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"When I was a kid, I would get these headaches, and I went to the doctor, and they said that I needed glasses. I didn't understand that. It didn't make sense to me because I could see fine. And then I get the glasses, and I put them on, and I'm in the car on the way home, and suddenly I yell... Because the big green blobs that I had been staring at my whole life, they weren't big green blobs. They were leaves on trees. I could see the leaves. And I didn't even know I was missing the leaves. I didn't even know that leaves existed, and then... Leaves! You... are glasses. I am so gay. I am so, so, so gay! I am extremely gay!"
Every once in a while, you'll come across a character who has a very strong connection to a major character of the same sex. This new character will be very physically attractive and their other personality traits will appeal to the established character.
Congratulations! You have just met a Closet Key.
A Closet Key's initial purpose is to indicate to the audience, and sometimes to the established character they meet, that the said established character is gay. Fortunately, the Closet Key is usually gay too, so the relationships aren't instantly tragic
. Also, it is not necessary for either character's sexual orientation to be explicitly mentioned in the text; the trope can be used as a method of "gay coding" which leaves room for much debate.
Usually a Pretty Boy
for men, but not always. At an extreme level
you have the Relationship Sue
Also see Stupid Sexy Flanders
, which is what the Closet Key might initially invoke (and may continue to invoke in avidly heterosexual characters/audience members). In a sense, this is the inverse
of the Last Het Romance
in which a heterosexual character or relationship that (through its lack of chemistry or je ne sais quoi
) helps the gay character realize they're gay and out themselves.
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Anime and Manga
- In Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602-continuity, Angel is canonically gay (with the disguised (in drag) John/Jean Gray serving as his Closet Key, at least in the sense that "he" is the character by attraction to whom Angel's homosexuality is indicated). In other words, Angel thought Jean was a guy (there was much reason to) and still had the inner hots stirring.
- In The Desert Peach, the eponymous Pfirsich Rommel is the Closet Key to his "fiancé" Rosen Kavalier. Rosen sees Pfirsich at a cafe and declares he want to have him; Rosen's friend knows he a complete horndog, but have never known him to fall for a dude before. Rosen claims he doesn't care that Pfirsich is a man, and gay sex eventually follows (rather bad such, since Rosen isn't skilled and cheerfully rushes on as he would with a woman).
- In Doctor Who Magazine, companion Izzy sort of knows she's gay but doesn't admit it to herself or anyone else. She has a few honest moments on the brink of death, and develops Les Yay friendships with fellow companions Fey (a queer androgyne) and Destrii (who goes for Anything That Moves), but is still terrified of her sexuality. Both serve as a Closet Key for her: she realises that her own problems are nothing compared to Destrii's when the two get into a violent Mind Meld, and decides to stop lying to herself because of that. After which she immediately has a nice proper snog with Fey.
- Maya ends up being this for Ritsuko in Nobody Dies. It works because of two factors. First, since Yui didn't die, Gendo is off the market. Second, Ritsuko helped come to this conclusion via the sight of Maya shaking her groove thing in a plugsuit. Still took a few dozen chapters before anything serious came of it.
- In Kira Sweetheart L to Light:
This was L's fault. What with that long dark hair and slender frame and the way he'd curled his toes cutely into chair cushions as he'd lick the frosting off a doughnut with that talented tongue of his that tasted so nice...
That was just it. L was... girly and confusing. His habits arousing protective instincts even in his enemies... Yeah, that must be it! Well played, Ryuuga. Well played.
- In the pro wrestling story, A Ring Of Their Own, Beth Phoenix is this to Layla, including sing-songing "I turned you gay" at her.
- In If Thems The Rules, Harry is unfortunately one to Arcturus Black despite not being particularly handsome or beautiful.
- Draco was Harry's key in Surviving. Harry described it to Blaise Zabini as Draco "finding his inner gayness."
- Happens a lot in The History Boys fandom, especially with Posner and Scripps.
- In the Crack Fic A Charmed Life Ryuk is this for Light.
