What is Queer Coding? And Why is it Important?

Ask your average person if they have every heard the term Queer Coding and they’ll likely say no. It’s not a very well-known word. But the concept is, especially in queer communities.

Not too long ago, we all got together to watch the newest Disney Princess kick some butt. Of course, I’m talking about Raya and the Last Dragon. And while we all enjoyed it immensely (dragons, kick ass princess, Asian representation!) there was one little thing that drove every one of us a little batty. (warning: there may be spoilers ahead! Feel free to skip ahead to Queer Baiting & Queer Coding.) That little thing was Namaari, the main antagonist and Raya’s… friend/enemy.

I mean, just look at her! She is a fierce warrior princess in her own tribe who is giving off serious Ruby Rose vibes. (A moment of appreciation for Ruby Rose because… sigh.) Back to Namaari! Her appearance and demeanor were giving off all of the “I’m not straight and also kind of into you” vibes whenever she was around or talking about Raya. And the interactions between the two characters had a layer of our old favorite enemies to lovers trope. There were sideways glances, witty banter, and little hand touches and shoulder nudges that seriously had us squealing with barely suppressed AWWWWs.

We held our breath through the whole movie, waiting to see if Disney would FINALLY give us a queer romantic relationship. They didn’t. And we kinda knew they wouldn’t. Disney and the other studios know how to draw in audiences of all backgrounds. They give us queer folx just enough to bring us in, but then pull back at the last minute so as to not offend the straights.

Which brings us to a little bit of a history lesson here.

Queer Baiting & Queer Coding

The former is just that. A bait and switch with a queer twist. It’s giving audiences the sense that there will be an adorable queer romantic storyline for us to ship so that we go see the movie. And then not giving it to us!

Queer Coding is what Disney did to Namaari. It is essentially when a character is given traits or features that are typically read by audiences as queer, but never saying they are. This usually looks like more feminine men and more masculine women. It goes beyond haircuts and clothing and encompasses the character as a whole. Some examples from the Disney vaults: Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas; Scar from The Lion King; Hades from Hercules; Ursula from The Little Mermaid; Prince John from Robin Hood; King Candy from Wreck It Ralph.

While queer coding in itself is not good or bad, the effects can be. The good: queer audiences do get to see themselves depicted in film, even if they are not explicitly acknowledged. The bad: these characters are a lot of times the bad guys. Which puts the connection that gay is bad in the minds of the entire audience. And then reinforces that idea over and over and over. See that list above? Those are kids movies. And those are all bad guys.

Where did it come from?

History time! This practice can be traced back to the 1930s, when the Hays Code came into existence. This was a set of guidelines and standards brought to the studios by a Jesuit Priest and a Catholic layman to “help” them decide what was acceptable and not for a general all ages audience to see. Namely, to protect the most impressionable in the audience (read: children).

The Hays Code had two parts. Part one was kind of the summary and purpose. It used phrases like “moral standards” and “the correct standards of life.” It was essentially stating that studios should only produce films that upheld traditional (Catholic) values. It also stated that authority figures should be presented in only good light. No poking fun at the cops or letting audiences empathize with the criminals.

Part two was a list of specific things that were not acceptable. And guess what was on it! You’re right. No sexual perversion allowed! But this rule was not only about homosexuals. It was also about race mixing! So no gays and no black/white sex. There were also items addressing affairs and any sex outside of marriage, crime and punishment, and depicting authority figures.

The code was enforced from 1934-1968, though starting in the 50s enforcement seriously began to decline. Perhaps in part because of a major SCOTUS ruling in 1952. Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson was brought forth to the Supreme Court and they ruled that motion pictures fell under First Amendment protections. Which basically meant, no censoring them because a handful of people are offended by the content.

Why is it important?

While the practice of queer coding is not inherently bad, the associations that many have about the LGBTQ+ community come from it. Seeing villains constantly being shown as queer is damaging. It just feeds into the stereotypes. Also, queer coding is not real representation. We want actual open queers in our media! We want to see ourselves in the movies and shows that we watch.

Back to Raya and Namaari.

Everyone agrees that when it comes to Asian stories (or any other non white ethnicity) representation matters. It is applauded, especially in children’s movies. Remember the cheers when Disney finally featured a Black Princess? Kids need to see themselves on the silver screen just as much, if not more than adults. That means queer kids too.

Creating Namaari the way she is… showing her relationship with Raya the way they did… And then not saying it out loud was just… cruel. We almost had representation. We were literally thisclose to that representation. To have a princess of our very own that we could look up to. Thisclose. Instead of showing a beautiful queer relationship, Disney chose not to offend a small group and keep it all platonic.

