What if Homophobia was Resisted Twilight style?

The following piece is cross-posted here. As it argues, Twilight is a rampantly heteronormative series. Yet, given its concurrent rampant popularity, why not seize the opportunity to consider the ways  the Twilight cultural phenomonon can be used to furtheer discussion about gender, sexuality, racism, classism, etc? This is the aim of my forthcomign book, Seduced by Twilght (which, by the way, I just secured an agent for yesterday — woo-hooo!)

Ah, more proof that the U.S. is still a homophobic nation. Just what we don’t need. Maine’s rejection of a same sex marriage law earlier this week means that  attempts to legalize gay marriage have now been shot down in 31 states. As such, I thought it fitting to post a few thoughts about heteronomativity, homophobia, and Twilight.

Poking around Google, I found almost no posts that consider the heteronormativity of the series. One exception is Emily Rutherford’s “Heteteronormativity, Again; or, the Experience of Reading Twilight.” As Rutherford writes, “…there is no homosexuality in Twilight. Despite the obvious ambiguity of Edward’s sexual appeal, there are no gay couples in Forks, WA. There are no explicitly gay vampires. Bella herself doesn’t experience same-sex attraction.” As she further argues, “For all that it confuses clear-cut sexualities; for all that it builds upon and complicates our traditional notion of the innocent love story, it is still profoundly and aggressively heteronormative.”

As for the widespread heteronormativity the book upholds, all characters are represented as heterosexual and hetero-monogamous marriage is presented as ideal. Amongst other types of diversity depicted in the series – race, class, age, (dis)ability – there is not one single non-hetero character nor even a nod to the fact that not everyone on the planet is hetero. Given that Meyer’s is Mormon, a belief system that is notoriously heteronormative, it is hardly surprising that heterosexuality is represented as the unquestioned norm.

In addition to the series’ seething heteronormativity, the practice of buying the books and related products results in profits for those institutions that want to bolster heterosexism. Profits from the series are funneled to the Mormon church through the practice of tithing – such funds are used in various ways, but one of them is to prevent same sex marriage laws from passing (as with California’s prop 8). Here are some relevant portions of a piece I wrote on this topic:

Meyer has on multiple occasions stated that, in accordance with her Mormon belief, 10% of all  her profits for all things Twilight go to the Mormon church. (See, for example, The Advocate).

While she has not made any public statement regarding Prop 8, her tithing to the church supports institutionalizing discrimination against those who are not heterosexual. By extension, a percentage of the multi-billion dollar Twilight industry went towards the Mormon Church, an institution that played a huge funding role in initially getting Prop 8 on the ballot, and then kept the funding in plentiful supply in order to grow support for the Yes on 8 camp. The success of this campaign, which relied on dollars and dogma, would not have been possible without the big money that came from the Mormon Church and other religious donors.

….

Meyer’s silence about the issue of homophobia in her church in general, and Prop 8 in particular, comes across as deafeningly loud –it speaks volumes, showing support for discrimination via economic buttressing of an institution that helped California, the state I live in, to etch inequality into law. So much for the sunshine state – so much for dazzling, sensitive vampires…Guess it’s ok for a lion to love a lamb, but not for a man to love another man.

Unfortunately,  such homophobia does not only exist in the USA, but plagues the globe. As evidenced by a Twi Crack Addict piece posted last week, Wales is one such place. The piece, “Wolfpack Poster Removed from South Wales Cinema for being Homoerotic,” reports that a theatre in Cwmbran, South Wales, removed the wolfpack poster because it was “too homoerotic.” Given the rampant heteronormativity of the series, this accusation seems a bit ironic, especially given that the wolf characters are the only ones to give voice to their homophobia in the texts.

For example, in Breaking Dawn when Quil says to Jacob “I don’t notice girls anymore,” Jacob jokes ““Put that together with the tiara and makeup, and maybe Claire will have a different kind of competition to worry about.” Here, Jacob insinuates that Quil’s tiara-wearing antics might lead to some non-hetero ‘competition.’ Quil laughs in response, making kissing noises at Jacob and asking, “You available this Friday, Jacob?” Ah yes, homosexuality is SO FUNNY – especially in a book that presents heterosexuality as the ONLY option with a message that screams “Be hetero! Get married and have babies!”

