Warning: this post includes discussion and gifs related to the depiction of rape and violence on the show Outlander.
Last Saturday’s Outlander episode, “Lallybroch,” brought several shocks. We saw many new things: from more of Jamie than we ever have before and Jack Randall’s crown jewels, to Lallybroch in the present tense and Jamie admitting just how long he’s been interested in Claire. But perhaps the most intriguing revelation of all was the reveal of a previously unknown move in Randall and Jamie’s chess match: Randall having offered to stay Jamie’s second flogging in exchange for Jamie submitting to his own rape. Many have taken this scene, as well as Randall’s insistence that Jenny turn around during his attempted rape of her, as proof that Randall is gay. But what did Randall’s “Get out of jail free” offer to Jamie really reveal? Not his sexuality. As series author Diana Gabaldon explains on her Facebook page, Jack Randall is not gay.
To wit, Black Jack Randall is _not_ a homosexual. He’s a pervert. He’s a sadist. He derives sexual pleasure from hurting people, but he’s not particular about the gender of a victim. (Personality, yes–gender, no.)
Yes, you read that right: Black Jack’s attempt to rape Jamie via coercion has no bearing on his sexuality.
This is a difficult pill for some to swallow, and it comes back to a cultural hang up: we still think of rape and sexual assault as sex. Sexual violence is just that: violence. It is not an expression of love or romance, but an exertion of power. It is a weapon to brutalize someone, and a crime that is focused on sex organs, but that is where the similarities (and the causes) cease. Committing violence against someone is not a sign of love or attraction. Jack Randall doesn’t want Jamie to “give over to [him]” because he finds him attractive; it’s because Randall wants to break Jamie and exert complete power over him. And to be absolutely clear, even if Jamie had “agreed,” it still would have been sexual assault: coercion does not equal consent.
Randall exploits the cultural taboos of the time, knowing that sexual relations between men would be an even deeper shame than his sexual assault of Jenny. Moreover, the illusion of choice given to Jamie would likely haunt him, filling him with increased feelings of shame. While we know this is not a real choice and coercion is not consent, it’s common for survivors of sexual assault to internalize guilt and shame, and blame themselves. The particular stigma of male survivors would almost certainly find a way of breaking Jamie down, at least for a little while, and that is where Randall’s satisfaction lies.
The concept of “breaking” someone is central to Randall’s actions. After flogging Jamie, he realized that no matter how brutal the beating, it wasn’t going to work. He wanted Jamie to be defeated and to beg for mercy, but Jamie refused. If Randall has simply been interested in “buggering” Jamie, he easily could have. Jamie was a bound captive. Instead, Randall offered Jamie a false choice, knowing that if Jamie gave in, he would finally feel broken. While I don’t believe in the “sexual assault leaves people broken” narrative, that is how Jamie sees the world, and how he explains it to Claire. She astutely points out that Randall could just as easily have assaulted him and then proceed to flog him anyway. Considering that would make Jamie feel he had “complied” for nothing, which would likely lead to a further sense of defeat, it seems the probable course of action for a man named Black Jack.
Another concept wrapped up in this interaction is that attraction is not determined by your sex life or your current or past partner(s) alone. That is to say: if Randall had indeed sexually assaulted Jamie, it wouldn’t make Black Jack gay. On the flip side, no amount of celibacy or sex with the opposite gender makes a queer person straight. And all of this ignores bisexuality, as many fans and critics alike also did. While I saw many reactions to Randall’s proposition declaring Randall gay, I didn’t see any claiming he is bisexual, pansexual, or any other option.
A large part of this is likely due to bi erasure, and its treatment in our pop culture and society as either a way station on the road to homosexuality, or as merely a ploy for attention. But if sexual assault is violence and not an expression of healthy sexuality, then why are viewers giving so much more weight to his attempt to coerce Jamie than his attempts to rape Jenny and Claire? Many viewers see Randall’s performance issues when assaulting Jenny and his insistence that she turn around as evidence of his homosexuality. First, we must part ways with the antiquated notion that all sex with one person turned around is anal, and that men who have sex with women who aren’t facing them are secretly wishing the women were men. It’s false, limiting, and judgmental. Second, Randall only ordered Jenny to turn around after she started laughing at him. In that moment, Jenny had found a way to take back the power. Much like her brother, she could not be broken, and it got under Randall’s skin. His reaction to the humiliation he feels when his power plays fail seems to be the same for both Fraser siblings: more violence.
For once, I’m actually glad that a character is not queer. As with any group with limited representation, there is more weight on what little representation exists. Having the only queer character on the show (that we know of — I know there are some Claire/Geillis shippers…) be the Big Bad would be dangerous. Furthermore, there is a history of viewing queer people as “perverts” and “sexual deviants,” as well as conflating homosexuality with rape and abuse. Having the only (known) queer character on Outlander be a sadist who uses sex as a weapon would fall into that old trope, encouraging dangerous and cruel stereotypes — the kind that can get good teachers fired for no other reason than their sexuality.
