I See Gay People: “Whip It,” “Hannah Montana,” and Metaphors for Homosexuality

The best of both worlds

I was reading Karen Joy Fowler’s Jane Austen Book Club the first time I realized I wasn’t the only lesbian in the world who bore the burden of a sixth sense.

During the book club’s reading of Pride and Prejudice, the lesbian character, Allegra, questions the sexual orientation of Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend: “What I was thinking was that Charlotte Lucas might be gay. Remember when she says she’s not romantic like Lizzie? Maybe that’s what she means. Maybe that’s why there’s no point in holding out for a better offer.”

One of the other book club members asks, “Are you saying Austen meant her to be gay … or that she’s gay and Austen doesn’t know it?”

It’s an astute observation on Allegra’s part, followed by a discussion similar to the ones I often have with myself: Did filmmakers intend for that character to be gay? Is she gay, but the screenwriters didn’t realize it? Is this really about roller derby?

I can think of two unlikely examples from movies I watched this summer. One is certainly an unintentional coming out allegory and the other, I believe, is a purposeful inclusion of a quiet queer character. I say they are unlikely because both are children’s movies, distributed by Disney.

First, the unintentional: Hannah Montana.

If you are unfamiliar with Hannah Montana, I can catch you up with a few sentences: On the Disney Channel show, Miley Cyrus plays Miley Stewart, a normal teenager by day, and a pop superstar (Hannah Montana) by night. Only her dad, brother and best friend know her true identity.

Essentially, it’s a live-action version of Jem and the Holograms, with more pronounced southern accents.

While the Hannah Montana sitcom is thoroughly cheese-tastic from acting to laugh track, Hannah Montana: The Movie set a much more serious tone when it hit theaters in April. In the feature film, the burden of Miley’s double life begins to take its toll on her. She spends most of the movie trying to bridge the dissonance between the regular girl and the rock star.

In the climactic scene, she stops performing in the middle of a concert and takes off her Hannah Montana disguise to reveal her true identity to the crowd.

It is a perfect symbolization of the coming out process, and I found myself moved by the message I thought Disney was sending to tweens: Live an honest life. Be true to yourself. (Be here! Be queer!)

Imagine my disappointment when the crowd pleads with Miley to put on her wig and return to her double life, effectively thrusting her back into the closet.

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