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+ Polyamory

What A Children’s Book Got Right About Representation

Representation matters. We all know it.

I’ve mentioned it in other posts. It’s a part of my why. It’s important for others to see and be seen. In all areas. It’s why we have a push to feature more girls/women in STEM careers. Why having LGBTQ+ and BIPOC members elected to our government is so powerful. It’s why I shared my excitement over 2 small cities miles away from me that are now recognizing domestic partnerships between more than 2 individuals.

There are so many blogs, websites, and social media accounts devoted to polyamory and other ENM relationships. But in fictional media that representation is lacking. A lot.

Representation in TV & Film

Movies and tv shows try. But they usually fall into harmful or downright wrong stereotypes. Books tend to mostly skip us over, unless you’re into science fiction or high fantasy. And it’s not because the demand isn’t there. Search through any polyam group, or even ask google, and you will see so many requests for recommendations on good polyam storylines. A read through those lists or comments nets you the same ones over and over. A good polyam movie? Profession Marston and the Wonder Women. A good polyam book? Stranger in a Strange Land. A good polyam show? Crickets. Some episodes might be shared from a few popular shows. Or you’ll hear about series featuring polygamous families, like Big Love or Sister Wives. But it’s mostly crickets.

The problem with some of these suggestions is that they are not the healthiest examples. In the cases of Big Love and Sister Wives (and others like those two), they feature polygamy. Or more specifically, polygyny. This is not the same as Polyamory. It does and can fall under the non-monogamy umbrella. But it is more associated with those who hold more fundamental religious beliefs. Other suggestions feature their polyamory in less flattering ways that include cheating or affairs, as well as other red flag practices that those in the community hate. (I’m looking at you, The Good Doctor.)

Representation for Kids

And when it comes to children’s media? Forget it! We are starting to see more stories featuring or about same sex parents. Which is great! Kids need to see their families represented in the media they consume. It’s just as, if not more, important for them than it is for us grown ups. But what about those kids who have multi parent families?

Enter A Color Named Love, by M. Ellery & illustrated by Clara Reschke.

my copy of A Color Named Love, fresh out of the package.

You guys, this book is so cute! I first heard about it months ago when I came across the kickstarter campaign for it. And have been anxiously awaiting the day it would be ready for purchase. That day came this month, and I quickly snatched up my own copy.

A Short Review

It is the story of a little girl named Anna, who wants to know about Love. Through her eyes, we meet the grown ups that form her family. There are 4 of them, and each one shows her a different side of Love. You see the world in a myriad of colors through Anna’s joy and wonder.

The representation in this book is amazing. It is not obvious or obtrusive. But it is woven into every page. There are families of every size, shape, and color. There are little doodles nodding to polyamory or proclaiming Love is Love. And the entire book is illustrated in this beautiful soft rainbow motif.

Seriously you guys, I cannot say enough wonderful things about this little children’s book. The author and illustrator have created a beautiful story. And given representation to so many kids growing up in a polyamorous family. I encourage you to go buy a copy for yourself, and to talk to your local library about obtaining their own copies. You can shop for A Color Named Love here.

If you’re craving a little more adult polyam representation, you can check out my resources page.

You’re Turn!

Let me know what you think below. Is there a kind of polyam representation you would like to see more of? If you’ve read A Color Named Love, what did you think of it? Do you have other books/movies/podcasts you’d like added to our list?