In Breaking Dawn Leah also teases Jacob about his heartfelt goodbye to Quil, snickering “Thought you were going to make out with him.” Yeah, cuz it’s so homo-esque for a male to care about his guy friends. Leah might as well have said, “Hey, wolf boy, grow some hetero balls and put your focus where it should be – on the ladies!”

The inclusion of various homophobic sentiments from the Native American characters seems to go above and beyond Meyer’s staying true to her Mormon roots into the territory of actually mocking and deriding homosexuality. Further, the fact that the Quileute characters are the only characters to voice their homophobia is ironic given that native culture is historically far more accepting of diverse expressions of gender and sexuality. Such sentiments would be far more realistic out of the mouths of Meyer’s demi-god Mormon-esque vampires.

I am wondering if the above poster would have been removed if it featured shirtless white men instead — if it depicted the Carlisle, Edward, Jasper, Emmett pack? (Who are of course not referred to as a pack – think about the racial implications of that!) I would venture a guess that the poster would be less likely to be accused of homoeroticism if those pictured were white – partly because hegemonic, normative masculinity is linked  to whiteness, and partly because (due to a global system of racism) it’s easier (and more common) to discriminate against non-white men.

The ubiquitous shirt-lessness of the “wolf pack” (written about in my earlier post here) is linked to this notion of hegemonic masculinity and whiteness. White males, more often associated with mental activities and acumen, are often less sexualized (as explored by scholars such as Jackson Katz). Raced, or non-white men, and working class men, are more associated with their bodies and bodily activities. The fact that the male Quileute, as both raced and working class, are often depicted without clothes accords to this sexualization of males who are deemed as “lesser” – either due to race or class. Yes, I know they “run hot” in the books because of their wolf identity, but this alone does not explain why all the actors portraying them are photographed shirtless far more often than their white actor counterparts…

Finally, the removal of this poster due to its “homoerotic” message is ridiculous and repugnant. It smacks not only of homophobia, but of sexism (if those pictured were half naked women, there would not be a problem) and racism (speaking to the fear of the “Other” and of women or men finding raced Others attractive). As you go about being repeatedly seduced by the series and its offshoots, I hope you will once in awhile pause and think about these more troubling aspects. By voicing our discontent about those aspects of the book, the fandom, and the franchise that trouble us, we can bring homophobia (and other discriminatory ideologies) out of the closet. And, by discussing such regulatory ideals often and vociferously we can bring some progressive sparkle to the Twilight table.

This is partly my intent with the parodies from Twi Kids Trio – many who wrote to me thus far about the first skit noted their favorite scene was Jacob sitting on Edward’s lap (and, by the way, if you watch the skit, please leave comments or feedback on You Tube!). Future parodies will continue to mock the cult of masculinity and nod to the latent homoeroticism that heteronormativity attempts to deny. As per the theories of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, homoerotic elements pervade the majority of literary texts. They may be deeply hidden and denied in Twilight, but often that which is most strenuously resisted is also ardently, if shamefully, desired. Don’t know about you, but I find it quite fascinating to ponder a queer version of Twilight… doing so makes the hand-holding abstinence and virginal purity message seem all the more antiquated, and, yes, discriminatory.

20 thoughts on “What if Homophobia was Resisted Twilight style?”

  1. “Further, the fact that the Quileute characters are the only characters to voice their homophobia is ironic given that native culture is historically far more accepting of diverse expressions of gender and sexuality.”

    Unfortunately just historically true eh. As someone in the Native community, it certainly (at least in the majority) seems that we have forgotten most of the tradition surrounding that. I don’t think irony even begins to cover the extent of it.
    As someone who has stayed clear of the entire Twilight bonanza that has been going on for the past couple of months (or is it years now? I honestly don’t know-or care, any more), it is interesting to hear about the little tidbits of stuff that people who have been watching notice.

  2. Within the machine,
    Thanks for commenting.
    Yes, I agree that the accepting of diverse sexualities/gender expressions is more historically true than true in the present. Colonization wreaked havoc on those views… Sad too how assimilation strategies and “missionary” ideology has resulted in the christian-izing of indigenous peoples. I spoke with a woman recently who said she was the ONLY non-Christain in her 800+ tribal nation.
    Glad you found this tidbit interesting!

