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Kara: There's something about me that, for most of my life, I've run from it. But last night, I embraced who I am, and I don't want to stop.
Winn: Oh my god, you're a lesbian. Oh, Kara, that's why you're not into me? This is great news.
Kara: I'm not gay.
Supergirl (2015), "Pilot"

This character is different. There's something about them, something that has a huge impact on their life and shapes who they are, but they have to keep it a secret. If anyone finds out they could be rejected by their loved ones, socially ostracized, or worse. They might hate this part of themselves and just want it to go away or they might embrace it and lament the fact that no one can ever know.

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No, they are not gay. Why would you even ask that?

They have superpowers. They have magical powers. They can talk to animals or ghosts. They're not queer but something sets them apart from everyone else in their life in exactly the same way that being queer would. It feels like someone wanted to talk about it without actually talking about it.

The result is a story that looks suspiciously like a Coming-Out Story or a story about being outed or dealing with homophobia or accepting yourself even though it's ostensibly about something else. The character may be Ambiguously Gay or Ambiguously Bi, but you can bet they have a huge LGBT Fanbase. The trait that mimics sexual orientation will usually be magical or supernatural in nature and will often be something that those around them have a legitimate reason to fear, leading to Unfortunate Implications.

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These stories will always involve a secret about the character that which, if it's revealed, could have serious consequences. Other indications that this is happening often include:

  • The thing that the character must keep secret isn't something they have in common with family members
  • When the character talks about telling people, it's referred to in-universe as "coming out"
  • Others suggest that the character could be "cured"
  • The character telling their family about themselves or their family finding out is given special importance
  • Others finding out about the character's secret could cause them to be socially ostracized, rejected by family members, and/or lose their job or housing.
  • Other's finding out about the character's secret could put the character in danger of physical harm or arrest
  • The work has an over-arching theme of acceptance
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  • The work has an overarching theme of self-acceptance where the character starts out hating or fearing that part of themselves
  • The work has an over-arching theme of community where a character spends a large portion of their time with others like them, often having to hide it from their family
  • The media does not have any canonically queer characters while this story line is taking place

In self-contained media, such as a movie, that uses this trope, the story often begins with the character being "outed," leading to ridicule that sees the character at their lowest point. The character must then learn to accept themselves and use their power or ability to save the day, and the movie ends with their loved ones accepting them too. In longer-running media like TV shows, the character is more likely to completely accept themselves from the beginning and have some other reason to want to keep everything secret, inevitably leading to drama when other characters come close to finding out.

When done intentionally, this can allow a creator to explore queer themes in situations where queer characters aren't allowed or without alienating a conservative audience. When done unintentionally, it can make for some entertaining cell phone footage of flustered creators trying to answer expected gay questions at cons.

Note that while superpowers and magical abilities are the common traits that are used for this type of metaphor, this trope is not limited to superpowers and magical abilities.

Compared to Fantastic Racism, where a fictional species is used as a stand-in to talk about problems faced by people of color, and Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?, where any group of fantasy creatures or people with powers are used as a stand-in to talk about any marginalized real-life group, this trope is usually used on a more individual level. The character may be the only person with their power or ability that they know of, and if they are part of a larger community, the work will often focus more on their personal journey towards acceptance rather than the overarching societal repercussions.

Also similar to Gay Aesop and But Not Too Gay. Subtrope of Applicability.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Pokémon:
    • Pokémon: Go West, Young Meowth can be interpreted as a transgender allegory. Meowth defies the expectations of his species by learning how to walk and talk like a human being, only to be shunned as a freak by the one he was trying to impress. In the end, one of the reasons he sticks with Team Rocket even though they're not only criminals, but loser criminals, is because they actually accept him for who he is. Notably, this episode was reportedly the reason why the late Maddie Blaustein came out as transgender.
    • Pokémon Adventures: Ruby is an effeminate Camp Straight boy who runs away from home because his father Norman doesn't like him being a Pokémon Coordinator (which is a feminine thing) and would prefer if he battled instead. To make matters worse, when Norman finds Ruby he physically assaults him, though it also turns out that Norman was fine with Ruby being a Coordinator.

