Queer-coding

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Synonyms: queercoding
See also: Queer Baiting, subtext, fanon
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Queer-coding is a term used to say that characters were given traits/behaviors to suggest they are not heterosexual/cisgender, without the character being outright confirmed to have a queer identity.

Certain instances of queer-coding, such as Marco's bisexuality in Animorphs, have been confirmed by TPTB to occur because of fear that publishers or networks would not allow an explicitly LGBTQ character.[1][2]

Much has been said about the common trope of queer-coding villains, such as this quote from Fem Magazine:

Feminine mannerisms and melodramatic attitudes typically characterize antagonists such as Jafar in “Aladdin” and Scar in “The Lion King.” Even the creators of Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” looked to the drag queen, Divine, as a model for their sassy and temperamental villainess. By using queerness as a defining feature of a large portion of Disney villains, the company fuels children’s association of those characteristics with evil figures or immorality.[3]

History

Coding, that is, behaviors intended to identify a character as being a particular type, is an integral part of theater worldwide. In Anglo-European drama it goes back to the ancient Greek theater. Nuances in costume, body positions and gestures, and vocal tone along with theatrical subtext serve to tell the audience a character's background and personality. By the late nineteenth century and into the 1920s and '30s, film acting techniques were being developed and what we think of as "homosexual" as a social identity continued to evolve. Male theatrical and film characters who were supposed to be gay were often campy or "flaming". Known as pansy types in those days, they might be fussy, effeminate, use limp-wristed gestures and lace handkerchiefs, and (as sound came in) speak in expressive, often high-pitched voices. Part of this was done so that the audience would understand a character was gay without running afoul of the Legion of Decency.[note 1][note 2]

Formerly, characters who seemed "queer" often proved to be straight as a way of sending a message to the audience not to judge queerness solely by appearance and behavior. Another character who seemed to fit all the stereotypes of a "straight" man might then turn out to be gay.[note 3] As the dominant American culture acknowledges that gay people exist, and with the changing cultural image of who a gay person is, sympathetic gay characters have become more numerous, and are often coded more realistically. Today's viewers have come to expect to see gay people actually having relationships, not merely being identified as gay.


References

  1. https://twitter.com/MichaelGrantBks/status/667531031130411010?s=20
  2. https://twitter.com/MichaelGrantBks/status/662056455348948992?s=20
  3. Disney Movies’ Shifting Narratives: Queer-Coding to LGBT Spotlights, Sydney Sobrepeña, April 14 2018
  1. The excellent documentary Before Stonewall begins with a look at "pansies" and other types of gay characters in film. See also Turner Classic Movies' Screened Out: Gay Images on Film.
  2. Jay Robinson played Troyian ambassador Petri as this character in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Elaan of Troyius". Franklin Pangborn often played this character. Edward Everett Horton played more low-key versions. Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon is a more extreme example as is Jack on Will and Grace. Ed Hibbert's Gil Chesterton on Frasier is a satirical take on "coded gays", as is Frasier himself.
  3. The early All in the Family episode "Judging Books by Covers" is all about this: Archie's "manly" friend is gay, while Michael's girlish-seeming friend is straight.