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Homophobia and Twilight

November 5, 2009

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 Comments leave one →
  1. Phil permalink
    December 3, 2009 2:31 am

    Quite clearly you want to read a homophobic narrative where there is in fact none. Just because a book doesn’t portray a homosexual relationship, doesn’t make it homophobic. Stop crying discrimination and see whats before your eyes, a novel aimed at girls, ones who have crazed ideas about what a man should be (Edward), not a narrative that discriminates and diminishes the gay community.

    I think perhaps you need to re-asses your views and maybe stop being hetrophobic, as you clearly seem to imply that if something doesn’t agree with your world view, then its the wrong view.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      December 3, 2009 4:32 am

      I agree with you that “Just because a book doesn’t portray a homosexual relationship, doesn’t make it homophobic.” But, if you read the whole post, you should have noticed I reference characters saying homophobic things and making fun of homosexuality. It is one thing to not present homosexuality, another to make fun of it.
      Your “stop crying” wording is rather insulting, but I do recognize the novel is aimed at girls. Do you not think there are many girls — at least 10 percent of them (and that’s a low estimate) who likely lust after Alice, Bella, or Rosalie? The whole world is not hetero — and that includes girls.
      Further, just because I decry homophobia does not mean I am heterophobic — that is huge leap based on a logical fallacy.
      Often when we want to lash out for others and make accusations, we should pause and take a good look in the mirror first – I recognize that I am very sensitive to the “isms” that want to judge other people by their race, sex, gender, sexuality, but perhaps you might look in the mirror and recognize that just because my views differ from yours they are not invalid nor heterophobic.

      • Anthony permalink
        June 23, 2010 3:27 pm

        Just because the characters in a book make ”homophobic” jokes doesn’t mean that the author is homophobic, maybe she’s just trying to get some realistic banter in between the characters. I’m gay, and have a lot of gay friends, most of who loved twilight and failed to pick up on what you seem to consider degrading and harsh jokes. The lack of any gay couples seems to reflect Meyer’s lack of creativity and the culture she was brought up in rather than some desire to cause gay people to lay awake at night wondering why, oh why, is Carlisle with Esme instead of Edward. Bella is a straight girl who likes a straight guy. As the story is generally told from her point of view, it really would be quite odd if she went into detail regarding the sex between Alice and Esme.
        Homophobic is a strong word that is used too often these days. Campaigning against gay marraige – homophobic. Saying ”oh, you gonna kiss him *giggle*” – not.

        As for the use of the word packs for the Native Americans? THEY’RE WOLVES. Wolves run in a pack. Native American culture is based on amazing mythology, which i don’t doubt Meyer failed to do justice to. The word vampires has no association with pack.

        Unless I am mistaken, and apologies if that is so, but this blog (is it a blog?) is about how Twilight and Meyer are homophobic. The piece aabout the homoerotic poster however has nothing to do with either, but rather the cinema. In face one could say that Twilight/ Meyer was trying to promote the homoeroticism by producing that poster at all.

        The fight against homophobia had noble roots, but in recent times seems to have been reduced to bickering over details. Like many such movements (feminism springs to mind) it has reached the point where people seem to be argueing for the sake of it and in doing so does damage to those they critique. Meyer is far from a great righter but to call her homophobic seems far too harsh…

      • natalie wilson permalink*
        August 27, 2010 2:29 pm

        I agree with much of what you write. However, including homophobic jokes without some sort of condemnation from the narrator/other characters or via the plot line implicitly suggests homophobia is acceptable.

        The lack of gay characters is a problem across all sorts of texts — it reflects the heteronormativity of society. Meyer is far from the only “guilty” author in this regard.

        As per “Bella is a straight girl”: Bella is a character, she could have been written in any way Meyer chose, as could have Carlisle. She CHOSE to depict only heterosexual characters. This in itself is not a problem, but coupled with the homophobic jokes and her MONETARY SUPPORT OF A RELIGION THAT LEGISLATES AGAINST GAYS is problematic for me.

