True Blood’s Lafayette Signals Rise of American Yaoi?

by Irma Arkus

This week’s True Blood announced the added casting of Kevin Alejandro, a familiar face to viewers of Ugly Betty, Southland, and the now defunct Drive.

Alejandro will be joining the show but he will be playing an unusual addition to an already exciting storyline. Alejandro will play none other than Lafayette’s love interest, a move that will potentially change the face of homosexuality and solidify presence of homoerotica in North American media.

You see, Lafayette is unlike other gay characters which have graced the television screens of North American audiences.

Past shows featuring prominent gay characters, such as the long-running sit-com “Will & Grace,” tended to play into LGBT stereotypes, providing a way for the audiences to accept and connect with homosexuality through familiar, albeit often homophobic concepts.

Clip below showcases Will and Jack, who are an example of two male gay characters who display not only amazing interior design abilities, but also practice law and acting, two relatively soft, white-collar professions. They also braid each other’s hair!

But Lafayette’s presence is one that does not follow this familiar pattern in terms of behaviour, instead showcasing a much different, more complete personae, rather than the carboard(ish) stereotypes easily found in popular shows from “Sex in the City” and “Ugly Betty” to “The Office.”

They tend to be feminized to an extent that they serve as best friends of female protagonists who seek their council on everything from what to wear, to how to manage their lives and relationships. We almost never see their background stories, or see them in actual relationships, something that many LGBT communities actively complained about in the past.

Wonderfully depicted by Nelsan Ellis, Lafayette is unlike those characters. In some ways he is an embodiment of discriminatory patterns. He is a gay, black man, residing in a relatively stagnant, small town of southern Bon Temps.

But that is where the distinguishing qualities of Lafayett are showcased. Though flamboyant in his attire, he is also an individual aware of his strengths and abilities, as well as his physical capacity.

A mover and a shaker, Lafayette is a rare fish in a small pond, and he often supplements his income by engaging in variety of legal and illegal schemes. Highly intelligent, provocatively well spoken, and a natural charmer, he wheels and deals to the best of his ability. He mostly trades in drugs, in particular V, named to represent actual vampire-blood used by inhabitants of True Blood universe as a hallucinogenic and a short-term metamorphic substance; but he also engages in potential prostitution, and runs operations such as various internet businesses, including one in which he allows online viewers to pay for dancing in his own living room.

His main source of income though, is a string of low-skilled, low-paid jobs, and that includes being a line cook at Merlot’s, and occasional work in construction. This separates Lafayette from the usual glamour paved over the streets of New York or other major metropolitan cities, and instead allows us to identify him as part of lower-class, working America.

What Ellis brings to the show is an undeniable physicality to the character of Lafayette. Lafayette is keenly aware that he is an exceedingly attractive male, a quality that he takes full advantage of – after all, he wears a lot of makeup and even satin turbans that in any other setting than the kitchen would allow us to tap into Dior or Haute Couture – but he is also aware of his physical, masculine strength, and he seems very much prepared to use it to defend himself or his principles, displaying a kind of savage nobility that usually falls to heterogenous male protagonists.

Watch what happens when Lafayette’s cooking is rejected with a hefty dose of homophobic remarks:

While the discussion on whether Lafayette is confronting in this scene just another set of stereotypes, in this case, a group of three, lower class, unnecessarily patriotic men in fatigues, who also display a great deal of cowardice despite their outspokenness and initial impetus for aggression, Lafayette does succeed in aggressively confronting them, physically defending and proving his masculine superiority.

Thus, Lafayette represents not the kind of gay man who engages in traditionally feminine roles, which would allow the patriarchal, heterosexual audiences to easily dismiss him. Instead, he presents us with a homosexual character who explicitly showcases his masculine strengths.

Lafayette can very much be understood to be a new type of gay character in American media, one that departs from the acceptable stereotypes, and physically threatens the established status quo.

Lafayette’s character is also very much beloved by female and male audiences. While thus far Lafayette has been clearly depicted as a strong homosexual protagonist, the lack of any romantic involvement on his part has also somewhat slightly diminished his open display of homosexuality. In other words, he has been merely a supporting character that most noted as lively, and interesting, but one that still does not display his sexuality in an fully open fashion.

Now, however, with the announcement of Alejandro joining the cast as the Lafayette’s romantic interest, audiences would be given a chance to consume a relatively new type of gay romance, with undeniably homoerotic tendencies.

This very much invites the question of whether True Blood is acting as an introduction, or gives rise to, a type of “yaoi,” a popular sub-genre of manga comic books predominantly consumed by women in Japan.

Yaoi has thus far largely been ignored by the North American consumers, but the general excitement over Lafayette amongst the female audiences is undeniable, as is the excitement over what is to come in the upcoming season of the show.

Perhaps True Blood will pave the way for more than unexpected characters, but open us to a wider, cultural acceptance as well as the unlikely consumption of homoerotica on a much bigger scale.