Just because a character isn’t explicitly written to be queer doesn’t mean they can’t be.
Words by Jordan Currie. Art by Sam Liacos.
I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that being a queer media consumer can feel like being a pop culture archaeologist—an endless hunt for representation in the nitty gritty subtext, digging through dirt and grime to get to the shiny queer gems within fictional stories. It feels as though only in the past decade, LGBTQ+ characters in mainstream media were being written to have their big moments. Still, however, the “what ifs?” of characters that feel coded by the writers to be queer, but aren’t explicitly stated as so, persist. I had many of these moments watching movies and television shows as a bisexual kid and teen, and would now consider myself somewhat of a seasoned veteran. There are so many characters I remember seeing where I thought to myself, “Come on….you’re telling me they’re not gay?” In honour of Pride Month, here are 10 characters from film and TV (listed in no specific order) that I believe should have been written as queer.
Alison Reynolds, The Breakfast Club
The gawky teen girl played by a conventionally attractive adult actress takes off her glasses, swipes on some mascara, and emerges a supermodel. It’s the tiresome trope that pop culture has become so accustomed to; of female characters stuffing themselves into narrow ideas of femininity to achieve male attention. One of the most offensive depictions of this trope in film, in my opinion, is that of Allison Reynolds from the John Hughes 1985 film The Breakfast Club, and many LGBTQ+ fans have taken notice, too.
Not only is Allison’s makeover scene at the end of the film framed as her “getting better” in a way, but it also erases the inherent queerness of her character. Analysis of Allison as a lesbian has slowly been trickling in in the decades since the film’s release: a deep dive of her “pinkification” in an essay by Film Daze explains this. Her aesthetic of emo/boho garments, racoon eyeliner, and a shaggy mop of hair identify her as the “weird alt girl,” and while queer fashion and aesthetics come in an array of forms, it’s clear Allison is meant to be the most socially ostracized of the kids in detention. As a pre-teen watching the movie for the first time, I always wanted that fleeting bathroom scene with Allison and Claire to last a little longer.
There’s the reveal that she comes from a neglectful family and resorts to seeking attention in strange, almost frightening ways. Her unconventional style and propensity to push others away out of safety due to her absent parents lay itself out for her to be interpreted as queer. The Breakfast Club is a movie about outcasts, and while I understand that queer characters weren’t all the rage in the 80s, it would have been nice to at least not see the pinkified Allison shoved into a last-minute romance with a boy at the end of the story just for the sake of wrapping things up in a neat, heterosexual bow.
Chad Danforth (and bonus: Ryan Evans), High School Musical
Arguably the most successful Disney Channel original franchise, the High School Musical series had a generation of kids fawning over Zac Efron and committing themselves to learning the “We’re All in This Together” dance in their living rooms—don’t deny it, you know you did it. But for a series all about theatre kids and the performing arts, HSM was pretty straight.
Then, the summer of 2007 arrived, and High School Musical 2 included a musical number so overtly and brazenly gay that it was impossible to misinterpret. In the number “I Don’t Dance”, the characters Ryan Evans and Chad Danforth, flamboyant theatre kid and masculine jock, respectively, essentially confess their feelings for one another through one big gay analogy. During a baseball match, the two cheekily flirt back and forth. Chad stubbornly states that he doesn’t like to dance, singing “I wanna play ball now, and that’s all / This is what I do / It ain’t no dance that you can show me.” Ryan tries to convince him, interjecting with “I know you can.” Meanwhile, the ensemble sings “You’ll never know / If you never try” in the background. It’s clear that “dancing” is a metaphor for coming out, with Chad reluctant to do so, and Ryan, the more queer-coded of the two, assuring him that he has what it takes to do it. The two are shown in the following scene sitting at a table together and wearing each other’s clothes—yes, you read that correctly.
Director Kenny Ortega, who is gay himself, revealed in a 2020 interview with Variety that Ryan was gay. “I was concerned because it was family and kids, that Disney might not be ready to cross that line. So, I just took it upon myself to make choices that I felt that those who were watching would grab,” he said. It’s understandable that the queerness would have to exist in subtext in a children’s movie produced by Disney, but it’s empowering to have it confirmed, even if years later, that an influential film franchise for kids included a queer character. As for Chad, there are no updates of his sexuality from the creators, but he continues to exist as queer in the hearts and minds of fans, and it’s comforting to imagine the “theatre nerd/jock” pairing with a gay couple. After all, HSM is about expressing your true emotions and freeing yourself from restricting societal conventions in high school—what better a story to feature a gay romance?
