Spoiler level: minor. (Also, I know I said I was off on a blog break. But c’mere, I’m only human. Flesh and blood and a burning need to talk about Holtzmann. The break starts tomorrow, right?)
Jillian Holtzmann. Jillian. Fucking. Holtzmann. The queerest thing I’ve seen on screen since I recruited my friends to help me move my furniture. And yet, I keep hearing that there’s some kind of ambiguity to her. That she’s not out. That there’s something coy about her presentation.
Really? Really? Let’s sit ourselves down and have a look at this, shall we?
There’s only one reason that Holtzmann’s queerness isn’t considered canon.
I’ve got one word for you: heteronormativity.
I know. I know. This is a silly article about a fictional engineer who licks ghost-guns. The last thing you want to hear is me getting the official SJW dictionary out and opening up the chapter on Ruining Everyone’s Fun With Theory.
But c’mere. Does anyone- anyone– think that Holtzmann is straight? And does anyone- anyone– think that Holtzmann’s character is the slightest bit conflicted over her queerness? She isn’t some sad, closeted mess. She flirts with every woman in sight with the same enthusiasm she brings to making new ghost bustin’ toys or crunching on salty parabolas. Do we need her to say that she enjoys purchasing tubes of Pringles and that she would like to confirm that Pringles are in fact her favourite brand of potato chip? Or is it enough to see her, yes, chomping down on them right there, on screen? She doesn’t have to tell us that she likes the Original ones. That wasn’t a tube of Sour Cream & Onion that she was munching on, y’know?
Which is where we come to the heteronormativity. Heteronormativity: the idea that (cisgender) straightness is normal and preferred, and that everyone’s (cis and) straight until proven otherwise. That’s why we have to come out and you all don’t. It’s why people think it’s weird to tell kids that LGBTQIA people exist but totally normal to say that a toddler hanging out with another toddler of a different assigned gender is flirting with them.
It’s not, by the way, the state of being a cis straight person in a monogamous long-term relationship. That’s just being a monogamous cishet person and it’s kind of not heteronormative at all unless you think that should be the default way to do things.
Except, you know, if you’re queer than you don’t tend to have that heteronormative filter on. If you’re queer then instead of assuming cisness and heterosexuality, you know that people happen in a ton of different orientations and gender expressions/IDs, and your own life probably includes at least a handful of ’em. You don’t need someone to wear their “I’m a mahoosive queer ok” t-shirt every day, ’cause there’s nothing unexpected about queer people showing up just about anywhere.
Or, in short: we see each other because we don’t ignore each other’s existence until it’s shoved in our faces.
Holtzmann is queer as fuck. She’s not hiding it. The very idea that she might be anything other than cheerfully, exuberantly queer is ridiculous and would make no sense at all for her character.
So why do we say that her queerness isn’t canon? Two more words for you: straight people.
Straight people love a good coming out narrative
Here’s the deal. We have this really singular idea of what constitutes ‘outness’, and let me tell you, I think it’s not actually about queer people at all.
Let’s say I meet me a lady and damn, I know she’s One Of Us. How’s that happen? Is it a tearful confession over the dinner table with the family? Or is it that there’s some je ne sais quoi (or, in fairness, je sais exactly quoi) that makes my spidey sense go ping and my face go “well hello“.
Who’s come out to who? Nobody. Who knows the other person is a raging queermo? With any luck, everyone.
(And I’m not just saying this if I wanna kiss her on the face. I mean, sometimes you just need someone to bond over your OITNB-related trauma with, y’know? Or the way that whenever you see that gif of Holtzmann and the gun you come over all woozy. Or, like, real-life things like all the queerphobic crap we have to deal with all the time, or the intricacies of getting the perfect queer-coded-and-also-femme haircut.)
That’s not the popular narrative. The popular narrative involves a person having a specific conversation with another person where they tell them the words they use to describe their sexuality, and then the other (cis, straight) person gets to react to that. Or else, these days, that popular narrative might involve a sweet, smiling married same-gender couple being awfully wholesome together. They’re either being observed by straight people (who get to prove their ally cred by thinking it’s adorable) or it’s something filmed in such a way that everyone watching (hint: straight people) can, again, see them as adorbs.
