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The Bones Scene That Went Too Far

One of the best things about "Bones" is the even-handed, accepting nature of the Jeffersonian staff when confronted with lifestyles they've not previously considered. The pony play episode was surprisingly respectful, the (poorly titled) episode about a trans victim worked hard not to misgender her, and the episode about mail-order brides manages to both honor ghost weddings as a meaningful practice and decry those who would exploit Chinese immigrants.

It makes sense that Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) would keep an open mind when thrust into a new culture. Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, but you don't get to that profession without studying some cultural anthropology along the way. Observing without judgment is a central tenet of anthropological study. FBI agent Booth (David Boreanaz), on the other hand, usually has a more reactionary view of the things he's seeing. These two viewpoints frequently come in conflict, with the show eventually coming down in Bones' favor most of the time. But one time the show just completely whiffed it.

Bones ignored nonbinary identities in Season 4

Season 4's Episode 22, titled "The Girl in the Mask," is wild to behold after years of gender discourse. In the episode, a Japanese forensics expert, Dr. Haru Tanaka (Ally Maki) travels to DC to help Booth investigate a murder. Dr. Tanaka dresses very androgynously and the squints (mostly Angela) obsess over what their "real" gender is.

The scene that goes too far lands near the end of the episode. Fed up with not knowing, Angela (Michaela Conlin) hugs Dr. Tanaka until they have a ... biological reaction to being so close to a beautiful woman. Angela thus concludes that Dr. Tanaka is a man.

Not only is this extremely invasive, but the team ignores the possibility that Dr. Tanaka could be agender or nonbinary. Nobody just asks Dr. Tanaka what their pronouns are, which would be the polite thing to do. (Notably, the actor playing Dr. Tanaka is a woman). Brennan does an excellent job of never gendering Dr. Tanaka, always referring to them by their full name to obviate the need for gendered pronouns at all.

The misgendering of Dr. Tanaka has its roots in orientalism. Sweets (John Francis Daley) says Dr. Tanaka belongs to the "kei" subculture, presumably referring to what CNN labeled "jendaresu-kei (or 'genderless style')." The team essentially dismisses Dr. Tanaka's gender expression as a "weird" Japanese thing. But plenty of people all over the world identify as nonbinary, and what could have been an excellent opportunity for representation on TV just ended up being problematic and disrespectful.