- The introduction of Juliet in Heavenly Creatures. Not only do her personality and interests perfectly compliment Pauline's, she is constantly shot in a romantic/idealised way, never more so than when Pauline visits her house for the first time. Whatever the true story was, the film frames it as a love story between Pauline and Juliet- and Juliet is most certainly the Closet Key.
- Tombstone: Billy, played by Jason Priestley, has a reaction along these lines to the lead actor of a traveling theater company, played by Billy Zane. He's enraptured by the actor's performance, inviting him to sit at his table in the saloon; his Heel-Face Turn is later prompted by the man's murder.
- Luce, in the film Imagine Me And You, is this to the main character Rachel. They meet on Rachel's wedding day, and the rest of the film is Rachel's increasing denial about her feelings.
- The two male leads in Brokeback Mountain, for each other. Or at least Jack, for Ennis. There's some evidence to suggest that Jack had accepted his own sexuality even before meeting Ennis.
- Naomi and Michelle for each other in The Secrets.
- Mishima A Life In Four Chapters has an interesting variation where the key in question is actually an object. The famous painting of a bare-chested Saint Sebastian being pierced by arrows that prompts Kimtakes first act of masturbation.
- "I trembled with joy, my loins swelled, my hands unconsciously began a motion I have never been taught."
- The key for Zac from C.R.A.Z.Y. is his cousin's boyfriend Paul. However it's another interesting variation in that he denies that he's attracted to Paul, even to himself. So it's more like Zac just puts the key in his pocket and looks at it from time to time, but refuses to open the door.
- In Plan B Bruno tries to invoke this trope with the reportedly bi-curious Pablo to make him confused enough to break up with Laura so that he can get back together with her. He succeeds, but discovers that Pablo has become his own Closet Key — or at least a Sometimes You Just Fall In Love With Another Guy Closet Key — too.
- In Out At The Wedding Risa is this to Jeannie. Jeannie was in denial about being gay and the movie begins with her marrying her boyfriend. Eventually she begins falling for Risa and by the end she's broken up with her husband.
- In When Night Is Falling, uptight conservative teacher Camille Baker meets free spirited circus performer Petra Soft, whom she eventually falls in love with.
- In Adaptation by Malinda Lo, Reese's attraction to Amber makes her realize she is bi.
- Magnus Bane from Literature Mortal Instruments can be classified as this.
- Michael Chabon:
- In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, known gay character Sammy Clay encounters radio actor Tracy Bacon who is described as "well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, with a dimple in his chin and glossy blond hair" with "distinctly visible" muscles. While Sammy's attraction to Bacon is not a revelation to himself nor the reader, it does open the closet doors to Sammy's family; Sammy's mother knows after one dinner with them that their interest is romantic, even before Sammy himself notices.
- In The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Arthur Bechstein constantly describes Arthur Lecomte's apperance in obsessive detail, commenting on his shoe brand, the stubble on his jawline, the color of his chest hair and the way he blushes, among other characteristics. He even admits that he's fixated on him hours after meeting him, after a page-long soliloquoy on Lecomte's homosexuality. It doesn't really come as a shock to anyone when they do it, though it takes about 2/3rds of the book to get there.
- Harry Potter: J. K. Rowling's revelation that Albus Dumbledore was in love with Gellert Grindelwald is not surprising in light of this trope. At almost every opportunity in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Grindelwald is variously described as a "handsome," "merry-faced" man whose "golden hair fell in curls to his shoulders." He was also the nearest Dumbledore ever had to an equal, in intellect and talent, besides Voldemort.
- Literature Second Apocalypse: Due to this trope, an attentive reader may guess that Cnaiür is closet gay long before the text finally says it relatively plainly.
- Tayend from The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan is a pretty classic example of this. The very first thing the reader learns about Tayend is that he's beautiful. His long blond hair and form-fitting clothes are described constantly, and all from Dannyl's point of view. Dannyl's open-mindedness does make the situation a little easier.
- This is actually a pretty unusual example, as Dannyl was once aware that he was gay, he'd simply started subconsciously used magic to suppress it to the point where he "forgets" and Tayend was on hand to remind him again.
