The Queerness of Kalinda Sharma

Curator's Note

On The Good Wife, the blurred line between public and private dominates characters' lives, with one exception: Kalinda Sharma, Lockhart Gardner's investigator, is (in)famous for uncovering clients' private information while managing to keep her personal life largely unknowable.

In “Hybristophilia” (1x22), Alicia asks Kalinda, “Are you gay?” to which Kalinda responds, “I'm private.” Alicia's question was surely on many viewers' minds, and the answer has become one of The Good Wife's longstanding narrative puzzles. Even though we have seen Kalinda interested in and involved with various men and women, a definitive answer about her sexual identity has been deferred. At a time when network television in particular likes to categorize sexuality into clearly defined boxes, it is a welcome change to see a character who actively refuses to define or explain her sexual preferences.

Based on Kalinda's confirmed sexual encounters with both men and women, it is tempting to label her bisexual (and some reviews have done so), but I think such labeling is a restriction of queer possibilities rather than a categorization based on narrative “facts.” Kalinda's sexuality is more complex than the label “bisexual” suggests. She defies and resists sexual norms not merely by sleeping with men and women, but also (or perhaps moreso) because she has no interest in intimacy or domesticity, and because her quest for information blends with a quest for pleasure. The latter in particular makes people around Kalinda anxious. As with the question about her sexual identity, Kalinda refuses to explain where she draws the line between business and pleasure, or if such a division even exists for her.

One might say that Kalinda's mysterious private life repeats narrative structures about characters of color that are not praiseworthy, including the orientalist trope of the unknowable Other or the frequent side-lining of characters of colors in diverse ensemble programs. I think what sets Kalinda apart from both tropes is the agency inherent in her active refusal to identify herself to others. This refusal simultaneously disallows us from neatly categorizing her identity (thus leaving room for queer ambiguity) and it suggests a rich inner life (an interiority about which the viewer is invited to speculate).



Really compelling post, Melanie!  Since Kalinda, to me, is by far the most interesting person on the show (perhaps with the exception of Alicia, but it depends on my mood), I enjoyed reading a post that dissects her character and motives so thoroughly.  I think your observation that her queerness extends into the workplace is spot on; she's a slippery character precisely because she mixes her personal and her professional life so completely. However, while her boundaries are very hazy when it comes to sex, for example, they're incredibly rigid and impremeable when it comes to emotions. I think this is one of the things that gets her into such trouble with Alicia (during the Alicia/Peter/Kalinda debacle at the end of season 2). Kalinda's relationship with Alicia blurs the boundaries between personal and professional and yet she doesn't recognize (or doesn't want to recognize) how deeply she's invested in Alicia emotionally (and vice versa). Obviously, their relationship isn't a sexual one, and it seems that Kalinda has difficulty categorizing and performing in a relationship that can't/doesn't allow the mixture of sexuality and professionalism she's so used to employing at work.

Thank you for your comment, Aviva. I'm glad you brought up Kalinda's friendship with Alicia since I didn't have the space to really dig into it. I liked how Kalinda's reaction to Alicia finding out about Peter and Kalinda was portrayed. It was subtle and hinted at inner turmoil without spelling it out in clear and precise terms (or at least this is what I remember; I haven't rewatched the last episodes of S2 since they aired). In contrast, last episode's conversation between Kalinda and Carey was much more direct and obvious. It felt like a departure from Kalinda refusing to explain herself and her motivations. I hope this conversation is not part of an attempt to make Kalinda more "transparent," which I would equate with a move to define Kalinda more precisely.

I agree with Aviva; I enjoyed reading a post devoted solely to Kalinda's ambiguous characterization. Thanks!

At the end, you mention Kalinda's "rich inner life." Could you elaborate on that a bit? I'm assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that rich equates to happy, fulfilled, etc. If so, I don't necessarily read Kalinda in that way (apart from her friendship with Alicia, that is).

Thanks for commenting, Kelli. I'm glad you asked about the last portion of my post because I was short-handing some of my ideas, so now I can spell them out a little more. When I mentioned Kalinda's rich inner life, I was thinking back to an excellent Flow piece by Mary Beltran on diversity in large ensemble dramas. In her post, Beltran introduces a series of questions that can help us to understand whether or not a program's diversity is merely multicultural window-dressing. One of her questions is, "Are the characters of color fully realized individuals?" In other words, do we learn about a character's "inner world", their motivations and thought processes, etc. While The Good Wife doesn't spell out Kalinda's motivations in detail, the show still establishes her as a complex character who makes active decisions, which I think is different from other characters of color in ensemble dramas who appear and disappear without an indication of who they are and what motivates them (one character from the current TV sesason that comes to mind here is Revenge's Ashley Davenport, about whom we have learned next to nothing even though she is supposedly a close friend of (white protagonist) Emily Thorne). 

What an interesting line of inquiry here! Kalinda's cagey sexuality (and her insistence, as Aviva says, of blending sexuality and professionalism) reminds me that we constantly negotiate between bringing/hiding our sexual selves in the workplace, a dynamic that appiles to both Kalinda and Alicia. I also recall that Greg Smith makes an argument in his book on Ally McBeal that the show’s cases and its personal storylines are really about legislating workplace boundaries. While I surely hope The Good Wife doesn't degenerate into dancing babies, it occurs to me that both shows talk about the myriad ways we  legislate and investigate female sexuality.

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