    Comic Books 
  • Runaways:
    • In the original series, Karolina's grappling with the discovery that she is an alien was a not-at-all subtle metaphor for her growing realization that she's a lesbian. The second series decided to stop beating around the bush and had her come out to her friends.
    • Klara's Green Thumb abilities are weak when she is still a self-hating homophobe, and then get exponentially stronger as she learns to value herself and as her Romantic Two-Girl Friendship with Molly develops, with some of her more impressive displays of power occurring when she wants to protect Molly from danger. It's also worth noting that her power usually manifests itself in the form of red roses, which are traditionally a symbol of intense romantic love.
  • After the cooldown of the massive race civil rights movement in the 60's and 70's, the entire X-Men franchise is seen as one huge metaphor for gay people (as opposed to the original more racism-focused premise). Mutant powers are expressed during one's teenage years, sometimes mutants are obvious at first glance while other times they're not, and it can happen to literally anyone, regardless of race or social status. This leads to the point of extreme Lampshade Hanging, as Mutants who can pass for human are sometimes referred to be "in the closet", their greatest opposition are conservative Christians who think their mere existence is sin, and there's an ever-present movement to cure them of their condition.
    • To stay relevant with the times, in the '90s during the gay AIDS epidemic, mutants were given a disease called the Legacy Virus that was essentially mutant AIDS, which the writers refused to find a cure for "until AIDS is cured". Apparently, nobody at Marvel actually expected a cure for AIDS to elude humanity for over two decades, so it became a Plot Tumor of asking the greatest scientists in the universe who can create dimensional portals and cybernetics "When is that cure coming again?", every month. So the cure was eventually found.
    • Parodied in ItsJustSomeRandomGuy's Youtube series ''I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC'::
      Superman: But I've got friends who are mutants! Like... uh, Spider-Man?
      Spider-Man: Hey, I'm not a mutant! ...Not That There's Anything Wrong with That.
    • Taken to its logical extreme in Dark Avengers-X-Men: The Beginning, where it's revealed that the San Francisco neighborhood known as the Castro is a mutant neighborhood instead of a gay community like in real life. Vote no on Prop X and all that.
    • A special issue that deals with a teenage boy being "outed" as a mutant. After training to control his powers, he goes home to find that his parents, originally rejecting him, have finally accepted him; that the girl he had a secret crush on is now interested in him; and that his oldest friend since they were babies has shut him out completely. Hmmm...
    • Many real-life minority-rights groups are beginning to find the association a bit condescending, considering comics' ongoing problem with diversity, seeing it as the co-opting of a struggle for characters that are overwhelmingly straight and white.
  • In Young Avengers, Wiccan (who is gay) attempts to tell his parents that he has superpowers. They misunderstand and assume he's trying to come out to them, and tell him that they knew and that they accept him.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In the Mega Crossover fanfiction, Child of the Storm, upon finding out that Bobby Drake has mutant powers, his mom is in total denial, his brother thinks he's a monster, and his father tells him "okay, but you better hide it" (though he's more positive about it once Professor X turns up with the demonstrable ability to help Bobby get a handle on his powers).

