It began, as so many of these things do, from a very young age.
In a way, Star Trek did get some things right about the future. As such, it should be noted that by the late twenty-first century, homophobia, sexism, racism, and all the other forms of bigotry that end in -phobia and -ism, had nearly been eradicated from society on Earth. But not everything was perfect. There was still war, there was still a collapsing global economy, and humanity had not created anything close to the warp drive, nor encountered a friendly Vulcan ship passing over North America. There was no Starfleet, no United Federation of Planets, no boldly going where no one had gone before .
What did occur around this time however, was the fledgling organization known as the Space Corps united all aerospace branches of international governments to regulate and monitor Earth’s interstellar activity. By the early twenty-second century, the majority of Earth’s solar system had been colonized in one form or another by various governments. While most of the system’s planets remained uninhabited, the Space Corps successfully built lunar colonies on Earth’s moon, Mars’ moons, Saturn’s moons, and of course Jupiter’s moons. Humanity flocked to these new habitations, smartly leaving the polluted and dying Earth behind. (Of course, all this did was create new opportunities for humans to destroy more planets, an unfortunate reality that we really should’ve seen coming. But I suppose it hardly matters now, three million years later. Humanity is extinct. Really, they got what was coming to them.)
One might imagine that in the future, those with the privilege to leave Earth and all its gruesome history behind, would be more culturally aware than they had been in the twenty-first century, with nuanced and intersectional understandings of interplanetary equality. And for many, it was. However, I regret to inform you that this was not a universal experience. In recent memory, Mars’ Phobos, colonized despite warnings issued by lunar experts, became a warzone when its new government could not come to a compromise with its citizens over the rationing of artificial atmosphere. The subsequent desolation of the moon from military-grade explosions and naturally impacting meteorites accelerated its collision course with the planet and resulted in total annihilation of all inhabitants. Less drastically, but perhaps more relatably, one of Jupiter’s moons became the breeding grounds for a societal echo of mid-twentieth century Earthen culture. Perhaps desperate for nostalgia, or simply seeking an excuse to return to a time when being the worst of what humanity had to offer was a regular occurrence, the citizens of Io developed a culture rooted in prejudice and outdated ideals. They were a minority within Jupiter’s large lunar population, but the size of the moon and its innermost proximity to the planet inflated their cultural influence. All this to say, while the rest of our solar system was undergoing a slow crawl toward a future that might resemble the idealism in your favorite science fiction franchise, Io was backpedaling down a cliffside with the full acceleration of an out of control boulder.
At this juncture, you may be asking yourself why you’re being briefed with the history of the Space Corps and humanity’s slow devolution and self-destruction. Certainly, you came here to read not about the intricacies of socio-economic politics on Mars, nor the societal differences between 2120s Liverpool and 2120s Io, but about Arnold Judas Rimmer. I promise that nearly all these answers will become apparent, as they do play an integral role in understanding the innermost twisted thoughts of our hero, the dashing, brave, selflessly humble —
“I believe he’s ‘out like a light’, sir.”
“...Kryten? Y’reckon he was jokin’ about that whole bein’ kissed by his uncle thing?”
“Well, it was funny. Jokes are supposed to be funny. Perhaps Mr. Rimmer has finally mastered humor at last.”
“...Yeah, maybe. Let’s get ya to bed, Krytes.”
But Rimmer wasn’t asleep. Not yet. He was sobering up as the effects of hologramatic simulated alcohol wore off. He could feel Lister staring at him; maybe it was pity, or amusement. Rimmer wanted nothing more than to just disappear into the mattress, but all he could do was replay the events of the evening in his head, over and over.
Did he really tell that story?
Did he really think that was a fun anecdote in a conversation about first kisses?
Sure, it had been his first kiss, technically. A real deep, passionate sucker too. But it hadn’t been anything like what he imagined. It had been an embarrassing incident for both of them, though Uncle Frank had simply laughed it off. But even now, twenty years later (give or take three million years) he could still feel his uncle’s tongue in his mouth, one hand gripping his upper thigh, the other hand holding his face. And even when he realized what was happening and tried to push him away, Frank didn’t let up. It was only when he struggled, crying out, did his uncle seem to come to his senses. He quickly stood up, and young Arnold scrambled to the corner of the bed as far away from him as he could.
Uncle Frank apologized profusely. He said he had been looking for Arnold’s mother, and had gotten the wrong room. He claimed that in the dark, he hadn’t been able to see who he was snogging. If he’d been thinking clearly, Arnold might have questioned why Uncle Frank was trying to snog his mother, or how he had gotten rooms in his own home mixed up. But he was currently too spooked and upset by the whole incident to ask himself those questions until much later.
“Don’t say a word about this to your father, do you understand?” Uncle Frank asked. And Arnold, terrified of what Frank might do if he disobeyed, and what his father would say if he found out who his son had been snogging, agreed.
He never spoke a word of the incident to anyone. Not until tonight, anyway.
Rimmer laid in bed now, staring up at the underside of Lister’s bunk, and listened as his and Kryten’s footsteps faded away down the hall. Kryten had laughed. He laughed. Kryten! Had Lister laughed? He couldn’t remember. It certainly would’ve been in-character for him. Making fun of old Rimmer’s misfortune. Having a chuckle at his expense. That sounded just like him.
He wasn’t even sure what he’d expected the response to that story to be. He never should’ve said a word in the first place. Had he expected it to be funny? ...No. He didn’t think so. Everyone’s first kiss was bad, wasn’t it? That’s what he’d expected. And for once, he had a winning story. He probably should’ve known better to expect real sympathy from them. But it didn’t make him feel any better.