Vivian Kensington, Legally Blonde
It’s everyone’s favourite 2001 feminist chick flick that still holds up today. The Reese Witherspoon comedy about a California fashionista turned Harvard Law School student proves that frilly pink glam and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. At first, the character of Vivian Kensington seems like the ultimate foil to the plucky and sweet-natured Elle Woods: snarky, judgemental, seemingly not interested in “girly” activities, and adorned in a dark colour palette.
Vivian thinking she needs to detest Elle as her boyfriend’s ex and for being a frivolous girly-girl could be interpreted as stemming from repression and insecurity, the “I’m not like other girls” mindset that so many young girls are forced into taking on as a personality trait. Vivian’s jealousy towards Elle could also come from a queer place—the “do I want to be her, or be with her?” feeling that many queer women understand all too well.
Then, Vivian comes to Elle’s dorm room, seeking friendship and wishing to open herself up, and the two women begin to rag on their shared love interest Warner and how lacking he is in school compared to them. It’s the first time we get to see Vivian let loose and exhale, dropping her stiff exterior and allowing herself to find comfort in her new friend. From then on out, the gazes of adoration and big puppy eyes coming from Vivian every time she looks at Elle are hard to miss. Plus, what’s cuter than the tried-and-true pairing of the sullen, dark academia girl falling for the bright and bubbly girl? Legally Blonde is still loved today for its candy-coloured Y2K fashion and quotable one-liners. But after the credits roll, I like to imagine Vivian got to confess her crush to Elle, and the two would drive off into the sunset in Elle’s convertible.
Jack Dawson, Titanic
Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma shared in an interview with Vox that a large inspiration for her epic lesbian romance film was James Cameron’s Titanic. According to Sciamma, “Titanic is the hugest success, and it’s because it’s totally queer. Leonardo DiCaprio was totally androgynous at the time. DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were both not known — not stars — so there was no power dynamic between them…I think it was a huge success because it’s a love story with equality and with emancipation.”
When I read Sciamma’s words, it was as though a final puzzle piece was clicking into my brain. Every kid hyper fixated on a weird interest or hobby at some point. For some, it was astronomy or dinosaurs. For me, it was the Titanic, both the 1997 film and the history of the ship that struck an iceberg and sank in 1912. Even as a child, I knew there was a different kind of energy to Jack Dawson that I hadn’t seen in many romantic male leads at the time. As The Take stated in their video essay on Jack, he serves as a “manic pixie dream boy,” there to ignite Rose’s will to live and inspire her to carry on without him. His determination to live authentically and freely, telling Rose—and in turn, the audience—to do the same, carries immense queer energy.
Furthermore, as Sciamma notes, Jack is androgynous in appearance and never dominates Rose as the male in the relationship. When he and Rose sleep together, it’s her taking charge and holding him after. When he is detained for a crime he didn’t commit, it’s Rose who rescues him. It’s this detachment from strict patriarchal conventions that makes the audience feel as though Jack could be freer in other ways, too, perhaps living his life before boarding the ship as bisexual or pansexual. He sees the beauty and heart in everyone, and if he hadn’t met Rose or died on the Titanic, maybe he would’ve been flirting across the table with another man during a game of poker somewhere.
Cybersix/Adrian Seidelman, Cybersix
If you were a child in the late 90s/early 2000s and lived in Canada like me, you may remember an edgy anime that aired late at night on the channel Teletoon called Cybersix. Based on the 1991 Argentinian comic book series, Cybersix follows an android of the same name, who by night adopts a woman-presenting identity and fights crime, and by day disguises herself as a male English teacher named Adrian Seidelman.
As a kid, I remember being entranced by the design of this character and how easily she could slip between feminine and masculine roles and appearances. Cybersix’s choice of a male persona instead of a female one led many trans and gender-fluid fans to view the character as non-cisgender, as well as see themselves reflected in her. Her longing to fit in with the human world, cultivate meaningful relationships, and break free of her traumatizing past are also story beats and themes many queer viewers can relate to. Cybersix as a series may have been niche, but it felt ahead of its time when it came to subverting and playing with gender presentation.
Zuko, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Is there a better redemption arc than Zuko’s from Avatar: The Last Airbender? The Nickelodeon animated series was a hit in 2005 and experienced a resurgence in popularity after it became available for streaming on Netflix in 2020. It has garnered a devoted fan base across all ages for its representation of Asian and Indigenous cultures, storylines centering on childhood friendships and trauma, and loveable characters. Zuko, the outcast prince of the Fire nation tasked with capturing the Avatar, didn’t seem like he would be a fan favourite at first. However, his pouty bad-boy persona crumbled away as the show went on to reveal a lost teenage boy who needed love and guidance more than anything.
