The gay characters in Gus Van Sant’s Movies


My Own Private Idaho


Even Cowgirls Get the Blues





Mike Waters in

My Own Private Idaho:

Mike (River Phoenix) is a sweet but ratty young blond street hustler who is obsessed with finding his long-vanished mother. Mike never seems to know where he is. It is as if he is not able to wipe the sleep from his eyes. He is a severe narcoleptic, who during stressful situations, collapses frequently into a catatonic heap. This condition often leads to his being picked up by clients while unconscious and then awakening hours later in unfamiliar surroundings.

We first meet Mike on a deserted stretch of Idaho highway; how he got there, or where he’s going we have no idea. However while he is standing there, looking down the road as it strings along to some endless nowhere, we are treated to little poetic snatches of memories, of his mother stroking his hair and grainy snatches from his childhood.

Through Mike’s eyes nothing is quite real. Reality floats, changes shape or evaporates.

What Mike wants and needs is love, a comforting and maternal love which he has never known. Mike Waters is portrayed as a very weak and labile personality. He was deeply damaged as a child and now he seeks shelter. He is genuinely in love with his best friend Scott. Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves) is basically straight and says men can’t love each other, at least not for free, but he protects and cares for Mike.

Although this movie isn’t sex-focused there are some homosexual images within some scenes.


Van Sant created a sentimental movie with My Own Private Idaho.

“Van Sant emphasizes the vulnerable side of Phoenix’s persona, and not only does the young actor deliver his best performance, he manages to limn a gay character who will probably have an enormous appeal to young women.”

“For decades, Hollywood had been fighting against or striving to reach a point where it could present gay characters as dimensional human beings, not sociopathic villains, low comedy relief, or pitiable outcasts. Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho reaches for that goal…”

Parish, J.R.: Gays and Lesbians in Mainstream Cinema. 1993




Sissy Hankshaw in

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues:


Even Cowgirls Get the Blues follows the adventures of Sissy Hankshaw (Uma Thurman) from her childhood, one filled with parental consternation over her deformity – her huge thumbs – through her development, in Candide-like innocence, into the world’s most naturally-gifted hitchhiker.

Sissy travels cross-country without any special destination and she loves the feeling of freedom.

“When I was younger I hitchhiked 127 hours without stopping – across the continent twice in six days, and cooled my thumbs in both oceans, and caught rides after midnight on unlighted highways.”

We also learn about her encounters with a series of odd characters until she meets up with the cowgirls at the Rubber Ranch. At the Rubber Ranch, Sissy discovers that her sexuality is not non-existent, but rather has been suppressed as a part of her lifestyle. She also discovers the sexuality of her thumbs (phallic symbol) when she masturbates, and her lesbian desires when she meets the cowgirls. These cowgirls are a merry band of radical lesbian feminists who work at the Rubber Ranch. Sissy falls in love with Bonanza Jellybean (Rain Phoenix), the leader of the cowgirls. Bonanza teaches her feminist ideas as well as love-making.


Sissy Hankshaw is portrayed as a shy and naive young woman who doesn’t know where she belongs. We could say that she is another version of the typical prostitute which often occurs in Western or Road Movies. She hustles lifts by hitchhiking.


Besides Sissy Hankshaw we find another interesting lesbian character, Bonanza Jellybean. Bonanza is portrayed as the strong and active lesbian in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. She adores Sissy and seduces her. Bonanza dresses masculine and also behaves more like a man. As in many Hollywood films, homosexuals have to suffer for their questionable sexuality, therefore also Bonanza dies at the end of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.




Lesbian Movies

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