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9 Times TV & Movies Used the Closeted Bully Trope
The Closeted Bully is one of the oldest tropes in the gay media playbook, and for good reason.
When someone hates us, it can be easy to search for a reason why, and deciding that the person is also like us and actually hates themself is a way to rationalize all the homophobia that we face in the world.
Sometimes, the trope even turns out to be true, like when homophobic politicians and preachers turn out to be secretly gay. However, usually, a bigot is just a bigot, and a bully has plenty of other reasons to bully you than a secret crush.
Most queer fans see this as a problematic trope that doesn't really reflect reality and gives bigots and bullies excuses. But that doesn't stop writers and showrunners from going back to the well again and again.
Here are nine examples from movies and TV shows of closeted gay bullies who work out their internalized homophobia on the ones they have secret crushes on.
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1. Adam from 'Sex Education'
Early in the show, Adam (the headmaster's son and Moordale's resident bully) beats up openly gay student Eric on a regular basis and steals his lunch. Eric says that he's been bullying him for four years. Eventually, his bullying went far enough that he snapped when the two were in detention together and a physical fight turned into kissing and a blowjob. The two ended up in a relationship that divided fans, as many didn't like seeing a Black gay boy fall for his tormentor.
2. Ben from 'Heartstopper'
Before Charlie gets with Nick, he enters a secret relationship with Ben, who is constantly pressuring Charlie to keep their relationship a secret, telling him that no one else would date him or like him if they were open about their relationship. Thankfully, Charlie got out of there.
3. Greg from 'Cruel Intentions'
Greg, Annette's friend, is a typical All-American guy. He plays football, is a typical jock, degrades women, and loves to make anti-gay comments. That is, until we see him having sex with Blaine, something that Sebastian uses against him.
4. Karofsky from 'Glee'
One of the most classic examples of this trope is Dave Karofsky, the brutish football player from Glee. In the early seasons, he and his friends relentlessly bully Kurt for being gay, and they bully every other Glee Club member for the same thing. When Kurt finally stands up to him and demands to know what he's "so scared of," Karofsky tells him not to push him. Kurt keeps pushing and Karofsky ends up kissing Kurt.
5. Larry from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
Larry is a top athlete at his school and a big, brutish bully who never stops sexually harassing his female classmates. But in one episode, the gang thinks he's a werewolf, and Xander confronts him in the locker room. When Xander's trying to relate to him by saying he went through something similar (being possessed by a hyena spirit), Larry thinks he's gay too, and comes out to him.
6. Nate from 'Euphoria'
Nate's dad Cal has already messed his son up enough by being a closeted homophobe himself, sleeping with teen trans girl Jules, and pressuring his son to be the right kind of man. So when Nate meets Jules, he feels both an attraction to her and hatred towards her, even threatening her for being trans. He also goes to extreme lengths to get close to her on an app, tries to frame her for child pornography, and blackmails her.
7. Paige from 'Pretty Little Liars'
When we first meet Paige, she won't stop bullying and threatening Emily for being gay. After Emily rejoins the swim team and threatens Paige's position on it, she starts to lash out and make homophobic remarks. When the swim coach finds out, she benches Paige from a race, and Paige retaliates by dunking Emily's head under water. When the two get a chance to talk things out, Paige surprises Emily by kissing her. The two then dated for a while.
8. Riley from 'Degrassi: The Next Generation'
Riley was the team captain quarterback and track star at his school, but his internalized homophobia caused him to lash out. At one point, he even punches a gay lifeguard in the jaw. Later, he took anger management classes and got a boyfriend and eventually came out himself.
9. Shelby from 'The Wilds'
At the beginning of the show, Shelby is a conservative religious bigot who gets uncomfortable at any mention of sex, and especially homosexuality, which she says is sinful. But as she gets to know Toni, who is openly gay, better, the two bond and become a couple. Unfortunately this show was canceled, so we won't get to see how this relationship plays out.