How James Bond's relationship with the LGBTQ+ community has changed
James Bond and LGBTQ+ representation may still have far to go but that does not mean fans from the community haven't always been there.
As one of the longest-running franchises in history, James Bond is both a literary hero and a cinematic one, providing thrills and spills to readers and viewers around the globe for decades.
Through numerous guises from Cold War ice-cold killer to cheesy '80s action hero to the more grounded super-spy, Bond has had boasted various faces, foes and femme fatales to grapple with.
As such, across the globe, Bond has made all types of fans and as a character engaged through numerous communities.
One area that has only come into focus in recent years is the presence of the LGBTQ+ community in his stories and among his fans.
So, where was there representation within the Bond novels by his creator Sir Ian Fleming?
The James Bond books
Of course, the novels by Ian Fleming were not the kindest when it came to LGBTQ+ representation, representing many of the negative tropes and values that were so prevalent in the era.
Mostly, the LGBTQ+ representation was visible in the Bond villains.
The novel Diamonds Are Forever introduced the first notable portrayal of LGBTQ+ individuals in the form of the mob assassins Wint and Kidd.
The characters are total sadists and take particular pleasure in pouring boiling mud over a jockey’s face in one particularly memorable scene.
The pair are quite indelible characters, Wint with his fear of international travel and Kidd with his "pretty-boy" appearance. Their respective phobia and feminine appearance go against the heteronormative ideals of masculinity and this association with "deviancy" is only further clarified when Bond’s close ally Felix Leiter voices his conclusion that the pair are gay.
Leiter even notes that "some of these homos make the worst killers" in a rather derogatory comment.
The pair threaten to kill Bond’s love interest Tiffany Case at the conclusion of the novel but Bond manages to murder them both, making them appear to have died in a murder-suicide, leaving them entwined in death too.
After this, in the following novel From Russia with Love in 1957, Fleming created one of his most memorable antagonists in the form of Colonel Rosa Klebb, the head of Operations and Executions for the Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH.
In the book, Klebb is described as "the oldest and ugliest whore in the world" and is an incredibly negative representation of a Soviet woman and of a lesbian. Klebb sexually harasses her subordinate Corporal Tatiana Romanova after an interview, approaching her in a nightgown.
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Klebb’s sexuality is overt and clear and she is also one of the chief architects of a plan to humiliate MI6 and Bond personally, attaching her sexuality to danger and a threat to Western ideals.
The character also almost claims the life of Bond, leaving him at death’s door in the cliffhanger after stabbing him with a poisoned tipped blade attached to her shoe. Klebb was to be the person to kill Bond here too, as Fleming planned to end the series with this, but Bond was brought back.
The character was dealt a throwaway fate in the following novel Dr No, where she is revealed to have died off-page.
Meanwhile, the most siginificant and only vaguely positive representation on offer in the novels is in the 1959 novel Goldfinger, which features the prominent but problematic representations of lesbians.
The most notable lesbian character is Pussy Galore - the innuendo-branded leading lady who first serves the villainous Auric Goldfinger with her gang of cat burglars.
Ostensibly a villain to start with, the roguish Pussy and her team are referred to by Goldfinger as "a lesbian organisation" and the book goes on to address her backstory.
Pussy reveals that she was sexually abused at the age of 12 by her own uncle and this is described as prompting her lesbianism and as avoiding sexual contact with men.
Rather offensively, over the course of the story, Pussy’s morals shifting towards Bond and the side of "good" also comes with his managing to seduce her, giving him the ability to "fix" and to "turn" her with his sexual magnetism, leading to Galore aiding Bond in defeating Goldfinger.
The character is therefore someone to be "fixed" due to her past as an abuse victim - not the first time Bond has done this either (see Honeychile Ryder in Dr No) - but also to mend her "deviancy" in criminality and in her sexuality.
In addition to Pussy and her cat burglars, Bond is also joined by Tilly Masterton in avenging her sister Jill who was murdered by Goldfinger. Tilly shows no interest in Bond but her Queerness is evident when her attraction to Pussy is made clear, leading Bond to assume she is a lesbian.
In the climax of the book, Tilly turns to Pussy for protection instead of Bond amid a violent battle between the CIA and Goldfinger’s forces - a symbolic rejection of heterosexuality for homosexuality. However, this decision to run to Pussy only results in her death at the hands of Goldfinger’s bodyguard Oddjob when he throws his razor-edged hat at her.
As such, any lesbian women in the book are either 'redeemed' of their deviancy or are met with punishment.
