Disclaimer: the following is one fan's geekiness. It is based on extensive reading and analysing of the character from a passionate and sincere point of view. You may agree, or not.
Joker’s sexuality is something that has much been up for debate and never conclusively verified. There are some people who don’t want to touch the matter with a ten foot barge pole and who, indeed, shrink from any sexualising of Joker within stories as well.
I am not one of those people.
Mistah J’s sexuality is a favourite topic of mine! Are you surprised? Hey, I never promised a lack of predictability. But seriously, folks, it’s a great topic because in this area, like so many others, Mistah J stands apart.
Because Joker is a performer, and an unrestrained one at that, with a touch of the effeminate and fey, it’s very simple, in a homophobic sort of fashion, to go GAY and leave it at that.
His obsession with Batman would seem to lend weight to this belief, especially as he fondly refers to Batman frequently as ‘darling’, ‘sweetheart’, ‘honey’ and so forth.
Likewise, because of Harley Quinn and some of the other women who’ve trotted through Joker’s life, it’s equally easy to cry STRAIGHT and have some pretty solid canon evidence to back you up. While Joker is anything but driven by his libido, he has also behaved lecherously at times and always towards women.
If you’re a little more radical, you’ll probably incline somewhere between the middle - BI. Why choose, when you can have both and both are backed up in some way in canon?
For me, any of the above is a far too simplistic interpretation of a very complex character.
I don't feel Joker falls within the popular trifecta of human sexuality - homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual. Sexuality is something he exists beyond. To define our sexuality is a very human compulsion. Joker has no such need. The need to ascribe ourselves a sexuality is a very pedestrian thing. Joker is anything but pedestrian.
I actually am reluctant to ultimately ‘define’ Joker’s sexuality because I feel it is limiting.
However, if I am pressed to, I’d describe him as a curious and ever-shifting mix of pansexual, auto sexual and asexual.
These terms come closest to adequately describing what I’ve picked up of his sexuality in all the comics I’ve read, but should not be considered definitive. He’s sort of beyond these sorts of definitions. In fact, I don’t even believe Joker would bother defining his own sexuality, seeing it as meaningless. He’d just do what he wanted to do anyway. Likewise, I use the word ‘sociopath’ to describe him because it’s convenient and does the job but I think he’s beyond even that really; he’s something of a law unto himself.
‘Asexual’ is a term that denotes a lack of interest in sex. There’s no especial desire for it and no real feeling of need. Humans tend to be highly sexual beings and driven by sexual urges; asexual people have an absence of this. It is not an aversion - it’s an indifference. Asexual people may, can and do have sex if they want something or if it serves a purpose, but it is not of primary importance to them.
I used to believe Joker was a largely asexual creature and indeed, believed so until the beginning of this year when I suddenly changed my mind and began to think - no, actually. He’s a VERY sexual creature. The thing is, he’s not sexual in any ‘normal’ way. His sensuality and sexuality is not necessarily related to people, as it is for most of us, but for deeds. Head-games.
I think the reason for this change in opinion was that the last time I was an active Joker fan, six years ago, I didn’t have the wealth of experience I have now. My own understanding of sexuality was very limited back then so it was difficult for me to understand how anyone can be sexual but not necessarily want to have sex with people. Now, I do understand that so I’m regarding Joker with a very different perspective.
I think Joker has asexual tendencies in that sex is very much not a motivator for him and he has no especial need for it, and he certainly lacks the ability to get interested in other human beings enough, with the exception of a couple, to actively desire sex with them.
But Joker is utterly and absolutely capable of very sensual behaviour, and we see this. He can be very charming, and very seductive. He understands humanity and he is adept at analysing people psychologically. He can put on behaviour like a suit, when he wants to. And, when I say 'seductive', I don't mean just in the sexual sense by any means. Most sociopaths are incredibly charismatic and seductive and this is true of The Joker. He could charm anyone, when in the mood to do so (remembering of course his moods are flighty, at best, and he does so love to instil fear and horror). What works against him is his reputation and recognisability. But, give him enough time and I think he'd fool just about anyone with a few choice words and adopted behaviours (apart from those who've had consistent intimate experience with him).
He is highly sensual - he engages with life and what he does in an uninhibited and unrestrained way, taking enormous and heady delight in it, and this is where the pansexual element comes into it.
