A YouTuber for All LGBTQ+ Film Geeks: Rowan Ellis


Gwen Christopherson

A Progress Pride Flag hangs from a house in Salt Lake City, Utah on Sept. 21, 2020. (Photo by Gwen Christopherson | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Cade Anderson, Arts Writer


From “36 TV characters who should have been gay” to “Liberation vs Assimilation in Queer Cinema,” the YouTube videos of Rowan Ellis are informative, fun and yes — very gay.

Ellis is a popular YouTuber who first popped up on my feed late last year when I was doing some digging into common female character tropes in movies. YouTube had recommended a video series of hers, in which she defines practically every LGBTQ+ character trope possible — and I was hooked. Ellis is engaging and incredibly intelligent — she’s equal parts podcast host and expert on the subject matter.

A screenshot from Rowan Ellis’ YouTube channel.

Queercoding, Queerbaiting and Queercatching

On her YouTube channel, Ellis looks at popular media through a critical queer and feminist theoretical lens. She dives into successful LGBTQ+ representation in film and TV versus three common forms of misrepresentation: queercoding, which the editors of Everyday Feminism define as “when writers hint that a character is queer without explicitly saying so”; queerbaiting, when “queer narratives are teased without every actually being presented,” writes Anthony Gramuglia; and finally, “queercatching,” a term many LGBTQ+ film geeks don’t know, since Ellis herself coined it.

Queercatching is the most recent of gay representation copouts. Ellis explains that it involves explicitly marketing and presenting a queer character or two, “but not following through in the piece in any meaningful way,” or even “retroactively telling the audience they were LGBTQ+ all along.” This is often done to intrigue and “catch” progressive and LGTBQ+ audiences without upsetting more conservative consumers too much. According to Ellis, queercatching can also be a matter of screenwriters and producers facing too much internal pushback against including gay narratives or simply being too lazy to actually try to tell them.

Examples include J.K. Rowling’s announcement that Dumbledore is gay — after all seven Harry Potter books had been published without mention of any LGBTQ+ characters — or J.J. Abrams’ promise that the last installment of the Star Wars Skywalker saga would feature a gay relationship. Many fans (spoiler alert) thought this relationship might be a romance between leads Finn and Poe, but it ended up being a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kiss between two background characters.

It might be tempting to applaud tiny moments like these as steps forward for representation, and Ellis isn’t quick to make black and white calls about who’s doing it right and who deserves to be canceled. But she carefully argues that queercatching attempts are easily edited out, easily dismissed by more conservative consumers with a roll of the eyes — doing more harm than good. 

A screenshot of Rowan Ellis’ YouTube channel.

Favorite Videos

Prior to checking out Ellis’ channel, I didn’t have a precise word to use when discussing popular media attempts to catch gay audiences. Ellis’ videos offer vocabulary and case studies to LGTBQ+ arts fans who want to better articulate what feels right and what doesn’t when it comes to the presence or absence of queer stories in media.

My favorite video is “The Evolution of Queerbaiting: From Queercoding to Queercatching,” which breaks down the timeline of these three misrepresentation tools. It’s an eye-opening half-hour crash course in queer theory and cinema. Other videos I love from Ellis include “Why Are Disney Villains Gay / Queer” and “comforting LGBTQ+ movies for difficult times.”

Critically evaluating movie subtexts is a favorite pastime of mine, and Ellis’ YouTube channel lets me do that on the bus or during breaks at work. Amongst a sea of lazy and profit-driven gay narratives in media, Ellis is a refreshing voice of clarity and camaraderie for LGTBQ+ film geeks.


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