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The MEL Guide to Gay Ghosts in Pop Culture

Queer phantoms are hiding all around us — from Casper to Georgie to (probably) James Buchanan

There are few outwardly queer spirits in supernatural movies, shows and folklore. Sure, we have ghoulie housewife Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched and a strapping, sexy Patrick Swayze in Ghost, both iconic — but where are the queer phantoms of the night?

In the horror genre, tales of fear and freakdom are often allegories for grappling with identity. Queer people fight to express themselves and be seen every day, and we’re used to claiming characters who weren’t designed for us. So it’s only fitting that horror films like Jennifer’s Body, The Craft and Interview With the Vampire resonate with so many of us.

But why are ghosts in particular the gayest of all Halloween ghouls? They never move on from their past grudges, they put on a cover to be seen and they have a past associated with closets. 

It’s finally Cocktober, and giant skeletons are popping up on yards all over the country. So earlier this week, I asked queer folks on Twitter to tell me about their favorite gay ghosts. From cartoon children’s movies to mascots of Silicon Valley social media apps, gay ghosts are everywhere. And nothing says “coded queer” quite like secretly lurking in plain sight. 

Casper the Friendly Ghost

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This boyish spirit from the 1950s is quite possibly the most beloved of all gay ghosts, and it’s not just because he knows how to keep a white look crisp and clean. In 2015, writer Miriam Kent penned a queer reading of the 1995 film Casper. The film has long been a favorite among queer people because queen Christina Ricci gives us the 2020-alt-girl blueprint in a white lace dress and lace-up boots as Casper’s love interest. The relationship is fraught, and not just because Ricci is a human and Casper is a bodiless spirit. “His soft, high-pitched voice and friendly qualities are contrasted by the assertive and somewhat more masculine vibe of the Ghostly Trio,” Kent writes. Casper is a pacifist. He won’t boo at people he dislikes and he tries to keep the peace. His decision to opt out of cultural expectations is hella queer.

James Buchanan

There’s a longstanding theory that our 15th president may have been gay. At the very least, he was known to, ahem, show affection toward other men. He was a lifelong bachelor following the death of his fiancée, Anne Caroline Coleman, in 1819. Several books have been written about Buchanan’s sexuality, including Thomas Balcerski’s Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King. Even Pete Buttigieg, who ran this year as the first openly gay presidential nominee, alluded to a possible queerness to former presidents. He told Axios last year, “I would imagine we’ve probably had excellent presidents who were gay — we just didn’t know which ones. I mean, statistically, it’s almost certain.”

Georgie

This classic children’s book by Robert Bright follows a sensitive little ghost, Georgie, who goes on a journey to find a house to haunt in a small New England town. If Casper is our boisterous ghoul, then Georgie is the gentle little specter. Krishnanand Kelkar of Brooklyn tells me that Georgie was his favorite children’s book. “I figure he must be gay — he’s clearly queering the idea of ghosts,” Kelkar says. “Also, he looks fab in that flowy getup.”

The Babadook

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Unlike many ghosts, the Babadook’s queerness is loud and outspoken. This monster, from a 2014 Australian horror story, became an instant queer icon in 2017 when The Babadook became a sleeper hit on Netflix. He lives in a wardrobe, and he haunts a suburban white family. Netflix even winkingly listed the film in its LGBT movie subgenre. 

The Babadook director Jennifer Kent finally acknowledged her monster’s queerness in 2019. “Of course, I love that story,” she told Bloody Disgusting of the gay Babadook memes. “I think it’s crazy and just kept him alive. I thought, ‘Ah, you bastard. He doesn’t want to die, so he’s finding ways to become relevant.’” A creature decked out in all-black and a top hat, who refuses to age? Honey, that is what we call a New York gay.  

Boo From Super Mario

He’s got strong eyebrows. His tongue is always out. He will emotionally and physically attack without warning. He thinks he’s invincible. Boo is a young gay who thinks he’s the shit. 

Snapchat Ghost

He dances when you refresh the app. He’s always blowing up your phone with selfies. And he keeps track of where your friends are at all times.

Alex and Willie of Julie and the Phantoms

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The two newest additions to the queer cultural canon are also some of the first openly gay celestial beings. Julie and the Phantoms, Netflix’s first good attempt at a Disney Channel-style series, follows a high school singer forming a band with three ghosts who’ve been dead for 25 years. One of her new twink bandmates is drummer Alex (Owen Joyner), who has an eBoy part and cross-body bag. But Alex is actually, explicitly gay: He slowly comes out and falls in love with fellow ghost Willie (Booboo Stewart), a SoCal skater. Finally, closeted kids have two gay ghosts to lust after. 

Grindr Ghosts

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Perhaps the scariest gay ghost of all is the guy who stops responding after you send him nudes on Grindr. Harrowing.