‘Pansexual’ is a term that’s coming into more common use. Essentially, pansexual as we use it to relate to human sexuality, means that the gender and sex of a person is irrelevant to the pansexual. The definition of it has evolved as our understanding of sexual and gender identity has. This is my issue with the ‘bisexual’ term - it denotes mere binary, nothing more. Male or female, and that’s it. Actually, there are multiple gender and sex identities, and there is a difference between gender and sex. Gender refers to the psychological identity; sex to the physical. This is the issue transsexual people have - the physical body does not match the psychological.
So pansexual people will be into people, whether they’re male, female, trans, gender queer, or something else entirely. And there’s many to choose from.
However, the term pansexual, in its purest form, is not a term that’s exclusive to humans. The more literal definition is someone for whom almost anything can be sexually arousing and erotic. This includes objects, animals and plants - like in the case of Poison Ivy for example - aliens and almost anything else you can think of.
My belief about Joker, in just about all things, is that he simply refuses to be limited by anything. More to the point, he can’t be. He’s a force of nature - he is chaos and while he often uses pretence to give a ‘motive’ for his crimes, he is largely indiscriminating.
So therefore, the gender or sex of a person is not going to matter to Joker, nor is whether or not they’re even human.
What matters to Joker, in the end, is what does it for him. And what does it for him is head-games. Messing people up. Having fun at another’s expense. The biggest sexual organ, as the saying goes, is the brain and in this Joker may actually resemble women more than men. Perhaps the hard part we have with seeing Joker as a sexual creature is the fact the male libido is often linked to simplicity and visual stimuli - naked bodies, of the sex preferred, more often than not. (Sorry, guys, I know it’s not all like that, but it is pretty common for men to require something visual and much of my experience backs this up, but I’ll accept argument)
For Joker, it seems much more complex, at least to those of us who are reading on multiple levels.
We can see pansexual behaviour in Joker in the way he relishes what he does. In Dark Detective, for example, he is likening people’s fear of him to sexual eroticism. Even in Slayride, Tim and Dick talk about the way he utterly and absolutely loves what he is and does.
Apart from his flirtations with Batman, all of Joker’s active sexual relationships within the comics have been heterosexual in nature - these include Jeannie, Rebecca Brown, Harley, Tracy Ammons, Cassandra Hahn - and he’s made lecherous remarks to quite a lot of females like Batgirl and Cheetah, as well as showing up in random places with buxom women hanging off his arm.
A note on that - Joker is a stirrer. When he expresses lechery I believe it is less about genuine lust and more about getting a rise out of the person they’re directed at. Likewise with the women he shows up with, I feel that’s more got to do with him being theatrical and having an ‘image’ he’s parodying.
However, I’m fond of reading between the lines and there have been a couple of subtle hints Joker’s had his fun with boys as well. Perhaps the most notable of this is in Devil’s Advocate in which Batman is interrogating an unamed fellow who says ‘we parted on bad terms… first he broke my heart… then he broke my legs’. It’s suggestive rather than outright, but it’s there. Also in It’s Joker Time, there’s a scene in which he’s having a TV show host lick his feet, which has a heavily sexual element. Here, it is not the show host who’s doing it for him, though, it’s the power he’s got over him - the host is repelled by what’s he’s doing and doesn’t want to, but is doing it because Joker holds the key to his career. And Joker’s loving that.
A far more oblique one, and one I freely admit may be nothing more than my own spin but which I thought was perhaps slightly suggestive anyway - is in the recent Detective two-parter guest-starring Zatanna. Joker describes how he was nursed back to health by the magician Loxias, and there’s a panel where Joker is shown strangling Loxias from behind in his undershirt. Just the positioning… and the semi-nudity. But I won’t swear to that one, because I have a dirty mind. ;) heh.
Given that Joker is a nihilistic who cares so little for societal niceties and standards of behaviour, which he views as meaningless, I find it hard to believe he would limit himself to being simply ‘straight’. In fact, I don’t believe it.
As for the outright ‘gay’ camp - yes, there are homoerotic elements in his fixation on Batman. I’d even go so far as to say he’s infatuated with the Dark Knight. But again, this is The Joker we speak of, so it’s not in any normal way. I think Joker gets off on the games he plays with Batman - but not on Batman himself. The desire is not so much for the man, but for the games he plays with the man - the rise he gets out of the man. When you consider that Joker and Batman are polar opposites - Joker as chaos and Batman as order - this makes a lot of sense. Without his opposite to react against his actions, the game is far more shallow for Joker. Joker considers Batman the only one worthy of going up against and the stimulation he gets from it is a very intellectual as well as sensual one.