- Kitty Butler of Tipping the Velvet is a rare female instance of this trope. Since she's a masher- a music hall artiste who dresses as a man- she appeals to the heroine in both male and female guises. Thanks to this being a Sarah Waters novel, the relationship is not left to subtext.
- Middlesex: The Object (short for "The Object of My Desire,") serves this purpose for Calliope, hence the nickname.
- In James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, the protagonist John Grimes spends a lot of time admiring his Sunday School teacher, Elisha, especially his "leanness, and grace, and strength" and would often be too distracted to follow the lesson. Baldwin, who was himself gay, freely admitted that the novel is semi-autobigraphical.
- Cece is this to Holland in Keeping You a Secret. That's the whole point of the book.
- Heralds of Valdemar: In The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, Herald-Mage trainee Tylendel is this for Vanyel; in fact, he's the reason Vanyel discovers that homosexuality even exists, his homophobic family having done their best to prevent him from ever learning about it.
- Clive Durham from Maurice. He helps Maurice realize his homosexuality. However Forster really only describes his physical appearance once (and very vaguely too).
- In Odd Girl Out, Laura admits that "her own high school crushes had been on girls," but she doesn't believe they meant anything. Her relationship with Beth helps her accept that she really is homosexual.
- In Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness, the first two books of Lynn Flewelling's LiteratureNightrunner series, Seregil is this to Alec, first introducing him to sexuality in general, then easing him into the strange notion of bisexuality as a social norm, then they fall in love. It takes until the middle of the second book, but the way is pretty clear from the beginning, with Alec getting all kinds of confused when seeing Seregil in drag, and later choosing a female prostitute who reminds him of that look.
- In The Heritage of Hastur (of Marion Zimmer Bradley's voluminous Darkover series), Danilo Syrtis is this for Regis Hastur (in more ways than just the sexual - Danilo's magic power is to release that of others, and since in this Verse magic is linked to sexuality, well...); technically Regis is also the Closet Key for Danilo, in an It's Okay If It's You kind of way.
- In Tanya Huff's Smoke and Shadows trilogy, protagonist Tony Foster proves to be this for his crush, actor Lee Nicholas.
- Annie for Liza in Annie on My Mind.
- Sammy for Wayne in The Book of Joe.
- Lara is this for Bree in Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan.
- Rafael for Skylar in Gives Light.
- Battle Hall Davies (yes, that is her real name) for Nicola in Empress of the World.
- Heart In Hand:
- Alex, for Darryl. Although Darryl does not express attractions to other men even after meeting Alex, he identifies as gay by the end of the story.
- Darryl for Alex is a downplayed example. Alex states that he has "fooled around" with male partners before, but it's implied that Darryl is the first time he had fallen in love with a guy, and that Alex did not consider himself bisexual before.
Live Action TV
- Susan to Ellen in Ellen.
- Obligatory Buffy the Vampire Slayer example: Willow is, aside from a few hints, considered entirely straight; then, after her break-up with Oz, she meets Tara, and suddenly is no longer interested in the "stubbly" side of things.
- Chris Keller for Tobias Beecher in Oz. While Tobias points out that he has been in sexual relationships with men before (usually without his consent, not that he's willing to refer to it like that), he never loved another man before Keller and finds it difficult to understand how they can connect like a "man and a woman" would.
- In Everybody Loves Raymond, Robert tells Ray about a fellow police officer who had no idea he was gay until his Closet Key came to the door one day (a pizza guy or cable guy or something), and they now live together in Hawaii. Ray then considers the possibility that everyone has a Closet Key, and that neither of them have met "Mr. Right". This mentality lasts at least until the end of the episode: when confronted with an extremely attractive UPS worker, Ray is extremely uncomfortable until he leaves. At which point, he passionately kisses his wife just to make sure.
- Brittany to Santana in Glee. An odd example where the two of them already had been best friends and sexual partners for a while when the Key-moment happened. What happened was this: Brittany and Santana were playing the Bi the Way-game, having numerous male partners while "just having fun" with each other behind closed doors. This worked until Brittany got a serious boyfriend, and asked Santana to stop her bullshit and explain what she meant to her. A lot of thinking made Santana realize that she was only interested in Brittany, and that all those guys had been her way to hide her feelings from herself.