The popular narrative also sees coming out– the event- as more of a thing than simply living your life as a queer person who probably has shit to do.
Y’know what I love about Holtzmann? She didn’t do any of that. I hope to the squishiest noodle of the FSM that if there’s a sequel she doesn’t do any of it then. I’m sick of that narrative. I’m sick of how it shoves us into palatable boxes that make straight people feel good about themselves.
Holtzmann’s queerness isn’t there for straight people. Holtzmann’s queerness- which she makes obvious from her the first words we see her say- is there to make women weak at the knees. She doesn’t need to tell people she’s queer to do that (yawwwwwwn). She does it with a straw-adjacent wink that, let me tell you, does exactly what it was meant to do.
Why is it all about Holtzmann?
Back to heteronormativity. Let me ask you a question: what do we know about any of the Ghostbusters’ sexualities?
I can think of two things: Gilbert fancies Kevin. Holtzmann flirts with all the women everywhere forever. Come to think of it, Holtzmann flirts her ass off with Gilbert and while I’ve only seen the movie once (so far), I’m 90% certain that Gilbert doesn’t find that the worst time ever. So Gilbert: definitely not a Kinsey 6 but aside from that, who knows?
As for Abby and Patty: as far as I can remember, we know nothing about their romantic/sexual proclivities. Not a thing. They don’t even join with Gilbert in getting moony over Kevin. We don’t know if they’re queer, straight, or ace. It’s not in the story. And I’m glad it’s not, since that would take valuable screen minutes away from the one-liners and the bustin’.
You can read Abby, Patty and Gilbert any way you please. None of them are explicitly stated anywhere as straight. And besides, have you seen Abby’s buttoned-up-shirts-and-cardi combos? I mean, I’m not gonna say that’s blatant queer signalling there but I am gonna tell you to take yourself down to your local queer-lady haunt next time you can and just try to tell me there’s nobody rockin’ that look. Queer librarian is a glorious archetype for a reason, people. As for Patty- she reads queer hard femme all over to me.
The above doesn’t mean that I’ve the only true interpretation of the characters, of course. Like I said, you can read them any way you please. But it does seem interesting to me (i.e.: heteronormative) that despite a ton of possibly-queer signalling from the others, everyone talks about Holtzmann as if she’s not just a queer character, but the queer character. Cause despite the evidence of my contacts lists and friend groups, it seems inconceivable that queer people would be friends with each other. Exist in communities. Work together. Maybe even set up a business with their queer besties.
You’re gonna say that of course we can’t have more than one queer main character in a blockbuster movie about women. Everyone knows you can barely make a movie about women at all, never mind a bunch of ass-kicking lady lovin’ ladies.
Maybe think about that for a second. Ask yourself why we can have dozens of cinema screens full of straight guys every day of the year that we expect everyone to go see, but it seems ludicrous to expect people to watch a couple of hours of explosions and jokes if the main characters don’t fit that mold.
Let Busters Bust.
Here’s a thing about Ghostbusters: it’s not about romance. It’s not a love story. There’s no romantic subplot. The closest we get is Gilbert’s fancying Kevin. And there’s nothing romantic about that (unless your idea of romance involved spit-taked coffee, of course. And this is good. How often do we get stories about women where romance isn’t even on the table? Where the women are just people?
And here’s another thing that’s rare: queer women on screen that feel real. It’s not that there’re no lady-loving-ladies on screen. Even though they’re few and far between, it’s true. But it’s even rarer that we see queer women onscreen who are blatantly there for the female gaze. Queer women who aren’t pandering to straight-dude ideas of what’s sexy, even a little bit.
There’s two things going on here: Holtzmann’s possible queerness and the movie’s marvellous female-ness, and that puts us at the crossroads of two lacks of representation: women in nonromantic or nonsexualised contexts, and queers getting to see portrayals of ourselves in queerly sexualised contexts. Ones that are blatantly there for us.
In her very lack of pandering to the expected Good Gay Character storyline, Holtzmann contributes to both. She doesn’t have to fulfil straight people’s expectations of how we live out our queerness. She just is who she is- unapologetically, joyfully, and exuberantly. She’s here to bust ghosts and break hearts, and she’s starting with you.