Queens in King
Unlike many other popular authors of our time, one thing that can be said for Stephen King is that he does not ignore the GLBT community. In his 154 works, queer characters are found in about 10% of them. King's gift is in portraying a real world, which includes the crassness found in each of us that we attempt to hide, and in displaying it unapologetically for the world to see. Unfortunately, this less than politically correct style can show a potentially damaging light on a community that is being constantly scrutinized for any aspect less than perfect.
But while we are visible in his works, this visibility is definitely not glamorized. Many of his GLBT characters represent the worst stereotypes of our community, and die in horribly vicious ways. This makes it easy to peg King as being homophobic, but the label may not fit as well as first impression may imply. While he is cruel to his queer characters, he is also cruel to most of his other characters. Heterosexual characters are often seen in an unflattering light, and give in to their base desires. As most of his fans would agree, King's books would not be the same if people didn't die in horridly grotesque manners. So, the real test in determining any homophobia on his part would be seeing if his queer characters are treated on a level equal to the straights.
The most obvious way to check if the queer community lives up to the straight community, in his view, is to find out what roles he assigns his queer characters.
"Desperation" is the story of a straight cop who gets consumed by an evil spirit. This spirit forces him to perform evil acts in the name of the devil. At one point in the story, he stops a straight guy in the desert and forces him to suck him off. A similar plotline in Rose Madder offers us a cop tormenting and sexually injuring a gay guy until the guy confesses to having seen a murder.
In Gerald's Game, we follow the life of a woman handcuffed to a bed who is trying to figure out a way to escape before she dies. While lying there, she encounters a sinister and disfigured figure who torments her and who she believes is Death coming to claim her. During most of the story, we are unsure whether this was a real being, or whether it was madness gripping her during her desperation to escape. However, in the last several chapters, we learn that this was a disfigured man who breaks into crypts to steal body parts from the dead and to have sex with the male corpses. This character is far from powerful and is only seen as a weak, pathetic and perverse man.
It is interesting to not that Ruth's voice is the driving force that gave the woman the confidence she needed to deal with her situation and to help her keep looking for a way to escape.
In Insomnia, we are told a story about two senior citizens who sleep less and less each night, which causes them to see and ultimately to manipulate mystical forces until they are able to participate in a strange ethereal war between good an evil. This novel has several positive gay characters. One of these characters, Gretchen Tillbury, is described as very feminine, beautiful and lesbian. She worked at WomenCare to help abused and needy women. Bill McGovern is also a positively portrayed gay male character who lives near the main characters.
'It' stands out of the crowd as a surprising tribute to the gay community in general. While the book has some negative gay representations, it spends about a chapter explaining how the gay community coalesced in the small town of Derry. The story of It revolves around an evil force that has the ability to take the form of a person's worst fears and to destroy them with it. This malevolent force has no real body, and almost godlike abilities in the area of fear. Because of this power, It also prefers to work on children, who experience fear the strongest. So, since the misfit children in the town were the only ones to know of the evil, they take it upon themselves to destroy it.
During the course of the book, a gay character is tormented and thrown into a canal by a group of homophobes, while his stereotypically effeminate lover watches on helplessly. We then learn of the homophobia of society and the police force in this town who feel the gay guys brought it on themselves by being obvious about their orientations.
Later, using this couple as a launching point, the book goes on to explain how a gay bar came into existence and a bit about the men who frequented it. The men, as a whole, are described in a very positive light. Through this part of the story, we also learned about the relationship between the two men. As mentioned, this description is quite lengthy, all things considered, and comes across as quite pro-gay.
In addition to Bill and Gretchen, Insomnia offered us a third queer character. Helen, the head of a women's health clinic, ends up leaving her abusive husband and becomes a lesbian. The character who discloses this information is an elderly man, who makes it clear that he thinks that she became a lesbian because of this abuse. However, Helen is well portrayed throughout the story.