Io House should have provided a young Arnold with a well-needed escape from his home life, and the torment inflicted on him by his father and older brothers. And for a time, it was. Boarding school felt like a vacation compared to the Rimmer household, and it was at this school that Arnold made his first friends, and his first enemies. (Naturally, they were one and the same. Porky Roebuck was always the main culprit.) And yet, despite the relentless bullying the ten year old Arnold was subjected to, he persisted in his pursuits of friendship. And while the other boys talked about girls, and looked at pictures of girls during class, and scrambled over one another to sign up for the social mixer between Io House and its all-girls sister school, Io Prep, Arnold sat alone in his dormitory, and thought about Henry Wright, the ninth year who played the clarinet and ran track and had made eye contact with him once across the dining hall. He thought about Henry, and he thought about the other boys who came home from the disco drunk, and regaled each other with stories of the girls they danced with, and he thought about how all he wanted to do was continue being captain of the school’s skipping team (it was him and the first through fifth years who were still learning fine motor skills). He insisted that his well-honed skipping abilities would impress Henry, as skipping was just a more stylized form of rapid foot movement. But he never caught the eye of that dashing athlete again, and while Henry Wright became a champion runner, Arnold abandoned his skipping aspirations and pursued his father’s dream of the Space Corps instead.
The torment from his classmates continued throughout his years at Io House, but it was still a welcome reprieve from time spent at home during the winter and summer holidays. John, Frank, and Howard would talk all about their girlfriends over dinner, and Arnold remembered distinctly one Christmas where John brought his to dinner. Their parents loved her. Eventually Frank and Howard followed, which was when Arnold met Janine for the first time. She was, he would declare with absolute certainty, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Frank was lucky. And Arnold was jealous, because Janine was a model and Frank was happy, and Frank was getting married , and Frank was an officer in the Space Corps. Everything Arnold wanted, Frank had. In fact, all three of his older brothers had gotten their successful career and romantic starts at Io House. They all had the same upbringing. Was he just unlucky? What had they done differently? What made Mr. Rimmer sing their praises?
He didn’t understand what he had done wrong to lose his father’s approval. Or maybe he’d never had it in the first place. Was it learning that Arnold wasn’t his biological son? Was it his jealousy and anger toward his wife, taken out on his youngest? Did it take failing his first exam at the age of five for Mr. Rimmer to realize his son would never amount to anything?
Or is it possible that he knew from the very beginning, deep down, that Arnold would always be a disappointment? Not just in school and in the Space Corps, but for the one thing that he hated more than anything — the thing that would follow Arnold his entire life.
It was almost nine months to the day since Rimmer, Lister, and Cat Holly-Hopped their way into a parallel universe, and yet nothing about it made any more sense than it did then.
“Rimmer, she’s you,” Lister had told him. “She’s the female equivalent of you.”
Rimmer couldn’t accept that. He had looked at the woman before him, and what he saw looking back at him was someone confident . Someone self-assured. Someone who looked like she came straight out of one of those soap operas his mother used to watch, where the wife cheated on her husband with another woman. She — Arlene — was the other woman.
He’d dwelled on that for quite some time, replaying every moment of their encounter with the female Dwarfers in his mind. She couldn’t possibly be one of those. She was obsessed with men. Obsessed with sex with men. Obsessed with their bodies, with terrible come-on lines, obsessed with him. But mostly though, as Lister had so eloquently pointed out, she was him. Upon Lister’s return to Red Dwarf, after taking Jim and Bexley back to their mother’s universe, he’d tossed himself down at the table in their quarters and asked, “So what do you think?”
Rimmer barely looked up from the book he was reading in his bunk. “What do I think about what?”
“Deb and Arlene. Are they together?”
“Of course they are,” Rimmer scoffed. “Where else would they be? Alone in deep space, no one else around.”
“No I mean…” Lister rolled his eyes. “Do they sleep together?”
“Lister.” Rimmer put down his book, gestured to the room surrounding them. “ We sleep together. I’m sure they do.”
“Not like that!” Exasperation crept into Lister’s voice. “I mean are they,” he wrinkled his nose in thought. “In a relationship, having sex?”
Rimmer was quiet. For a long moment, silence stretched between them, so tension-filled you could cut it with a knife.
“Why would you ask that?” he said finally. “What about them could possibly have made you ask that?”
“Well, Deb’s like me,” Lister said, carefully picking his words. “A free spirit and all that.” That insinuation went right over Rimmer’s head, to absolutely no one’s surprise. “And Arlene, she was clearly compensating for something.”
Rimmer scoffed. “Like what?”
Lister shook his head. “I dunno. Hiding something. All those magazines, the unrealistic expectations for men’s bodies. How she was all over you in a really weird way. All that smeg she said about men and all — how absolutely awful she was at talking to men. Nothing about that particularly screams ‘ I’m genuinely attracted to men or even like men as a species’ .”
“Whatever you’re implying, Lister, I don’t like it.”
“I’m not implying anything.”
“You’re implying that the female version of me is a lesbian!”
“Yeah. So?” He gave Rimmer a long look. Like he was waiting for something. Whatever it was, Rimmer didn’t offer it. “She likes women. You like women, right?” He didn’t wait for a response. “So it makes sense.”
That answer seemed to satisfy Rimmer, or else he was too overwhelmed to pick up on the flaw in Lister’s logic. “Let’s just change the subject please,” he said stiffly. Lister was all too happy to comply.
For nearly a week after their encounter with the Highs and the Lows, Rimmer couldn’t sleep. This was far from their first time meeting other versions of themselves, but this encounter had unsettled him far more than the parallel universe had, or even meeting Ace had. The Highs and the Lows were so drastically different from themselves, and while Rimmer knew that none of them had a more horrifying and frankly traumatizing experience than Lister did, he found himself haunted by the visages of his alters. The Highs had been confident, content, and even he (well, the other he — this was getting confusing quite quickly) had seemed so… at peace with his existence. It was a side of Rimmer that none of them were used to seeing, but no one was more surprised by it than Rimmer himself. The very notion that he could be happy with his life, living in harmony with the other three — it was simply absurd, and he found the whole thing highly suspicious. He’d seen the way his and Lister’s High selves interacted with each other. They were friends. No. More than friends. Brothers?
“Have I told you today how much I love thee?”
Those words played on repeat in Rimmer’s mind until he should’ve been able to utter them himself.
In the end, it was his Low self that disturbed him more than anything. It was unsurprising, really. Lister certainly had nightmares for weeks — Rimmer could hear him tossing and turning and whispering desperate pleas for help. And all the while, guilt ate away at him, guilt for an act he didn’t commit, by a person who he wasn’t.
Or was he?
Rimmer simply could not shake the notion that he was somehow responsible for whatever his Low self had done to Lister. He hadn’t wanted to talk about it, but Rimmer could imagine. Perhaps that’s what made it worse — the fact that despite not having witnessed every heinous act of cruelty committed by the Lows, he knew everything.
“They didn’t really exist,” Kryten tried to reason at one point. “Our High and Low selves. I would postulate that when the triplicator produced the two copies of Red Dwarf, the High and Lows were created from our collective subconscious; figments of our imagination that are composed of our innermost thoughts — the best of them, and the worst.”
Unsurprisingly, that didn’t make Rimmer feel any better. It had been bad enough seeing a supposed “ideal” version of himself that was busied with philosophy and theatre. But if the Low Rimmer was indeed all of his worst qualities and internal essence, then what did that mean for him, the real Rimmer? This was a man who took pleasure in the torment of others. (That, at least, he could almost understand.) But he also flaunted a highly promiscuous and sexual nature that made his stomach churn. Everything about him, from his hair, his jewelry, the studded collar, to the feathered jacket and fishnet stockings, was repulsive. He was reminded of his days at Io Polytechnic, when he’d go into town in the evenings instead of going home, and he would pass the nightclubs with their flashing lights and loud music, and university students in outfits suited only for a disco lined the streets. There had been one where the men wore corsets and stockings and wigs and heavy makeup, and one day he stopped outside, staring in the window.
But he would recall, from years before, passing down that very same street with his father and brothers. He had been young, no more than ten, and Howard had tugged on their father’s sleeve and asked, “Father, why are those boys in dresses?”
And Mr. Rimmer put his arms around his sons and ushered them down the sidewalk faster, until the music from the club became a dull roar in the background, and he said something that young Arnold never forgot for the rest of his life:
“You boys stay away from them, you hear me? Cesspools like that are where queers and deviants go to breed. It’s nasty business. I can’t believe the city allows that place to stay open. If you ever set foot inside a place like that, you’ll be feeling it. Now I don’t mean to frighten you. But it’s important that you be careful. Those sodomites prey on young boys like you.”
“What’s a sodomite?” Frank asked.
“Men who fuck men,” John cut in with a laugh. The language earned him a firm glare from Mr. Rimmer. “Those gays.”
Arnold knew what gay was. The boys at school called each other gay all the time. Gay meant you were stupid. Gay meant you actually did your homework instead of looking up the answers online. Gay meant you shaved your legs in the locker room showers after gym class. Gay meant your hair was too long, or your voice was too high, or you spent time reading or liked art or weren’t interested in going to the disco with the girls from Io Prep —
Gay was bad.
And gay meant you wanted to have sex with men.
Arnold didn’t even really understand sex. Sure, his classmates had talked about it all the time. But no one had really explained what it meant. He’d always sort of assumed it was like kissing, only more intense. And you were usually naked. And with a woman.
“You can only have sex with the person you marry,” one of the Sisters at Sunday school explained one day. “It’s reserved only for someone you really love.” Well, Rimmer wasn’t sure he had ever loved anyone. Or that anyone would ever love him enough to want to marry him. But then again, he was only twelve. But sex was as much on his mind as it was any other boy his age, even if he didn’t fully get it. “Men marry women,” the Sister said. “That’s the way God wants it to be.”
To a young, barely-teenage Arnold Rimmer, this could only be interpreted as a man loving a man in the same way a man loves a woman is impossible, and wrong. He took his father’s words to heart, and even as he began to reject religion as he grew up, those Sunday school lessons stayed with him well into adulthood.
When he was fourteen, pinned to his bed in terror with Uncle Frank’s tongue down his throat, he wondered if this was what his father had tried to warn him about.
So when an older, recently-divorced-from-his-parents Arnold Rimmer stood in front of the same club years later, he only contemplated going inside for just a moment. Then he shoved his hands in his coat pockets, pulled his collar up a little higher, walked away and never looked back.
Still, those visuals stayed burned in his mind. And it was always the same; effeminate men preying on others, images of bondage, of collars, chains and whips. Was that what he was, deep down? Could that possibly be a part of him? The deepest, darkest parts of his psyche — the part of him that hated himself. The part of him he wanted more than anything to conceal from the world. The part of him that could only be brought out by stripping away everything else that makes up Arnold Judas Rimmer. He didn’t want it to be. He didn’t want to acknowledge that there was any part of him that could possibly be like that. It frightened him. And so he pushed those feelings deeper within, buried under guilt and fear of turning into that which he’d hated for all those years.
The first Ace Rimmer never got to return to his original dimension. That had been the deal. The dimension-jump drive was random — a one-way ticket, as Bongo had put it. But Ace hadn’t been afraid. It was, in his own words, his job and duty as a Space Corps test pilot. Still, he missed it. He missed Mellie, he missed the chaplain, hell, he even missed the Admiral.
Mostly though, he missed Spanners.
And even years down the line, as the memories from each Ace were passed down to the next, they all kept that fondness in their hearts.
It had been strange for our Rimmer, being hit with so much charisma and genuine likability all at once. But it had also been somewhat of a relief to learn that not every Ace had been as obnoxious as the ones he knew. Some of them, in fact, had been very much like him.
Throughout that time, Lister’s words stayed with him. You can be a different kind of Ace .
As much as I’d like it to be, however, this is not the tale of Rimmer’s adventures as Ace. That would be enough for a story twice this length. It would certainly be happier, though not without its share of heartbreak. But to fully ignore this period in Rimmer’s life would be to leave out one particular key event, one which would change the course of his life forever.
It was around the eleven-year mark of his time as Ace that Rimmer found himself in the original Ace’s dimension. There, he encountered the man Ace had once called Spanners. It wasn’t hard to identify him. He may have been older, more put-together, and sporting a mustache that looked like a caterpillar had settled under his nose, but that accent, that face ; kind smile, eyes that creased around the corners, the gentleness with a teasing edge when he talked — it was unmistakably Lister.
Spanners had been overjoyed to see him, and Rimmer found himself strangely guilty that he had to tell the man he wasn’t the same Ace he’d known. Equally strangely, Spanners hadn’t seemed too surprised. Did he suspect that one of the other infinite Arnold Rimmers might one day take up the mantle? Or had he gotten so used to the absence of his old friend that confirmation of his death barely fazed him?
