Why ‘Twilight’ is Trending on Tumblr 10 Years Later

Twilight is here… and it’s queer? Ten years after Twilight‘s film release at the height of the saga’s popularity (November 21st, 2008) Twilight is trending on Tumblr. With no new content since 2015, it’s unlikely that fans are still there for Edward and Bella’s forbidden love story. It’s possible they’re there for something else… LGBT+ themes that the books may or may not actually explore. Don’t remember Twilight being gay? The short answer—it’s (only technically) not. The longer answer is that a legitimate blend of literary and cultural factors can explain the saga’s renewed success among LGBT+ fans.

 

Meme- in 2008, everyone said Twilight was so gay. Now say it's actually gay in 2018, and people come at you.

Image Via Tumblr.com

 

For evidence of the series’ LGBT+ resurgence, one Tumblr search will more than suffice. With top blogs boasting usernames such as twilightisgaynow, bisexualtwilight, rosaliehalesbian, and twilightmademegay, it’s evident that Twilight has hit some serious belated demographic success. With author Stephenie Meyer‘s staunch Mormon background, it’s unlikely that any LGBT+ themes are intentional. Meyer has stated that the books contain no sexual themes—a story of love rather than lust. (Great point, Steph, is that why you include a scene where Edward and Bella literally destroy a bed their first time?) But Meyer’s own belief system can’t prevent fans from finding what they want in her story… especially if it’s actually there.

 

In 'Twilight,' Bella says "no boys have caught my eye yet" and emphasizes 'boys'

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In an exclusive interview with Polygon, Rachel, the blogger behind twilightmademegay, explained that the link between Twilight and queer Internet fandom is more literary than critics might suspect.

 

Since vampire novels like Dracula or Carmilla, the vampire has been used as a metaphor for ‘deviant’ sexuality. I think that had Carmilla and Dracula come out in the early 2000s, we’d all be running blogs about those vampires being gay. Our generation has a huge community for LGBTQ people online, and since these people happened to grow up with Twilight as the most popular vampire fiction, we’ve latched on to that series because of the inherent queerness of vampires.

 

Vampirism and homosexuality have long been intertwined in literary criticism (and in literary criticism of Twilight, which thankfully exists). The parallels are more straightforward than you might think—the vampire exists at the fringes of society, able to pass as an ‘ordinary’ person without ever truly being one. The vampire is a symbol of sexual deviancy, with consumption of blood a violent, erotic, and insatiable urge. The vampire is often a villain who, however seductive, threatens the continuation of society. The vampire is often ‘unholy,’ actively despised by God—unable to touch crosses or utter a prayer. The vampire, if revealed, faces brutal persecution. (Yes, these links all go to fun scholarly essays about gay vampires.)

 

Bella says: "I know what you are." Edward says: "say it out loud." Bella: "GAY"

Image Via Funnyjunk.com

 

Recurring portrayals of vampires as sexually deviant outsiders clearly draw connections to LGBT+ individuals, whom society has historically over-sexualized and ostracized. Many LGBT+ people view the act of revealing oneself as a vampire as akin to ‘coming out.’ The process of becoming a vampire may run parallel to a gender transition: you’re becoming more yourself, yet in someways, you’re still different. The phenomena goes beyond vampires. Recent years have seen the rise, fall, and academic analysis of “queer-coded” villains: fictional baddies endowed by their creators with traits stereotypical to the LGBT+ community. Do writers and creators purposefully draw these connections in order to make their villains that much more villainous? Maybe not. But fans—particularly those who are LGBT+ themselves—tend to find them.

 

List of 'Twilight' characters classified as the type of lesbian they'd be

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While these themes appeal to many in the LGBT+ community, the series holds particular appeal to queer women—ironically, in spite of its initial intended demographic (heterosexual teenage girls). Especially appealing to queer women is Rosalie Hale, whose backstory makes her a hit among those who may be particularly distrustful of men. (Warning: her backstory is graphic.) After a brutal gang-rape nearly kills then-human Rosalie, her first act as a vampire is to kill each of her assailants. One of the rapists was in fact Rosalie’s betrothed, who, while publicly intoxicated, violently overstepped the boundaries of consent. Super-duper dead. Though Rosalie’s cold and biting (pun) demeanor towards Bella made her unpopular in the initial release, it may be part of what’s making her popular now-fans read Rosalie as queer, regardless of her relationship with Emmett. (Bisexuality and pansexuality do exist.)

