Most fans would call David Lynch a visionary. He probably is, but if there were one blindspot in that vision, it would be diversity. You see a whole lot of white faces in his projects, and with the exception of the latter half of Mulholland Drive, these characters are mostly straight.
Given that Twin Peaks is set in rural Washington, it makes a little more sense that the characters are almost entirely white. (The only actors of color in the original series’ main cast are Michael Horse, who plays Deputy Hawk, and Josie Packard, who is played by Joan Chen even though the role was originally written for Isabella Rossellini.) But considering how just about every character on this show was hiding a secret, you’d think at least one of them could have been gay. Nope. The show constantly bombards viewers with doubles — literal and metaphorical — but there’s not a single same-sex couple among them.
All this notwithstanding, Twin Peaks offers a few scraps for queer fans willing to look more closely. After all, when it comes to this show, most of the interesting stuff isn’t visible on the surface.
1. Denise Bryson
A pre-X-Files David Duchovny appeared in three episodes of the original run as Denise Bryson, a DEA agent investigating a drug case. Denise had worked with Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) before, but as Dennis. When Denise shows up in women’s clothing, Cooper is surprised but quickly accepts Denise.
Based on that description, this might seem like a progressive story arc, especially for 1991, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s unclear from the way the character is portrayed if viewers should take her to be a transvestite or a trans woman. It may have not even occurred to the writers to clarify, and they might not have been familiar with such terminology. In fact, Denise may have been thought of as just another of the show’s many kooky eccentrics. (A lady who talks to a log! A psychiatrist who wears Hawaiian shirts! A guy in a dress!)
Duchovny is reprising the role for the new series, and it will be interesting to see if 2017 sensibilities push Lynch and co-writer Mark Frost to portray Denise as out-and-out trans. But if that happens, it would introduce the problem of another trans woman character being played by a cisgendered man. Lynch could have defused the situation somewhat by tossing a spare role or two to trans actors, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.
2. Mr. Tojamura
After a fire destroys the sawmill at the end of the first season, Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie) goes missing and is presumed incinerated. Eventually, the town is visited by a mysterious Japanese businessman, Mr. Tojamura, purportedly played by Fumio Yamaguchi, whom the studio alleged was an actor who’d appeared in Akira Kurosawa films. Eventually Tojamura plants a big kiss on Pete (Jack Nance), only to reveal that he’s actually Catherine in disguise.
There’s a lot to unpack here, least of all that the apparent male-on-male kiss is played as a joke. Catherine is only appearing in drag to disguise her identity, not for any observable queer leanings. It’s also awkward that she is appearing in yellowface, especially because for a few episodes it seemed like Twin Peaks had given a recurring role to a person of color.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this plot is that the true identity of Mr. Tojamura (and Fumio Yamaguchi too) was kept a secret from nearly everyone in the cast. In her memoirs, Laurie recalls the ruse: “The cast, crew, and all guest directors knew nothing; nor did my family. My name came off the credits, and Fumio Yamaguchi’s was put on. … There was so much preparation involved in pulling off the subterfuge. There were secret makeup and wardrobe tests at a laboratory in the valley.”
None of that is particularly gay, in the end, but the lengths to which Laurie and Lynch went to fool everyone is at least impressive, yellowface or not.
3. The Many Loves of Laura Palmer
Canonically speaking, the list of people with whom Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) had a sexual or romantic relationship includes many of the show’s male characters, but also several women. In Fire Walk With Me, it’s implied (but not explicitly shown) that she had sexual relationships with Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) and Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley). And in the book The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer — which was written by Jennifer Chambers Lynch, David’s daughter, and which is considered canon — she also had a physical relationship with Josie Packard (Joan Chen), whom she was teaching English. Make your own jokes about studying foreign tongues.
You get to decide for yourself whether that makes Laura bi or not, but can we stop for a second and consider how packed this 17-year-old’s social schedule would have been? All this plus Meals on Wheels. Christ.
4. Blackie O’Reilly
The awkwardly named Blackie (Victoria Catlin) oversees the girls at One Eyed Jack’s, the brothel-casino just over the Canadian border from Twin Peaks. But it’s implied more than once that her interest in the merchandise isn’t strictly professional.
Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) picks up on this vibe when she interviews for a job there. “What’s your type?” Blackie asks her. Audrey’s response? “Not you. No offense.”
Later we see Blackie taking a certain sort of joy in physically reprimanding girls on staff who misbehave, though in The Secret Diary it’s revealed that Laura turned the tables at one point, taking Blackie to “a very dark erotic place” — though, to be fair, that’s basically where Laura takes everyone.
5. Harriet Hayward’s Haircut
The middle Hayward child, Harriet (Jessica Wallenfels) only appears twice on the show — once to talk with big sister Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) and another to read a fairly inappropriate poem to Laura’s parents.
She’s not appearing in the new series, but just based on that haircut, we’re assuming that she eventually met a nice girl and moved with her to Seattle. Godspeed, Harriet Hayward, you wonderful, Young Liz Lemon-looking weirdo.
In real life, Wallenfels is still active today in the Portland theater scene.
6. HoYay with Harry and Coop
It must be said that the friendship between Cooper and Sheriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean) is the stuff slash fiction was made for. No, really, there’s a lot of it out there, specifically about Cooper and Harry getting it on, but that’s perhaps because the growing friendship between these two lawmen is one of the show’s throughlines.
It doesn’t help that Ontkean stepped into the role already with a healthy gay fanbase, thanks to playing gay opposite Harry Hamlin in 1982’s Making Love and parading around in just a jockstrap in 1977’s Slap Shot. May this flavor your impending rewatch of the whole series.
7. Northwest Passage
Finally, there’s a cool Kickstarter project aiming to tell the story of a young Twin Peaks fan who happened to grow up — and grow up gay — in the Washington town where the pilot was shot. Director Adam Baran follows Travis Blue as he comes to terms with being gay and maybe ends up identifying a little too strongly with Laura Palmer. Northwest Passage made the rounds on gay media and on Twin Peaks blogs alike back in 2015. Per the director, the project is currently on hold, but we can hope this documentary surfaces in the future.
In April 2016, the full list of the 217 actors appearing in the new episodes was released. In addition to the show’s many returning cast members, the list featured 80 actors who’d be making their Twin Peaks debut, including everyone from Jim Belushi to Skye Ferreira to Meg “I Played Evil-Lyn in Masters of the Universe” Foster. Again, it’s mostly a lot of white people — Ernie Hudson and Charlyne Yi are among the exceptions — and at the the very least, the list also includes Dr. Kildare himself, Richard Chamberlain, who came out in 2003. So that’s something.