Ghostbusters and Queer Visibility

When I went to watch Ghostbusters, I wasn’t expecting to be validated. I wasn’t expecting to be uplifted; I wasn’t expecting to fall in love. But I left the cinema happier than I went in, because of the character Jillian Holtzmann.

The original Ghostbusters film came out in 1984, starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as parapsychologists who start a ghost-busting business in New York City. The everyman characters were hugely popular, and the film was a wild success. A sequel was released in 1989, and in mid-2016 the series was revived yet again. The reboot film is female led, and has been subject to a lot of heated debate. It stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon and has delighted female audiences around the world. McKinnon (my new internet crush) has been lauded for her hilarious portrayal of Jillian Holtzmann.

Holtzmann is the tech-head of the Ghostbusters revival. She is passionate about science and technology, and creates the tools used by the gang to save the day. She is also queer – visibly, confidently and beautifully queer. She flirts with straight-laced Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) from her first scene, making Gilbert adorably flustered. Her hair is quaffed, she wears overalls and combat boots. Autostraddle has already published a list of her gayest moments in the film; it’s not just me feeling this.

Director Paul Feig has refused to confirm or deny the character’s queerness, citing the concerns of the studio. Obviously a confirmed queer character is better than one that is just hinted at, but we queer women are starved of representation and will take pretty much anything at this point. The levels of delight across sites like Twitter and Tumblr over Holtzmann are testament to McKinnon’s charisma and skill, and the gratitude for her character’s existence.

Queer women love Holtzmann because she exists for them. She is not a product for the male gaze; she is not a sex kitten or femme fatale, but she exudes something that has captivated us. Male reviewers agree that McKinnon’s performance is hilarious, but it is the female audience who want to date her (many straight women included). Google searches for Kate McKinnon have skyrocketed in the last week, as have YouTube hits. People are already sharing cosplay outfits and sketches shipping Holtzmann with every other ghostbuster (apart from poor, sweet Kevin). She’s on her way to becoming a touchstone of queer culture.

While Ghostbusters was an excellent movie for its portrayal of ordinary women saving the day (and in practical clothing), it’s Holtzmann who struck a chord with me. Finally, a queer woman just existing. Her sexuality is present, but never a source of angst or used as a plot point. Queer love stories are important, but they are often tragic and when they are allowed to be hopeful, it’s only after a passage of hardship. Holtzmann was joyous throughout. She loves the women around her and it is no big deal.

I grew up in rural Tasmania, in a time before the internet. It genuinely never occurred to me that I might be anything other than straight until I left home and moved to Melbourne for university. I knew two queer people at my school, and no queer adults. Will and Grace and Ellen were it for gay representation on the television. Their flashy lives were so far removed from my own. I read Dolly and Girlfriend and learned about crushes, sex and love, all from a heterosexual perspective. I was straight because what else was there?

Falling in love with a woman for the first time and recognising that truth about myself was a revelation. I vividly remember walking to university one morning thinking ‘This is what happiness feels like’. My high school depression was linked to more than prescriptive heterosexuality, but I can’t help but think that it could have been better if I’d known who I was. I had no role models – there was no normalised queerness around me, and my life was lesser because of it. This is what Holtzmann offers to queer women.

Recognising yourself onscreen outside of deliberately curated spaces is a rare treat for the queer woman. And even though we have come a long way since my youth, the queer-friendly spaces and events rarely make it beyond major cities. If Holtzmann meant so much to me as an out person in a big town, I can only imagine what it might represent to someone who is just discovering themselves.

Holtzmann’s presence is important. Putting a name to a feeling is not always a simple task. Some people know they are queer from childhood; some people – like me – feel out of place until they find themselves and their people. If one woman, young or not, feels a familiar pang when they watch Ghostbusters and see Holtzmann’s swagger, and from there can feel a part of something larger, the movie has given us something great.


AmyDiverAmy Nicholls-Diver is a writer and editor based in Melbourne. Her published works include interviews, poetry and short stories. She enjoys queer stories, feminism and cat videos.

One Comment

  • Sarah Menary commented on July 25, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for your article which uplifted me also even though I’m hetero. Your article is a much needed antidote to Christos Tsolkias’s article about this film which appeared in the Saturday Paper at the weekend.

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