8.28.2016

The homosexual in the text: Dennis Christopher as Eddie Kaspbrak in "Stephen King's It" (1990)



Is Eddie Kaspbrak in Stephen King’s It (published in 1985) supposed to be gay?  He’s certainly coded that way; he’s quiet, small, and sexually repressed, a hypochondriac with an overbearing mother, an emotional dependency on his asthma inhaler that he continues to nurse into adulthood…and a pinky ring.  The novel, which I recently finished re-reading, avoids the question of Eddie’s sexual orientation almost as frequently as it raises it.  King implies that Eddie’s deepest fears are related to homosexual desire: It, the shape-shifting evil force that haunts Eddie’s hometown of Derry, Maine, first appears to Eddie in the form of a homeless leper who offers him a blowjob.  The leper represents the two things Eddie is most afraid of: sex and disease.  Eleven-year-old Eddie is so terrified at the thought of catching syphilis that one can imagine AIDS later causing him to nail himself shut inside his own closet.  But Eddie’s closetedness has just as much to do with the homespun bigotry that is shown to breed in small towns like Derry, where those who dare to be openly gay risk assault and murder (one such victim, Adrian Mellon, has asthma—a signifier that makes him a double for Eddie).  As a gay man, Eddie would also represent another facet of Derry’s/It’s victimization of racial, sexual, and economic outsiders.  But King leaves Eddie’s sexual orientation open to interpretation.  His invention of a wife for Eddie would seem to be a dodge, though the fact that she’s explicitly presented as an Oedipal surrogate for Eddie’s clingy, unattractive mother works to corroborate a queer reading of Eddie even better than it does dispel it. 
    
The film version of It, which aired as a miniseries on ABC in 1990, similarly codes Eddie as gay and closeted.  In many ways the film is less coy than the novel, doing away with the red-herring device of the wife (Eddie still lives with his actual mother!).  The filmmakers switch out his fear of venereal disease with an even more loaded fear of showering with other boys after gym class.  And It taunts Eddie more openly with sexual insinuations than in the book, calling him “girly boy” and at one point asking him, “How’s your sex life?  What’s your sex life?”  The question would seem to be on everyone’s mind, including that of the viewer.    

Eddie and his mother, past (top) and present (bottom).

Near the end, the film gives Eddie perhaps the closest thing to a coming-out scene that it can imagine (and it’s more than King is able to do in the book, in which the scene doesn’t exist).  As Eddie and his friends are about to enter the lair of It for the second time, he confesses to them that he’s a virgin.  “I could never sleep with somebody I didn’t love,” he explains tearfully, “and I've never really loved anyone...except you guys.”  The ambiguity here seems typical of the historical moment at which the film was made; Eddie doesn’t identify himself as gay, and yet he reveals himself to have been harboring a deeply personal sexual secret about which he has lied (in an earlier scene he claimed to be in a relationship with a woman).  Even if the film can’t come out and say what it means any more than Eddie can, that it gives him that moment—and that his friends respond by rallying around him with their support—feels significant.  For a miniseries made for network TV in 1990, that’s something. 

A coming-out scene--of sorts.
           

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