So thank goodness for fan art like this. The beauty of creating something and giving it to the public, is that we then get to run with those characters the way we see them. For Raya and Namaari, that means we get to see these two strong princesses together, in a way the studio was too afraid to show.

For more about the Hays Code and Queer Coding in other genres check out this video by one of my favorite youtubers. Or read over this article on SyFy. For more of my LGBTQ+ centered posts, click here.

Family LGBTQ+

What Not to Say When Your Child Comes Out

Happy Pride Month, ya’ll! I don’t know about you guys, but I am absolutely loving the rainbows everywhere. They are all over my social media feeds and hanging from most of our local stores. This year, I have been even happier to see all the recognition of the different sexualities and genders under that rainbow flag. People are proudly proclaiming their Pan/Demi/Ace/etc. identities, and it is beautiful to see!

I wish I had the courage as well to share my own identities with the world on my personal social medias. It may shock you all to know that this little outspoken blogger is quite the introvert in real life. I was past 30 before I finally allowed myself to acknowledge my bisexuality. It took a few years more before I stopped second guessing myself and fully embraced it. But I have yet to shout it to the heavens for all to hear. My mostly conservative family would not approve, so to keep the peace as much as possible, I keep that part from them.

Sass, on the other hand, thankfully doesn’t feel the need to hide who she is. At 13 yrs old, shortly before her 14th birthday, she casually dropped that she maybe liked boys AND girls. Then a few months later, narrowed that down and dropped boys from the picture all together. And ever since she has embraced her identity wholeheartedly. She wears the Lesbian flag pins her sister made proudly on her school bag. She came out to her friends and their families, all of whom embraced her wholeheartedly as well.

Crumbs is still figuring it out. She is 12 yrs old now, and has not showed any interest one way or another. Which is great for us (what parent wants to think about their babies liking people and dating?) But she has shared that she knows she isn’t straight. She is queer, just currently undefined. And there is no rush for her to define it. She will tell us when she knows. We trust her to figure it out for herself.

So it’s been nice to see all the pride posts this past week. And even nicer still to come across a small handful of posts about coming out. A friend proudly shared their newfound realization of their own sexual identities after coming across some new terms they learned this month. And a few fellow moms shared joys and concerns over their kids coming out. These are the ones that stuck out the most because of my own babies.

The posts themselves were simple: just a mom sharing her worries and asking for support and guidance from others after their child came out to them. A majority of the comments were just that: supportive and full of wonderful affirming guidance. They were the kind of comments you would hope to see. Moms pouring loving into another mom facing a brand new path she hadn’t seen coming.

But then there were some that weren’t so supportive.

“They are still young, they don’t know what they like yet.”

“It’s all over the media right now, it’s practically a fad.”

“It’s cool to be queer/gay/trans/etc. now. They’ll change their mind later.”

“It’s just a phase.”

What the actual… Are we still doing this?

If we do not question or dismiss a child in things pertaining to the straight/cis narrative, why do we question and dismiss them when it’s outside that narrative? We laugh and fawn over elementary kids saying they have a girlfriend/boyfriend, or when they walk around the playground holding hands. But as soon as those same kids hold the hand of their new crush who is the same gender, or they say they feel like their gender and sex do not match, we clutch our pearls and say it’s just a phase. They don’t understand. They couldn’t possibly know their own identities in terms of gender or sexuality.

Churches do the same thing. Kids are called to accept Christ during Sunday School and youth groups and Vacation Bible Camps. But if they share any part of themselves that is outside that straight/cis narrative, they are too young and don’t know what they are saying.

So let’s just clear that up, shall we?

It’s not a phase. It’s not the cool thing to do. They know better than anyone else who they are.

Saying otherwise is damaging. Damaging to your relationship with that child, damaging to their self esteem and image. And damaging to their mental health. Don’t be that person.

Be better. Be there for your kids. Support them. Research has shown that kids who have support are less likely to struggle with mental health issues, and less likely to commit suicide. Supporting your child, believing them when they say they are gay/ace/trans/etc. can be literally life saving. If you need help in finding ways to support your child, check out The Trevor Project. They have so many resources available! The CDC website also has a list of links to several other helpful sources, like GLSEN.

So consider this your Pride Month PSA. Believe your kids when they tell you who they are. Because they absolutely know their own identities, be it gender, sexual, or faith based. They know. So, love them, support them, and believe them.