- Kurt is this for David Karofsky.
- Another odd example is, again, with Kurt. In the first season, he had a crush on Finn, and despite Finn being straight, Kurt kept trying to seduce him anyway. He ended up trying to turn himself into Finn's Closet Key, and was somehow convinced that he could somehow turn Finn gay for him - and he ended up doing some pretty manipulative things to try and make this happen. It didn't work, but considering that they're now step-brothers and happy with that, then you could argue that that's a good thing.
- In Torchwood, Jack is this for Ianto. Ianto's a bit bothered by it, as shown in season 3, and claims that he'd never experienced attraction to a man before. They become a proper couple.
- Callie is this to Erica in Greys Anatomy, although the metaphor she opts for in a heartbreaking monologue is "glasses," referring to the stunning clarity provided to her the first time she got glasses as a child. Erica, in turn, shows Callie that she is Bi the Way...and then tells her that "you can't be kind of a lesbian," and then leaves the show forever because the powers that be didn't think their relationship "sparkled" enough. She is then replaced by the younger, bubblier and cutesier Arizona, to whom Callie is now Happily Married.
- Noah's Arc: Noah is this to Wade.
- As the World Turns: Luke is this for Noah while Kevin was this for Luke.
- ER's Kerry Weaver was apparently completely unaware that she was gay until meeting Lipstick Lesbian Dr. Kim Legaspi. Even then, it's not until Kim points out Kerry's behavior—frequently calling on her for consults, etc, that Kerry realizes that she's been acting like someone with a crush. They soon begin a relationship but break up due to Kerry's constant wavering. Not until several months later does Kerry blurt out that she's a lesbian, and even then, it's not to Kim, it's to someone making derogatory comments about her. Although it doesn't work out between the two, following this, Kerry pursues several lesbian relationships with ease, even "marrying" and having a child with one woman.
- The Mighty Boosh : Howard was implied to be in love with and to have kissed his mentor Tommy in the past, but it wasn't until he made out with his best friend Vince that he was realized he was bisexual, though he claimed he was gay at the time due to being overwhelmed by how much he enjoyed kissing Vince.
- Vince also believes himself to be everyone's closet key (And demonstrates this to be true a few times), when he's not on the receiving end of If Its You Its Ok. Howard may also be the Hitcher's closet key.
- Teased, then averted by Claire and Edie in Six Feet Under. Claire is coming off of several bad relationships with men when she experiments with lesbianism with Edie, but it doesn't work out. She comes to the conclusion that it was partly If It's You, It's Okay, partly Even the Girls Want Her and partly that she was just feeling temporarily disillusioned with the opposite sex, but ultimately she is still more or less completely straight.
- Hanschen is this to Ernst in Spring Awakening.
- The Knight of Chiffreville is this to Don Juan in the french re-writing of the famous play.
- An unfortunate example in The Children's Hour. Possibly in denial, or confused about her feelings, for several years it takes a child's Malicious Slander to make Martha realize she's gay.
- Played with in Persona 4. Naoto at first appears to be Kanji's Closet Key, but then it turns out Naoto's a girl. When he discovers this, Kanji has already decided that he's comfortable with his sexuality, so it's less of a eureka moment and the game is ambiguous enough to leave Kanji's sexuality as, well ambiguous. Is Kanji gay but has a If Its Youits Okay thing for Naoto? Was he straight all along but actually confused thanks to his love of sewing and cute things? Is he bisexual? None of the above? Heck, the game doesn't even says outright if Kanji and Naoto ever got together or not after it was all over.
- One could say that Big Boss is this to Ocelot in Metal Gear Solid 3. Also it's suggested that Raikov is this to Volgin.
- In Gone Home, Lonnie ends up being this to Sam. Or at least she is the person that Sam dared to open up to since she late at the game refers to herself (and her sister) "having known since She-Ra". And possibly vice versa, but it's less clear whether Lonnie was aware of her sexuality before meeting Sam.