The pair talked for hours. Rimmer couldn’t remember a time when he and his own Lister had a non-hostile conversation for that long. Or any conversation for that long. It was… nice. Maybe it was just the years of experience and wisdom inherited from all the other Aces that placated him. Maybe he just missed Lister more than he thought he did.
It was hard to believe in a way that in this universe, Spanners settled down with Kochanski. Lister’s three million year unattainable dream, now a reality. But despite what sounded like a happy marriage, there was a longing wistfulness in Spanners’ voice as he talked about Ace, and their years of friendship.
“Me and Ace, we knew each other a long time,” he told Rimmer, now on his fifth lager of the night. Some things, even across dimensions, never change. “Way before I met Krissie. We were inseparable. Well, ‘cept when he was off, you know. Being a dashingly handsome and brave test pilot.” Spanners smiled, suddenly looking embarrassed. “But I guess you know that. You have all those memories, right?”
Rimmer made a face. “A bit. It’s all a bit… fuzzy, really.” The truth is, of course, that he’d done his best to suppress the thoughts of all those Listers. Getting away from his own had been a welcome bonus from his travels. The last thing he’d wanted was to think about Lister any more than he had to. (Of course, it didn’t make much of a difference. He ended up thinking about him most of the time anyway.)
“Ah, well.” Spanners smiled, and it was Lister looking back at him, grinning cheekily down from his bunk moments before dropping a dirty sock on his head. Except, it was endearing for some reason, instead of infuriating, when it came from this Lister. “Ace, listen to me.”
Rimmer shook his head, holding up a hand as he cut him off. “Don’t. I’m not him. Nor your Ace, not any Ace. Not really. Never have been. I’m just Arnold. Or Arn, or Iron Balls, or Bonehead or just…” He shrugged. “Rimmer.” With a sigh, he pulled off the wig, and heard Spanners laugh, far too kindly given the situation. “That’s who I am. A second technician in the Space Corps. Not an officer, not a test pilot. Just a dead, cowardly bastard who would rather run away from his problems than stand up tall and face them like a man.”
Spanners looked at him for a long while, thoughtfully. Finally, he downed the rest of his lager, and as he reached for another, he said, “Ace and you, you’re more similar than you think. Oh, he mighta been brave when he was up there, in the cockpit, but he was a coward. Just like you.” Rimmer laughed, short and sharp, more of a choking sound, but he oddly wasn’t offended. “He never could be open about his feelings. And he wasn’t the only one. I — well, I waited far too long for things meself. But Ace, he had a tendency to overthink. He could reason himself out of the simplest thing by worrying about it. Unless it had to do with a spaceship, he was, and I mean this fondly, an idiot.” Rimmer’s face went red, and Spanners just kept on talking. “Anyways. You remind me of him. Not just ‘cause you are him. I like you, man. I do.”
Rimmer glanced up, expression hopeful. “Really?”
“Really. But lemme give you some advice, from an old friend.” Rimmer bit back the reflex to say something sarcastic about not needing his advice. Whatever it was, he probably did need it. “Ace missed his chance. Don’t miss yours. Don’t keep running away from what’s right in front of you.” Spanners let the words sink in for a moment, and then gave a loud belch. “Whoops. That might be my limit. It’s time to get home to the wife and kids.” He stood, patting him on the shoulder. “Night, Arn.”
Rimmer sat there for a long while after Spanners left. He couldn’t stop thinking about what he said. What did he mean , Ace missed his chance? His chance for what?
Don’t keep running away from what’s right in front of you .
He wasn’t — he wasn’t talking about himself , was he? Spanners and Ace?
Rimmer put his head in his hands.
I have to go back.
In the end, he managed it. Rimmer, our Rimmer, became the first of thousands of Aces to make it back to his home dimension. With Spanners’ help, they modified the time drive, made changes, tweaked and tinkered with it and perfected the design. Against all odds, they did the impossible. It still took months of trial and error, but by the end of the year, nearly twelve years since he first departed, Wildfire jumped for the last time, and he was home.
It seems important at this point, dear reader, to perhaps clarify a few things for you. The many lives of Arnold Judas Rimmer are vast and confusing, which in hindsight is probably one of the reasons even he couldn’t seem to figure himself out. Luckily though, that’s why you’re here. So to spare you the hassle of trying to make sense of his very muddled mind, allow me to make something clear:
Arnold Rimmer is a gay man.
Shocking, I know. So shocking in fact, that he hasn’t even figured it out yet. Don’t tell him, okay? He’ll get there, I promise. All in good time.
Lister was right; Arlene was gay. His Low counterpart, for all of his faults and all the terribly offensive stereotypes bundled together in Rimmer’s mind that conjured him up, was gay. And Ace (as well as all the Aces that followed) were also gay. Yes, most of them had relationships with women over the years, and it’s a big multiverse; it is certainly possible that some of them may have been bi-or-pansexual. Just as it’s possible some may have been straight.
(Nah, who am I kidding? There is nothing straight about this man.)
But one thing is absolutely certain, and that’s that Ace loved Spanners. And Spanners loved him. But at the time, Ace was too far in the closet, still in denial about what he felt, to accept or even pick up on Spanners’ advances. And that had been alright. Spanners never pressured him. He never asked for more than Ace was willing to give. His life, in retrospect, was better than our Rimmer’s was, but he’d still had the lousy childhood, the homophobic family, the constant beratings from his father. The only difference, as you know, is that he was held back a year at school. This one event changed the trajectory of his life for the better. He joined the Space Corps, became an officer, became a highflying pilot, and perhaps most importantly, was surrounded by friends and companions who loved and supported him — people who were far more open minded than he ever was. Still, he was afraid. He internalized everything for years, repressed those feelings even as he pined for Spanners at a distance. But before he worked himself up to admitting it, the moment passed. Spanners had moved on, married Kochanski.