    Films — Animated 
  • In Frozen, Elsa has magical powers that she was born with. Her parents hide her away and pressure her to try to control them and she ends up afraid of them and of herself. This leads to her being outed in front of a crowd of people and then fleeing as those around her suddenly turn on her. She only gains some control over her powers once she's alone in the wilderness and is finally able to be herself (after singing a song with lyrics like "Couldn't keep it in, heaven knows I've tried," "I don't care what they're going to say," and "that perfect girl is gone"). She later learns that the key to controlling them is love, but not before they cause her to be sentenced with a crime and nearly killed.
    Elsa: Don't let them in. Don't let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal, don't feel, put on a show. Make one wrong move and everyone will know.
  • The plot of Incredibles 2 revolves around legalizing superheroes, making it rife for all kinds of civil rights-related metaphors. In particular, Voyd explicitly equates being allowed to be a superhero with being able to be herself and is overjoyed to join a group where everyone is like her.
  • In ParaNorman, Norman can speak to the dead. His power has isolated him from his family and caused him to be ridiculed by his peers. When Norman's powers are exposed during a school play, his father, who wants him to be more "normal," grounds him. Norman is told by the ghost of his grandmother that it's okay to be scared as long as he doesn't let it change who he is. Norman is able to save his town after he is able to bond with the wrathful spirit over their shared status as outcasts, and in the end, Norman's family accepts him along with his power.
  • While some have chosen to read the basic storyline of Spider-Man as queer regarding the hiding a part of your identity from those around you, others find that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse especially resonates, with the spider-people sensing others like them being reminiscent of 'gaydar,' and Miles asking his father if he really hates Spider-Man, just like queer people often ask their families how they really feel about LGBTQ+ people and issues before coming out.
  • The entire first half of Happy Feet can be read as a coming-out story, with tap-dancing being a metaphor for homosexuality; Mumble's mother supports him, his father doesn't, and Mumble eventually gets exiled for it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • X-Men:
    • In X2: X-Men United, after Iceman, surrounded by his mutant friends, tells his parents he's a mutant, his mother asks him when he first knew, blames herself, and asks him if he's tried not being a mutant while his brother storms out of the room and calls the police.
    • In X-Men: The Last Stand, Angel's status as a mutant is a clear sexual orientation metaphor. The film begins with his anti-mutant father walking in on him trying to cut off his wings as a child to hide his mutation. His father throws himself into developing a "cure," which his son is supposed to be the first to test. At the last minute, he decides he doesn't want to be cured and flees, seeking refuge at Xavier's school, where he is surrounded by other mutants for the first time and learns to be proud of his status as a mutant.
    • The author of the article Ellen Page has super-powers, but why is this newsworthy? milks this for all it's worth where he writes an article discussing X-Men actress Ellen Page coming out by replacing every mention of homosexuality with "mutant with super-power" and ran with it.

    Literature 
  • The children's picture book Goblinheart: A Fairy Tale intentionally uses Trans Nature characters as a metaphor for transgender youth. Julep is a fairy who insists they're a goblin. Julep meets a younger goblin named Tuck who insists they're a fairy.
  • In the Harry Potter books, Remus Lupin is specifically coded as a gay man with AIDS. Because of his lycanthropy, he was almost unable to attend school as a child and cannot find a job. When he is exposed as a werewolf at the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he has to leave the school because parents won't want him teaching their children. Additionally, he acquired lycanthropy after being preyed on as a child by a revenge-seeking adult male werewolf who habitually targeted children in order to pass the condition to them, which, while not accurate to gay men with AIDS, was a common stereotype in the 1990s when the book was written.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Dinosaurs episode "I Never Ate For My Father" treats vegetarianism like a combination of drug use and homosexuality.
  • Once Upon a Time
    • When Emma starts showing signs of having magic in season 4, her magic is treated this way. Season 4A sees Elsa, who has largely accepted her powers at this point, help Emma accept hers as well. In Smash the Mirror, Pt.1:
      Elsa: They accept us for who we are, and that's important, but it's not enough. It's on us too. You have to love yourself, Emma. The good and the bad. The only way to ever be truly in control of your powers is to embrace them. Because this... this is who you are.
    • This trope comes back in season 5A with some Unfortunate Implications. After Emma becomes the Dark One but before the plot gets derailed, much of the storyline consists of her family and friends trying to "fix" her darkness and get her back to the person they knew her as, while Emma insists that this is who she is and they need to accept her. We'd previously found out via Flashback that Snow had a vision that Emma might turn out to be evil before she was born, so she and Charming tried to cast all the darkness out of her as a precaution.
  • Supergirl (2015)
    • Kara being an alien is treated this way, to the extent that she and other characters refer to her becoming Supergirl as "coming out" several times. In the pilot, Kara tells Alex that she's always felt the need to help people, and Alex worries about people figuring out "who you are... what you are." In season 2, we also learn about the presence of alien bars that are hidden in remote locations and require a password to get in, reminiscent of forties-era gay bars.
    • In "Livewire", Kara refers to Alex telling her mother that she works for the DEO as "coming out." This turns out to be the first of two Thanksgiving episodes that have Alex coming out to Eliza.
    • Dreamer's status as an alien and transgender woman is baited and switched a few times, and she "comes out" as both at once as a show of solidarity. Plus her powers also tie into her own coming out as a trans girl during her childhood, as they're a Gender-Restricted Ability.

