Straightwashing (also called hetwashing) is portraying LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) or otherwise queer characters in fiction as heterosexual (straight), making LGB people appear heterosexual, or altering information about historical figures to make their representation comply with heteronormativity.[1]

Straightwashing is seen most prominently in works of fiction, especially television and cinema, whereby characters who were originally portrayed as homosexual, bisexual, or asexual are misrepresented as heterosexual.[1][2]

Straightwashing is a relatively contemporary term which has increased in usage and acknowledgement in recent years.[3] Despite an increasing presence of queer characters and storylines in U.S. television, concerns about the straightwashing of queer characters and storylines persist. Common justifications for straightwashing include "producers' concerns about audience reactions and social norms and stereotypes regarding acceptable forms of queerness."[4]


Etymologically, straightwashing is derived from the term 'whitewash', which alludes to "both censorship and the intersectional link with the discrimination faced by people of color."[4]

Straightwashing differs from the use of straight actors to play LGB roles or characters. Anna King of Time Out likens the latter to blackface, the use of dark makeup (often by white actors) worn to mimic the appearance of a black person, often used to mock or ridicule black people.[5][6]

In fiction

Dragos Manea distinguishes between changing a queer character in fiction into a straight character, toning down the queer aspects of a character to make the character more acceptable to a heterosexual audience, removing queer referents from marketing posters or DVD covers, and changing the depiction of entire queer cultures or societies into a heterosexual version.[7]


In fiction, the practice of straightwashing has particularly been noted in screenplays based on comic books.[1] The X-Men character Mystique is depicted as bisexual in the comic books, but in the films, she is shown as straight.[1] Within the comic books published by Marvel Comics, Mystique had romantic relationships with both male and female characters. Her most prominent relationship was with Destiny, a female "fellow member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants with whom she raised a child."[8] Within the X-Men films released by 20th Century Fox between 2000 and 2019, the character of Mystique, played by Rebecca Romijn (from 2000 to 2011) and Jennifer Lawrence (from 2011 to 2019), did not have any relationship or interest in another female character.[8]

The 2015 film Stonewall was accused of ciswashing—the comparable concept for transgender people—for minimizing the roles of black and trans activists involved in the Stonewall riots.[1]

In Stuart Richard's article "The Imitation Game and the 'straightwashing' of film", about the film The Imitation Game, Richards states that WW II code breaker "Alan Turing's [gay] sexuality is downplayed and used as a plot device", to show him as a "tragic hero and an eccentric, secretive man"; to make the film " 'safe' for a potentially conservative audience", the film only depicts him romantically with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley).[9]


The character John Constantine, played by the actor Matt Ryan, from the NBC television series Constantine has been highly criticized for not displaying the same sexuality that was originally written in the DC comic book series, Constantine: Hellblazer. The TV executives decided that John Constantine's bisexuality was not to be included in the TV show and he was depicted as a straight male.[10][8] However, when Ryan reprised the role on Legends of Tomorrow, the character was portrayed as bisexual.[11]

The TV series Riverdale from The CW television network has been subject to criticisms about their depiction of one of the main characters Jughead Jones (played by American actor Cole Sprouse) as a straight male character. According to an interview with, Chip Zdarsky, the author of the Jughead comic book, stated that he wrote Jughead as an asexual character.[12] Many people "within the asexual community are upset about the development of the TV series, Riverdale, on the CW".[2]

The NBC TV drama Rise has been criticized for changing the basis of the production, a "real-life gay drama teacher" in a working class town, into a straight man; Out magazine calls it "cultural theft and [gay] erasure" that "should have been the story of a complicated LGBTQ hero".[13]

The Japanese anime and manga series Sailor Moon is well known for several LGTB characters who in the English translated version made by DiC and Cloverway, were altered to minimize their identity, including the gay relationship of Kunzite (named Malachite in the English translation) and Zoisite, the latter of whom was edited to be a woman, as well as the lesbian relationship of Haruka Tenou as Sailor Uranus and Michiru Kaiou as Sailor Neptune. As well, several translations into other languages of the final season, Stars, also changed the Sailor Starlights of Yaten, Seiya, and Taiki, who take on a day role as part of a boy band but who transform into females when they take on their superheroine persona. [14]

Video games

Games such as Blizzard's World of Warcraft can be seen as inherently queer, since in the game both gender and sexuality are fluid and customizable. Here, the possibility of playing a non-straight main character is developmental.[15] However, in 2010 Blizzard began to "straighten" many parts of the game by removing the majority of the same-sex material and mechanics.[clarification needed] The heteronormativity can be seen as a movement towards homophobia especially seen in two parts of the game which were added in 2010. First, is entitled "Shafted". Evocative of phallic penetration, the task is to "shoot 10 players with the Silver Shafted Arrow", which is a special holiday item that creates a small, cupid-like goblin that flits about the target.

