Queer coding began with the release of a guideline in 1930 called “Hays Code” or “The Motion Picture Production Code.” This code, at its core, is a list of what motion pictures in the US weren’t allowed to present on the silver screen and the subjects they must be very, very careful about.
The code certainly had obvious Catholic undertones, and it aimed to make sure movies weren’t morally corrupting the young people of the United States, especially its children. It is why any presentation of homosexuality in any form was prohibited at all costs. The code also didn’t allow to mention of interracial relationships, sexual diseases, illegal drug traffic, and any mockery towards the clergy. You can see the content of the guideline here.
Queer Coded Villains
Banning queer people didn’t remove their existence in cinema. In later years coded language and implications of the prohibited behaviors or identities started showing up in the films. Though there weren’t any obvious scenes or confessions to confirm that a character is queer, queerness started appearing in very subtle ways for those who could read between the lines. It didn’t pose a problem as long as that queer coded character (or anyone who implied a crime against the Code) got punished somehow at the end. This notion slowly removed the taboo and was the birth of queer coded villains.
You could see queer coded characters which you just weren’t allowed to root for them, or even like them at all. They believed that if the queer way of life were always shown this way, with evil people who get what they deserve at the end, this would end all “incentive” to be like them. Their solution didn’t end queerness but started a representation issue.
Queer coded villains are generally not openly a part of the LGBTQA+ community, but there is an indication through stereotypes that make the audience think that character may be a queer individual. Sometimes the signs are so clear and strong that only those entirely unaware of queer stereotypes can let it go over their head.
Such indications can be making the villain man act, talk, and/or dress very feminine compared to the hero. When talking about queer coding villains, Disney is the first to come to mind. They have tend to make their villains, intentional or unintentional, a bit queer. An example of this can be Disney’s Scar. His movements and sarcastic attitude resemble a stereotypical gay man and his counterpart Simba who takes on every male, masculine hero’s identity. We can observe the same resemblance in Disney’s Hercules. The villain, Hades, is clearly queer coded because he conforms to the stereotypical gay man with sass and witty comebacks, along with his body language.
Another queer coded villain is The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula, as the character was heavily inspired by the drag queen, Divine. Along with many female villains, she plays to the stereotype that queer people are obsessed with looks, fashion, and themselves. Also, the female villains usually don’t have children or any intention to have them – queer coding!-, while their counterpart is nurturing, motherly, loving to all living creatures.
As society slowly progressed onto being more acceptable towards queer existence, LGBTQA+ life started to be seen more openly. Although the media has more space for queer people nowadays, the damage from the past queer-coded narratives, and harmful stereotypes still hurt the LGBTQA+ community and their causes.
Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that queer coding’s main goal isn’t to show queer people to villains, or people who get vile ends to their stories. At least, it’s not on purpose for all queer-coded characters. It’s all about the encoding and decoding process between the creator and the audience, or creator and their work.
Which characters did you realize to be queer coded?