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


My affection for fictional characters knows no sexual orientation — but I do have a queer sixth sense when I watch TV and movies: I see gay people.

It was no surprise, then, that Drew Barrymore‘s grrrl-powered roller derby flick, Whip It, played itself out on two levels in my mind when I saw it last weekend. The first was Bliss Cavendar’s (Ellen Page) coming-of-age story. The second was Bliss Cavendar’s subversively sexual coming out story.

What is surprising is that Jeremy Clyman, a columnist at Psychology Today, agrees with me. He wrote an article about Whip It on Psychology Today‘s Side Reel blog entitled “Lesbian Fantasy, Disguised.”

In it he says:

[Whip It] purports to be the story of a small town adolescent who rebels and finds her genuine identity as roller derby star athlete. But I think this film is also a secret communication to closeted lesbians living in hostile places in which the closet is the only safe place to be.

Clyman lists a number of factors that inform his hypothesis about Bliss’ sexual orientation: she “playfully [dyes] her hair blue for a beauty pageant”; her immediate infatuation with roller derby is “incited by the image of three women pushing each other” on skates; and, after always putting derby before him, she “dumps her boyfriend with suspicious ease and celerity.”

He also notes that the men in Whip It are portrayed as sexually non-threatening or impotent. Metaphorically, they’ve all been castrated.

If Bliss does represents a closeted lesbian, then her success as a roller derby star effectively signifies her coming out, a decision that is ultimately accepted and celebrated by her new community, her family and her long-time straight friends.

After reading Clyman’s article it occurred to me that maybe my lesbian sixth sense is more than just wishful thinking.

Perhaps there’s something to be learned from my propensity to seek out subtext between female characters or to dig for LGBT themes in implicitly heterosexual stories.

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