Both the item and quest flirt with the titillation and anxiety over penetrative sex, specifically anal or male-on-male sex.[citation needed] The second is entitled "Flirting with Disaster", and requires the player to "get completely smashed, put on your best perfume, throw a handful of rose petals on Sraaz [an Alliance NPC] or Jeremiah Payson [a Horde NPC] and then kiss him. You'll regret it in the morning." The humorous intention of "Flirting with Disaster" is for a male avatar to kiss another male.[dubious ] When a player character drinks in-game to the point of being "completely smashed", the game clouds the player's screen as if everything becomes drunkenly blurry and unfocused. This confusion begins the joke that they must engage in a kind of "gay chicken" and flirt with a male toon. The "regret" the player character supposedly feels is one of homophobic shame excused by the fiction of drunken experimentation or ignorance.[15]

Zynga's FrontierVille game is "a wild west-themed social game that allows users to tame the wilderness, grow a family, and build a thriving frontier town."[16] Zynga allows players to create virtual families by customizing a spouse in order to raise a virtual family. The game does not set a gender to the player's spouse, opening a place for queer possibility.[15]

The video game Undertale has "been straight-washed by many writers and fans", leading to the "erasure of the queerness found in Undertale and a recasting of the game as one that jibes with the interests of heterosexual male gamers".[17]

Edmond Chang, an assistant professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Oregon, gave a speech at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2016 entitled "Brown Skins, White Avatars: Racebending and Straightwashing in Digital Games". Chang states that video games such as Assassin's Creed and World of Warcraft "manipulate race and sexuality, reinforce stereotypes and sometimes lack diversity".[18]

Heidi McDonald conducted a survey which statistically positioned BioWare as the industry leader of game romances, both gay and straight. BioWare's romance content has been evolving towards more inclusive romances for over 15 years.[19] Females were more supportive of wanting more queer romance content than males; however, more than half of straight males were also supportive of this.[19]

In current affairs

After the mass shooting of gay men at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a gay club, some commentators did not refer to the LGBT victims, with the Republican National Committee denouncing "violence against any group of people simply for their lifestyle or orientation" and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell not mentioning LGBT people in his statement. Activist John Becker stated that media are "straightwashing" the attack by "downplaying or even omitting the fact that the shooting was a crime of hatred against the LGBT community".[20]

During the 2018 Winter Olympics' Opening Ceremony, the television network NBC did not "mention or highlight a single out LGBTQ athlete in its three hours of Opening Ceremony coverage"; the network did not acknowledge the only "publicly out American woman at the Games" or the first four "openly gay [men] at the Olympic Games".[21]

A promotional video campaign created by the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce shows the town's busy nightlife and artists, but the advertisement makes no mention of the town's active LGBT community, in what some LGBT activists call an example of straightwashing.[22]

Lotte Jeffs has criticized the straightwashing of the London's LGBT pride event, stating that rather than focus on recognizing the rights of queer, trans and non-heterosexual people, it has switched to making the LGBT event "palatable for the masses" and for heterosexual people who will attend.[23] She says that while big companies sponsor activities and include rainbow themes in their publicity materials, they hire straight celebrities to endorse products and brands for the event, with few "dar[ing] to use the words "gay", "lesbian", "trans" or "bi" when they show their support for Pride".[23]


In the US, from 1930 to 1968, the Motion Picture Production Code caused major studios to eliminate gay characters or references from movies.[24] The 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet shows how some screenwriters and directors tried to use queer coding to subtly introduce gay characters, roles or themes, without it being noticed by censors, such as with Gore Vidal adding in a gay relationship in Ben-Hur.[24]

The Motion Picture Production Code also led to the elimination of depictions of bisexuality in the film version of Truman Capote's novel Breakfast at Tiffany's. In the book, the male "artsy gigolo-writer" had "male and female clients", but in the movie, he is only shown with Holly Golightly. As well, the Code led to the elimination of a gay relationship in the film version of Tennessee Williams' play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In the play, Brick Pollit is depicted as being the lover of a family patriarch named Skipper. In the 1958 film version, the story arc of the gay relationship is replaced with a story of Skipper's frustration over his faded football career and a heterosexual sexless marriage.

