Stranger Than Fiction: TV/Movie Characters that Inspired Queer Awakenings

From Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Disney's Robin Hood cartoon... a gay awakening can take mysterious forms.

queer awakening fictional characters

Everyone remembers their first crush. The moment when as a little kid, they saw someone else that stirred strange, new feelings inside. Even if they didn’t know what they felt, they knew it was special.

When asked, most people will remember their first crush being a fictional character. Whether it is James Bond, Jessica Rabbit, or Edward Cullen, it is a universal experience shared from generation to generation.

For some of us, that initial awakening means something else. The butterflies that multiply in our stomachs are whispering two little but monumental words:

“You’re gay.”

*Cue the internal gay panic*

Even if the butterflies aren’t one hundred percent on the money (sexuality is complicated), they make good points. Having a fictional character stir emotions and reveal inner truths is a shared experience, especially for Queer folks.

Whether it’s Peter Pan or Xena, there’s a lot to unpack.

Matters of Representation

jack harkness
BBC

Pansexual Spaceman and horndog Cpt. Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood (portrayed by John Barrowman) was born in the distant future, where thousands of different species coexist. He didn’t care about gender, race, or human-centric beauty standards.

Life was a buffet, and if something was hot and tasty, he’d eat it. 

Showcasing a bi or pan man as a tough, swashbuckling hero is a great bit of queer representation… especially for the mid-2000s when Cpt. Jack Harkness was gracing our TV screens. Still, a character doesn’t need to be textually or explicitly queer in order to cause an awakening. 

Subtextual or queer-coded characters are plentiful in the media, especially in bygone decades that were less accepting than the 2020s. Gender-bending icons like David Bowie in Labyrinth (1986) as Jareth, The Goblin King can inspire kids to question their own gender identity. 

labyrinth david bowie
TriStar Pictures

Or, as Reddit user ScreamingDeerSoul eloquently states:

“Jareth, The Goblin King. So mysterious, so sensual, so… Spandex.”

If you grew up before the age of Wi-Fi and Smartphones, then characters like these were a rare glimpse into the complex world of gender and sexuality. From Buffy to Ugly Betty and Ellen Degeneres, we had to take whatever LGBTQ+ representation we could get, even if it was problematic.

This was before the age of Drag Race and Heartstopper.

Representation of marginalized groups is wonderful to see when done well, but that is neither here nor there. This article is about the moment we all had when we sat in front of a screen and realized romance could take unexpected forms.

Very unexpected forms.

Feeling Pan at the Box Office

Movies and TV Shows are packed wall-to-wall with gorgeous actors. A character being played by a stone-cold fox doesn’t hurt, but that comes in second to the unique personalities brought to life. 

This is a case of Sexy vs. Hot.

Most stories tend to fall into one part of the rainbow, becoming a shared experience more familiar with one sexuality or identity than others. A handful cross boundaries and work for everyone. 

1999’s supernatural adventure The Mummy falls squarely in this category. This universal truth was perfectly explained with a wink on Twitter by @elle_enasalin:

Screen shot
Twitter.com

Reddit user GeekmomD backs this up with a meme that hits the nail on the head:

My-sexuality-is-the-mummy
Reddit.com

With a cast of smoke shows and brimming with charm, The Mummy has become a Bisexual cult classic. While peak-era Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz led the film, it wasn’t just physical attraction that won hearts everywhere. Rick O’Connell’s bravery and humor, Evelyn’s adorkable enthusiasm, and Ardeth Bay’s gravitas all sparked our interest. 

They sparked it a lot.

Redditor ROclimbingbabeCK responded to this meme in a way that showcases the effect movies like this can have:

“OH MY GOD! I have actually used this as an example to how I knew I was Bi. First sexual feelings happened for me while I watched this movie. Then I watched it 1000 times. I had a crush on everyone! I still do lol.”

Fellow Reddit user nikkuhlee added their experience:

“Patricia Velasquez [Anck Su Namun in the film] was the first photo I used as inspiration for a tabletop role-playing character, she has a special place in my heart.

And yeah, yeah looking back now this is incredibly accurate. How I made it to 28 before I thought “maybe I just like everyone?!” is a mystery.”

There are plenty of other movies and shows that are an embarrassment of riches, such as 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. Both Ragnarok and The Mummy feature badass women (Cate Blanchett and Rachel Weisz) that opened the eyes of Queer ladies the world over. 

And you know, Chris Hemsworth as a hammer-swinging Norse God isn’t inspiring complaints either.

hela-thor-ragnorok
Disney/Marvel

Small Screen, Big Impact

There may be a frustrating lack of great female characters in popular entertainment, but the ones we have are stellar. There is a rich history of bad-ass women stealing our hearts with heroes like Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Trinity (The Matrix), or Princess Leia (General Organa if you nasty).

