Sexual orientation should not define a person any more than any other single inherent trait, such as race, gender, or ethnicity. However, in the world of one-dimensional television characters, it is often easiest to get cheap laughs from the low-hanging fruit of stereotypical comedy. Take CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, for example. Most of the humor in the show is based on pigeonholing the characters into specific subgroups and then repeatedly and effectively bashing the audience over the head with one stereotype after another – Leonard is an awkward nerd (as are all of his friends), Sheldon has Asperger’s, Penny is a dumb blonde, Howard is Jewish, Raj is both Indian AND effeminate, etc. So while it is important to note that in real life, homosexuality is not the be-all-end-all of a gay person’s existence, in the realm of comedy, it can be (and often is) the basis for all of the humor. It is also important to note that gay-based humor is not the same as gay bashing. While stereotypical humor is often the lowest-common-denominator, it is not the same as using stereotypes to justify prejudice against a particular group of people. The politically-correct crowd may not appreciate any type of group-based humor, but from my point-of-view, at least, there is nothing homophobic about the humor in a show like Modern Family for example.
With that disclaimer out of the way, it is time to shift our focus to a character who was ahead of his time, a gay man who was brave enough to come out of the closet on television long before it was popular or even largely acceptable. That man is James of Team Rocket. The evidence that James is homosexual is almost overwhelming. He is undoubtedly campy and flamboyant, especially when played by his *best* voice actor, Eric Stuart, although this in itself obviously does not make someone gay. Eric Stuart has gone on record to voicing James as if he were the “third member of the Crane family,” (of Cheers/Frasier fame), or Snagglepuss the lilting pink cartoon tiger. Fortunately, the writers and animators have been kind enough to leave us, the viewers, plenty of evidence as to James’ particular personal persuasion. And while Pokemon obviously made the choice not to have an officially gay character on a “children’s” show in the late-1990s (can you imagine the backlash?), they wisely used double-entendres and visual gags to make us aware of James’ sexual orientation nonetheless. Much like Mr. Humphries on the BBC’s Are You Being Served? and Tobias Fünke on FOX’s Arrested Development, James is simply implied to be gay, which is the source for much of the humor about him, especially in the first three seasons when he was unafraid to cross dress to his fabulous heart’s content.
What follows is an ongoing project where I list episodes as I come across/remember them that are particularly important in a “James is gay” or “anti-Rocketshipping” sense, and describe the evidence contained therein. As far as I am concerned, the “smoking-gun” evidence in the Season 3 finale, “The Fortune Hunters,” and in the second movie, The Power of One is unassailable, but I will go ahead and try and be as complete as I can about the overwhelming nature of James’ hints.
The Smoking Guns
Pokemon the Movie 2000: The Power of One
How appropriate that the shippiest of all of the Pokemon movies so far should also house the greatest (at the time) dagger to the heart of the Rocketshipping movement. A heated discussion between Melody and Misty about marrying Ash (!) provided Jessie and James an opportunity to weigh in on the problems of dealing with the opposite sex:
Jessie: “Listen to me kid, when you get involved with the opposite sex you’re only asking for trouble.”
James: “Yes, and that’s the kind of trouble I stay out of!”
So while this exchange doesn’t necessarily mean James is gay, it certainly proves that he has no interest in girls. Either way, Rocketshippers will not be happy…
“The Fortune Hunters” (Season 3, episode 52)
In all likelihood, this is the single greatest moment of James being gay that the anime will ever allow (excluding fake-boob James, which never made it past the American censors). This episode centers around a con that Butch and Cassidy of Team Rocket are running that involves selling trainers a fortune telling book, which tells them their ideal Pokemon partner (in an astrological manner), and then offering to “exchange” the trainers’ current Pokemon with the correct Pokemon at a later time. In any event, the only main character who gets matched with a Pokemon they really like is James, who is apparently a “Moltres type.” In typical fashion, Jessie, James, and Meowth work to undermine Butch and Cassidy’s scheme, and this culminates with James dressing in an unashamedly form-fitting Moltres costume, complete with glitter.
James: “I am the flame that burns brightest, a flame that lights the night, a flame that shatters the darkness – I am a FLAMING MOLTRES! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
Meowth: “That outfit, where’d he get it?”
Jessie: “I think that costume came right out of his closet…”
What else can I say about this segment? Not only does James describe himself as “flaming,” but his supposed girlfriend Jessie even admits that James has finally come out of the closet. At this point I’m not sure what other evidence Rocketshippers need, apart from an unambiguous statement by James that he is, in fact, a homosexual. Even then, I’m sure they would find some way to remain in denial. Rocketshippers are a strange bunch, after all.
Here’s where it all began… Still voiced by Ted Lewis and sounding more like an evil Tracey Sketchit than the Gay-mes that we have come to know and love, James issued some self-deprecating humor when Team Rocket’s latest scheme was foiled by Pikachu.
James: “It’s times like these that make me want to go straight!”
I know the doubters out there might say, “but he is just referring to the fact that he’s a criminal!” It’s called a double-entendre, people.
James begins the episode by giving us a taste of his effeminate snark. Like any good gay best friend, he is willing to join in with Jessie on some catty bitchiness – especially when fashion is concerned.
But the real piece de resistance of this episode is a bit of dialogue between Jessie and James after they liberate AJ's Sandshrew:
James: "I'm exhausted. You take the bag now."
Jessie: "But a real gentleman always carries the bag."
James: "Is that so? Well as you know, I'm no gentleman!"
This episode isn’t terribly significant in terms of showcasing James’ sexual orientation, but it is the “smoking gun” of anti-RocketShipping. After coming across his grandparents residence, they question whether Jessie is James’ fiancee that they have heard so much about. This prompts James to momentarily imagine the living hell of being married to his Team Rocket comrade.
James: “Me and Jessie?! I’d rather DIE!!!!!”
Seriously RocketShippers, how are you still a thing?
The middle leg of the Diamond and Pearl introductory three parter, Team Rocket find themselves at yet another of James’ families many properties. A look at James’ childhood bedroom proves that he has been a “friend of Dorothy” from a young age…
Also apparently in the absence of other willing young men, young James engaged in some…questionable…behavior with his Pokemon
James: “You see, Victreebel’s not the only Pokémon who likes to take a nip at my noggin!”
Furthermore, the very idea of meeting up with his dominatrix fiancee Jessebelle caused James to flee the comforts of his Sinnoh residence in fear and return to the life of a hardened street criminal