Historical accounts of lesbian suffragettes Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper in some cases straightwash their sexuality, with the historian Gifford Lewis denying they were lesbian or queer in his biographies of them.[25] Some letters by the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in which he expressed his homosexual feelings remained censored and unpublished until 2018.[26][27]

The New York Times published no more than two front-page articles per year that made any kind of references to gays from the end of World War II through until 1965.[28] It did not improve much over the following 20 years either. It was rare that anything published was positive; most saw gays as security threats in the time of the Cold War.[29] Gross (2001)[30] pointed out gays' invisibility in this time period along with their concerns being publicly excluded.[28]

In 1981, the AIDS crisis also received little media attention, even with the death rate rising rapidly. The New York Times did not mention AIDS until years after the outbreak and finally made the front page in 1983.[31] Edward Alwood (1996),[31] James Kinsella (1989)[32] and Randy Shilts (1987)[33] all commented on The Times' silence in relation to LGBT issues, especially the AIDS crisis. Coverage in the New York Times remained infrequent until the mid 1980s and then increased dramatically. This change in media is seen to be reflective of changes in society. Rock Hudson's death, Ronald Reagan's statements on AIDS in 1987, and President Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign proposal and the early 1993 congressional debate over the ban on lesbians and gays in the military all increased Times coverage of lesbian and gay issues.[28]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Smith, Lydia (20 April 2018). "What is straightwashing? When Hollywood erases gay characters from films". Pink News. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  2. ^ a b Alexander, Julia (2017-01-26). "Riverdale's Jughead is no longer asexual, and that's a problem for fans". Polygon. Retrieved 2019-03-25.
  3. ^ Hart, Kylo-Patrick R (September 2016). "Queerness and television in the twenty-first century". Queer Studies in Media and Popular Culture. 1 (3): 265–268. doi:10.1386/qsmpc.1.3.265_2.
  4. ^ a b Mueller, Hannah (April 2018). "Queer TV in the 21st Century: Essays on Broadcasting from Taboo to Acceptance. Ed. Kylo-Patrick R.Hart. McFarland, 2016. 232 pp. $35.00 paperback". The Journal of Popular Culture. 51 (2): 550–553. doi:10.1111/jpcu.12662. ISSN 0022-3840.
  5. ^ King, Anna (7 July 2009). "Brno reignites the pinkface debate: As gay-themed films Brno and Humpday hit theaters, TONY weighs in on the drama behind the comedy". Time Out. Retrieved 1 August 2018. Brno—in which a straight Sacha Baron Cohen plays a flamingly gay Austrian fashion reporter—is the latest film to be accused of making fun of the queer community, drawing the accusation of being pinkface. The epithet is a recent addition to the cinematic lexicon: simply put, it's a riff on the term blackface. It carries the same pejorative connotations but applies to straight actors taking on gay roles. Blackface has long gone the way of anti-miscegenation laws, yet Prop 8 is still with us. Is being gay the new black?
  6. ^ King, Anna (7 July 2009). "Brno reignites the pinkface debate: As gay-themed films Brno and Humpday hit theaters, TONY weighs in on the drama behind the comedy". Time Out. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  7. ^ Manea, Dragos (2016). "Leonardo's paradoxical queerness: Da Vinci's Demons and the politics of straightwashing". In Hart, Kylo-Patrick R. (ed.). Queer TV in the 21st Century: Essays on Broadcasting from Taboo to Acceptance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 159–177.
  8. ^ a b c "19 Queer Characters Straightwashed for TV and Film". 2017-05-16. Retrieved 2019-03-31.
  9. ^ Richards, Stuart (7 January 2015). "The Imitation Game and the 'straightwashing' of film". ABC. Retrieved 1 December 2018. So as delightful as it is that more people are learning about Alan Turing, when Oscar bait films consistently feature this soft "tolerance" for minorities, it all gets a bit exhausting.
  10. ^ Whitbrook, James (11 June 2015). "The New Constantine Comic Is Way More Comfortable With His Bisexuality". io9. Retrieved 2019-03-31.
  11. ^ Peters, Megan (October 9, 2017). "'DC's Legends Of Tomorrow' Producer Confirms Constantine's Bisexuality". Archived from the original on January 14, 2018. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
  12. ^ "Chip Zdarsky Opens Up About Jughead". Retrieved 2019-03-25.
  13. ^ Russell, John (21 March 2018). "Rise's Straightwashing is a Stunning Letdown For Original Gay Stories". Out. It's sincere and measured. Characters deepen as the season progresses and I'm here for that evolution. At the same time, though, I will never be able to let go of Katim's [sic] original sin: coopting the story of a gay man and rewriting it in his own heterosexual image.
