Inside the Babadiscourse: How 'The Babadook' Became a Queer Icon
The real question is not why the drama-loving supernatural entity became a symbol for the LGBTQ community years after its eponymous film was released—it's why this took so long.
Illustration by Kayla Wasil
Years ago, like everyone else, I watched the much-lauded horror film, The Babadook. The dark, shadow lurker terrified me: It clawed on the wall and croaked its own name like a true freak.
Then, in a swift flight from the ceiling, "Mister" Babadook revealed itself to be a wildly absurd ghoul in a sort of gothic-circus ensemble. The Babadook first manifests in a storybook, in which the creature pops out of every page saying disturbing things while showing you its creepy face and long, slender hands.
The Babadook turns out to be completely obsessed with tormenting the innocent mother and son at the center of the film, and the whole movie is absolutely depressing, but I did enjoy it. However, I didn't think about the Babadook again after that screening—that is, not until a new phenomenon rose to the internet's surface: Through a series of memes, the Babadook is being worshipped as an LGBT icon.
"It's this tall monster," says Rex, a queer man who believes that the Babadook is obviously also very queer. "He's like—or they, let's not gender the Babadook—the Babadook is in this large overcoat and it has big teeth. They look very campy," Rex explains respectfully. In an interview with Broadly, Rex shared his account of what appears to be a mass cultural happening. He realized that the Babadook is queer seemingly simultaneously with hundreds of other people.
"I didn't really like the movie at the time," Rex says, contextualizing the absurdity of this situation. (The Babadook came out in 2014.) "I don't know why, but I was sitting with my friend like three months ago and I just started talking about the Baba-lewks. I remember, I said: 'These Baba-lewks have me Baba-shook,' The Babadook just looked real good."
But then Rex started finding all these queer memes—pictures of the Babadook beside rainbow flags, or wearing pink flamingo sunglasses. "At first I was like, 'Why is everyone stealing my joke?' But then I just realized that, for some reason, the Babadook has real queer resonance."
"The collective queer hive mind just latched onto the Babadook at the same time," Rex told me. Perhaps the most iconic meme lauding the queer Babadook was created by Twitter user LGBTHanSolo, whose recent music video has garnered the attention of mainstream media and tens of thousands of Twitter fans.
"The Babadook is one thicc bih," the singer announces as the tall Babadook stands center frame. "Let me see that Ba-Bussy!" the song demands, jolting the listener to imagine the very thing that the Babadook warned us we'd never want to see.
LGBTHanSolo told Broadly that she's never even seen the Babadook before—which perfectly illustrates the distance between the creature scripted in the film and the queer Babadook concept that lives in the hearts of people across the internet. "My friend, a Babadookologist if you will, has seen and enjoyed the film," LGBTHanSolo explained to me. "Based on her description of the movie it seems very interesting and I would love to see it sometime soon!"
The Babadook just looked real good.
LGBTHanSolo accepts that the queer Babadook is more of a joke than an actual icon for LGBT people—but she thinks there are aspects about the evil monster's narrative that are relatable to queer people. "Throughout the film, the Babadook took revenge on families that attempted to suppress him," LGBTHanSolo told me, apparently fairly knowledgable of the film despite never having seen it.
"As many members of the LGBT community can attest for, suppression is something that we get used to on a daily basis," she said. "It's nice to see the Babadook fight back against those who attempted to forget him and his existence—that, and it's always nice to have a laugh."
Looking back at The Babadook today, I can see how she became a queer icon. I viewed the film again, and noticed little details that I'd overlooked before—like, on one page of the Babadook's pop-up book, when you pull a tab, the creature appears to do jazz hands.
The Babadook is obviously an assigned-male-at-birth individual and yet, unlike other male-type horror-antagonists that are often hulking and brutal, the Babadook is slender and feminine. Rex wasn't comfortable gendering the Babadook because she (that's right) is clearly gender-non-conforming, and falls somewhere on the spectrum between male femininity and non-binary, or trans-femme identity.
She's just like, slithering across the ceiling.
"What I like about the Babadook is there's nothing super-imposing about her," Rex says, giving in to the desire to assign feminine pronouns to the Babadook. "She's just like, slithering across the ceiling. It's just like this top-hat-wearing, grinning thing." Rex, and lots of people, feel that the being itself isn't exactly scary. In the film, it ultimately comes across as a metaphor for the mother's emotional struggles, which just make it even more gay.
"It's just like an off showgirl," Rex muses. "The whole metaphor of it is like, the [mother's] struggle within to finally realize her truth, and like once she does—the Babadook goes away." Rex feels that Babadook is basically the mother's inner goth demon, her "dark, drag persona."
It just so happens that Rex's friend—the woman he was discussing The Babadook with—is also a film critic. "I obviously did not get a queer reading out of the movie when I first saw it, but I do plan on rewatching it with that in mind," Kristen told Broadly. "I suspect it's the combination of him being a dapper dresser (The Babadook is kind of hot, right??) and the 'dook' in his name rhyming with 'look'/'lewk.' Anyway, consider me... babashewk... at this whole thing."
LGBTHanSolo feels that the Babadook has been embraced by LGBT people "like any other meme." She explained one circulating origin theory: that the Babadook "became a meme more specifically for the LGBT community because of Netflix placing the film in the LGBT category of their movies."
While the film isn't listed under Netflix's LGBT films, many still say the "B" in LGBT actually stands for "Babadook."
Rex remarked on the way the Babadook "slithered" across the ceiling and jumped around smiling. That's how he'd be if he were a horror monster, he said. "The Babadook's first scare prop is a very heavily illustrated pop-up book," Rex told me, widening his eyes in amazement, emphasizing how obvious it is that the Babadook is queer. "If using art to scare people isn't queer as hell, then what is?"