Finally, in Fleming’s final Bond novel The Man with the Golden Gun, which was released in 1965, the villain is also implied to be gay.
The eponymous Francisco Scaramanga, the notorious assassin, is revealed to be unable to whistle.
Almost laughably, Bond’s superior M notes a "popular theory that a man who cannot whistle has homosexual tendencies" – a surefire test of sexuality if ever you heard one.
The suggestion is therefore that another of Bond’s enemies is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, even though realistically there is no substantial evidence to suggest he is.
Evidently, the original Bond novels are not the place to find strong and positive representation of the LGBTQ+ community.
- Read more about Bond At 70:
James Bond films
The Bond films have naturally had a lot longer to develop and improve their LGBTQ+ representation over 60 years but the most positive steps have only occurred in the last few films.
Like the novel, the 1963 film From Russia with Love featured Colonel Rosa Klebb (played by Lotte Lenya) and her lesbianism remained intact, displayed in her recoiling at the touch of SPECTRE trainer Morzeny (Walter Gotell) but most visibly in her interview with Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), during which she caresses Tatiana while referring to the "labour of love" that Romanova is being enlisted for.
Similarly to the novels, Klebb ultimately attempts to kill Bond but is shot dead instead by Romanova - the victim of her lustful harassment killing her instead here and later joining Bond for some passion on the canals of Venice.
However, the lesbianism present in the Goldfinger novel is mostly absent in the 1964 film adaptation. Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore remains a henchman of Goldfinger’s who turns to Bond’s side after he seduces her. The closest hint to her perhaps not being heterosexual is her claim that she is "immune" to Bond’s charms, but this remains threadbare.
Meanwhile, no reference is made to Tilly’s lesbianism either, apart from an absence of interest in Bond. The character is also killed off by Oddjob earlier in the narrative and she never crosses paths with Pussy Galore as she does in the novel.
The next film to hint at a gay character comes in the 1969 film adaptation of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, where Sir Hilary Bray (played by George Baker) is subtly hinted to be gay.
When Bond impersonates Bray, the ladies in an alpine health spa are shocked when "Bray" shows an interest in the ladies present, while Blofeld also notes that Bray would have never seduced the women in the spa when having a stand-off with Bond.
Beyond these comments, however, Bray is not explicitly identified as being gay and his book counterpart is not even hinted to be.
The following film, 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, has to be the most overtly Queer offering in the film series but is once again associated with villainy.
The characters of Wint and Kidd are adapted here, with the two characters being overtly displayed as a gay couple.
In one scene, the two assassins are seen holding hands, referring to each other affectionately by their surnames, and Mr Kidd notes the attractiveness of Tiffany Case with the caveat "for a lady", to the chagrin of Mr Wint.
The pair remain as sadistic as their book counterparts and Mr Wint’s love for women’s perfume is also present in both.
Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz commented in the audio commentary of the film: "It was a very risky kind of deal - the relationship between Mr Wint and Mr Kidd - we wouldn’t get away with it today."
He added: "They were clearly two gentlemen who kept company with each other. Even though they’re vicious, they’re funny-vicious."
The couple is portrayed as villainous but also comical - the butt of a joke.
This is evident when they are dispatched by Bond in the final scenes of the film, as Bond throws Mr Wint overboard a cruise ship with a bomb between his legs before he explodes, with Bond drolly commenting that "he certainly left with his tails between his legs".
The same film also features an all-female assassin duo named Bambi and Thumper, but there is less suggestion of a Queer relationship here other than displaying them as two scantily clad women who take sadistic pleasure in beating Bond together.
In the same film, Bond’s arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (here played by Charles Gray) appears in a disguise at one point and surprises Tiffany Case by appearing in drag - an intertextual reference to Gray’s work in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but another attaching of queerness to villainy.
Further LGBTQ+ representation is absent until the Daniel Craig era of Bond, where representation finally gets more positive or at least a bit more fun.
In Craig's debut film Casino Royale in 2006, fans were treated to a darkly comic and incredibly homoerotic torture sequence where a naked Bond is tied to a chair with its bottom removed as the villainous Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) swings a knotted rope against Bond's genitals. Bond responds with jokes, asking Le Chiffre to scratch an "itch" down there and to swing the rope in different places. It brims with sado-masochism despite the sinister implications of the scene.
The scene is taken directly from the novel Casino Royale but here it carries some rather different undertones.
It should be noted that this is one of the first instances of the films so overtly taking on an objectifying gaze of Bond as well as the women - with Craig having his own Ursula Andress moment, emerging from the waters of the Caribbean in incredibly tight trunks, with the camera lingering on his figure.