  14. ^ "Anime Censorship in the 90s and Early 2000s – Comic Book Legal Defense Fund".
  15. ^ a b c Chang, Edmond Y. (2015). "Love Is in the Air: Queer (Im)Possibility and Straightwashing in FrontierVille and World of Warcraft". QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking. 2 (2): 6–31. doi:10.14321/qed.2.2.0006. S2CID 142240628.
  16. ^ "Zynga Goes West with FrontierVille Launch". 2010-06-09. Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  17. ^ Ruberg, Bonnie. 2018. "Straightwashing Undertale: Video Games and the Limits of LGBTQ Representation." In "The Future of Fandom," special 10th anniversary issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 28.
  18. ^ Htoon, Sonia May (28 January 2016). "Professor Discusses Lack of Diversity in Video Games". Daily Nexus.
  19. ^ a b McDonald, Heidi (2015). "Romance in Games: What It Is, How It Is, and How Developers Can Improve It". QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking. 2 (2): 32–63. doi:10.14321/qed.2.2.0032. JSTOR 10.14321/qed.2.2.0032. S2CID 152734015.
  20. ^ Petrow, Steven (20 June 2016). "The LGBT community feels the effects of 'straightwashing.' They're angry about it". Washington Post. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  21. ^ Zeigler, Cyd (9 February 2018). "NBC straight-washed the Olympics Opening Ceremony. Here we go again". Outsports. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  22. ^ Kohler, Will (7 June 2017). "Provincetown Chamber of Commerce Accused of Straightwashing Promo Video". Back2Stonewall. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  23. ^ a b Jeffs, Lotte (2 July 2018). "Stop straight-washing Pride — our rights matter more than selling stuff". Standard. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  24. ^ a b Shariatmadari, David (6 January 2015). "Straightwashing at the movies: the Pride DVD shows gay people still make the film industry nervous". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 August 2018. These changes, albeit a marketing, not a film-making decision, nevertheless stand in a time-honoured industry tradition of downplaying homosexuality. For years, film-makers in America were trapped by the motion picture production code, which banned "any inference of sex perversion".
  25. ^ Downing, Gerry (14 February 2018). "Time to end the 'straight-washing' of Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper". Morning Star. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  26. ^ Alberge, Dalya (2018-06-02). "Tchaikovsky and the secret gay loves censors tried to hide". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  27. ^ Kostalevsky, Marina (2018). The Tchaikovsky papers : unlocking the family archive. Kostalevsky, Marina,, Pearl, Stephen, 1934-, Vaĭdman, Polina. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 8f. ISBN 978-0-300-19136-3. OCLC 1031028457.
  28. ^ a b c Chomsky, Daniel; Barclay, Scott (2010). "The Mass Media, Public Opinion, and Lesbian and Gay Rights". Annual Review of Law and Social Science. 6 (1): 387–403. doi:10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-102209-152825.
  29. ^ Johnson, David K. (2004). The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved June 5, 2021.
  30. ^ Brewer, Paul R. (2007-11-13). "Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America, by Larry GrossStraight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media, by Edward AlwoodAll the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America, by Suzanna Danuta Walters". Political Communication. 24 (4): 462–464. doi:10.1080/10584600701641797. ISSN 1058-4609. S2CID 142188462.
  31. ^ a b Straight news: gays, lesbians, and the news media. 1997-02-01.
  32. ^ Fields, Bernard M. (1990-10-11). "Book Review Covering the Plague: AIDS and the American media By James Kinsella. 299 pp., illustrated. New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press, 1989. $22.95". New England Journal of Medicine. 323 (15): 1078–1079. doi:10.1056/nejm199010113231524. ISSN 0028-4793.
  33. ^ Shilts, R. (1994). And the band played on politics, people, and the AIDS epidemic. Penguin. ISBN 014011369X. OCLC 1026421608.

Further reading

  • Manea, Dragos (2016). "Leonardo's paradoxical queerness: Da Vinci's Demons and the politics of straightwashing". In Hart, Kylo-Patrick R. (ed.). Queer TV in the 21st Century: Essays on Broadcasting from Taboo to Acceptance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 159–177.
  • Ruberg, Bonnie. 2018. "Straightwashing Undertale: Video Games and the Limits of LGBTQ Representation." In "The Future of Fandom," special 10th anniversary issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 28.