Queering the Straight or Straightening the Queer?

In Alexander Doty’s ‘Making Things Perfectly Queer’, Doty claims that queer theory offers new insightful ways to unpack the mainstream. Doty further suggests that cultural text opens the door for queer readings that focus on “connotative rather than denotative readings, that is, that seek to find credible readings hidden in a text that a culture of homophobia and hetero- sexism bars us from seeing.” For example, when we see the dawn of the women’s and gay rights movements in the 1960’s/1970’s, gays and lesbians were more apparent with their personal life. However, their representation in media was increasingly homophobic. At this time, queer characters were often represented as being dangerous, violent, predatory, or suicidal such as in the films. Examples can be found in, The Boys in the Band (1970), Vanishing Point (1971) and Midnight Express (1978). However, one example I will focus on is The Children’s Hour (1961) starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley McLaine.




In the example above is the famous ‘coming out’ scene acted by Audrey Hepburn and Shirley mcLaine. Homophobia is apparent in the scene as Hepburn tells mcLaine to “stop this crazy talk”. Queerness is portrayed as a “lie” in this scene, causing the character to feel “dirty”, leading to an emotional breakdown, portraying the assumption of queers by the heterosexuals/heterotopians.


However, other complexities this scene brings into awareness is denotations in the cultural artefacts/ in media of being queer. Dianne Raymond in her ‘Popular Culture and Queer Representation’, Raymond looks at denotations rather than connotations of the artefact. Raymond claims that:


“At the time that Doty wrote his analysis, connotation was about all that queer viewers had available as a source of pleasurable viewing. But today, as the section below points out, prime-time television is rife with gay and lesbian (if not bisexual and transgender) characters offering the potential for new sorts of analysis; that change is significant and has occurred since Doty’s work appeared.”


What Raymond argue is that the development of media and all forms of popular culture offers new sorts of analysis since the days of Doty’s work. The denotations of being queer can be found in the same scene from The Children’s Hour, where the queer character’s behaviour acts as the denotation of defining a queer. The queer character’s emotional breakdown is nonetheless the popular mainstream media’s definition of a queer, an emotionally wrecked irrational person.


Raymond, more specifically, “want to look at three recurring patterns or tropes that have identified in situation comedies”, first being the increased appearance of “LGBT or supporting characters—acknowledges the very real changes that have occurred in the constitution of the characters populating television’s worlds.” The latter two, as Raymond claims is that, “the “gay pretender” and that of the “straight- mistaken-for-gay”—have less to do with the actual diversity of characters we see and more with how gayness itself is understood and metaphorised.” Reflecting on what Raymond claims, this may be apparent in, The Children’s Hour once again, where the queer character during the scene is metaphorised to us instead of being directly explicit. The language of the scene struggles to identify the person as queer, how the term was instead, defined by the two character’s loving friendship.


All three offers the potential for subverting heterosexist norms and assumptions. However, Raymond argue how this shows,


“resolve tensions often results in a “reinscription” of heterosexuality and a “containment” of queer sexuality, that is, that the resolution these programs offer enables viewers to distance themselves from the queer and thereby to return to their comfortable positions as part of the dominant culture. Such a dynamic enables power to mask itself, making it all the harder to pin down and question. Thus, where Doty attempts to “queer the straight,” my approach suggests how what might seem to be “queer” can come to be normalized in mainstream culture.”


‘The Children’s Hour’, once again, interrogates this claim. What I said earlier about using the particular scene’s language to keep queerness distant can be seen Hollywood film makers straightening the queer. This particular scene normalises the queer, choosing the queer to adapt to their heterosexual surrounding; making the characters reject their queerness and accept the heterosexual standards of marriage and procreation. To conclude, does not “queer the straight”, but instead, attempts to “straight the queer.”


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