    Toys 
  • Ever After High:
    • Cerise is half-wolf and hides her ears behind her hood. Fans have taken this as either an allegory for being LGBTQ or an allegory for being chronically ill.
    • Apple White's character arc has been analyzed as being an allegory for heteronormativity and compulsory heterosexuality. Apple has been raised with the goal of being the next Snow White and marrying her chosen Prince Charming. Apple expects to marry Daring Charming, but she isn't romantically interested in him yet; she just says that they don't need to date because "[they've] got forever after to be together". In Dragon Games, Apple struggles with her self-image in relationship with her friend and future villain, Raven. After overcoming her issues with Raven, Apple accidentally eats a poisoned apple and falls onto a magical coma. She's awoken not by Daring, but by his sister Darling Charming giving her CPR, which acts similarly to True Love's Kiss. The next special shows that Daring is not Apple's Prince Charming but the next Beast, suggesting that Apple's romantic fate is elsewhere.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • Doki Doki Literature Club! has Natsuki's poem "Amy Likes Spiders". The poem is about a girl the narrator can't stand due to her interest in spiders, going so far as to not let her touch her, and thinks anyone who's friends with Amy will become a spider-lover, too. As such, this can be read as a metaphor for a homophobe feeling disgusted by a gay person, thinking that their mere touch and companionship will turn the people around them gay. This is, of course, helped by the fact that the narrator of the poem is intended to look like a bigot who judges people for things that don't hurt anyone.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: "Princess Cookie" is easily read as an allegory for being transgender. It's about Cookie desperately wanting to be a princess. It culminates in a suicide attempt, but he survives and gets his wish in the end.
  • Danny Fenton from Danny Phantom is scared and confused when the accident turns him half-ghost and spends most of the series trying to keep the truth from getting out. He only allows his closest friends to know about this part of himself. He is especially sure to keep this secret away from his family - his parents in-particular, who possess a dehumanizing, almost zealot-like opinion against ghosts - with Jazz agreeing to keep it a secret out of love for her little brother when she finds out about it. When his parents do find out, they are more shock and appalled at themselves that their son had to go such lengths to keep this secret from them. The whole thing reads like a Coming-Out Story for a teenager realizes that they are LGBT+, some reading him as transgender or non-binary due to his conflicting nature as half-human, half-ghost.
  • Jem:
    • In the episode "The Bands Break Up", Kimber and Stormer both quit their bands to become a music duo together. They have a Duet Bonding moment that ends in them forming a Romantic Two-Girl Friendship. The episode treats their relationship similarly to a lesbian relationship that neither of their friends like; Pizzazz outright sings that "[Kimber]'ll break [Stormer's] heart in two". In the end the two reunite with their bands, but the two do say that they were her best friends who taught each other about themselves, which rings closely to each other being a Closet Key.
    • "Riot's Hope" is about Riot's relationship with his parents. Since an early age, Riot has shown a knack for music and loves music. His hypermasculine army father thinks that only "women and sissies" play music, so he's gone out of his way to dissuade his son from playing, even going as far as to break his instruments and spank him. As an adult, Riot decides to follow his dad's footsteps and join the army, but, while in Germany, he ends up leaving to join a band. His father gets upset and disowns him. The rest of the episode revolves around Jem trying to ease tensions between father and son. The difference between Riot and his dad is accentuated by his father's clean-cut and short-hair look contrasting with Riot's flamboyant dress and long '80s Hair look.
  • Jenny's struggle with trying to be like human girls in My Life as a Teenage Robot is often cited as being analogous to Trans Tribulations. For example, the series opens with Jenny reminding her "mom" to call her by her preferred name, she often shows discomfort with her body, and episodes which center around her wearing a suit which makes her look more human come across as an attempt to "pass".
  • The Powerpuff Girls (2016): The episode "Horn Sweet Horn" revolves around a colt who wishes he was a unicorn. This has been officially referred to as a transgender allegory, though people on the staff have clarified that it wasn't intended to be.
  • Recess: One episode introduces Vince's older brother Chad. The younger kids remember him being cool, but Chad is actually a geek. Vince refuses to see what is right in front of him. When he finally realizes that his brother is a geek, Vince fears that it is either hereditary or that he will "catch it".
  • The Rocko's Modern Life episode "Closet Clown", in which Ed Bighead lives a double life as a clown before being "outed" to his family and neighbors while performing at a party; the episode had tons of Does This Remind You of Anything? moments. Word of God confirms that this subtext was entirely intentional.

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