  3. Dear Professor,
    I want to make sure to raise my children so they are accepting of others, while at the same I’m trying to become more accepting of others. Would “Harry Potter”, “Charlotte’s Web”, and “Winnie the Pooh” be considered rampantly heteronormative? Should we be reading Bruce Bagemihl and Olivia Judson to them?

    Professor, what if the author simply wants to tell an entertaining story? Is it the duty of an author to depict diversity? Especially if the point of view is a teenager, perhaps they do notice any homosexuality around them. Twenty years ago, I did not know if anyone was gay at my high school. I also didn’t know if any of my friends were diabetic, had a learning disability, or would turn out to be a Republican.

    PS congrats on getting an agent!

    1. Jon,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I appreciate your suggestion that many childrens books are heteronormative — but I wouldn’t count those you mention among them. (Dumbledore is gay, remember. And, couldn’t we read Wilbur as gay too if we are so inclined?) It’s that in Meyer’s case, there is actual derision towards homosexuality, as noted by the quotes referenced from Breaking Dawn. Also, the book sends the message that marriage and heteronormativity are requied — unlike the other books you mention.
      I would not say it’s the duty of every author to depict diversity, but, as pointed out in the post, Meyer seemed to be trying to do so through the inclusion of, for example, a disabled character.
      While 20 years ago it may have been less common for teenagers to “notice any homosexuality around them,” this is not as common today, nor should it be. Given that at least 10 percent of people (including teens!) identify as non-heterosexuals, we cannot pretend everyone is hetero. In a classroom of 40 kids, at least 4 are likely to be non-heterosexual, whether they are “out” or not. Further, I think the other examples you make are a bit different — teens are often very consumed with relationships, romance, and sexuality — while they may not care so much about whether someone is a Republican… Hence, I think w/ the growth of teen and tween lit, it would be nice to see more books that represented the diversity of romantic interest and sexual expression (and yes, to include characters with illnesses and disabilities too!)
      Finally, thanks for the congrats!

      1. Out of interest, why is it that you consider Dumbledore to be gay? I assume your view pertains to something other than the complete lack of storyline regarding Dumbledore’s love-life, whether heterosexual or homosexual?

      2. I’m not entirely sure we’re talking about the same Dumbledore here, anon. Professor Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books was outed by the still-living author of that series, JK Rowling, in 2007.

      3. I think you are right Lindsay — not sure which Dumbledore other commenter referring to…

      4. The author is dead. Not literally of course, but it means that what the readers take from a text is what matters, not what the author intended. Now I know JK Rowling always considered Dumbledore to be gay, but in reading Harry Potter this idea never presented itself to me. I’m not convinced he is because I’m unaware of any textual evidence. Yes, Dumbledore is JK’s character, and yes she intended for him to be gay, but if the rest of the world read him as not being gay (at least up until she pointed out that that was not the way she intended him to be read), then he is not gay. If in my next reading of her books I fail to find any evidence to suggest that he is gay then I will continue to think of him as not being gay, regardless of her intention. Once a text is published. a writer cannot dictate how their audience interprets the text. This is what I meant about the author being dead; not a literal death, but a death of her power over her text.

      5. Anon,
        Ah, as in Roland Barthes and “Death of the Author.”
        I agree that reader response trumps authorial intent…

      6. Re: The question of Dumbledore

        Why would you assume that someone is heterosexual until proven otherwise? If there is no evidence (in text) pointing to any sort of sexual identity of a character, it seems just as misguided to assume heterosexuality as homosexuality or anything in between.

        You’re like the hostess who seated me and my brother when we went out to eat last night. Blatantly assuming we were a couple, just because we were a man and woman out together. Of course, whenever I correct the assumptions of people like this, they clam up, get defensive, and think of me as the uppity lesbian. If you wouldn’t assume, I wouldn’t have to correct you.

        The assumption that hetero is “normal,” and anything else is some sort of mutation is just as offensive as the assumption that white skin is “normal” and any other skin color is a mutation.

        But about Dumbledore, readers with a degree of talent in reading subtlety may have read about Dumbledore and thought he was gay, as there were more hints at that than at heterosexuality, of which there were zero. I had debates in class about Dumbledore’s sexuality, and that was before we even got to the seventh book. When I read about Dumbledore and Grindlewald, it only became more obvious, and when Rowling confirmed this, I just thought, “Wasn’t it obvious?”