The 1990’s blessed us with a cavalcade of strong, capable, and charismatic women on television. When talking about strong and sexy women of 90s TV, it is impossible not to start with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

(Quick note: As most fans have dealt with, it is tough to separate art from the artist. To sum up my feelings about Buffy and the multiple allegations against the creator: F*ck Joss Whedon, Scooby Gang for life.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was special for so many reasons, not the least of which is the dozens of memorable female characters. Many “girl crushes” were inspired by the core cast and supporting characters like Faith, Eliza Dushku’s scary/sexy anti-hero. 

One core character deserves a spotlight when it comes to first love: Willow Rosenburg.

willow
The WB

Redditor DismemberMama writes:

“Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There’s the Halloween episode in season 2, it was a great costume, and then I was real into Vampire Willow the next season. Nothing says sexual awakening like a character you already over-identify with coming out while you’re still in the closet trying to convince yourself that you just liked the vampire outfit instead of the person in it. There were other characters I had crushes on before that (only realized they were crushes years after the fact), but you gotta go with the girl that made you gay.”

Joining Buffy Summers in her quest to defeat evil and make us swoon, Lucy Lawless’s Xena kicked down walls for a generation of young women. When it comes to the Warrior Princess, Redditor mshep002 says:

“This was one for me where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be her or do her. <3 Xena”

xena
NBC

Swapping out the leather corset for a blazer, The X-Files graced Earth with Dr. Dana Katherine Scully. The cool-as-a-cucumber FBI agent brought to life with actor Gillian Anderson’s wit and confidence made smart the new sexy. 

I mean, look at her!

dana scully
Fox

Scully inspired more than just lady-boners and rad songs like Tacocat’s “Dana Katherine Scully.” 

During the show’s original run, there was a sharp rise in women entering STEM and Law Enforcement. Anderson discussed what was dubbed “The Scully Effect” at San Diego ComiCon 2013:

“We got a lot of letters all the time, and I was told quite frequently by girls who were going into the medical world or the science world or the FBI world or other worlds that I reigned, that they were pursuing those pursuits because of the character of Scully. And I said, ‘Yay!'”

Real-world change inspired by an empowered female character further illustrates the difference between crushing on a celebrity and falling for a work of fiction. It just goes to show how much a piece of fiction can affect the psyche in unexpected ways.

Whether you’re doing STEM or doing… other things.

Getting Animated

As mentioned before, developing feelings for a fictional character of your same gender is helped by the beautiful actors involved. One great example of the case for “sexy vs hot” is the cartoon characters that made us all feel funny inside.

Animated shows like Powerpuff Girls and Avatar: The Last Airbender brought action and adventure to kids everywhere, causing more excitement than intended. Redditor riosg9864 pointed out the obvious with Avatar’s Suki:

“A badass warrior woman with insane makeup skills? Every lesbian’s dream.”

suki avatar
Cartoon Network

Getting to spend season after season with a crush-able character helps solidify feelings over time. Also in the world of The Last Airbender, Firebender Zuko left a lasting impression on Redditor tstrandberg7:

“He was DEFINITELY my sexual awakening. I thought he was cute in Season 2, but by Season 3, he was full-on HOT.”

Personality goes a long way, ask anyone who swooned over an anthropomorphic animal in a Disney movie. Roxanne from 1995’s A Goofy Movie was so sweet and charming, young budding lesbians looked past the fact she was the same dog/human combo as Goofy. 

One critter stands alone when it comes to furry-adjacent lust: Robin Hood, the fox from Disney’s 1973 adaptation. Forgoing even queer-awakening, foxy Robin tops lists of amorous animations for straight folks as well. 

foxy robin
Disney

As someone who did not grow up with that version of Robin Hood (we were a Mel Brooks household) the scope of people’s crush on a forrest animal mystified me. Then I finally sat down to see what all the fuss was about. 

I totally get it now.

This post from Redditor corrine432 sums up Robin’s sex appeal perfectly:

“He had that V-neck, the cocky-but-sensitive attitude… That fox was a dreamboat.”

Given the popularity of Hentai, Adult Graphic Novels, and VR Porn Games, it’s safe to say that an attraction to cartoon characters (whether human or talking fox) is a trait that’s made its way into many of our adulthoods.

Inspiring a Generation of Queer People

When we are young, movies and television play a pivotal role in self-discovery. We get to experience worlds and meet people that could only exist in fiction, but just because they are a fantasy doesn’t make their impact any less real. 

It is so hard to articulate what is going on inside ourselves, especially as a confused young queer kid. These characters, and many more, helped tiny future LGBTQ+ folks understand themselves better and opened our eyes to what we want in life. 

Even if we didn’t realize it at the time!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the Han Solo costume I ordered for my partner just arrived and I’m feeling nostalgic. 

RELATED: “I occupy a niche simply by existing” We Speak To Trans Adult Performer Trip Richards

    • Justin Perlman (he/him) is a comedian and writer based in Atlanta. He has two cats named Dr. Whoopsy-Daisy & Superintendent Chalmers and cries at the ending of Robocop.

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