I never was one to associate Norman Bates with other gay horror icons, but I know many have. We see an awkward mama’s boy who dresses like his dead mother, dress and wig and all, and “gay” or “queer” is the association we make. The ‘all gays are sissies and all sissies are gays’ approach. Not out of spite, just ignorant formality.
Look clearly at Psycho though, and you’d see that Norman isn’t gay at all. He’s actually instead very attracted to Marion Crane. If anything besides a split personality, Norman can at best been seen as a bigender person; someone who at times possesses traditional masculine qualities, and at other times possesses traditional feminine qualities. But realistically, Norman is just… psycho. A mentally disturbed young man who had a psychological break which resulted in the development of a dual persona, which just happens to be female. His mother. And it was this way in both the original novel and the classic horror film.
So why does it seem so different when I watch the Norman character in Bates Motel? Why do I get more queer undertones than I did with the book and movie? More specifically, why is Norman’s psychosis one of the gayest things in horror television right now?
Do you remember when X2: X-Men United came out? In the film there’s a scene when several mutants escape an attack and go back with Bobby Drake to his family home. There, he confronts them with who he truly is; the frosty mutant, Iceman. His mother literally blames herself out loud. Rogue speaks up and says there’s nothing wrong with him, that he’s still the same old Bobby. They even talk about the trait being passed on by fathers. It was literally a coming out story.
This is the vibe and allusion I’m constantly getting from Bates Motel when it comes to Norman’s mental issues. His schoolmates and brother know his behavior is different from the norm. His mother struggles to understand it while at the same time trying to completely ignore it. And Norman himself is afraid of it, whatever it is.
This has been going on since the beginning of Bates Motel, but so far season 3 has made it most apparent. Most recently, Dylan has told Norma that Norman sleeping in a bed with her isn’t normal, which even she apprehensively comes around to agreeing with. This along with other aspects of Norman and Norma’s relationship (though weird) seem to have stronger reference here on the show to that poor, stupid cliché of mama’s boys all being tidy, emotionally-stunted homos.
But Norman plays his part in this too, coming off more as a closeted teenager than a kid who’s discovering his own mental issues. When he notices the people around him reacting to his strange behaviors, Norman knows he has to react himself in order to throw suspicion off him. Enter “the beard”, whose real name is Emma.
Yeah, Norman finally asking Emma to be his girlfriend was the most glaring example of his character’s psychotic queerness. Because he doesn’t ask Emma to go out with him because he absolutely, truly loves her, or even thinks they could be a perfect happy couple til she croaks. He does it so the people around him can finally see him doing something “normal” – like dating a girl. And let’s not mention how many gay men out there once upon a time tried to force themselves to date and love women, all because they were desperate to stay in the closet or remain “normal”.
And there’s even more to say here when you remember that being gay was once (in the 60s-90s depending on source) considered a psychological condition itself, rather than a natural human trait. This theme was most recently explored in horror with the second season of American Horror Story: Asylum. In Bates Motel, it’s never stated outright, but it’s not difficult to see. Though the world of White Pine Bay is based in modern times, Norma and Norman seem perpetually stuck in some 1960’s world of their very own.
None of this queer allusion casts a pall on the show for me. I still really like it, but it does make me really wonder how much further they’ll explore Norman’s psychosis in this manner. Most of us know that Norman only adopts the Norma personality after he poisons both his mother and a lover of hers (Romero!?!?), but with the changes to Norman’s character now, who can really say?
So all you past Bates Motel guests, what do you think? Am I overreaching here or is Norman’s story on the show basically a full on allusion to growing up a queerosexual?