Months before Alien: Covenant chest-burst onto our screens, a prologue titled 'The Last Supper' introduced us to the franchise's first gay couple, sparking hope that Ridley Scott's latest installment would be his most progressive yet. However, by the end of the film's first act, the Covenant crew were forced to quite literally bury their gays, fulfilling the unfortunate stereotype that has plagued LGBT characters onscreen since Mrs. Danvers was first killed at the end of Hitchcock's Rebecca in the '40s.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Lope and Hallett's inclusion in the film only amounts to a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment of affection that flashes momentarily onscreen following the latter's death. Should we be surprised, though? If you delve far back enough into the history of the Alien franchise, you'll see that the series has simultaneously been both progressive and reductive in its treatment of LGBT characters over the years, dating all the way back to Ridley Scott's first installment — and no, we're not talking about Ellen Ripley.
Joan Lambert's Parents Were More Monstrous Than Any Xenomorph
Much of the talk that surrounds Alien revolves around the revolutionary portrayal of Ellen Ripley, whose undeniable strength as a female character was a genuine game-changer for Hollywood back in 1979. However, what's often left unsaid is how Veronica Cartwright's character is juxtaposed with Ripley, in order to make Sigourney Weaver's heroine seem that much stronger.
By evoking feminine stereotypes of weakness and anxiety, Joan Lambert was instrumental in making Ripley the feminist icon that she is today. However, eagle-eyed fans of the Alien franchise discovered that there's far more to Cartwright's Lambert than initially presumed, all thanks to the wonders of home media.
Remember when Ripley is debriefed by her employers near the beginning of Aliens? While members of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation question Weaver's character regarding the events of the first film, short biographies of each deceased crew member from the Nostromo briefly appear onscreen. The specific words were almost impossible to read back in the day, but since Aliens debuted on home release, fans have been able to pause each biography and read them in more detail.
The majority of these character histories add little to our understanding of the crew, except Lambert's, which may shock readers even more than the real purpose behind the Xenomorphs:
“Subject is Despin Convert at birth (male to female). So far no indication of suppressed traumas related to gender alteration.”
That's right, guys. Joan Lambert was born a man, but her parents changed the sex of their child soon after, even though she was too young to consent. Saying that though, Lambert was assigned male before her "alteration" at birth, seems to identify as a woman now, and shows no signs of gender-related trauma; meaning, technically, Lambert is a trans female. Each of these short biographies are reportedly taken from director Ridley Scott's notes on the first film, so Lambert's status as a trans woman seems to be canon, although most viewers wouldn't know that unless they trawled through the darkest reaches of the internet, or paused each frame obsessively.
In Space, No One Can Hear Your Screams Of Frustration
Re-watching Alien with the knowledge that Lambert was assigned male at birth transforms the entire viewing experience, providing audiences with a fascinating, yet even more tragic insight into her character.
For example, a number of academics and fans alike have suggested over the years that Ripley and Lambert may have been deliberately coded as lesbian lovers, which was further supported by actress Veronica Cartwright when she revealed that this was originally the way her character was written. With both Lambert's gender identity and sexuality obscured and coded, Alien clearly had a long way to go in terms of open representation of LGBT characters.
Watch the deleted scene below to see the physical undercurrent depicted in the relationship between Lambert and Ripley:
Matters take a darker turn when you consider Lambert's gruesome fate. Despite not seeing her death onscreen, the way in which the Xenomorph moves its tail between her legs certainly hinted at a symbolic rape of some kind, which was seemingly confirmed in the video game Alien Isolation when Lambert's corpse is discovered with a mutilated crotch.
While she was not initially portrayed as trans, the fact that Lambert was murdered through a grotesque act of genital mutilation is far more disturbing when this is also taken into account. Given the time period in which Alien was made, it may be understandable that Lambert's gender identity was kept hidden, but her eventual demise is not. It served only to perpetuate an even more harmful trope that continues to plague LGBT characters to this day...
Where Do You Bury The Gays In Space?
Lambert was murdered by the Xenomorphs back in 1979, but her death is only one of many that has plagued LGBT characters in media over the past century. One would hope that such a practice may have faded in recent decades. Unfortunately though, visibility of the 'Bury Your Gays' trope has only increased on our screens following the demise of Lexa, a popular lesbian character who was bumped off in Season 3 of The 100 last year.
That's not all though. In 2016, the pro-LGBT organisation GLAAD revealed a rather disheartening statistic, despite commending how the number of queer characters depicted on TV has hit an all-time high:
"25 lesbian and bisexual female-identifying characters have died on scripted broadcast and cable television and streaming series since the beginning of 2016."
CNN report that GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis was quoted saying that;
"Most of these deaths served no other purpose than to further the narrative of a more central (and often straight, cisgender) character. When there are so few lesbian and bisexual women on television, the decision to kill these characters in droves sends a toxic message about the worth of queer female stories."
While these statistics apply specifically to TV, the 'Bury Your Gays' trope doesn't stop there, bursting through the chest of Hollywood time and time again like a relentless Xenomorph who doesn't know when to stop. Of course, there are exceptions to this approach, including the acclaimed depiction of trans people in the likes of Sense8, Transparent and Orange Is The New Black, but sadly, films such as The Assignment continue to undo the hard work of these shows with a painfully insensitive approach to LGBT issues.
Unfortunately, the #Alien films aren't doing much better. Rodriguez's co-star Sigourney Weaver may take centre stage in one of the most progressive franchises of all time, but sadly, that "progress" amounts to a barely seen #gay couple in Covenant, the ugly death of a secretly trans character in Alien, and whatever the hell was going on with the two Fassbender's and their flutes in the latest movie.
Check out more footage of the gay couple in this prologue to Alien: Covenant titled 'The Last Supper':
When the cisgender actor Jeffrey Tambor won his second Emmy for the role of #trans character Maura Pfefferman in Transparent, he asked the powers that be to:
"Please give transgender talent a chance."
While this is certainly important, it's unfortunate that we still need to give transgender representation a chance also. Yes, progress has been made in the 38 years since Lambert was secretly portrayed as a trans woman — after all, the gay men depicted in #AlienCovenant were technically out in the open. However, their muffled, lackluster representation proves that we still have a long way to go before the acceptance seen on their futuristic colonies is reflected in the real world.
If Ridley Scott doesn't address this unfortunate depiction of #LGBT characters in one of the many sequels that's been confirmed, then the Alien franchise may lose its fair share of fans who have become tired of being teased with progress that amounts to very little. If that's the case, then it may soon be game over, man. Game over!
What are your thoughts on the representation of LGBT characters such as Lambert in the Alien franchise? Let us know in the comments section below!