        Meyer radically departs from Quileute mythology and as far as I can tell got no permission to use this culture’s legends and beliefs. It’s a typical thing white. colonial authors have done through the centuries. That does not make it ok.

        The piece is pointing to homophobia generally – not only of the book/author but of society – and, yes, the film industry.

        Very telling that you criticize feminism and gay rights as “bickering.” This is exactly what the likes of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin do. Analysis is not bickering and to call it as much is in itself a political move that aims to keep the status quo, WHICH IS HETERONORMATIVE, in place.

  2. anon. permalink
    December 3, 2009 3:21 am

    Ah, more proof that the homosexual community is growing exceedingly more hetrophobic — one no longer has to dislike the practice of homosexuality, but simply not address its existence to be labled homophobic.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      December 3, 2009 4:36 am

      Why do you assume this post is speaking for “the homosexual community”? Does one have to be homosexual to care about homophobia? If you read the post (which it seems you didn’t) you will note I argue it is not the failure to address the existence of homosexuality that is the issue — it is the fact the characters mock and make fun of homosexuality. Are you and Phil in some sort of anti-hetrophobic cult that involves not reading posts before attacking them? Take my arguments to task by all means — but please don’t just name call with no analysis or counter-arguments.

      • anon. permalink
        December 3, 2009 3:56 pm

        Since you find the need to devalue my opinion based on the fact that I always forget the ‘e’ in hetero– I’d like to point out that you didn’t use it either. And stop being so afraid of opinions different to your own — such opinions do not always constitute arrogance. Also, your need to insult the “peeps” who take the time to comment on this blog only destroys the validity of your arguments.

      • natalie wilson permalink*
        December 3, 2009 4:23 pm

        You are absolutely right. That comment was in poor taste. I have a bad habit of making poor decisions just before bed. I am not afraid of opinions different from my own. I am, however, often too defensive. I felt insulted myself, from a commenter other than yourself, who indicated I was too stupid to realize the books were fiction. The danger of blogging and tweeting is that we are able to respond to quickly, before taking a deep breath that would prevent knee jerk reactions. I am still learning my lessons in this regard. I am sorry.

  3. Phil permalink
    December 3, 2009 4:44 am

    consider for a second that the people in the book are characters, that’s right, a revolutionary idea, and that maybe the characters are jesting and messing about? Why does a simple jest such as “Thought you were going to make out with him.” have to read as homophobic? So the second I suggest to a friend something along those lines makes me a homophobe? not really, I am not discriminating against homosexuals, I am making a jest at an action between friends, however, had they said “Thought you were going to get all gay with him” then that would be homophobic. My point is you have taken any sliver of evidence to support a weak argument, without looking at the context of the situation.

    Something to think about though, if Stephanie Meyer had included homophobic characters, would that make the book homophobic? no, it would merely mean there were characters in the book that *shock* *horror* imitate life, how absurd!

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      December 3, 2009 5:22 am

      Well, again, you have a rather arrogant tone, but, on to your comment:
      Yes, of course they are characters and yes they are “messing about.” If such “jesting” was a one-time deal, that would be one thing. But several characters engage in this — and, significantly, only the Native American characters (who are historically far LESS homophobic than their white colonizers). Yes, this is fiction, but we cannot pretend that fiction does not affect how we think and act in the real world, especially fiction as widely loved and embraced as Twilight. I recognize that this is only a tiny, tiny sliver of the book — but I also recognize the series itself is big enough to spark useful discussions around MANY topics, including homopophia. If you were a gay male reading the book, would you likely find that jesting/messy as funny or might it be hurtful? Perhaps put the shoe on the other foot, or the sexual desire on the other side of the spectrum, and think about it a moment. How would it feel to constantly be rendered invisible in textual media?
      Your claims that unless you use certain words you are not being homophobic ring false. It reminds me of people making racist jokes/comments and then claiming “it has nothing to do with race.”
      I agree with your last point – of course including homophobic characters does not necessarily make a book homophobic, in fact, it can end up creating a critique of homophobia! Silencing homophobia, mocking homosexuality, and pretending heterosexuals are the only people there are is far more dubious — especially when one tithes HUGE portions of money to a church that aims to criminalize/penalize/banish homosexuality.