- Ash of Misfile might be a double unlock. Emily is ambiguous since she herself isn't sure if her attraction to Ash is regardless of her gender or if her being female is a factor. Missi, on the other hand, didn't know about Ash once being male and became interested in girls through her as a result.
- In World of Fizz, Dawn reveals early on that she had a crush on Kelli since the first grade, and the two later enter into a relationship.
- Cuanta Vida: Bleu for BLU Scout (doesn't stop him from calling Bleu homophobic names, though.
- Possibly alluded to in Rip and Teri, when Tatanya uses the book The Picture of Dorian Gray as a conversation topic while trying to ascertain whether Teri likes women.
- Ellen in El Goonish Shive, a magical Opposite-Sex Clone of Nanase's ex-boyfriend Elliot. Ellen's creation involved a glitchy Magitek device capable of turning men into beautiful women with "super pheromones", combined with an ancient magical artifact ostensibly designed to remove curses, but actually spawning a clone of the victim's cursed form in the process. When Nanase started spending time around Ellen, she assumed any physical attraction she felt was the result of those pheromones, but Susan eventually informed her that the pheromones had worn off before Nanase met Ellen, triggering Nanase's Suddenly Sexuality realization. note
- Questionable Content: Photos of fetish model Veronica Vance helped Dora realize she was bisexual. Now, years later, she was dating Veronica's son, though the two eventually broke up.
- Penny and Aggie: Aggie, for Penny. Lisa, for Sara and Aggie.
- The author of Niels heard this phrase used to describe the title character and decided to run with it.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Kat and Paz appear to be this for each other. At one point, Paz mistook Kat's compliments for flirting, which led to a fairly awkward moment at the time. But later we find out that this caused Paz to realize she actually likes Kat. So Paz asked Kat out... and Kat said yes.
- Played with in Exiern. If this◊ two-page spread is any indication and Peonie is implying what it sounds like, Denver may retroactively be one for Tiffany. The twist is that by the time they meet, Tiff had already been afflicted by her Gender Bender curse and was now female.
- Sonya of Ménage à 3 thought she was straight until she met Zii, who rapidly seduced her. Actually, she continues to insist that she's Not A Lesbian, but simply loves Zii, but it's obvious to anyone who pays attention that she's been unlocked as bisexual.
- Leslie may have been a very slow-acting version of this to Robin in Shortpacked!. Robin's first girl-crush was Amber, but Robin only realized this herself after she started dating Leslie (and she continued to identify as "straight with an exception" for a good while after that).
- Dumbing of Age - Ethan seems to have become this for Danny. They first meet because of their shared concern for Amber, but hit it off due to their nerdy interests and Danny's banter starts sounding flirty quite quickly. One Suggestive Collision later...
- Duke Devlin from Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series. This is what Joey Wheeler says of Duke: "What does he have that I don't got?... Besides the fangirls?... And the pretty hair?... And those gorgeous green eyes?" Duke then reminds Joey about his "sweet ass," and Joey admits, "Yeah, and a sweet ass too! But other than that, he's got nothing."
"Warning: This episode contains copious amounts of Duke Devlin. Women with heart conditions are advised not to look directly at Duke Devlin. This also applies to women without heart conditions. See? See how pretty he is? He's VERY pretty. I want to run my fingers through his hair, and I'm just a voice. Anyway, enjoy your crappy anime cartoon."
- Also, Florence for Marik. There were indications he was gay before they met (in flashbacks, anyway), but the two have a ridiculous amount of UST going on, and in Marik Plays Bloodlines part 6, Marik finally admitted that he was gay and had a thing for Florence. Florence, on the other hand, has been out all along.
- The Tumblr image gallery "Am I Gay?: A Journey of Self-Discovery with Shang" has fun with the Sweet on Polly Oliver aspect of Mulan by giving the story from Shang's perspective. Before he learns the truth about her actual gender, he thinks of "Ping" as his Closet Key.
- Subverted in Daria. Despite initially freaking out when guest star Allison makes a pass at her, Jane visibly begins warming up to the idea soon after. However, much to the chagrin of fanfic writers everywhere, learning just how much of a self-serving bitch Allison really is finally puts Jane off girls.