Furthermore, with his keen understanding of human nature, Joker knows how infuriating and aggravating such blatantly sexual behaviour would be to Batman. It’s not that Batman is homophobic - it’s that he is disgusted by the thought of Joker, the person he considers to the vilest, most reprehensible creature alive, to be engaging with him on that level of intimacy. It’s show, it’s play. It’s messing with our perceptions and driving Batty round the twist. Grant Morrison says something to this effect in the 20th anniversary edition of Arkham Asylum.
Again, I think to say that Joker is gay is just too simplistic. And frankly, it’s boring. It’s a shallow and cheap reading of a classic feud and a character who is anything but shallow and cheap.
I’m not going to apologise to any of you straight or gay people out there for these hardline opinions - I’m a queer woman myself and I’m not ‘anti’ anything. But I have a deep knowledge and love of this character and I hate seeing him treated shallowly.
Likewise, although Batman is the primary fixation of his life, his ability to have a relationship with Harley, for example, and to plug sensually into other aspects of his life, indicate very clearly Batman is NOT his only erotic interest.
I don’t feel Joker places any importance on sexual faithfulness, because again that would suggest there’s something inherently significant about relationships and Joker does not believe that.
However, despite the fact he has had other relationships, or sexual encounters or moments, the thing that makes his relationship with Harley very significant is she’s the only one for whom he has feelings.
Both Jeannie and Rebecca Brown, two other women ‘he’ loved, occurred at times in his life when he was not Joker.
With Harley, he has as honest a relationship as he is capable of, for she loves him for what he is and she is the only person he has permitted to get as close as what she has done for as long. There is some commonality, some connection and some understanding between them. She and Batman are truly the only two people Joker could be said to have actual feelings other than disdain and disregard for.
So while Joker may be capable of having other encounters - I hesitate to use the word ‘relationships’, for as fan Jarec so rightly points out, that denotes a meeting of equals, and Joker considers no one his equal - with other people and probably does not consider sexual faithfulness to Harley to be at all relevant, his only two true relationships, or what mostly approximates relationships, is with Batman and Harley. And this does make her highly significant in his life.
Furthermore, although due to his complex sexual nature and his lack of need for traditional sex we get the impression Harley is perhaps denied a little in this more traditional area, her relationship with him is highly sexual. It’s just not in any normal way. Joker may not lust after Harley the way an average man would - he may not have the need to pound her silly every night - nonetheless, much of their interaction is sexually charged. It’s important to remember that not everyone defines sex as penis-in-vagina. It’s not so simple. Theirs is a power-exchange relationship in which one is Dominant and one submissive and there are numerous levels of sexual gratification for both of them in that exchange which are not obvious ones.
Finally we come to auto sexual, which has just as much weight, perhaps more, than the other two I’ve discussed. To be auto sexual means you get off on yourself, pure and simply. You’re an egotist. A narcissist. Completely vain and self-absorbed.
This is, as we all know, Joker to a tee. Indeed, we could even say that both his asexuality and pansexuality come back to this. Ultimately, Joker is in love with himself so how he relates sexually to anyone or anything else is really about him - Batman reacts to him, Harley is obsessed with him. It is he who has the power in all these various situations, he who is making the jokes and ‘getting’ the meaninglessness of the world, his own brilliance and genius that is the cause of all these terrible, wonderful things that he does that he so enjoys and that brings him pleasure and enables him to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense.
In Joker’s world there is no one more important or meaningful or significant or wonderful as him and the only one who even comes slightly close is Batman. To a far lesser extent, Harley. And again, his relationship with both of these people is highly centred around how they react to and feel about him, how they engage with him and make him feel - powerful, glorious and wonderful.
But I don’t believe Joker’s sexuality is fixed, the way most people’s are. As I said at the beginning, it’s ever-shifting and on any one day he might be more one than the other, as on any one day he can be a cold-blooded murderer or a harmless prankster. But one thing is for sure - it is not as simple and clear-cut as the popular trifecta of gay, straight and bi.
edit: hollowman pipes in with some very interesting thoughts well worth considering.
- Batman: Dark Detective
- It's Joker Time 1-3
- Going Sane
- The Killing Joke
- Mad Love
- Batman: Harley Quinn
- Joker: Devil's Advocate
- Detective Comics 833-834
- Detective Comics 826
- The Dark Knight Returns
- Allstar Batman & Robin 8
- Batman: Secrets
- Arkham Asylum
- Batman Adventures: The Lost Years 2
- Joker: Last Laugh
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
- Gotham Underground 5
- Action Comics 765
- The Code
- The Joker's Apprentice
- Anarky 8
There's more but start with those! ;)