      • anon. permalink
        December 3, 2009 3:09 pm

        Meyer does not pretend that homosexuals do not exist. Yes, she fails to include any characters that are same-sex orientated, but she in no way indicates that the heterosexual relationships she addresses are the only type of relationship in existence. She has simply decided not to represent them. As a writer, I respect her choice; she may choose to deal with whatever subject matter she likes, and leave out what she considers unnecessary to her storyline. It is her novel after all (this was the point I was trying to portray earlier, albeit rather poorly; absence of some element does not imply fear of that element. I apologise that this did not come across well in my earlier post). And I cannot help but feel that some would remain dissatisfied at the inclusion of a same-sex couple as the storyline regarding their relationship would no doubt take a back seat to the Edward/Bella/Jacob storyline. Also. the existence of same-sex relationships does not change the fact that heterosexual relationships are still more common in our society, and thus Meyer’s book can be said to represent the majority. Of course minorities should not be overlooked in general, but no book can represent all aspects of our society, and a writer is completely within their rights to choose to focus on a particular aspect.

        It is true that Meyer’s Quileute characters are the only ones to address homosexulity, however I don’t agree that these comments are homophobic — they are representative of our society. This, in itself, is sad. However, such comments do not indicate that the text is homophobic, but rather that Meyer has actually managed to represent our society — we assume any guy who would rather play princesses with a little girl than spend his time chasing women must be gay, and any close bond between two males must be something more than friendship. Again, this is exceedingly sad, and we all know that such stereotypes do not ring true. Also, this accurate representation of society is lost for something more sinister amongst the rest of Meyer’s work, which completely fails to come represent any semblance of reality. Returning to the fact that the Quileute characters are the only ones to mention homosexuality, despite the fact that they are historically more accepting of such issues of gender and sexuality — shame on Meyer for failing to do the necessary research, however such shortcomings are hardly surprising when you considering she wrote Twilight in 3 months.

        In regards to Meyer’s tithing, she is Morman, and thus she would no doubt have been tithing before Twilight was even thought up. Thanks to the Twilight franchise, she is now tithing a significantly larger amount than before, but she is still tithing, just as she would have been doing before. If you want to criticise Meyer for this practice, you should keep in mind that your criticism should not begin at the point where the money she tithes is now large enough to make a substantial difference. Her support for the Morman church would not have grown as the the amount she was tithing grew. And we cannot assume that Meyer supports the Morman church’s stance on homosexuality, or that she intended that her twi-dollars be used to support prop 8, unless she has indicated that this is the case. It is probably the case that Meyer gave her money to the church, and they used it as they saw fit. By all means feel free to criticise Meyer for supporting the Morman church’s stance on homosexuality, if she does indeed support it, but your criticism should not be based on the fact that she is now able to tithe an amount large enough to make a difference. Support is support, no matter how much money it is backed up by.

      • natalie wilson permalink*
        December 3, 2009 4:36 pm

        Thanks you for your thoughtful and thorough comment.
        My “beef” with the homosexuality in relation to Twilight really doesn’t derive from the texts themselves. Rather, it is driven by the surrounding issues of the Mormon’s church on homosexuality as well as homophobic responses to the series (as with the poster discussed in the blog). Yes, homosexuality doesn’t exist in the Twi universe, and, yes, some characters make homophobic jokes – but, more problematically, homophobia is embraced by many fans who read the series as re-asserting “true values” and “what a marriage should be.” (I am basing these observations on my experiences talking with fans at Twilight events. Events where I have also spoken with LGBTQ readers who feel silenced/insulted by the series/fandom.)
        I suppose I do judge the tithing more harshly now that her wealth means she offers more financial support to the church. I know this is partly spurred by living in California and witnessing Mormon dollars at work in the passage of Prop 8.
        I agree that we can’t assume Meyer supports the Mormon church’s stance on homosexuality, but, by giving money through tithing, she IS supporting it — just as when one shops at Wal-Mart — even if you don’t agree with sweatshop/slave labor, you are still supporting it. But I do recognize that Meyer is somewhat limited if she wishes to remain in the Mormon church — she could easily be excommunicated if she were to go public with certain ideas.
        Your comments as well as those of others have encouraged me to think more deeply about this and to realize my argument needs further work and more nuanced analysis. Thanks for your willingness to engage in this discussion.