Zuko’s entire motives are centered around pleasing his abusive father who values tradition and honour, and if that doesn’t spell out “repressed queerness,” I don’t know what does. Zuko’s backstory lends itself perfectly to the idea of him being gay or bisexual. His relationship with Mai, a girl from the Fire nation, felt like it was formed out of convenience to me, and not one born out of genuine connection. In the two-part episodes “The Boiling Rock, Parts 1 and 2”, my personal favourites in the series, Zuko and Sokka break into a prison to rescue their friends, and their chemistry as they become more vulnerable with one another and work together to help their friends is palpable. Zuko also expresses his discomfort with fitting into the mould his father set for him, desperate to honour his family’s traditions but so violently alone and unhappy, where he says in the famous beach scene, “Everything should be perfect, right? I should be happy now. But I’m not. I’m angrier than ever, and I don’t know why.” It’s a line that rings true to the heterosexual or cisgender blueprints that queer kids are etched into by their parents, and feel like they have no choice but to follow them or risk ostrasization.
After all these years since Avatar concluded, fans old and new continue to delve into character headcanons and depict certain ones as queer, with Zuko being a favourite. While he may have ended up with a girl at the show’s conclusion, we’ll always have those “Boiling Rock” episodes.
Louise Barnsley, Behind Her Eyes
Behind Her Eyes is a show that has so many twists and turns that it’s difficult to even properly describe it here without spoilers. Each episode of the British Netflix thriller based on the novel of the same name unwinds to reveal more and more information, and in turn, set up even more mystery. It follows Louise Barnsley, a single mother who begins a relationship with her new boss David—only for her to discover that she also befriended his reclusive wife, Adele.
I’ll keep it light and simple to dodge the major plot points on this one, but long story short, Louise’s relationship with Adele feels like more than a friendship. As I was talking to a friend on FaceTime recently who was in the middle of watching it, she incredulously asked me, “Wait, they aren’t gay?” The connection between the two women simmers with ambiguity and chemistry. The audience wonders if their private meetings behind David’s back are going to have Louise involved in two affairs. Yes, I recognize the harmful stereotypes of bisexuals portrayed as nefarious cheaters who want to have sex with everyone they see—as a bisexual myself, I never hear the end of them. But the addition of Louise having an affair with a repressed housewife who also harbours queer feelings could be a refreshing angle than the typical married-man-cheats-with-female-coworker dynamic. It could also depict a nuanced portrayal of a polyamorous woman, as her connections with both David and Adele are heartfelt and real and not just about sneaking around and getting off.
Apologies for not being able to go as in-depth here, but seeing as Behind Her Eyes is still relatively new at the time of writing this piece, I don’t want to open that can of worms. Watch the show for yourself and you’ll thank me later.
Rick O’Connell, The Mummy
The internet loves Brendan Fraser. The culturally inaccurate but undeniably fun films The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2004) cemented Fraser’s character, Rick O’Connell, as a filmic hero along the ranks of Harrison Ford’s roles: a gun-slinging, adventurous, slightly arrogant guy with heart-of-gold moments sprinkled throughout. But for a movie shrouded in conventions that typically lean to the more hypermasculine, heterosexual machoism side, Rick O’Connell (and many other characters in The Mummy, quite frankly) exude immense bisexual energy.
An article by i-D covered the reasons why The Mummy films are gay if you’re looking for a heartier analysis, including non-Rick centered elements, such as Rachel Weisz’s established lesbian following and the number of scantily-clad men in eyeliner. As for Rick, he’s the kind of hero who can drift seamlessly between the positions of a loving and attentive husband/father and a rowdy explorer who breaks rules and does things his own way. Fraser plays him with an assured confidence, but still is blanketed by a hint of himbo-ism—a male bimbo, for those not caught up on internet jargon. His tendency to melt and go soft in a matter of seconds for Rachel Weisz’s character is endearing, and much like my reasoning for Jack Dawson, the lack of a domineering attitude in an otherwise masculine environment is what some viewers code as queer. There are also superficial bisexual factors to Rick as well, like his high-waisted pants, tucked-in white button up shirt with cuffed sleeves, and sleek parted hairstyle—I mean, tell me that description alone doesn’t sound like a number of bisexual guys you could find on Instagram or TikTok. He’s the bisexual hero we needed and deserved.
