“It doesn’t matter what their sexual preference is!” OK, now that we’ve got that off our chests, let’s move on. There was a time, many years ago, when Hollywood was forced to hide all of its gay characters from the censors. Though there are traces of this all the way back to the beginnings of film (and still a legacy of it today) it truly began in 1930 with the Motion Picture Production Code, otherwise known as the Hays Code (named after the President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), Will H. Hays).
The Hays Code was a set of religious guidelines that restricted sinful activity being shown on screen, lest it corrupt the general public. One such example of banned “sinful” behavior was homosexuality. This led to the creation of the “sissy,” a character-type that could get around the censors while portraying a certain set of characteristics. Unfortunately, most of these characters were villains or victims, hardly a glowing association for the gay population. There are many examples of gay characters hidden in the films released under the Hays Code years from 1930 to 1968. We have included a couple herein, and also showcased more recent ones as well. After 1968, gay characters had more freedom, but that doesn’t mean they always came out on-screen either. After all, not all heterosexual characters announce their preference, so why should the gay characters?
Well, this list isn’t about characters whose sexuality is overly ambiguous. This is about those gay characters who didn’t come out verbally because they were so obviously gay they never needed to. Still, because the average film lens is so focused on heterosexuality, most film fans just see gay characters in the “default setting.” Basically, if a character doesn’t say they’re gay, they’re not. We’re here to tell you that’s not true. If you’ve been paying attention at all, some of these are probably already known to you, but you’d be surprised at how many people watch films on auto-pilot. Here are 15 film characters you never knew were gay. Well, you kind of did, but weren’t for sure.
15. Ken – Toy Story 3
Don’t be distracted by Ken’s apparent attraction to Barbie in Toy Story 3, if you listen to their interactions, he’s only interested in her fashion accessories. The makers of Toy Story 3, probably weren’t able to get the go-ahead from Mattel to come out and proclaim that the Ken doll is gay, but they sure hit on almost all of the stereotypes to allow the audience to make the implication themselves. Throughout the film, Ken’s fashion obsession and narcissism might cloak some of the issues, but these are all classic traits of the gay fashionista. Even in the promos for the film, Ken gets upset about the implication that he’s a girl’s toy, taking great offense to an obvious truth. Now, being a girl’s toy doesn’t make him gay, but it doesn’t make him a model of heterosexuality either.
14. Doris and Maybe Everyone Else – A League of Their Own
Not every tomboy is a lesbian, we know that, but every tomboy not named Geena Davis in A League of Their Own probably is. First, we have Lori Petty’s character, Kit, who is, unfairly, left without a mate. No, this doesn’t have to mean she’s gay, but she is. Just accept it and move on. Then there’s the love between Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell) and Mae Mordabito (Madonna). Maybe the love isn’t reciprocated from Mae, but Doris fawns over her nonetheless. Just look at the way Doris looks at Mae. She’s in love and she’s about ready to shout it from the mountain tops. No doubt about it.
13. LeFou – Beauty and the Beast
Say it ain’t so! Over the years, there has been plenty of discussion about the relationship between Gaston and his sidekick LeFou in Beauty and the Beast. Some argue that Gaston is projecting to be a manly man to hide his own self-doubt. Some would say that this is a trademark closeted homosexual. Well, we’re more concerned with LeFou. As with almost any hero-worshipping character, there is an implication of sexual attraction because we like to discuss everything in terms of sexuality. There’s a possibility that LeFou is genderless, yeah, but his obsession with Gaston, his initial objection to his man pursuing Belle and even the comment that “no girl” stands a chance against Gaston all point to a potential sexual attraction. Later, LeFou sings about Gaston’s manliness and his physique, belting, “Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny.” You would know LeFou.
12. Maverick and Iceman– Top Gun
For years after its release, Top Gun was seen as a very masculine film. There were some critics and plenty of whispers of the blatant homoeroticism in the film, but they never joined into one voice until later on. Watching the film with a more modern lens today, it’s hard, maybe even impossible, to see the film and its main characters as anything other than gay, or at least not completely heterosexual. If you’ve not done this exercise, just watch the classic volleyball scene full of shirtless and sweating dudes, slow motion shots of flexing, grunting and bare-chested hugs, as well as Kenny Loggins singing “Playing with the Boys;” it’s super gay. Air Boss Johnson even yells at them, “I want somebody’s butt, I want it now.” Case closed? Even if you missed all the locker room scenes between Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Iceman (Val Kilmer), the final scene between the two is enough to show you that these two are battling through some major sexual feelings for each other.
