Learn to Edit for Court Reporters_preview - trisspencer.com

Is Commander Lawrence a Closeted Gay Man? (The Handmaid’s Tale)

I THINK I just put 2+2 together and got 4, thanks to the discussion on an awesome Facebook group I’m a member of:  Intersectional Discussion of The Handmaid’s Tale.

A fellow participant simply asked the question, Is Commander Lawrence gay?

This hadn’t even occurred to me.

I assumed he’d have been hung from the wall long ago if anyone had clocked him as a gender traitor.

Frankly, I just assumed at first that he was a freaky fundie, a sexual sadist who, like Fred and Warren before him, acted in concert with the “understanding” that Gilead’s rules and laws about Handmaids didn’t actually apply to him because he was a “leader” in the movement. I’ve seen that firsthand–how leaders give themselves privileges, believing they are more deserving, or rationalizing that they are doing more of the work than everyone else is.

But I suddenly realized that the Christian fundamentalist part of my background kept me from seeing any other possibilities. I wasn’t capable of seeing past my own bias toward demonizing Lawrence until the other FB group participant asked a simple question.

(Maybe this is instructive for dealing with folks who harbor other kinds of bias too. Don’t always try to argue. Don’t always try to prove them wrong. Don’t always try to “fact” them to death, because we’ve seen that facts don’t matter to them. And don’t always try to outshout them; are these idiots worth blowing out your vocal cords over? Not all the time, anyway. There’s a time for shouting and facts and figures, certainly. But, damn. A friendly person simply asked a question and held some space for people to think that question through. WHAT IS THIS FELL SORCERY?!)

Did anyone else think it was kind of weird that one of the first things Lawrence said to Emily was to enshrine “privacy” as the penultimate value in the household?

Isn’t it kind of weird that Eleanor, Lawrence’s wife, said, “He doesn’t like me to talk to the girls”? The other Handmaid/Wife relationships we’ve seen in Gilead have ranged from resignation to outright hostility from the Wives to the Handmaids. But she seems to want connection and maybe friendship with the Handmaids she has encountered.

Why is Commander Lawrence so worried about his Wife talking to the Handmaids? What might she tell others that constitutes such a threat in his mind?

Admittedly, my first thought was that he might hiding a bunch of dead female bodies in the basement.

Now, though, I am rather convinced that the showrunners and writers picking the last name of “Lawrence” for this commander and making a pointed referenced to privacy in the household was quite deliberate.

I believe it is a pointed reference to the court case LAWRENCE V. TEXAS.

Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) was a landmark SCOTUS case from 2003 that paved the way for the legalization of gay marriage. It was a sodomy case that was argued from a SEXUAL PRIVACY angle.

Consider that Commander Lawrence is married to an art professor, which would give him a credible excuse for having all that art in the house. But in a broader sense, Eleanor might possibly have been functioning as his “beard” for the whole duration of their marriage. The Lawrence v. Texas connection also opens up a whole new angle on his questioning Emily, especially about her clitoridectomy.

  • Maybe his seeming interest in mutilated women is more than a puerile interest or a sexual fetish.
  • Maybe he was trying, in the best way he knew how without overcommitting himself, to hint to Emily about his own state of affairs. He knows Emily is a highly educated woman.
  • Maybe Lawrence needs to understand Emily’s experiences in Gilead to help him better understand his own personal situation.
  • Maybe Lawrence needs to understand Emily’s experiences in Gilead to help him face the monster he helped to create. And maybe he and Emily will even end up facing that monster together. I don’t mean as a romantic couple, but as allies in a war.
  • Maybe what we’re seeing here, for the first time in the series, is how a closeted gay man might try to survive in Gilead. 

Maybe I’m looking at a man in that photo above who is embittered, rather than psychopathic, as I first wondered.

Maybe Emily’s going to “save” him, rather than the tired trope of him being a white- or gray-hat guy who rides in to save a distressed “little lady.” And maybe they will save each other.

Daaaaaaaaaaaaaamn. This plot line just got way more interesting and hopeful (maybe) for me. We’ve seen more than enough of Gilead’s horrors. I suspect we’re all ready for some really good news.

Emily has been deeply damaged by her experiences in Gilead–moreso, it seems clear, than at least some of the other Handmaids have been. And this has been as a direct result of her sexual identification by Gilead as a “gender traitor.” And it seems clear that Lawrence himself is surrounded by damaged women. What does it mean? Anything?

Will the Lawrence household turn out to be a haven, if only temporary, for Emily?

Hopefully, the Lawrence story line alleviates some of the darkness and despair of Gilead–not just for Emily, but for all of us.

*     *    *

What are your thoughts about Commander Lawrence and our introduction to the Lawrence household in S2 Ep12? Share in the comments!