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By Madeline Perez

Stephen King. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. Many of you have seen movies inspired by his novels. The quirkiest of you have maybe even read his books. For decades, our culture has happily lapped up Stephen King’s material like a stereotypical kitten does heavy cream, and we love it. American pop culture simply can’t get enough of the bloody horror, chilling tension, and humiliations of being a pre-teen that are just too relatable. The books are normally a guaranteed fun read, despite the sheer amount of times a male character will talk about the physical state of his balls or being super erect, which is just all the time. Yes, reading Stephen King sure is a fun time all around… except for when he, you know, uses gay scenes to portray his villains as more evil.

Now, this “gay villain” trope was not invented by Mr.King; it was already pervasive within media at the time. For most of the pre-2000s, queer people existed in movies and television shows for three main reasons: serving as a villain, a punchline, or a victim of murder. Not to say this still doesn’t exist, it’s just that it used to be a lot more obvious. A lot more obvious. I’m looking at you, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Certain tropes, like the “Depraved Homosexual” and “Sissy Villian”, specifically targeting gay men were probably the most common; making a character psychologically sick and twisted because of their repressed “evil” sexuality, and giving a villain flamboyant, stereotypically “gay” characteristics to make them less threatening, more cowardly, and clearly differentiated from the protagonist. Making a villain queer was another way to justify them being satisfyingly punished at the end for their “bad behavior’. 

Queer-coding is a phenomenon best described as, “Well, we can give this character a bunch of stereotypical queer traits so as to heavily imply that they are gay but obviously we can’t outright say it because then this won’t be able to get aired and we’ll lose a lot of money.” Queer-coding villains is a huge trend in pop-culture, and some of the most clear examples are in content intended for kids—something that’s only barely started dying out. By doing this, movies and shows often create subconscious associations in the minds of viewers between “gay” and “evil”—and it’s been so heavily ingrained that it’s being done without the majority of people realizing it. Even if you don’t think you’re familiar with it, you probably are. Think of the flamboyant nature of Hades from Disney’s Hercules, the prissy traits given to Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas, the effeminacy of Jafar just as a whole, even Scar’s limp wrist! Hell, pretty much everyone knows that Ursula was directly based on the drag queen Divine (Wait, does Disney do this to all their villains?)! These things are done on purpose to “other” the antagonist and make fun of these traits. I only used a few examples, but if you look for it you will find this everywhere.

Now, “What does queercoding villains have to do with Stephen King?” you’re asking, blissfully unaware of the true horrors of the world. Sit tight and strap in, babe, because the only thing worse than me relaying these scenes to you would be if you actually read them first-hand. Let me get one thing straight (haha): I do not think Stephen King is a homophobe, as is pretty clear from his support toward his daughter (who is married to another woman, for context). I also don’t think that these scenes can be excused, no matter how much the trope was a “reflection of the time” or how absolutely-drugged-out-of-his-mind Stephen was when he wrote these novels. They’re clearly meant to associate homosexual acts with perversion, sickness, and to evoke a sense of disgust in the reader. 

I will start out with the novel most fresh in my mind, The Stand—and as someone who doesn’t necessarily abide by all traditions of the Jewish faith, you know I had to read the uncut edition. Keep in mind, this version has about 350 extra pages of arguable importance, the excerpt I’m about to discuss being one of them, so if you didn’t read that version you’re not going to remember this fun bit. Probably the most disturbing part of the book was when one of the most insane and murderous villains, the Trashcan Man, is sexually assaulted by a debatably less insane and equally murderous villain, The Kid (not an actual kid, just his quirky villain nickname). I won’t get into the abhorrent details, in which there were many, but it happens at gunpoint and may or may not involve penetration with said gun. This scene serves no purpose to the plot other than to associate predatory gayness with the mental disturbance and perversion of the character. This is used, by extension, to make the reader uncomfortable and disgusted—banking on them already having an uncomfortable unfamiliarity with gayness to play upon. Now, I’m fully aware that the fact that this scene is disturbing due to it being sexual assault and not the gender of the characters, but my point is that Stephen King would not have written an assault so depraved and abhorrent committed by straight characters. In his novels, it’s only repressed gay men who are capable of committing the most heinous sexual crimes. I

wouldn’t normally have taken much note of this scene if it hadn’t reminded me so heavily of a similar scene in It that employed essentially the same trope. I’ll get to that later. On a positive note, The Stand features Dayna Jurgens, a strong and lovely Bicon (bi icon), as a heroine. Yes, while her one important scene ends with her promptly dying, it was very heroic—and there’s a lot of dying in that book, so I’ll make an exception. 