11. C-3PO – Star Wars
Similar to the discussion about the sexual orientation about Hobbits in Lord of the Rings, there’s been a lot of back and forth about C-3PO’s sexuality. Can a droid even be gay? No, the robot never engages in sexual activity and has no reproductive organs, so it’s looks asexual and genderless on the surface, but, like the “Gay Robots” on the Saturday Night Live sketch, C-3PO could have been programmed as gay (or voiced as gay by Anthony Daniels). The camaraderie between C-3PO and R2D2 sure makes it seem like, if they did have a sexual orientation, they would be homosexual. Why do you care?! I hear the voices of millions of people afraid to have discussions about sexuality. Shush up real quick. You can argue that droids cannot have sex, but if you argue that they don’t have feelings than you haven’t been paying attention. Moreover, if you argue that sexuality is all about sex than you haven’t a clue. C-3POs sexuality might not translate perfectly to us, but, like all translators, we try to give the closest estimation of meaning. Therefore, our translation of this skinny gold robot is that he’s gay.
10. Sullivan – The Departed
We know that Matt Damon’s character in The Departed, Sullivan, is a gangster pretending to be a cop, but is he also a gay man pretending to be a hetero? The entire movie is about being someone you’re not, so it certainly fits thematically. Look at the evidence. He’s blatantly homophobic. He portrays an overly hetero male, hooting and hollering at women whenever other men are watching. His wife (or ring) is important, as Ellerby (Alec Baldwin) says, because it “lets people know you’re not a homo.” Sullivan also tells Ellerby that his private parts are “working overtime,” when in fact he suffers from erectile dysfunction. Later, when Sullivan goes to get a condo, he mentions a co-signer, which the real estate agent seems to interpret as a gay relationship. There’s even more evidence as well. Add it all up.
9. Batman and Robin – Batman & Robin
There’s long been talk of Batman and Robin as the gayest couple on the block, but we don’t want to talk about subtle subtext from the comics. Here, we’re discussing Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. Yeah, the suits had nipples, but heterosexuals have nipples too, right? The multiple crotch shots of the camera could have been for female audiences, so that’s not proof either. When George Clooney was asked if he would ever play a gay character, he joked that he already had: “I was in a rubber suit and I had rubber nipples. I could have played Batman straight, but I made him gay.” Just because the director Joel Schumacher is gay doesn’t mean every character he creates is gay, but when you take famously rumored-to-be-gay characters and put them into the hands of a gay director, he’s less likely to cut out the classic gay innuendo than a heterosexual director might. Maybe we’re wrong. Apparently, Chris O’Donnell, the other half of the gay duo, didn’t get the memo from Clooney to play the character gay though. Even still, he sees where the confusion might come from, “Then I screwed up,” he said. “Because I played him straight. So clearly, that was the mistake with Batman & Robin. I mean, the nipples, the codpiece, what was gay about it? I don’t understand.”
8. Hook and Smee – Hook
Even though the source material does inform choices that actor’s make and, when in doubt, the source material influences how we interpret a film, actors, especially good actors, have the ability to rewrite their characters. That’s what happened in Hook, when Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins turned their characters of Hook and Smee into gay men. “Bob Hoskins and I were rehearsing and suddenly we looked at each other and realised it at the same time,” recalled Hoffman. “We said, ‘These guys are gay….’ and it was fun… Suddenly we rehearsed it that way: ‘Get over here, Smee. Give me a foot massage.'” For Hoffman and Hoskins, it wasn’t even a big stretch to read the characters as gay. “It made all the sense in the world,” Hoffman said. “They were really good friends. They lived on a ship. They were devoted to each other.”
7. Brick Pollitt – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
This one is a little strange because, we have to admit, our interpretations of the characters are influenced by the source material, the Tennessee Williams play of the same name. In the play version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman in the film) is a man who is struggling with his sexuality. Say what you will about his final conclusion, if there even is one, but the entire play is a “gay mystery.” Since the film was released in 1958, all the gay was swept away. Well, most of it was at least. Still, Brick won’t sleep with his wife, Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor). He’s in a deep-seated depression about his past and the death of his friend. It’s said that this friend, Skipper, got more time with Brick than Maggie did, hinting at a possible romantic link. Also in the film, Brick blames himself for not answering Skipper’s calls, which are made to seem like they were cries for help, but we know from the play, that Skipper revealed his feelings for Brick, which Brick claims he rebuked, leading to Skipper’s suicide, but there seems to be some regret there. Was Skipper calling Brick to reveal these feelings in the film as well? Did Brick know this? Is he now questioning his sexuality? Yes. Definitely.