And so, at the first chance he got, Ace left. He was willing to leave it all behind and give himself over fully to his career, because staying was too painful. But as it turned out, meeting other Rimmers and their Listers only made it harder. He was still struggling, even then, with internalized homophobia. He knew he was gay, though he refused to admit it aloud even to his final day in his original dimension, which perhaps made it worse. In many ways, he was the textbook definition of a stereotype (although thankfully, less so than A Certain Other Version Of Himself). As he adventured, he opened up much more, became more sure of himself. Our Rimmer picked up on this early on. He saw Ace’s flamboyance and bravado not as part of his superhero persona and charm, but as a manifestation of his sexuality. And more than that, he saw in him the confidence he lacked, the confidence he wished he had. The man was him. And it frightened him to see a version of himself so clearly openly and comfortable. (What he didn’t know, what he could never know, is that Ace was not as confident as he seemed. He may have been lightyears ahead of our Rimmer, but being referred to as a “reject from a gay pride disco” carried a weight that even Ace felt in the pit of his stomach.)
It’s funny, really, that Rimmer felt so threatened by Ace’s easy friendship with Lister. It suggested that their bond could be deeper than he thought. Ace was supposed to represent everything Rimmer ever wanted to be, and if that included being openly queer (and harboring feelings for Lister) what did that say about him?
He would never know, but I like to think Ace would be proud that Spanners helped his successor do what he had failed to do himself. It’s ironic, that a Rimmer who realized his feelings early on never managed to have a relationship with his Lister, while the one who stewed in his repression well into middle age — spoiler alert — did.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
Rimmer’s journey of self-discovery neither began nor ended with Ace and Spanners. They both certainly played an important role, but it would be another ten years before things really began to change for Rimmer. There was one time, it must have been three years or so after he returned to Red Dwarf, where the crew encountered a human ship that had crossed into their dimension from another. Like the Dwarfers, they were from the twenty-second century, and their Earth was both remarkably similar and remarkably different from the one Lister left behind three million years before. Of course, by this point in time, meeting people from other dimensions was commonplace. Lister, Cat, and Kryten were certainly curious about where these humans had come from, and now they got there, but Rimmer was focused on something quite different.
Among the crew were two men, an engineer and a doctor. The four of them went to the other ship, upon Lister’s insistence that they ought to help fix whatever had gone wrong with their drive to cause them to end up here. Unsurprisingly, Lister was the only one who was much use, as Rimmer stood around complaining and Cat was more interested in flirting with anyone who had the misfortune of being in the room with him. Kryten was quickly whisked away by the doctor (earnestly followed by Cat) in the interest of exchanging medical supplies and resources, and at one point in their absence, the engineer made an off-handed remark about how he wished his husband wouldn’t “wander off alone with strangers during a crisis situation”. Lister had laughed, reassuring him that Kryten (and, to a lesser degree, Cat) were harmless, and that this wasn’t a crisis; he was certain he’d have them up and running in no time.
Rimmer, on the other hand, had gone silent ever since the engineer said the words ‘my husband’.
When the trio returned and the doctor came back to the engineer’s side, Rimmer fixed them with a stare. He stood there, seemingly lost in thought with a strange expression on his face. Lister watched him with slight confusion which morphed into amusement after a bit.
“Hey,” Lister said, sidling up next to him and whispering in his ear. “You okay man?” Rimmer swatted him away like a pesky fly and ignored the question — but his eyes never left the men.
When the four finally did return to Red Dwarf, Rimmer was still thinking about the two of them. He was oddly quiet the whole night, and Lister considered asking what was wrong, but Rimmer offered an answer before he had the chance.
“They were gay?”
Lister sighed to himself. This was just like the parallel universe conversation all over again. “Yes, Rimmer.”
“They’re married?” He still wasn’t processing. “To each other? The engineer, that complete and total git, he’s… gay?”
“Yeah.” Lister seemed to be doing his best to keep his cool. He knew that Rimmer didn’t mean any offense, not really , but we should all be grateful that he kept his comments to himself until they were in private. Imagining how that conversation would’ve gone with the two men directly is not a pretty sight. “Is that a problem?”
Rimmer shook his head, too rapidly. His voice jumped up an octave as he leapt to defend himself, stumbling over his words. “I don’t... there’s nothing… nothing wrong with…” He couldn’t say it, because he didn’t believe it. There was something wrong with it, wrong with them, wrong with—
But the thing is, there was nothing about those two that disgusted him. Not the way Ace had, the way Low Rimmer had. And for Rimmer, this was impossible to reconcile in his mind. He fished around for the right thing to say. “I just couldn’t....” he trailed off.
Lister gave him a knowing, somewhat disappointed look. “You couldn’t tell?”
Right. Rimmer couldn’t . That was the problem, at its core. They didn’t disgust him because they didn’t match his preconceived notions of what a gay man was supposed to be like. They weren’t flamboyant in dress or mannerisms. They weren’t artists or superheroes in skintight leotards. They weren’t all over each other, they weren’t wearing makeup, they weren't showing skin or leering or making dick jokes befitting of twelve year old boys —
They were normal . That’s the only word he could come up with to describe them. Perfectly, unremarkably normal, doing jobs for real men. Jobs like — in the case of the engineer — what he did. Used to do. Before dying.
“No! How was I supposed to?” he said, accusatory, as if this was somehow Lister’s fault. “They didn’t act gay! Or look gay.”
Lister counted to ten silently before speaking. “And how do you think gay people look and act?”
Rimmer didn’t have an answer — not one he wanted to share. He knew when he was saying the wrong thing, and usually that didn’t matter to him. He tended to speak his mind without much care for how his words affected the people around him. Sometimes, perhaps more often than anyone would care to admit, he even went out of his way to say hurtful things. If in this case he did, it wouldn’t have been the first time he made scathing comments about someone’s sexuality.
But he didn’t.
For once in his life, Rimmer shut his mouth and stayed quiet.
“That’s what I thought,” Lister said.
It just… didn’t make sense. They were in love. They didn’t fight. They were both successful, both confident. They were happy .
Gay people weren’t supposed to be happy. That’s what he’d been told throughout his entire life. Being gay was a disease, and if you weren’t careful, a fatal one. If you didn’t kill yourself, someone else would. You’d always be miserable, alone, ostracized. You’d never belong anywhere, never be successful, never know anything but pain and heartbreak and loss.
