Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Queer Icon (Part 4)

Part 4:
The mystery of Lara Croft’s sexuality

“Now what’s a man gotta do to get that kind of attention from ya?” – Larson Conway (Tomb Raider, 1996)

Despite being an icon for many queer pop culture consumers, Lara Croft’s own sexual orientation remains ambiguous. Outside of the Top Cow comics and live-action films – where Lara is blatantly heterosexual, with a fondness for slightly scruffy bad boys (who keep betraying and hurting her) – the character comes across as primarily asexual. Kurtis Trent is the only male figure who even comes close to being a love interest in the game series.

Lara's apparent sexual disinterest is despite the adventurer appearing very sexually attractive herself; a figure of desire with bee-stung lips, voluptuous breasts, toned stomach and impossibly long, athlete’s legs. Yet Lara is never dominated by sexual yearnings or romantic affections. She is very much in control of herself at all times.

It’s worth noting, however, that over time the character has undergone changes in terms of her attitude to relationships and associations. While Classic Lara was noticeably cold and indifferent to others – a true lone wolf – Legend and Reboot Lara are shown to have a number of important alliances and friendships. For example, Legend Lara has an all-male team of assistants in the form of Zip, Alister and Winston. It’s 100% platonic, but she clearly is fond of them. It’s Lara and her band of guys, neatly flipping the representational norm of having men as the leaders and alpha figures, and women as the background helpers offering support.

Reboot Lara, by contrast, is more frequently surrounded by women, and feels more comfortable among them. But given how many all-male organisations have tried to kill her (to date), perhaps that is understandable...

Either way, the new Dark Horse comics and Ten Thousand Immortals tie-in novel present a Lara who prefers female companionship, with the exception of spiritually-attuned, rugby-playing chef, theatre aficionado and big softie Jonah (a figure removed from the textbook definition of his gender, much like Lara). In addition, Nu-Lara displays a hesitancy to engage with young men, like Alex Weiss and Kennard, who she knows harbour romantic interest in her.

Reboot Lara could be asexual, or she could be a lesbian. It’s unlikely that the franchise guardians will ever take a clear position on this point, but regardless, the new Lara presents an alternative to male-female romantic couplings for fulfilment. This is in keeping with the following comment from Rhianna Pratchett, lead writer on the 2013 game:
We also have a very straight version of love. It’s usually boy-girl love. …There are different types of love. And I think in games we don’t really stray too much outside of girl-boy. There are things that can be done with sisterly love, brotherly love, paternal, maternal love…
In short, Reboot Lara prioritises the female connections in her life, which is likely to be encouraging for queer audiences as it validates their veering away from society's “very straight version of love.”

What is most important here though is that even if you don’t question the nature of her admitted love for best friend Sam Nishimura, Reboot Lara Croft is the first truly "queer ally" version of the character. Well, in the comics at least. During Gail Simone’s run (Issues #1-12), the writer – known for her vocal support for queer rights – has Lara form a completely judgement-free friendship with lesbian hacker Kaz, rescuing her twice in fact. In addition, Lara surprisingly acknowledges a doe’s right to have a female mate as much as a male one.

And all of this doesn't even count the numerous times the 18-issue comic series is filled with innuendo-laced, intimate moments between Lara and Sam – building on the pair's touchy-feely bond as it was depicted in the 2013 game.

For the record – and the franchise guardians have reiterated this many times over the years – the Tomb Raider series will always prioritise thrilling globe-trotting adventure over Lara’s personal life. Who the Englishwoman explorer is dating or sexually attracted to doesn’t matter. She doesn’t need a man or anyone else to complete her.

Now while it would be massively progressive to reveal that an influential Pop Culture figure like Lara Croft is queer, to not do so is actually also fine at the end of the day. For one thing, as one of the few instantly recognisable female icons of gaming, Lara already bears a lot of representational burden. Too many obligations to too many groups, and it can mean creative paralysis for a character.

For another thing – and this is far more important – an ambiguous sexual orientation for Lara Croft can actually be interpreted as a reassuring message in its own right. The fact that the hero’s sexuality is irrelevant in the Tomb Raider universe may well be heartening for queer fans who want their sexual orientation/gender to be a non-issue in real-world society as well. Without massive rainbow labels attached to them, defining them, they can simply be who they are; no biggie.

Right now, unlabelled Lara Croft is a role model for everyone – of any gender or sexual orientation. An undefined sexuality makes her as much a blank slate for fans to project their feelings onto as Classic Lara’s long periods of silence. She can be what you want, or personally need her to be.

Even without a label slapped onto her by the Tomb Raider brand masters, Lara Croft is still a figure of admiration. Not only has she been a spark of self-realisation, or confirmation of self, for many of the queer fans interviewed in this article (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), but she remains a powerfully relatable source of inspiration for them every day.

And the basis of it all is Lara’s humanity. Despite being a fantasy figure, routinely accomplishing the impossible, Lara Croft isn’t a superhero, alien or robot. She bleeds and bandages herself a lot.

Says Kelly, in South Africa:
I admire that she is determined and heroic, but still human. She may be quite well off financially but she still works to achieve her own goals. She has also faced loss (I relate on a personal level, I lost my Mom in my teens) and she's determined not to let that get in the way of things she hopes to achieve.
Alex, in Canada, clarifies further:
Sure, the things she does are things most people aren't physically capable of doing, but it's not outside the realm of possibility. Even though there's an element of magic in her world, it's not the inaccessible "one person chosen to save humanity" type of magic, she's a human girl who stumbles into it and trusts that even if she doesn't fully understand it, her instincts can help her navigate it.
Human like us, Lara Croft still lives her life with courage and without compromise (“I can’t choose to let him die, Roth.”). She’s different but she is comfortable in her outsider’s skin. Despite the sacrifices it requires, she stays true to her principles. There is only one way for her to live in order to secure true contentment and honesty of self, and she pursues and fights for that life relentlessly. It's never easy for her, just as it never is for us, but she proves what is possible. With determination and bravery.

Kyle, in Scotland, sums up Lara Croft’s role in the lives of queer fans:
I think Lara may have had some impact on my sexuality. I think no matter what I was always gay, but I think she pushed courage inside me. Courage to be who I am and to be strong when others turn against me because of my sexuality. I don’t think there is another game character who could make me feel more comfortable about who I am than Lara Croft could. I know Lara is a huge supporter of LGBT rights and she probably has a lot of gay friends she loves and cares for! Lara loves anybody no matter who they are. We have never known if Lara Croft is gay or straight, but we don’t need to because it’s it doesn’t matter. She is Lara Croft and we love her unconditionally.
Admiring her… Aspiring to be more like her… At the end of the day, queer or straight, perhaps the most accurate descriptor Tomb Raider fans can use for themselves is "Larasexual."
(Term credited to AE Dooland)


A huge thank you to everyone who volunteered to be interviewed for this article. Obviously not everyone’s stories could make it into the finished piece; however they were all fantastic to read. For this reason, you can download the full set of queer fan interviews in PDF format here.

Also read:
Part 1: “You become who you’re meant to be.”
Part 2: Lara and the ladies
Part 3: Lara and the gay guys


Cassey Toi said…
Great series lady.

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