Have you noticed that most Disney villains have queer characteristics?

For example, male villains like Hades, Captain Hook, or Jafar tend to have effeminate mannerisms or appearances. They get easily scared, are very expressive when they speak, have high pitched voices, and are preoccupied with their looks, usually wearing make-up and looser clothes, similar to dresses. Basically, they do not conform to typical heteronormative codes of conduct, and they are made fun of and criticized because of it.

This is called queer-coding. And it’s a problem.

The problem with queer-coding comes from the historical tendency of queer-coding villains.

Queer-coding is defined as the process by which characters are depicted as having physical or behavioral traits that are usually associated with the LGBTQIA+ community, even though the sexual orientation of the character is not specified. These characteristics usually include more effeminate traits for male characters and more masculine characteristics for female ones.

Queer-coding originated in the America of the 1950s and 60s, where the representation of LGBTQIA+ characters was heavily discouraged in cinema. It is usually associated with the Hays Code, enforced from the 1940s, a set of moral guidelines that regulated the censorship of American movies. Among other things, the code banned ‘any inference of sex perversion’. Sex perversion being anything that is not heterosexuality.

The problem with queer-coding comes from the historical tendency of queer-coding villains.

Depictions of LGBTQ+ characters were only acceptable as long as it was not specifically mentioned, and the characters in question if they were defeated at the end and ‘their sins’ were punished. The sexual orientation of the character was then expressed through mannerisms, fashion, and speech. Moreover, queer characters were associated at the time with immorality, and, by extent, with the evil that the heroes have to defeat.

Have you noticed that most Disney villains have queer characteristics?

The queer-coding of villains served to create a psychological association in people’s minds (particularly children’s) between ‘queer’ and ‘evil’.

In Disney’s Renaissance era, when the company set out to create villains with more personality than the ones from the previous movies, they used queer-coding constantly. Moreover, they didn’t hide it.

Úrsula from The Little Mermaid is based on a real drag queen, who was also a referent of the LGTBQIA+ community of the time: Divine. Úrsula’s eyebrows and make-up resemble those usually associated with drag queens. Her behavior is very sexualized and she even has a much lower-pitched and husky voice.

[Image Description: image of Ursula from The Little Mermaid next to a black and white photo of the drag queen Divine.] via Twitter.
[Image Description: image of Ursula from The Little Mermaid next to a black and white photo of the drag queen Divine.] via Twitter.
However, queer-coding is more obvious in male characters, creating the common trope of the ‘sissy villain’. Characters like Hades, Jafar, Scar, Captain Hook, and King John all fall under this trope.

Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas is a great example. He is very vain, wears bows on his hair, is obsessed with gold and glitter, and hates physical labor. He even wears pink!

Male villains like Hades, Captain Hook, or Jafar tend to have effeminate mannerisms or appearances.

The queer-coding is even more obvious when comparing the heroes and villains. If you look at the contrast between Úrsula and Ariel, Governor Ratcliffe and John Smith, Hades and Hercules, or Aladin and Jafar, you can see how the heroes are hyper-masculine and the heroines sweet and wholesome. The male villains, on the other hand, are effeminate and weak, and the female ones devious and corrupting.

The issue is not whether these characters are gay or not. The problem is that these films make fun of the characters that don’t conform with the standard gender norms.

[Image Description: Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas singing while dressed fully in gold and holding his hands up in the air.] via Tumblr.
[Image Description: Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas singing while dressed fully in gold and holding his hands up in the air.] via Tumblr.

Disney subtly teaches children that non conforming to heteronormative constructs is bad.

Children’s movies, and particularly those that are so popular as Disney’s, are meant to teach children. They emphasize what is good and bad, and what behaviors are moral and immoral. The fact that Disney movies CONSTANTLY portray villains with a series of stereotypes associated with the LGBTQIA+ community promotes hate and opposition towards everything that doesn’t conform to gender norms.

And yes, queer people can be bad, the same way that straight people can. However, the non-existence of heroic characters that are queer-coded makes the queer-coding in itself highly problematic. While straight people can be good and bad, queer-coded characters are ALWAYS the bad ones.

The problem is that these films make fun of the characters that don’t conform with the standard gender norms.

The fact is that Disney villains are amazing characters, and some of the most loved by Disney fans. Moreover, the LGBTQIA+ community accepted these characters, and was even thankful for them, because it gave visibility to the community, even if it was in the form of a villain. Howard Ashman, the lyricist of The Little Mermaid, who was also heavily involved in its casting and production, was openly gay.

It isn’t that much of a problem that characters are queer-coded, although, in this day and age, it is about time that some of them are made explicitly queer. The issue comes when only the villains are queer-coded, therefore perpetuating the internalized association between queerness and immorality.

Let’s celebrate Disney villains for the representation that they gave to the LGBTQIA+ community back in the day. But let’s stop this trend and create some LGTBQIA+ heroes instead.


https://thetempest.co/?p=135306
Beatriz Valero de Urquia

By Beatriz Valero de Urquia

Junior Pop Culture Editor