The Sunday school Sisters said so. The therapists said so. His father said so. Every movie he’d ever watched with a gay character said so.
Was it possible that they were all wrong?
“You’re very defensive,” Rimmer remarked, a not-so-casual observation. “About something that doesn’t affect you.”
“You know,” he said. “The gays.”
“Rimmer, you know I like men, right?”
The whole world stopped for a moment as that sunk in. Then Rimmer very slowly stood from the bed, and walked out of the room.
Lister sat up, dangling his legs off the side of his bunk, as the doors slid open again and Rimmer returned a few seconds later.
“I’m sorry, Listy, something very strange just happened. Please start again, you were answering my question?” he said.
“...Yeah,” Lister said. “I said I’m attracted to men.” His eyebrows raised expectantly. “I’m bisexual.”
Rimmer stared. “But Kochanski.”
“ Bisexual .”
“Your own female alternate!”
“Rimmer, I said I’m bisexual.” Lister rubbed his face with his hands. He hadn’t thought he was that tired, but it had been a long day, and Rimmer was exhausting the last little bit of energy he had. “And for the record, so was Deb.”
Rimmer sat down heavily at the table. “I don’t know what that means.”
“You don’t know what bisexual means?”
“No, I mean — that’s not a real thing, Lister. You’re not attracted to men just because you drunkenly snogged Petersen one night at a disco.” Rimmer made a face, the old disgust slowly creeping back into his expression.
“Yeah, I know,” Lister said, far too calmly. “I’m attracted to men because they’re smeggin’ attractive. Just like women.”
Rimmer eyed him suspiciously, waiting for the other shoe to drop. As if he expected Lister to start laughing, come clean about whatever joke he was playing on him. He didn’t. Lister just stared back at him, and shrugged.
“You’re really serious,” he said.
“I really am,” Lister echoed. “I’m surprised you didn’t know. I mean—” He frowned, digging up old memories from twenty years ago that he would rather forget. “I thought that’s why you hated me so much.”
Rimmer waved his hand dismissively. “I hated you because you were slobbish and loud and obnoxious and didn’t know how to play your guitar in tune.” His usual frown settled back on his face, though perhaps a bit more pensive than usual. “I had no idea.”
Lister grinned. “Ah, you said I didn’t know how to play the guitar in tune. Implying that now I do.”
Despite himself, Rimmer laughed dryly. “I misspoke.”
They lapsed into silence. Lister laid back down, Rimmer returned to his bunk.
“Who else that we know is secretly gay?” He asked, after a minute. “Or… bi-curious.”
“Bisexual,” Lister corrected. “And Cat, since I’m sure you didn’t pick up on that either.” Rimmer hadn’t — but he supposed that at least wasn’t much of a surprise, given the way Cat dressed. Or was that not something he was supposed to think either? He didn’t know anymore. “I think he’s pansexual or something, I don’t actually remember what he said.”
Lister was lucky, Rimmer thought, that he didn’t spend hours obsessing over things like that to the point where the words were permanently seared in his brain.
My husband .
He was so focused on what Lister was saying that he didn’t even think to ask what ‘pansexual’ meant.
“And Kryten, I don’t think attraction is the same for mechanoids as it is for humans,” Lister continued. “But I know he had feelings for me at one point.”
This was too much for Rimmer. He was learning far more personal things about his three crewmates than he ever cared to know. “He told you that?” he scoffed.
“Yeah,” Lister shrugged. “It was while you were away. I was teaching him about human sexuality, and I think it just kinda clicked for him.” He laughed. “Actually, that conversation wasn’t so different from this one.”
Rimmer’s face contorted, trying to find something in that to take offense to, but he couldn’t figure out what. “And what did you say, when he told you?”
“That I already suspected,” he said, voice full of amusement. “And that I appreciated it, but I didn’t feel the same way.”
“Obviously,” Rimmer found himself saying, a slight smile creeping onto his face. “He’s insufferable.”
“Hey!” Lister dangled his hand off the side of the bunk, waving it down at Rimmer in protest. “Don’t be mean.”
Rimmer huffed, a little laugh meant only for himself. “So that’s it, then? You like women, and men.”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Lister said from above. “Now, can I get some sleep? You’ve worn me out, man.” He listened to Lister roll over, adjust the blankets, and start snoring impressively fast.
It would be another sleepless night for Rimmer, though, the other’s words playing over in his head like a broken record.
Husband. Attracted to men. Like women. Bisexual. Cat. Kryten… had feelings for… Didn’t feel the same way .
Rimmer buried his face in his pillow.
That was not happening.
There was no way this was happening.
He simply refused. He was not going to let himself be attracted to men. Lister was just weak, easy, so desperate for company that he’d boink any and anyone. Cat too. Kryten was just a machine, what did he know?
But Rimmer? Rimmer was strong . He was a man . He had control over himself and his feelings and he was —
This day was a mistake.
After that point, things were different. Not significantly, not even noticeably. But they were — Rimmer was different.
For one thing, he spent a lot more time thinking, and a lot less time talking . It was a welcome reprieve to everyone on the ship, but there was always the faintest sense (or so Lister would claim) that something was wrong .
Here’s the thing:
Admitting to himself that he actually was attracted to men, after a lifetime of repression and internalized homophobia, was not the solution to a problem — it was the cause.
All it did, in retrospect, was open up a much larger can of worms. Some very specific worms, actually, which wriggled unpleasantly in his brain and sent him into a spiral of self-doubt. Rimmer had always loved making lists — he found them soothing, comforting, orderly during chaos — so let us now take a look at some of his innermost thoughts, as originally narrated to his diary.
My Gay Problem
1) How do I know I feel attraction to men?
- Have there ever been any specific incidents? Any concrete examples of a time in which I felt the overwhelming desire to put my hand down the pants of any man besides myself?
2) It doesn’t matter. It’s disgusting. Just because I feel it doesn’t mean I have to act on it.
3) I should be able to settle for women.
4) Is it really love if I’m just settling?
He then crossed out ‘settle for’ and replaced it with ‘be happy with’. And then crossed that out and replaced it with ‘love’. And then crossed that out and put back ‘settle for’.
