How Gay is “The Big Bang Theory,” Really?

A friend of mine recently made the audacious claim the The Big Bang Theory is gayer than Glee. I, of course, was like, “Dude, Glee is gayer than a basket of tiaras in Elton John’s sewing room!” But his vehement assertion made me pause and think about the last four seasons of the nerdgasmic sitcom. It also made me wonder: How gay is The Big Bang Theory, really?

You can’t talk about the gayness of Big Bang without addressing the giant, purple elephant in the room: Jim Parsons’ sexual orientation. He shows up to awards shows with Todd Spiewak; he wins an Emmy and thanks Todd Spiewak; he makes public theater donations with Todd Spiewak; tabloids claim he is engaged to Todd Spiewak.

But when asks, Parsons’ PR reps won’t comment on his sexuality. Like AE editor-in-chief Michael Jensen said after Parsons’ Emmy win, it’s murky territory trying to navigate the is he/isn’t he question when it comes to buttoned-up celebs. Who gets the say when a person might be gay?

And then, of course, there is Jim Parsons’ character, Sheldon, who has been dogged by The Big Gay Question almost from Big Bang‘s inception. Last year, Entertainment Weekly finally got showrunner Chuck Lorne to sit down and answer the question: Is Sheldon straight? Gay? Bisexual? Asexual? Lorne said that Sheldon is actually “other.” Lorne told EW, “If touching other human beings of any gender is irrelevant to him, why label the thing? Why can’t there be a third gender — male, female and Sheldon?”

A lot of people felt like Lorne’s answer was a cop-out, but I actually kind of dug it. Outside of queer theory, we don’t really talk a lot about gender identity. In her book Gender Outlaw, Kate Bornstein makes a big statement about gender: “Our culture may not simply be creating roles for naturally-gendered people; the culture may be creating gendered people … Do we have the legal and moral right to choose and assign our own genders? Or does that right belong to the state, the church, and the medical profession?”

If gender expression could be as unique as each individual person, well then, why can’t Sheldon just be Sheldon?

It’s a fascinating question, and certainly not one that’s being tackled by any other American sitcom.

So, Jim Parsons gets a “maybe” for the gay thing, and Sheldon gets an “other,” which, frankly, puts him under the ever-growing LGBTQIA umbrella. But how about self-identified gay men: Does Big Bang have any of those?

Well, that depends on who you ask. If you ask Leonard’s mother, for example, she’d happily tell you that Raj and Howard are in an “ersatz homosexual marriage that satisfies [their] need for intimacy.” In fact, last season, she asked them, “Have you finally summoned the courage to express your latent homosexual feelings for one another?”

Even though they shared an accidental kiss, and even though they bicker like a pair of old marrieds, both Raj and Howard vehemently deny that there’s anything between them besides friendship. And it’s probably true, at least on Howard’s end. But there’s a pretty strong case to be made that Raj is a closeted gay fella.

For starters, he’s always saying things like, “It’s like accidentally walking into a gay bar and then having no one hit on you. It happened to, um, a friend of mine.” Or revealing that he had a dream in which he and Howard had side-by-side mansions, “but there was a secret tunnel connecting [Howard's] front yard to [Raj's] back yard.”

Plus he spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about whether or not Howard is having his sexual needs met. Raj declared himself “definitely not gay” and even found the courage to talk to at least one woman without getting drunk last season. But I don’t think the closet door is fully shut on his orientation.

I think it’s a stretch to say The Big Bang Theory is the gayest show on TV, but it is certainly gay adjacent. There are enough rumors surrounding it to fuel a rainbow-colored bonfire. I sometimes wonder why both the actors and the characters won’t just come right out and say it, but then Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard, may have answered for all of them. Last year on The View he talked about the murmurs that he is gay by saying, “I’ve never really addressed those rumors because I always figured, why defend yourself against something that’s not offensive?”

And that’s one of The Big Bang Theory‘s biggest gifts of all to the gay community: It dances around the gay questions with warmth and whimsy. There’s nothing homophobic about it.

Do you think The Big Bang Theory is one of the gayest shows on TV? Will you be tuning in tonight for the fifth season premiere?

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