Following on from this, the villainous Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem) captures Bond in a sequence of 2012's Skyfall and questions the captive 007. During the homoerotic scene, Silva caresses Bond’s bare chest, neck and face and then places his hands on Bond’s thighs, noting amid his questioning that "there’s a first time for everything".
Bond then teasingly responds: "What makes you think this is my first time?"
The moment is surely meant to be provocative to the audience but also is the slightest hint that Bond himself could be bisexual or has experienced same-sex sexual activity. The moment is not further expanded upon beyond this scene which is played more for laughs than as any serious character revelation. Regardless, the moment is a sign that the idea of a Bond who engages in queer behaviour is not unthinkable and the films are now happy to make such a suggestion.
In the same film, Skyfall introduces the openly gay actor Ben Whishaw as the staple Bond character Q, but the character is not depicted as gay until the most recent 2021 Bond film No Time to Die, where the character is shown preparing for a date with another man.
The detail is depicted in a matter-of-fact fashion and is quite minor, but is a landmark moment in a franchise with little positive representation thus far.
Outside of some positive feedback from Russell T Davies, Whishaw told The Guardian in 2022: "Otherwise, no one has given me any feedback. So I’m really interested in these questions. And I’m very happy to admit maybe some things were not great about that [creative] decision."
He added of the depiction: "I suppose I don’t feel it was forced upon the studio. That was not my impression of how this came about. I think it came from a good place."
He admitted: "I think I thought, ‘Are we doing this, and then doing nothing with it?’ I remember, perhaps, feeling that was unsatisfying."
Whishaw is unlikely to return to the franchise given the fact the narrative will need rebooting after No Time to Die. We will have to wait and see if the next stage of the film franchise will expand upon this thin representation.
The James Bond fans
Of course, while the LGBTQ+ representation in the Bond novels and films has mostly been negative or threadbare, this does not mean that the franchise has not appealed to the LGBTQ+ community throughout its entire history, because, well, it has.
As detailed extensively and expertly on David Lowbridge-Ellis’s web page Licence to Queer, many of the Bond films and novels can be read through a Queer lens or offer Queer delights throughout - and always have done for many.
As Lowbridge-Ellis notes: "Explicitly queer content was thin on the ground in both - and often blatantly homophobic. But queer people take representation wherever we can find it."
There are numerous examples of how the LGBTQ+ community could be drawn to Bond or elements of the franchise - almost too many to spell out here.
Bond himself is portrayed, particularly in the novels, as a snobbish ageing bachelor who obsesses over his appearance, and tiny details when it comes to cosmetic care, culture, food, alcohol and cars. A prototype for a more comfortable feminised masculinity - an early metrosexual if you will?
Or perhaps it is in the Bond villains, already some of which are listed above, but many of whom who are "othered" or outcast by society for their backgrounds or appearance, meaning some Queer readers or viewers may find affinity with them.
Also notably, the women of Bond have often been figures with a great degree of agency, extroversion and exaggerated femininity which can be empowering to many who are not heterosexual cisgender males. Bond women can also lean into more dominating and ostentatious feminine roles such as the characters May Day (played by the iconic Grace Jones) or Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen).
The women of Bond also get to express their identity more abundantly through fashion, something which can be universally identifiable and a place to reclaim one’s strength - something many Queer people may feel a kinship with.
Or alternatively, you may just love Madonna popping up in Die Another Day.
Finally, whether it be the dramatic orchestral scores, the glamorous costumes and locations, or the wild mise-en-scene of the sets (particularly with the early films), the Bond films are also cinematic examples of excess in many guises and lend themselves to be interpreted as that thorny notion of "camp" - particularly with their most visibly retro trappings.
So, what next?
So, where should the Bond franchise go next with LGBTQ+ representation? Well, the most obvious answer is to just have more of it.
The thinly portrayed homosexuality of Whishaw’s Q is a positive step and the first to come without any sense of negative connotations, but of course, more would most certainly be welcome.
There is something oddly quaint and almost comedic about the way that Fleming’s books and films are so clearly of their time despite being offensively outdated.
Yet, as one of the longest-running franchises in the world, Bond now has the opportunity to pick up the baton and run with it and grow representation in all directions - whether it be positive or negative, just a wider tapestry of experiences can never go far enough. Whether they be heroes, villains, or somewhere in between, 007 should see them all!
Few are especially arguing to make Bond himself a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but the world he inhabits should have a few more colours of the rainbow.