It (the book) has gained a butt-ton of popularity lately, something easily attributed to the recent movies. When I heard there was outrage about “homophobia” in the second movie, I was horrified, thinking they had actually kept in the weird homophobic scene in the book. Thankfully, this was not the case. What people were actually upset about was a depiction of a hate crime in which the character Adrian Mellon is violently beaten and thrown off a bridge for being openly gay, which later leads to his murder by Pennywise. You know, the monster who sometimes presents as a clown when he’s not busy pretending to be a myriad of childhood fears, including but not limited to: a big bird, a dead kid, a bunch of dead kids at once, a giant statue of Paul Bunyon, a mummy, a leper, Beverly’s dad, a teenage werewolf, Georgie, the creature from the black lagoon, a big eye, leeches, the shark from Jaws, Dracula, Frankenstein, a dog, and the moon. This is not a homophobic scene in the book or the movie because it does not mock or indignify the characters for being gay, but rather uses the unjust violence against them as a plot device to exemplify the unsettling “sickness” present in Derry, Maine, and how the monster “It” takes advantage of this. Other racist and control-fueled acts of violence are later used to further show how Pennywise thrives as townspeople harbor hatred and fear within themselves. My point is that it’s not homophobic. 

Also stirring up controversy around the movie was the film’s choice to make Richie Tozier gay and kinda in love with his good pal Eddie. While I don’t have a problem with them doing this, it felt kinda shoehorned in to possibly gain the favor of a queer audience desperate for representation without being explicit enough to scare away anyone who would have a problem with it. The “homoerotic subtext” critics argue was present between them in the book is really just parts where Richie uses jokes to try and make Eddie uncomfortable taken wildly out of context. Anyway, back to the point. 

Against everyone’s best interests, there is a part in the novel It where two of the side antagonists, teenagers Patrick Hockstetter and Henry Bowes, share an uncomfortable sexual experience from the point of view of Beverly, a little girl at the time, who watches, entranced, yet petrified. Patrick, who’s just really into killing small animals and his baby brother, was already established as a sadistic psychopath. This scene attempts to further instate his insanity by framing “gay actions” in a way that highlights his unfeeling nature and sick fascination. Stephen King seems to only present perverted sexual behavior in a queer context. Patrick dies almost immediately after this, partly as a way to punish him for that gross thing he just did. Henry, an aggressive boy who torments and eventually tries to kill our perky protagonists, is driven by a similar internal torment. By passively receiving the majority of a hand-job from his homie, the tone of the writing attempts to further establish Henry as immoral. The scene itself should not exist, given that, like the aforementioned scene in The Stand, it adds nothing to the plot besides fleshing out the inhumanity of these characters through queerness. Additionally, these characters are essentially young teens, and putting them in a sexual context like this is pretty yucky. As the readers know, this scene is definitely not the worst offender when it comes to that. No, I will not elaborate. 

One more example I’d like to touch upon is, you guessed it, the dog-man scene in The Shining. This example doesn’t queer-code antagonists, but, like the other examples, uses controlling gay sex in less-than-optimal circumstances as a gross-out and fear factor. In this barely notable part of the book, it is explained that the hotel’s previous owner, Horace Derwent, continuously humiliated this gay man who had a crush on him, eventually making him dress up like a dog, wet himself, and “slob on his knob” (like corn on the cob). This, while further establishing the hotel as corrupt and decadent, is another prime example of King associating “gay” with “bad.” The ghost of the dog suit man later chases Danny (the son of the husband and wife pair who are all stuck in the empty Overlook hotel for the winter) around the hotel—just another wacky thing to scare Danny as if there wasn’t enough he had to worry about already. In the Kubrick film, this part is reduced to a throw-away scene of the guy in a dog (changed to bear?) suit, giving head to some out-of-shot no-name, until he looks up and into the camera. This is just used as a creepy, wacky scene, and has left viewers of this movie simultaneously very confused and deeply disturbed. I know I was. An important distinction to be made is that most of these characters in question are not framed as actually being gay, as much as that makes sense. The sexual stuff is portrayed as unfeeling, as a means to an end, and as a branch of the sickness of their characters. It’s about control rather than emotion. Stephen King consistently associated queer sexual behavior and assault in his novels with psychopathy, a heavy contrast to his straight sex scenes. These are normally heavily idealized. Heavily. In most cases, heterosexual love-making is clearly used to frame protagonist characters as sensual, competent, and able to build an emotional bond through love and trust that will stand the test of time. By queer-coding villains, the King himself further established already-present negative stereotypes about gay men being predatory and immoral. In these scenes, it is impossible not to be disgusted by what’s going on, and Stephen uses the shock and explicitness to capture readers attention and scare them—you know, his goal as a fictional horror writer. Except it’s not cool to do it this way. As much as it would be my pleasure to give you more examples of Stephen King using queer sex as a horror trope (as I’m sure there are), these are the only books of his I have read. Still weird that it happened three times though!

2 Replies to “Queer-Coding Villains: Homophobic Undertones in Stephen King Novels”

  1. The evil characters in both “the green mile” and “hearts in Atlantis” (the teenage aggressor) are depicted as having gay or non binary desires/ actions and are shamed and kept silent with this info.

  2. Thank you for this article – I think you are spot on. I’m so so sick of hets doing this, it’s beyond exhausting at this point. it makes me not want to read a single thing written by a hetero ever again, but then i know I will miss out on some great works. They should be shamed to the core for the way they keep writing our characters (if we even exist in their stories at all!). It makes me so angry it’s hard to continue to enjoy their books. 🙁 it’s sick, it’s homophobic and it’s unforgivable. But I’m so glad other people have noticed this about King’s writing (and countless others) because there’s strength and comfort in numbers so thank you for writing this 🙂 maybe one day they will stop doing it

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