Michael Ginsberg, Mad Men
The character of Michael Ginsberg emerged onto the fifth season of AMC’s Mad Men like a breath of fresh air, a quirky presence in an otherwise stress-ridden show about loneliness in a 1960s capitalistic New York City. The fast-talking, eccentrically dressed Ginsberg spoke his mind bluntly and offered plenty of comedic relief to the show. But set in an environment that depicted an abundance of sex, misogyny, and strict gender roles, Ginsberg’s demeanour stuck out like a sore thumb.
At best, he is indifferent towards the idea of women and dating, and at worst, he becomes visibly anxious. When half-naked models parade through the SCDP office, all the men drool over them—except for Ginsberg, who views the models as though they were the office coffee pot. His father sets him up on a blind date with a woman, where Ginsberg actively tries to convince her that she shouldn’t be interested in him, and reveals that he’s never had sex. In one of his most prominent scenes, Ginsberg shares with Peggy that he is an orphan who was born in a concentration camp, and the isolation that’s plagued him from it. “Are there others like you?” Peggy asks him. “I don’t know,” he replies, “I haven’t been able to find any.” It’s a scene that could be interpreted in several ways, but the tinge of queerness, of Ginsberg looking from the outside in on a heterosexual world with masculine, bread-winning men who become husbands with children looms in the atmosphere.
Many fans have discussed the possibility of Ginsberg being gay, asexual, or both. Actor Ben Feldman was asked in an interview with GQ if he ever considered Ginsberg to be gay, to which he replied, “Yeah, but so much of it is so open to interpretation…But I will say that it’s not been lost on me, the idea of that.” Mad Men explored homosexuality with the character of Sal Romano long before Ginsberg arrived, which ended with Sal being fired for it. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ginsberg wanted to keep his sexuality private, or, if possibly, he might not have even recognized it within himself.
Quinn Fabray, Glee
I saved my personal favourite, and the inspiration for this list, till the end. So much in pop culture has changed since Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuk’s musical-comedy Glee aired in 2009. Many of its progressive storylines have been rendered as tone-deaf and outdated by today’s standards, though at the time, the show’s depictions of LGBTQ+ characters were considered groundbreaking. I admit, I was a full-on Gleek as a teen. I watched the show religiously even when I could feel it getting more absurd each season, but as someone who came into her own sexuality around that time, the queer characters of Glee were comforting to invest in.
Which is why, seven years since the series ended, I still can’t comprehend why the writers didn’t pull the trigger on making Quinn Fabray a lesbian when it was achingly obvious that she should have been. The bitchy blonde cheerleader was truly a dynamic character, sometimes frustratingly so, as she leaped back and forth between becoming a kinder person to regressing back to her typical mean girl ways. For all the boyfriends Quinn has throughout the series, it never feels like she truly cares about giving her heart to them, and pairs up with popular pretty boys to mostly maintain her social status. Quinn was raised by wealthy, conservative Christian parents who would kick her out of the house for being pregnant. Just imagine coming out to a family like that.
It cannot be denied: Quinn suffers from comphet, or compulsory heterosexuality, which is the belief that heterosexuality is the default way to live life and leads people into thinking being queer isn’t an option or a possibility for them. Even at the time Glee was airing, some fans in online communities speculated that Quinn might be gay. The longing looks she gives to other female characters and the fact that she’s only ever truly honest about herself when she’s with her “nemesis” Rachel all pointed arrows in that direction. She even hooked up with her frenemy Santana in season four after years of banter and sexual tension, though Quinn still ends up straight by the end of the show. In season three, when asking Rachel about a romantic song she sang to her boyfriend Finn, Quinn notoriously says, “When you were singing that song, you were singing it to Finn, and only Finn…right?” It’s a line that still baffles me today, and I’m not sure why Quinn would say that outside of a gay context.
Why the Glee writers wouldn’t explore Quinn’s sexuality despite being known as an LGBTQ+ friendly show is beyond me, but even though Glee is long gone, Quinn will still live on as a rage-filled, hot mess lesbian in online fandom spaces.
There you have it! 10 characters who I believe should have been written as queer. I hope you have a safe and fun Pride Month, and remember: art belongs just as much to the audience as it does to the creators. Make what you will of it, especially if that means more queerness.
Shego, Kim Possible
Raven and Starfire, Teen Titans
Elphaba and Glinda, Wicked
Jo March, Little Women
Albus and Scorpius, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Velma and Daphne, Scooby Doo
Alice Cullen, Twilight
Kuzco, The Emperor’s New Groove
Jake Peralta, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Jenny Wakeman, My Life as a Teenage Robot
Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet
Howl, Howl’s Moving Castle
And finally: most Winona Ryder characters