6. Idgie and Ruth – Fried Green Tomatoes
Stop shaking your head. It’s true. Fried Green Tomatoes is a movie about love between two women. Maybe it could be platonic, but the relationship between Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) is about as gay as it gets without ever being overly sexual. First of all, no one is saying that same-sex friendships can’t be sweet and intimate, but just watch the movie. Every few minutes there is a really romantic moment between these “friends.” If any one of them ended with the two women kissing, no one would be shocked. Hell, the only shocking thing in the film is that they never do kiss. They just rub food gently on each other’s lips and look longingly into each other’s eyes for long stretches.
5. Plato – Rebel Without a Cause
Released in 1955, Rebel Without a Cause is a movie that is always highlighted in discussions of queer film. There’s a good argument to be made that James Dean‘s character is bisexual, but we’ll focus on Sal Mineo’s character, Plato, because he is often heralded as the first gay teenager in film. Plato’s gayness is shadowed a bit by his childishness and properness, but this is a gay character. There’s no denying it. The Motion Picture Production Code office even sent the filmmakers a memo stating that they noticed the “inference of a questionable or homosexual relationship between Plato and Jim,” but it wasn’t enough to shut it down. Plato got through the gay police and drove all the way big screen sitting impossibly upright on his Vespa. Just look at the way he looks at Dean. This is a boy who’s in love.
4. Jesse – A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
A few minutes into A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and everyone can see that Jesse, the new protagonist, is gay. Still, possibly because it’s a horror film or a classic franchise, people avoid discussing it. First of all, the gayness in the film is intentional. Mark Patton, the man cast as Jesse, is openly gay. Second, Jesse refuses to engage sexually with Lisa (Kim “Not Meryl Streep” Myers). Even more obvious than that, when Jesse rejects Lisa’s sex, he runs to Ron’s room, the friend he had been rolling around with in the dirt and wrestling with in the changing rooms. Lastly, Jesse sleepwalks. No that’s not gay on its own, but sleepwalking to an S&M gay bar in the middle of the night to confront your leather-wearing gym teacher is gay.
3. Tango and Cash – Tango & Cash
The damn shower scene, that’s why Tango and Cash are gay. You might think that it’s just two guys just having a normal conversation while naked in the shower, but then Tango (Sylvester Stallone) gets all nervous when Cash (Kurt Russell) bends down in the shower. Cash notices this reaction and says, “don’t flatter yourself.” He then looks down at Tango’s manhood and calls him “Peewee.” This causes Tango to look down at Cash’s manhood and comments on his testicles. Then they both go on to talk some more about each other’s genitals. There’s more in the film, but who needs it. We’ve clearly proven our point. Wouldn’t you agree?
2. Mrs. Danvers – Rebecca
Back when the Hays Code was forcing gay characters to hide, many filmmakers, like Alfred Hitchcock were connecting gayness with villainy. One of the most obvious examples from iconic films is Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. It’s quite clear that Mrs. Danvers loves the deceased Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers becomes a villain if only to preserve the memory of Rebecca, recalling memories of her with glazed-over and loving eyes every few minutes. In one scene, Mrs. Danvers and Mrs. DeWinter encounter each other in Rebecca’s old room. Then Mrs. Danvers tells stories of how Rebecca loved to have her hair brushed, gently rubbing one of Rebecca’s fur coats against her cheek. She then shows Mrs. DeWinter Rebecca’s lingerie drawer, holding up a negligee and remarking on how “delicate” and see-through it is. No doubt she’s had those same thoughts when Rebecca was wearing it.
1. Ben and Messala – Ben-Hur
Despite the rebuttals from the star of Ben-Hur, Charlton Heston, the relationship between Ben (Heston) and Messala (Stephen Boyd) was a gay one. The story goes that Gore Vidal was brought in to fix the Ben-Hur script. The way he did this was to add in a gay subtext, one he never told Heston about. The result is a sexual longing from one half of the friends (Boyd) and a refusal from the other (Heston). It’s brilliant and it worked. Ben-Hur is considered one of the great classics in film. It just happens to be one of the gayest as well. Here’s what Vidal said: “Over the years, I have told the story of how, faced with a hopeless script for Ben-Hur, I persuaded the producer, Sam Zimbalist, that the only way one could justify several hours of hatred between two lads – and all those horses – was to establish, without saying so in words, an affair between them as boys; then, when reunited at picture’s start, the Roman, played by Stephen Boyd, wants to pick up where they left off and the Jew, Heston, spurns him.”
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