 

Bella's in-text admiration of Rosalie's beauty

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Meme of Bella choosing Rosalie over Edward

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Of course, passing Twilight off as feminist literature would be a hard sell—Edward and Bella meet all fifteen qualifications to determine abusive relationships. That doesn’t mean that the fanbase of Twilight can’t be feminist in nature. Fans love the movie despite its flaws in large part because of director Catherine Hardwicke, the only female director to work on a YA adaptation of that scale. Hardwicke herself says: “there were four more Twilights, three big-screen Divergents, four Hunger Games—and none of them were directed by women! That was a heartbreak for me.”

 

Critics of the film call it monochrome and tedious. Fans call it atmospheric. What critics often fail to acknowledge is that higher-ups forced Hardwicke to cut $4 million from the budget because the film would be “interesting, at most, to 400 girls in Salt Lake.” The relegation of Twilight to pumpkin spice latte and One Direction status mirrors a disturbing cultural trend—the devaluation of anything appealing primarily to women. Women in particular are reclaiming their love of Twilight, and the resurgence of feminist interest in Twilight has coincided with its LGBT+ appeal.

 

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart pose with Catherine Hardwicke, director

Image Via Zimbio.com

 

Elements outside of the classic, canon Twilight timeline have also influenced the LGBT+ appeal of the series ten years after its film release. In 2015, the last official Twilight instalment instalment revisited the original story with a gender swap. (Edward and Bella become Edythe and Beau, female vampire and teen human boy). As the story remains almost exactly the same, Life and Death unintentionally presents a reality in which gender and sexuality are fluid and malleable. Of course that’s an appealing reality to LGBT+ readers—often, it’s theirs. Notably, Kristen Stewart (who portrayed Bella in the film series) has been more public with her sexuality, a move generating more LGBT+ enthusiasm about the saga.

 

Kristen Stewart and ex-girlfriend Soko embrace, kiss

Image Via Okmagazine.com

 

It’s Kristen Stewart that reminds us of the most crucial distinction between the series’ 2018 revival and its 2008 release: the ten years in between them. Since 2008, both politics and culture have seen an increasing presence of queer voices. In 2015, the U.S. legalized same-sex marriage. As recently as the 2018 midterm elections, the United States has seen a historic rise of LGBT+ politicians, with Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema now serving as the first bisexual senator. This cycle, Vermont’s Christine Hallquist became the first transgender governor and the first transgender gubernatorial nominee representing a major political party. And in January 2018, Danica Roem entered office as a member of Virginia’s House, making her the first transgender representative in U.S. history.

 

In 2018, being ‘woke’ (or just socially informed) is a necessary sign of empathy, intelligence, and engagement with the world at large. It’s easy to forget that, in 2008, hardly anybody was.

 

Tumblr post describing how girls were supposed to crush on R Pattz, but instead so many fell for K Stew

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Let’s look to literature. The first YA novel with a transgender protagonist to come out of a major publishing house, Julie Ann Peters‘ groundbreaking Luna, hit shelves in 2004. Meyer wrote Twilight in 2003, two years before its eventual publication. For context, Cassandra Clare‘s YA urban fantasy novel City of Bones, released in 2007, faced major controversy for its inclusion of gay protagonist Alec Lightwood. In 2008, I myself (in middle school at the time) became distantly aware that LGBT+ people existed, mostly only by realizing that I was one.

 

Today, LGBT+ culture and issues exist in the public sphere. Smash hits of film and TV (think Love, Simon; Call Me By Your Name; and RuPaul’s Drag Race) serve as pop culture indications of the queer community’s winding path into the mainstream. Stewart’s own journey to a publicly queer identity (with the actress often facing threats of being ‘outed‘) has mirrored the journey we’ve taken culturally to get to this point where queer Twilight fans can reclaim the story.

 

The big brain small brain meme concerning critical perception of 'Twilight'

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Is Twilight without its flaws? Absolutely not. Insensitive portrayals of Native Americans, relationship abuse, and pedophilia are only some of the serious—and legitimate—accusations levelled at the popular romance saga. In spite of these serious problems, LGBT+ fans continue to flock to the series, reimagining it in the context of their own experiences. Is this a problem? All anyone can say for certain is that it’s a phenomenon regardless and make efforts to understand why.

 

Featured Image Via Moviefone.com