5) Will anybody ever actually love me anyway?
(After point #5 there was a two-day gap during which he abandoned the list because the thought of being alone forever was too devastating to have the motivation for anything except lying in his bunk, and yelling at Lister to pick up his underwear.)
6) I’ve been in love with women before, and if anybody asks, that’s all I’ll tell them.
7) Women I’ve been in love with:
- Fiona Barrington
- That girl with the nose whose name I’ve forgot
- Carol McCauley
- Yvonne McGruder
Lise Yatesthat was Lister’s memory
- Nirvanah Crane
He was content with this list. It seemed like a fair number of women for a man who died at the age of 30 to have been in love with. In fact, of the nine listed there, he only crossed out one, on the basis of that memory not being his own.
But the truth was, every single one of those women could be crossed out.
Between his cousins (the only girls he knew when he was younger), his sister-in-law (a model), various one-off girlfriends, and some secret crushes who had really just been nice to him or showed interest in him first, there was not a single person on that list who Rimmer truly loved.
But he didn’t know better. How would he? Love and lust were one and the same in his mind. And oh, he felt attraction — for unattainable women, the objects of every Ionian man’s affection. They looked like every cookie-cutter woman in the magazines he bought in the shops. He idealized every single woman who even remotely showed interest in him, holding them up to a standard that they could never meet (especially not now, considering they had all been dead for three million years). They were the kind of women he was supposed to lust over. Call it compulsive heterosexuality; when he really thought about it, he hadn’t loved any of them. Not even Lise Yates, when he had Lister’s memories. It wasn’t just because little things didn’t add up in the timeline. Loving her simply felt wrong . For years he’d chalked that particular incident up to a flawed memory transfer system, and he blamed Lister for the failings of his attempted birthday present.
Once again, Rimmer was never one to admit the problem was him .
In the end, he scratched out the whole title of #7 except the word ‘women’. He decided to figure out the rest of it later.
He had never lusted over a man. That, he was sure of. It was one of those things he was certain he would remember.
Eventually, he added one bullet point.
- Henry Wright?
He abandoned the list for nearly a year after that, leaving it to be forgotten, unfinished along with all the other scribbled lists he made of everything else in his brain over the many months that followed.
New Motions for Space Corps Salutes
Exams To Write
Exams to Revise For
Timetables I Need To Make
Free Time I Have To Make Timetables
Things I’ve Put Lister on Report For
Vending Machine Restock
Space Corps Directives to Review
Days in a Row Lister Has Worn the Same Socks
Songs I’ve Heard Lister Play on the Guitar That Actually Sound Decent (this one had zero entries)
Things Lister Made Fun of That I’m Sensitive About
Discussion Points For Therapy With Snacky
Things To Annoy Lister With
Possible Birthday Presents for Lister (featuring mainly hygienic supplies and laundry detergent)
Exams I Could Actually Pass
Exams Lister Could Actually Pass (***DO NOT TELL HIM***)
Rules for Shared Sleeping Quarters
Stupid Things Lister Said That Made Me Laugh
Things Lister Said That Actually Were Sort Of Nice??
Things I’ve Heard Lister Say When He Talks In His Sleep *for blackmail purposes*
Fun Activities For Next Shore Leave To Suggest To Lister
Was there a pattern beginning to show?
Flipping to the very end of My Gay Problem , #8, Rimmer added one more bullet in minuscule, almost unreadable, print.
- David Lister
You know that poem that goes ‘ this is the way the world ends / this is the way the world ends / this is the way the world ends / not with a bang but with a whimper’ ?
The ending of this story is a little like that. Following the deliverance of the cat people to their Promised Land, Rimmer and Lister began to soften around each other. The changes were gradual. So much so that even they didn’t notice when their fights had all but stopped, and the daily bickering always had an undercurrent of fondness to it that had never been present before.
Suffice to say, Rimmer didn’t admit his “self-discovery” to Lister. He’d managed to hide it deep within himself for nearly sixty years; continuing to do so would hardly hurt him. And yet, he found it harder than he expected to act ‘normal’ around him after that. (Of course, normal for them was volleyed insults in the drive room and screaming matching in the sleeping quarters. Anything less than that would easily be seen as out of the ordinary.) Compensating for his insecurities with scathing remarks about Lister’s incompetence rolled right off the other (and indeed, they hadn’t hurt Lister in a really long time), but Rimmer found that his words didn’t pack the same punch they used to. And stranger still, he really didn’t mind.
So maybe he didn’t need to say anything.
And it’s not that Rimmer’s self-doubt magically vanished either. The whole Diamond-Light thing had been a well-needed ego boost for sure, and he found himself incredibly gratified that Lister still, on occasion, called him ‘Mighty’ — despite not having his superhero abilities anymore, he still saw the courage and bravery buried within Rimmer.
Buried deep within Rimmer.
But perhaps it was that rare spark of courage, coupled with Lister’s assurances that he was needed, wanted , that got him taking little risks from day to day. Simple things, like not sitting at the far end of the table from Lister at dinner. Allowing him to play his guitar when he was in the room. Bringing him a curry from his favorite vending machine when he got off shift.
And Lister, in return, responded with his own subtleties. A brief hand on the shoulder as he passed Rimmer’s chair in Starbug. Making room for Rimmer to sit beside him on the couch during movie night.
And then they got a little more intentional. Rimmer, grabbing Lister by the arm and pulling him away from the smallest bit of falling debris in a moment of panic. Lister, making a point to half-listen when Rimmer talked about military history for two hours straight instead of ignoring him completely. Both of them, staying up into the late hours of the night talking about absolutely nothing.
Lister, falling asleep in the middle of a movie, and Rimmer not complaining when his head drooped onto his shoulder.
Rimmer, getting ready once again to revise for his astronavs, and Lister giving him peace and quiet, and then quizzing him on the material for an hour before the exam.
Lister, giving Rimmer a genuinely sympathetic look and friendly arm squeeze when he didn’t pass, followed by “we’ll get ‘em next time, promise.”
They took a week-long tour ‘round the moons of a new uninhabited planet that Rimmer insisted on claiming on behalf of the Space Corps. Cat didn’t care about planting flags on moons, and Kryten agreed to keep an eye on Red Dwarf, so it was just the two of them in Starbug, and they only argued about something major every other day. It was… nice, actually.
