles and his hats. As she focuses her camera and looks for Bubbles, Carver says: “Kima, if you don’t mind me asking, when was it that you first figured you liked women better than men?” He asks her politely, but is still a relatively offensive question, as it implies that her sexuality was something she had to “figure,” like a math problem. “I mind you asking,” she says, probably equally annoyed at the invasive nature of the question and the fact that it distracts her from her job. Soon after, her sexuality comes up again in a more openly hostile tone when Herc complains (in her absence) that she is a “stuck up dyke bitch.” Of course, her sexuality has nothing to do with her superiority over Herc, but he doesn’t hesitate to make it a target of his frustration.
It’s not until Episode 3 that we get to hear a more open, honest conversation on the role homosexuality plays in Kima’s work life. One of the reasons the conversation is so open is that it comes up organically, almost by accident. Kima is sitting around the squad room with McNulty and Bubbles, with all three enjoying the ultimate stereotypical-cop’s meal of Dunkin Donuts and coffee. McNulty complains about his divorce, and then he asks Kima if she has ever been married. She squirms a little and exchanges a knowing glance with Bubbs who says “If you ain’t gonna tell him I will.” McNulty is out of the loop, even more so when Bubbles calls him a dog and suggests that he is wasting his time by hitting on Kima (whether he is actually hitting on her is questionable, but it would not be totally out of character for Jimmy).
“I date women,” she finally admits, to which McNulty replies “that’s another thing we have in common. I date women too.” It is such a perfect response, authentic and funny. In that moment he both affirms a bond with Kima and shows that her sexuality is irrelevant to him (if anything, it is a source of further bonding). In fact, the only thing McNulty seems upset about is the fact that he didn’t know already. “So everybody figured this out but me?” The fact that he didn’t figure it out either shows that he is unaware, or that issues like sexual preference are not very important to him.
Then Kima tells her story.
She came out of the closet early on in her career, she says. Coming out is always a difficult choice, whether it is in a personal or professional context. For many people, the decision to come out at work can have particularly negative consequences. For Kima, though, it turns out to be a professional asset. For one, it keeps her “dog” coworkers from hitting on her, since “I look like I could go either way.” A second benefit comes from the perception of toughness that comes with being a lesbian. “I should have known,” McNulty says, telling her that the only other female cop who was “worth a damn” was also a lesbian.
Kima goes on to give a somewhat rambling speech about her early days in the force. Suddenly, she is no longer talking about being a lesbian. It is an interesting moment, shot in an intimate series of medium close-ups that include both Kima and McNulty in the frame. They are visually linked, and it is really the scene where they become close friends and partners. McNulty smiles knowingly as she talks about taking beatings and facing her fear, and how a real cop needs to get past that. “Is there any other way to police?” she asks, and McNulty nods in silent agreement. There is no other way to police.
The last line of the scene is the most telling. “I just know I love the job,” she says. It is such a sharp contrast to the way she introduced her homosexuality, when she said “I date women.” She speaks of sexuality in terms of dating, and the intimacy that comes with it. But she only uses the word “love” when she speaks about her job. We will see the problems this imbalance creates in Kima’s relationship with her partner, Cheryl (which I will discuss in greater detail in a few weeks). But this also links her more closely to McNulty, whose job constantly interferes with his family life. This is also why Kima responds so negatively to Carver. He sees her as a lesbian first and a detective second. For the openly-lesbian Kima, it must be such a relief to find somebody who respects her professional talents, and doesn’t let her sexuality color the way he views her. People like McNulty and Daniels respect her as a detective and a person, and this respect must be a huge relief on the potential burden of being out of the closet in the workplace. She becomes fast friends with McNulty because they share an unspoken understanding that the job comes first, and everything else is just an afterthought.
Now let me hear your interpretations, connections and comments…
Follow The Wire Blog on Twitter at @thewireblog