The Queerness of Kalinda Sharma
by Melanie Kohnen — NYU
October 13, 2011 – 00:00
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).