I think I’ve always queered, understood as looking for some homosocial or homoerotic subtext to anything I’ve watched or listened to. Before I became aware of what gay meant, I looked for the strong male bonding among the boys I longed to be in the movies I saw. When it became clear to me what gay meant, I started looking for a gay subtext in anything I saw, and although I still didn’t connect that desire for any recognition of the existence of gayness with what it meant for me personally, I took pride in it everywhere I could find it. And finally, after I started self-identifying as gay, I started queering things in two ways. First, by noting the hetero-centric nature of almost everything I watched: Why was there never a gay character in these high school comedies or television shows?
To take three examples from a TV show I know very well, and which I have written onto my coming out timeline before; the WB/CW family drama 7th Heaven. Over the years that show had at least three characters who sent my gaydar through the roof from the moment they appeared on the screen. Around mid-way through the show’s run, Lucy befriends this guy called Mike (played by Jeremy Lelliot), who is supposed to be straight, but let me put it this way: I wasn’t exactly shocked when he kissed Lucy and it turned out neither of them felt they had chemistry. It might sound prejudiced of me to say this, but in a show as hetero-centric as 7th Heaven, it’s all we have to go by. Mike was slightly effeminate, and he had the gay-bestfriend vibe about him. To me and my eagerly queer eye, that was enough to make him a closeted homo in that famously narrow-minded community called Glenoak. Second, I give you Harry, as played by Aaron Carter in the shows’s ninth season. Again, I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a gay guy perpetrating cliches about gay people, but wow, Harry must be one of the least convincing straight characters (4:20-5:02) I’ve seen on TV, like, ever. I’m not suggesting that Carter himself is gay, but in that particular role, he failed miserably at coming off as straight. And finally, there’s Thomas Dekker’s Vincent, a guy Ruthie falls for later in the same season. Dekker has an effeminate look about him – one I hasten to add that I find kinda attractive – and when Vincent told the reverend that his parents thought it would be good for him to start going to church because he had some kind of “problem”, I had a faint hope that the show would finally address the gay issue head on. But no. Throughout the show’s eleven seasons, the issue was never even hinted at, despite multiple intented or unintended opportunities.
Of course, I am thrilled whenever the hetero-centric barrier is broken down intentionally – like the scene in Love Actually where Liam Neeson asks his son about the girl – or boy, he adds – he’s in love with. As a twentysomething gayer, I beamed with pride from how that light touch nibbled ever so teasingly at the genre conventions of heterosexual romance. But the second way I most often queer what I watch, is by reinterpreting dialogues or scenes through a queer lens. It doesn’t have to be anything big, and it can be completely uintentional, but if, like me, you’re a twelve year-old heart, it can be quite fun. Take a scene from John Hughes’ wondeful Sixteen Candles (1984), in which the geek (Anthony Michael Hall, definitively an Early Gay Crushes contender if I’d seen the Hughes movies before I came out. Now, let’s instead inaugurate him into the Geek Squad) banters with the jocky Jake (Michael Schoeffling) , who refuses to believe that the girl he’s interested in actually likes him back:
Jake: You better not be dicking me around.
Geek: (…) Would I dick you? Let me put it to you this way: What happens to me if I dick you?
Jake: I’d kick your ass.
Geek: Right. So why would I dick you? But if all you want off the girl is a piece of ass, I’ll either do it myself, or get someone bigger than me to kick your ass.
Jake: (…) I can get ass anytime I want.
I’ve condensed the scene slightly to make a point, but the effect stands. If you look at this through a queer lens, there’s enough “dick” and “ass” references in this scene to turn it entirely on its head. Yes, I know it’s childish (in an almost Beavis and Butt-head-like way: “Dick. Ass. (snicker)” But still. I can’t help it. And even queered, Hughes signatures dialogue – few writer/directors have been better at inventing a language for young people that simultaneously sounded like something they might actually say – loses nothing of its energy and punch. Quite the opposite, I think.
I’ll suspect I’ll keep queering for the rest of my life. Mostly because it’s fun, but also because it helps remind me of how unrepresentative (many) TV shows and (almost all) movies are of the audience they are wooing, and their real life experiences.