  4. August 27, 2010 5:12 am

    .

    I do recognize that Meyer is somewhat limited if she wishes to remain in the Mormon church — she could easily be excommunicated if she were to go public with certain ideas.

    Just for the record, on this particular issue in particular, excommunication is wildly unlikely — especially if she were just “going public” with “certain ideas.” Look at the Mormons in Congress, for instance. They’re all over the place.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      August 27, 2010 2:37 pm

      From what I have heard from various Mormon woman as well as one who was excommunicated, the church is still very strict in its excommunication standards — especially when one puts ones beliefs IN WRITING. Perhaps those in Congress are less likely to be “punished” in this way because one, they are male and two, they are not directly going against church policy in writing…? What do you think? Do you know the statistic of how many Mormons are in Congress? Last I heard, it was not of the “all over the place” percentage…

  5. March 26, 2011 11:16 pm

    I was totally thrilled by this post. You nailed it. That is all.

  6. Tea and Jam permalink
    October 11, 2011 3:26 pm

    I really don’t think the books themselves are homophobic since most books don’t include gay couples, which is unfortunate. I wouldn’t say Harry Potter is homophobic, but it does bother me that in a series where The Power of Love is meant to be the Greatest Thing Ever and is the Glue that Keeps the Universe together, the most notable example of it being presented as a dangerous, destructive thing is… during the only homosexual romance in the series. I don’t think JK Rowling is a homophobe at all, but she clearly did not think her decision through very well (being gay myself, I felt the way she handled his homosexuality was patronising at best, and just ended up reinforcing more highly negative stereotypes. It bothers me that JK Rowling does seem to try to include a diverse cast in her books, but nearly all of her non white characters just end up being token characters who rarely get to do anything interesting or important, like the Patil twins and Cho Chang, which comes as even more frustrating in the UK, which is one of the more culturally diverse countries in the developed world.)

    I have to say I think there are a lot of things wrong with Twilight’s narrative, but homophobia is not one of them. Misogynist yes, due to Bella’s utter helplessness and lack of ambition outside of complete and utter devotion to the man she fixates upon in an incredibly unhealthy way,. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a wife and mother, feminism is about choice. It wouldn’t be so bad if she actually stood up for what she wanted and took control of the situation, like a good romantic heroine should do, but as soon as the Universe stopped giving her what she wanted, she curled into a ball and felt sorry for herself until the universe started bending itself to her whims again. She put no effort into making her dreams come true, and is utterly dependant on Edward’s wants and desires. It’s not healthy, not proactive and is pretty creepy and pathetic, and I would be saying that if we were talking about Bert the aspiring stay at home husband and Edwina the self loathing vampire girl.

    What annoys me however is how many people on your blog have called you nitpicky and say there is nothing homophobic about Twilight… but have ignored the fact that a large chunk of the obscene amounts the books and films generate for Meyer actually goes towards an institution that seeks to halt and reverse the civil rights of gay people. That is homophobia straight up, and it cannot be denied. That does not mean Stephenie herself is homophobic, but the fact that she continues to to allow her funds to bolster an orginization that seeks to strip away the rights of gay people and is completely silent on the issue is not doing her any favours. Until she speaks otherwise, I put her in the same catagory as Urban Outfitters, that goes out of its way to woo gay fashionitas, and donates the profits to orginizations that want to make sure those same gay fashionitas are not allowed to marry, adopt or protest when they are dismissed from their jobs by homophobic bosses.

Trackbacks

  1. What if Homophobia was Resisted Twilight style? « Professor, What If…?
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  4. What if you bite a gay person….? Twilight: The Texts and the Fandom Week 10 re-cap « Seduced by Twilight

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