Here’s hoping that Outlander will add or reveal some queer characters, while continuing to explore sexuality in a nuanced way.
What do you think? Do you agree with Gabaldon? Do you think the show will the show follow her lead?
I get that his primary factor is power and breaking someone by using sex as voilence, but claire basically asks why he doesn’t rape her or watch as he is raped by Randal’s thug and he basically says “ehhh, i’m not attracted to him”
Folks can claim Randal isn’t gay but, regardless, rape in any form does play into sexuality even if its mostly for control.
Love D.G.’s books (finishing Drums of Autumn now) but as much as I admire her research & writing skills, would say Diana (and everyone else who’s claiming Black Jack Randall is “not gay”) is in deep denial.
Through out all the scenes with BJR (in all of the books his character is in) he’s never once actually had sex with a woman; there is a vague reference to some obscure woman he attacked but we have no actual scene or details.
Twice he went through the motion of initiating raping Claire but, he did not actually do so in either situation, and, in the scene where he has Claire face down on his desk (and Jamie appears in the window to thwart him), he MAY HAVE attempted anal sex/rape, but we’ll never know if he was “up to” actually having heterosexual sex with her. We DO KNOW that he could not ‘perform’ when he was accosting Jenny at Lallybroch. IF he were indeed “merely a sadist and not a homosexual sadist,” he would have surely raped Jenny without difficulty.
The greatest proof to anyone (without an agenda for being ‘politically correct’ or pleasing everyone) that BJR is only attracted to men was that he had no interest in either raping Claire in the next to last scene at series end, nor, was he interested in ‘watching’ his henchman do so – even though this would have caused a great deal of pain and anguish for both Claire AND Jamie. IF he were merely a sadist with any tendency toward heterosexuality, he would have likely jumped at these tactics, but he stated that this did not interest him.
***SPOILER, in Dragonfly in Amber (2nd book); BJR rapes a boy in a brothel – he could have easily exercised his sadistic practices on any of the women there, but no, he chose to molest the boy. SO, clearly, BJR is a homosexual who also happens to be a major sadistic perv. I don’t understand how D.G. can write all of those scenes and then claim that BJR is bisexual or also likes to torture and have sex with women when he clearly avoids those opportunities at every pass.
In closing, we have a group of friends & family who are watching the series together that has grown to 21 people. 20 of us thought that Ron Moore lost a bit of integrity in the production of the last 2 scenes of season One by devoting an overwhelming amount of time to BJR’s raping and torturing of Jamie. As my husband noted (a successful Clinical Psychologist and author in his own right – 5 books via Doubleday), who specializes in Psych Disorder testing, evaluating, and therapy for deeply disturbed patients), Moore could have shown half the footage of those scenes and still given us the shock effect quite sufficiently – which makes one feel he let the integrity of telling the story fall by the wayside in order to just get viewers to guffaw and tune in for the sake of over emphasizing the brutal scenes. This left mere minutes or less for other scenes that were just as powerful – such as when Claire fools Jamie into believing she’s BJR in order to give him a chance to take back his soul and dignity. In the book this was as powerful a scene as the brutalizing scenes between BJR and Jamie in the prison cell, but we got a quick water downed version that amounted to maybe 2 minutes.
Seven of our group said they would not be watching the next series because of this (I will admit that most of us are either authors, writers, editors, professors, book reviewers, or a combination, so we’re probably tough critics). At least 7 more are “on the fence” about following the next TV season (myself included). It was just so disappointing to see Moore and the screen writers do such a fine job in the previous episodes only to see it end with over sensationalizing those rape/torture scenes by devoting the majority of the show’s time to that and rushing through so many other really good scenes. This just brings the unique quality of the story and show itself down to the level of so many cookie cutter shows that over emphasize sex and violence, and, most of us began watching (as we have read D.G.’s books) for that special quality that sets this story at such a higher level than all the rest…
Lacy, I completely agree with everything you wrote. Gabaldon is definitely “in denial” when it comes to BJR’s sexual orientation: judging from his representation in the novels as well as in the TV series, he is one hundred per cent gay. Hello-o!! Funny, unlike his creator, Gabaldon’s super villain himself seems to have been aware of that fact from an early age on, ever since he coveted his little brother Alex (he calls Jamie Alex during the act, remember?). And I agree, he’s definitely not bisexual (Mary would hardly have married him otherwise, would she;-)?).
That being said, I’m afraid we’re facing yet another problem. THERE IS A SECOND GAY VILLAIN IN THE NOVELS!!
Drumroll…and…enter the duke of Sandringham! What are we going to make of this? The fact that one of the novel’s villain is gay may be called an unhappy coincidence, but two?