        Your problem here is that your strong faith in heteronormativity has blinded you to subtlety, and you think everyone reads the characters the same way you do. The author may be dead, but when I read, you are dead too. The good thing is we each get to control our own interpretations. You can read Dumbledore as hetero, and I will continue to read him as an obviously gay man who was involved in a tragic love which he never really got over.

  4. I almost whole-heartedly agree with your perspective here…but take issue with the statement
    ” Yes, I know they “run hot” in the books because of their wolf identity, but this alone does not explain why all the actors portraying them are photographed shirtless far more often than their white actor counterparts…”

    Having *just* finished New Moon, I feel like the whole point of these werewolves having an odd body-temperature issue is so that they *can* be mentioned as frequently having no shirts on. Still heteronormative, still exoticizing the sexuality of POC, but this comes straight out of the book, I feel.

  5. Lindsay,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I agree it comes straight out of the book and thus I can understand when the actors or photographed shirtless when they are in character (ie in the movie poster that was pulled). It does not explain, however, why the non-white or raced actors are far more often pictured with less clothing when they are NOT in character — ie Lautner’s vogue shoot…

  6. This argument would make more sense if the books weren’t utter trash to begin with. First, they’re grammatically nonsensical, have absolutely no plot, flimsy writing, and conflates an abusive relationship with “true love”.

    In this context, homophobia seems to be par for the course. Nothing to be outraged about. Just be outraged that Twilight was allowed to get from the author to the publisher.

    1. I don’t think the books are “utter trash.” They are not intellectual or thought-provoking, no doubt. They lack symbolism, complex themes, and varying adjective use, this is true. But, they do have plots. I agree the series problematically presents an abusive relationship as “true love.” Yet, even if you hate them, I think whenever something captures the cultural imagination in such a big way, it is worth paying attention too… Popular culture has a lot to tell us about who we are as a society, as people, etc.

      1. However, in the past 10 years, “popular culture” no longer represents a multiplicity of media providers with varying size. “Popular culture” now means that we are being supplied entertainment from only a few sources that are dictating to us what to feel and think (ie ClearChannel, News Corp, Sony, Hearst, etc). Even previously smaller/independent sources of popular entertainment like YouTube and MySpace have been bought out.

        Apparently the publisher of Twilight was a former Time Warner subsidiary.

  7. I have read the books, but the films take the saga to a whole new level. Beautiful young stars, great cinematics and a sound track that rocks… Can’t wait for number 3. Oh well, i’ll just have to reread the books…

  8. Homophobia is nothing but another term for women hating. Say if Bella were a lesbian. Okay, let’s actually make Bella bi because I want to focus on New Moon. Say that after Edward left Bella, she decides to date a woman and has feelings for a woman instead of Jacob. Would the movie still have the same audience or would the audience be a bunch of males?
    Say that both Edward and Jacod were gay. Would the audience still be the same? Would they have an audience at all?
    What I’m trying to say is that men don’t have a problem watching 2 women have a relationship. To them it’s just fun and entertainment and nothing more thana sexual fantasy to which they can masturbate to. They have no problem with women that are homosexual.
    However, if a male is homo, they get all “homophebic. That is,they think it’s disgusting that a man is not dominating or abusing a woman. They don’t get any pleasure from watching 2 men treat each other equally.
    So basically homophebia is just a way of saying men are meant to dominate women.

    1. Jo,
      Great points. Michael Kimmel has a great essay about homophobia that makes similar arguments.
      As for hetero males not having a problem with lesbianism — I think this is true only to a certain extent. If the lesbianism is framed for the male gaze and they are “hot,” that is one thing. But if the women balk the male gaze, refuse patriarchy and the male privilege it promotes, and/or do not use their sexuality in a way that can please hetero men (visually or otherwise) that is antoher…
      Homophobia is certainly linked to patriarchal control of women, but I think there is more going on than this. I think also that lesbianism is actually MORE of a threat than male homosexuality in regards to patriarchy. This I think is part of the impulse behind eroticizing it (thus rendering it “hot” rather than threatening…)

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