Bugs Bunny: My first queer icon

JESSY HEGLAND

My dad once told me a story about an interaction between my aunt Carole and I when I was just a wee little kid. It went a little something like this;

This goes beyond Bugs’ tendency to put on a dress. If anyone has seen the film “Wayne’s World,” Garth asks Wayne if he ever felt turned on by Bugs Bunny putting on a dress and makeup. Wayne laughs it off, but Garth seems to be serious.

Today, for the first time in American history, we have so many out queer entertainers — Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Jane Lynch, and Laverne Cox to name a few.

Aunt Carole: What does the cow say?

Indeed, Bugs Bunny was quite the looker when putting on a wig, makeup, and a dress. In doing so, time and time again, he fooled Elmer Fudd into thinking he was a woman, and when the great reveal would come, Elmer Fudd would be furious, and would then go forth and try to “kill the rabbit” (What’s Opera, Doc? 1957). In many episodes, Bugs Bunny would put on a skirt and makeup and pass as female. However, Bugs Bunny’s queerness goes beyond dressing in drag. Let’s go further down the rabbit hole.

My interest in queer cinema has stemmed from growing up in rural western North Dakota with so few resources for queer youth, my only haven the Independent Film and Sundance channels. For a lot of LGBTQ individuals, the cinema was a way of escape and a way to find ourselves.

Jessy: Moo!

Aunt Carole: What does the duck say?

Aunt Carole: Okay, smarty-pants. What does the rabbit say?

As a kid growing up, I loved watching the classic cartoons of America’s golden age of animation. When I say America’s golden age of animation, I am referring to sound cartoons of the 1920s to the late

At the root of everything, Bugs Bunny is first and foremost a gender-neutral rabbit playing with the identity of a human male who occasionally dresses up and passes as female. One might say to me, “But that was the gag back then at the expense of queer people.” And although that may be true, it was still queer imagery being shown in the public sphere at a time when being queer could get you arrested.

Jessy: Quack!

Jessy: What’s up, Doc?

For that reason, I am very eager to attend the Fargo LGBTQ film festival Sept. 12-13. See you at the movies!

‘60s. Those included were Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck and of course, Bugs Bunny.

In the episode titled, Water, Water Every Hare (1952), Bugs is being chased by a big, hairy monster in a creepy castle. In one scene, Bugs turns around and says to the monster, “My stars, where did you ever get that hairdo? It doesn’t become you at all! Here, for goodness sake, let me fix it up!” Bugs then goes on into the gay hairstylist stereotype, an unsurprising reaction.

So besides the fact that Bugs Bunny was even used in a way to get laughs, he showed the public that yes, queer people do exist.

Bugs Bunny resonated with me as a child. Now when I look back as an adult, I am starting to see why. In the words of film critic and professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Chicago, Hank Sartin, Bugs Bunny is as “queer as a three dollar bill.”

In another episode, Hair-raising Hare (1946), Bugs puts on the persona of a gay manicurist while filing the monsters’ nails. Not only would Bugs put on a stereotypically gay persona, but it is also worth noting that Bugs Bunny doesn’t seem to mind planting a big wet kiss on the lips of Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam or Porky Pig. It doesn’t stop there; the queerness of Bugs Bunny goes further. Let’s go deeper, Inception style.

Bugs Bunny as a queer icon did something so incredible. We, the audience, rooted for him. We cheered him on, we wanted him to keep outsmarting Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck. Bugs Bunny always prevailed and triumphed with his quick wit and brilliant sense of humor. That was what resonated with me as a youth.

Taking a step back, Bugs Bunny would also play up a gay stereotype.

Advocate Editorial Board

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