There was rarely a silent moment of course; Lister loved to chatter, and even when Rimmer wasn’t in a very talkative mood, he was singing to himself. Rights of the pilot, he insisted, and Rimmer didn’t bother to fight him on it. When it got to be too obnoxious, he just retreated into the back, so only the faintest trace of Lister’s off-pitch melody was audible through the door.
During these moments alone, Rimmer did a lot of thinking. Things were… good. He really couldn’t complain. Shouldn’t complain, and shouldn’t push his luck.
What was it Lister had said, years ago now? That Kryten had admitted to having feelings for Lister, and he’d known, and he turned him down? David Will-Boink-Anything Lister turned someone down. Sure, that someone had been Kryten , so Rimmer didn’t blame him in the least, but it still set off his self-doubt meter like nothing else.
Once he’d admitted to himself that he had… some kind of feelings for Lister, things had sort of just spiraled out of control. Did he love the fact that he was in this predicament? No. Did he actually spend quite a while actively hating himself more for it? Yes, definitely, absolutely. But, to no one’s surprise but his own, self-loathing did not make it go away. So here he was, stuck, feeling something for Lister that he had definitely never felt for anyone else before. No, not even Henry Wright.
He could say something. Try to profess his feelings the way the guy always does in the movies. He could be the hero, who sweeps the girl — or, the Lister, he supposed — off her… his… feet.
Or, he could be the guy everyone hates, who no one roots for, who gets turned down in a humiliating way while everyone laughs.
That was definitely going to be what happened if he said a word to Lister, so he kept his mouth shut.
It wasn’t like he knew the first thing about love confessions. If that’s even what this was. Did he love Lister?
But how could someone who has never been loved, never felt love, never understood love even begin to put into words thirty years worth of pent-up emotion?
The answer, as you may expect, is that they don’t . And he didn’t.
On their last night out there, as Starbug orbited the planet’s atmosphere, Rimmer found Lister in the cockpit, asleep. He’d dozed off with a vindaloo in one hand, a bit falling from his fork onto his shirt and his other hand on the navicomp.
“Lister!” he said, loud enough to startle him awake. The fork clattered to the floor, followed by the entire tin of food into his lap, and Starbug jerked to the left as his grip tightened automatically on the controls. They cursed in unison at the sudden jolt, which sent Rimmer crashing into the opposite seat.
“Smeg!” Lister spun around once their direction was righted, and glared at Rimmer. “What the hell, man, you startled me!”
Rimmer didn’t look the least bit sorry. “You shouldn’t have been sleeping on duty.”
“Rimmer, it’s late, and we’re in orbit. I was fine!”
He tsked quietly. “You never know what could be out there, Listy.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, the sarcasm in his voice dripping like the trail of curry in the corner of his mouth. “That’s why you’re here.” Ignoring the jab, Rimmer let go of the seat once he was certain he’d regained his balance (and that Lister wouldn’t send them ricocheting off their flight path again), and folded his arms over his chest. Lister stared at him expectantly, and when Rimmer didn’t say anything else, he rolled his eyes. “Did you need something, or did you just come in to make sure I don’t get a good night’s sleep?”
Oh. Right. “Well, it would be penance for all the restful nights you’ve denied me over the years,” he deflected. “Vengeance is sweet, my friend.”
Lister cracked a grin, the corners of his eyes crinkling, and Rimmer was struck by the sudden observation that he was actually rather attractive. Old age may have actually improved his looks, which was more than could be said for most people, including himself. And so, with Lister’s smile as infectious as always, Rimmer smirked back. “You could’ve moved out at any time,” Lister said innocently. But he knew — they both knew — that was never going to happen. “But seriously, is everything alright?” Worry now creased his brow, because it was very unlike Rimmer to just walk into a room where Lister was and not have anything to say.
...Or maybe it wasn’t as rare of an occurrence as it used to be.
“Yes, everything’s fine,” Rimmer said, struggling to keep his voice from pitching up as nerves gripped him. “I—” he drew in a breath. “Lister, come here for a moment.”
It sounded like a command — What else could it be? Lister figured — but rather than complaining, he stood up, offered a half-hearted mock of Rimmer’s salute, and walked up to him.
He’d barely stopped moving when Rimmer grabbed him by the collar and kissed him.
It was, because I know this is what you’re wondering, absolutely nothing like the kiss in Lister’s dream all those years ago. There was no flirty banter. No staring into each other’s eyes, no hesitation with their lips millimeters away, no feeling the other’s hot breath against their skin before closing the distance. And there were no fireworks, no choir singing, no moody lighting other than the flickering fluorescent above them. It was fast, and awkward, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that Rimmer hadn’t kissed anyone in a very long time. A click of teeth, noses smushing against each other — nothing about them fit together right.
There was no time to react before Rimmer was pulling away because there was curry sauce on Lister’s chin. “That is absolutely disgusting,” he said, nose wrinkling.
Lister gawked at him, not having a clue where to even begin processing what had just happened. So all he said was, “If I’d known I was gonna be kissed, I woulda cleaned up first.” He wiped his chin with the back of his hand and looked up at Rimmer. “There. Better?”
Neither moved. “Well?” Lister asked after a moment.
He rolled his eyes and cupped Rimmer’s face in both hands, pulling him down. If you want something done right, you do it yourself. This time, it was Rimmer’s turn to stiffen in surprise. But Lister kept going, slow and gentle, and as he slid one hand around and up into the short hairs at the back of his neck, Rimmer began to relax, sighing softly against his mouth. Not knowing what else to do with his hands, his fingers gripped the lapels of Lister’s jacket like he was clinging on for dear life.
This was happening. This was really, actually happening. All coherent thought fled from Rimmer’s mind, but there was still a voice in his head — the voice of his father — screaming that this was wrong, that this was abhorrent, that he was only going to get hurt.
Maybe it was. And maybe he would.
If only you could see me now, Father. You’d be rolling in your grave.
Then Lister pulled away, looking up at him breathlessly with bright eyes and a euphoric grin, and nothing else mattered.