Lavender Cinema and its Appropriation
Not too distant are the days where Netflix wasn’t churning out films like nobody’s business, and oftentimes those films having LGBTQ+ characters, or the times where you would have to go through what felt like an endless list of LGBTQ+ films where the only representation given was two thin, white, cis, gay male actors. But even more prominent than that was watching films where you were sure there would be gay characters ( Teen Wolf, Supernatural) and would be sorely disappointed, in fact even feel like you were being baited to keep watching. However, even before this time, watching gay cinema was a very very difficult task in the past. Beginning with the 1930 Production Code ban of overt mention of homosexuality, the LGBTQ+ community, however, would find ways to put subtext of our experiences into film and television. Connotative homosexuality, a term coined by Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, would describe the methods of using “subtle signs that suggested gender inversion [being] added to characters in order to imply they were not heterosexual”1. One of the biggest and most well known examples of this would be assigning effeminate qualities to men to signal that they were ‘failed’ men, or homosexual. Another form of connotative homosexuality is the use of (subtle) homoeroticism to imply relationships between two male characters without giving explicit implications of homosexuality that would make sure the film wouldn’t get taken down or have anyone involved suffer any legal repercussions. Homoeroticism has been characterized as ambiguous, “[existing] somewhere in the middle of the continuum, with a near equal number of homosocial and homosexual cues.” 2 It is shown in something as simple as finding connection to the same sex but in a ‘deeper’ sense, or a passionate embrace that went on a little longer than what would be considered ‘normal,’ or straight. So though homoeroticism is ambiguous in nature, it has a historical tie to cinema and is a technique that has been in use throughout the history of American film as a means for LGBTQ filmmakers to express their own narratives, stories, and experiences without having to risk outing themselves or danger. With time, the ban on ‘homosexuality’ would be lifted and LGBTQ cinema would be, for the most part, allowed to be showcased again. However, The use of connotative homosexuality and homoeroticism would not actually die with the ban. These practices, along with other methods of subtly creating gay cinema, continue to be used to this day, and are two of the biggest methods used for the problem at hand: Queerbaiting.
Queerbaiting is “the practice of hinting at, but then not actually depicting, a same-sex romantic relationship between characters in a work of fiction, mainly in film or television.” (Wikipedia) As our community fought back over the years with riots, protests, die-ins, and marches, we continually grew our voice. Corporations were seeing the growing community’s efforts and louder voices as an opportunity to gain more profit. The same methods we utilized would be later appropriated to formulate unfulfilling LGBTQ narratives that made simple and oftentimes offensive portrayals of our experiences. When we see a show such as Sherlock, which arguably has one of the most controversial histories when it comes specifically to queerbaiting, the practice is very prevalent. The directors and people who worked on the show would laugh at the notion of any sort of ‘queer’ relationship between Holmes and Watson. But it was clear to any LGBTQ person that a history of developing gay characters was happening on the show with a story that hinted at, but never actually gave, any actual romantic relationship. And it was of course, for the sake of profit.
To further prove the exploitations of our narratives for cinema, we then have the Bury Your Gays trope, which is when TV shows kill off their LGBTQ characters after only episodes, or less, of screentime. In the case of longer running LGBTQ characters, however, we see thematic issues of these characters being one-note caricatures that never see their own development as characters and continue to fall into some idea of what it means to LGBTQ in the simplest of ways. We have tropes such as extremely sexual chaotic bisexual, ‘sassy’ thin white gay men, ‘man-hating feminist’ lesbians (not that being a man-hating lesbian is a bad thing), “born in the wrong body’ self-loathing trans person, etc. Throughout the entirety of GLAAD’S Where We Are on TV annual reports’ existence, there has been a call for not only more representation for our community, but also for an end to the Bury Your Gays trope that has been so prominent to this day, especially for lesbian, bisexual/pansexual, queer, and/or transgender women, who have the highest death rates in TV/film. (Autostraddle has an ongoing list of these female victims) Killing off LBTQ women is so much more prominent than killing off gay men because affection between these women is more often sexualized and demeaned. Misogyny makes it hard for anyone who is not a woman to truly understand the nature of women loving other women without it being misconstrued because of patriarchal ideals of what love looks like for women, which under patriarchy is love FOR men and that true love for women is subservience.
Do not let them take your money so easy. We have a history of film and television that I would highly encourage everyone check out, so we can be even more critical and vigilant of what media we consume. And to also understand where our vigilance, passion, and survival comes from and what it looked like. A good start would be right here, which are my sources for this post. We have an innate and inherited ability to understand one another and what our experiences look like on the big screen, even the subtle ones.
America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality at the Movies
Queerbaiting: The ‘Playful’ Possibilities of Homoeroticism