The Talisman, more a dark fantasy novel than actual horror, follows Jack, a 12-year-old boy who sets off across the country to find the magic that will cure his dying mother. Jack's father had died years ago, as had his father's best friends. One of his father's friends, known to Jack as Uncle Tommy, was openly gay. Tommy was portrayed as a positive character, in memorandum. Tommy was killed by another of the father's friends, Morgan Sloat, had killed him off to get him out of his way by hiring some creatures from another dimension to run him down. He felt safe doing this because no one would care that a queer was killed.
Numerous times in The Talisman, Jack and Wolf, a werewolf that Jack befriended in another dimension before bringing him to this one, are accused of being gay. During the course of the story Jack and Wolf are put into 'The Sunlight Home for Wayward Boys" and are picked on mercilessly by a few of the crueler boys. These boys, at one point, beat them for appearing to be lovers (Jack and Wolf are not gay, which is made very clear throughout the story). But rather that being seen as doing something good, the boys are truly horrific and the readers are glad to see them torn apart by Wolf during his full-moon cycle.
The made for TV movie Storm of the Century brings us a town being tormented both by the storm of the century and by Linoge, a supernatural creature who forces the town to choose a child to sacrifice to him. If the townsfolk refuse, they risk losing every one of their children. This creature confronts the townsfolk with the worst things that they had done, which includes three of the men who had once bashed a gay man.
Needful Things, shows a twisted look at the hate lurking below the surface in each of us. In this novel, a shopkeeper opens a store that sells nothing but the objects you most desire. The monetary price of the objects is trivial and but is accompanied by a promise to play a small prank on someone you hardly know. The pranks themselves are designed to best enrage the folks and to turn them against each other. For example, to obtain her heart's desire, a piece of Noah's Ark, a Christian woman is told to leave an envelope on the high school principal's desk, and to force open his desk drawer and leave its contents strewn around. The contents turn out to be porn magazines featuring vastly underage boys. When Principal Jewett and his staff see these magazines, he automatically assumes that this was the work of woodshop teacher, who was also gay and had accompanied him to gay sex parties with children. His belief is 'confirmed' when he opens the envelope on his desk which contains a blackmailing note supposedly from this teacher, threatening to reveal his secret. The principal vows to kill him for what he's done to his career. Towards the end of the novel, the two gay men face off in an old-fashioned dual. They shoot simultaneously and their bullets collide in mid-air, deflecting them from their killing paths. The two seem to come to their senses, but are killed in an explosion set by other characters.
A book, that was much more popular as a movie, is The Shining, which focuses on a hotel that has seen more than its fair share of evil. The hotel is activated by a psychic child and lets loose a whole slew of 'ghosts'. These ghosts include two secondary male characters that have a sexual relationship. Harry Derwent is an 'AC/DC' man who enjoys the attentions of, and in abusing, Roger. During the course of their relationship Harry delights in tormenting Roger and at one point tells Roger to dress up as a dog in order to humiliate him at a party. This relationship was toned down in the original movie made in 1980, and consisted of showing a man in a dog costume approaching another man in a bed before the hotel room door was closed. The 1997 remake (more faithful except for the crappy ending), watered it down further and only showed a man acting like a dog at a party.
Numerous gay men asked Jack to have sex with them in The Talisman in spite of his being only 12 years of age. Openly gay men in California regularly asked him to have sex and would take it in stride when they were turned down. Closeted gay Midwestern men would freak out and accuse Jack of being gay himself, when he refuted their advances.
Gays are shown to do whatever it takes to get sex in King's short story 'Sneakers', which involves a radio station worker who discovers a ghost in a bathroom stall. His boss, Paul, is gay and puts the moves on him during the story, and is represented as fairly immoral and depraved. Paul is eventually found to be the one who murdered the man in the bathroom, solely to get his drug money.
Overall, women seem to be better treated than men, but tend to be turned to lesbianism as an alternative to suffering from abusive males, rather than due to their natural attraction to women. Male characters are generally just seen as perverse. But no minority status holds a candle to able-bodied heterosexual Caucasian men, his obvious favorite in both the hero and the villain role.
This slight homophobia is probably more seen as stemming from ignorance than from hatred. The fact that King accepts gays and lesbians has been shown in at least one interview, where King states that he prefers independent bookstores to chains because readers: