Secretly Gay Movies: “Fried Green Tomatoes”

Hey, super spies. Welcome to Secretly Gay Movies, where I deconstruct movies that, underneath their pandering to the heterosexual audience exterior, hold a world of super queer thematic elements. Have you ever wanted to watch LGBT movies on Netflix without your entire account-sharing family knowing your sneaky gay agenda? Or just wished there were more LGBT movies for you to become obsessed with? Consider me your guide to the wonderful world of swimming in subtext.

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Whenever someone asks me what my favorite lesbian/queer movies are, I’m always tempted to scream, “Dude, Fried Green TomatoesThat shit is the gayest. And it is perfect.” Sure, most people who love that movie would never categorize it as gay, but that’s just because they don’t watch it with hopeful queer eyes.

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If you’ve never seen this girls-to-the-front female-driven movie, let me break it down for you. The story (that was based on a novel by the same name) is set in the 1980s and is told from the perspective of Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy), an elderly woman who befriends the shy, unhappily married and totally ’80s housewife Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) and tells her stories about a Depression-era friendship between some women she used to know. The present-day 1980s scenes also include things like this:

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Are you Googling it yet? You should be! Because you’re watching it with me tonight!

So Ninny’s story begins with “tomboy” (wait for it) Imogene “Idgie” Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson), who Ninny says is her sister-in-law. This is little Idgie:

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Definitely just a straight tomboy. Super straight. Yes. I am believing it. So anyway, Idgie has a crazy adorable relationship with her charming-as-all-get-out older brother Buddy (Chris O’Donnell) that is tragically cut short when he is hit by a train because he had to go find a runaway hat (just watch the movie). Idgie is devastated and locks herself away from the world until Buddy’s former girlfriend, Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker), intervenes with her hotness.

The two eventually become very good “friends” until Ruth leaves the great city of Whistle Stop to marry he-doesn’t-deserve-you-girl Frank Bennett and moves to Valdosta, Georgia. Idgie is heartbroken that she lost her “friend” and tries to move on (yeah, right). Time goes by and Idgie drives to visit Ruth, only to find Ruth is pregnant and her husband is hitting her. Idgie, LIKE A BOSS, takes her back to Whistle Stop as “Come To My Window” plays on the stereo, even though it’s like 1922. That’s the magic of the movies, people.

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So the two of them open up the Whistle Stop Cafe (awww) together and their barbecue becomes a huge hit with the town. Of course, pile of shit Frank comes back and tries to kidnap Ruth’s kid, but fortunately he’s stopped when he’s hit by an unseen attacker and then he goes missing and his truck is found in the bottom of a lake. WIN!

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I won’t spoil the rest of the movie for you, but suffice it to say, the number of missed opportunities for lesbian sex scenes in Fried Green Tomatoes is 4,876,238,997. You can cut the sexual tension between Mary Stuart “Why Aren’t You Gay” Masterson and Mary Louise “I Know You’re Not But I Can Dream” Parker with a knife. I never watch this movie without thinking, “OH MY GOD JUST MAKE OUT AND BE THE BEST COUPLE OF ALL TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” It’s torture. Awesome, awesome torture.

And apparently I’m not alone in this. One YouTube search of “Idgie and Ruth” lead to me this.

And yes, I did get chills when I watched it and I don’t even like that song. THEIR LOVE IS THAT POWERFUL. IT CAN TRANSCEND MUSIC I AM NOT INTO!

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I know what you’re thinking: how is this secretly gay when it’s so obviously gay??? Well I did a little digging and was shocked to discover that after all these years of sitting in my room alone going, “Oh come on! They are totally gay!!! Right? Anyone? Anyone?” I found out that in the novel, the lesbian romance between the two is not ambiguous in any way. It was only until the screen adaptation that they decided to make the relationship more ambiguous, even though it’s not at all.

According to Wikipedia:

The film adaptation does not explicitly present the lesbian romance between the two central characters, instead making the relationship between Idgie and Ruth ambiguous. The DVD edition of the film contains an audio commentary in which the director acknowledges the relationship and points out that a scene between the two women engaging in a food fight was intended to be seen as symbolic love-making. At the time of the film’s debut, it was criticized by reviewers and activists for what was seen as “glossing over” the lesbian overtones of the relationship. However, the film won an award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) for best feature film with lesbian content. The film also focuses more on the racial theme rather than the lesbian plot of the novel. 

Hmm. People were upset at the movie for glossing over the lesbian relationship? I don’t know why that could be. I mean I guess it could be the whole “comparing lesbian sex to a food fight” thing. Yeah, probably that.

Toned down or not, Fried Green Tomatoes is a gay love story, baby just say yes*.

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*I solemnly swear to never quote Taylor Swift again. That was a first and a last.

If you have a film you think should be featured on Secretly Gay Moviestweet me @Hellolanemoore, send me an ASS message, or ask on my tumblr!

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Lane has written 3 articles for us.

69 Comments

  1. Thumb up 8

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    My girlfriend and I just watched this on VHS two days ago… it was my first time seeing! I’ve totally been waiting for new green tomatoes to pop up in my garden as a result.

    In relevance to the movie, MAN I wish I could rock suspenders the way Idgie does…

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    i remember seeing and reading this and it immediately becoming my favorite but then i hid both the book and the vhs under my bed (similar to how joey on friends hides his scary books in the freezer) because it was just too much! the scandalous lesbian relationship, the old ppl, it was just too emotional! just reading this article made me tear up again! oof!

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    Lol, I remember watching this movie twice with my mom who loves this movie. The first time I was a younger and just wanted to be Idgie wearing a tie in church (seriously how did I not know I was gay?) The second time I remember pointing out the tension between them and my mom telling me they were just friends and politely reminding me homosexuality was a sin. Pretty much convinced myself I was the only one seeing things. At least now I’m not the only one!! HA!

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    Fried Green Tomatoes is my favorite movie and my favorite book. And, yes, they are officially in lesbians in the book (people from the town even call Ruth’s son “Ruth and Idgie’s son”), but the focus isn’t only on that. The other stories in the book -there are many stories being told at the same time- are great, very well written and, oh, so heart warming. There are characters that don’t appear in the movie, and it’s sad that they don’t, because there are so many great characters… And the way the story is told? It’s brilliant. Reading the book is totally worth it.

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      I love Bend it Like Beckham but ****SPOILER***** I thought that it was supposed to look like they were lesbians…. but then it was all just a misunderstanding at the end and they were actually both into their coach… did I read that all wrong? Cause I used to watch that movie as a 13 year old and never finish it because I hated the ending…

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        That’s totally what happens in the movie. But doesn’t it seem like they should actually be into each other? It does to me! I read somewhere once that the director said that the main characters were originally intended to be interested in each other, but it was changed to appease mainstream audiences.

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    My friend Thomas and I were just talking about FGT! He’s my flamboyantly gay counterpart that acts as my dramatic foil lol he has refused to recognize the “inferences” of a lesbian relationship between Idgie and Ruth. He kept saying, “Oh…well, I guess they are kind of close.” I replied with, “You see that look that Idgie gave Ruth after she kissed her on the cheek? That is undeniable love.” Come on!
    The whole movie I wanted them to just accept that they were in a Boston marriage and realize that they should be together fo real.

  6. Thumb up 7

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    “the director acknowledges the relationship and points out that a scene between the two women engaging in a food fight was intended to be seen as symbolic love-making.” Okay….

    Queer erasure is having to read between the lines all. the. time. Gay relationships are only acceptable if people can reasonably argue they don’t exist in the first place.

    As a side note, I need to rewatch this movie. Damn.

  7. Thumb up 4

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    My 12-year-old self is jumping up and down right now after seeing this article, because I KNEW, I KNEW THEY WERE A COUPLE, HAPPILY NOT-MARRIED AND MADLY IN LOVE.
    I spent most of that book and all of the movie thinking “but why won’t they KISS?!?!” even though I knew why, namely because this is the South in the 1930s, but still.
    I also was really attached to Idgie since she was basically me growing up. Except I was corrupted by the girls I didn’t realize I was crushing on in grade school and tried to become more “girly” in around 5th grade. Didn’t work too well, but my awkward phase was essentially trying to be more girly and failing and my sort-of-getting-over-it was giving up and just dressing how I want to dress.
    I say sort-of because my awkward phase is a many-headed monster and if you cut off one head it grows two more in its place…

  8. Thumb up 1

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    A few months ago my friend brought up this movie while walking around in Target and I said “They were lesbians!” …. I said it a little more enthusiastically than I had intended… and she just flat out told me I was wrong and wouldn’t believe me. So I bought the movie and made her watch it that night.

    Also, Idgie <3

  9. Thumb up 12

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    If you haven’t read the book, I definitely recommend doing so. I can’t actually get excited about the movie since I hate almost all film adaptations of books, especially my favorite books, but the movie made so many people think it was all ambiguity when it is one of the gayest fucking books ever written. If people tell you it’s not gay, choose any of the scenes such as Idgie showing Ruth how she’s a bee charmer, Stump being called “Ruth and Idgie’s son” and taking Idgie’s last name, Ruth confronting Idgie before she goes back to Valdosta to marry Frank, Idgie’s father giving Idgie a “man of the family” talk when she brings Ruth back to Whistle Stop, Idgie hooking up with Eva Bates after Ruth goes back to Valdosta, etc. etc.

    The part of the movie that enrages me the most is how they claim Ruth was Buddy’s girlfriend and insinuate that’s why Idgie was so attached to her, when Ruth didn’t actually show up until years after Buddy’s death.

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    I agree with ALL of these comments. I can’t believe I haven’t read the book yet! When I was little I wanted to BE Idgie and I realized later in life that I totes had a crush on Ruth. My girlfriend calls me her Bee Charmer.
    :D

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    I loved the book for exactly that reason. I’ve kept it for yeeaaaars. I was super disappointed with the movie after the book since they mellow the relationship down, but its been a long time and perhaps I’ll watch it again.

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    Oh, man, when I first saw this after it came out, 12-year-old unknowingly baby gay me picked up on Idgie and Ruth right away. A few years later I read the book and was all, “I KNEW IT!!!” I’ve been in love with Mary Louise Parker ever since.

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    I have been watching this movie my whole life, having grown up in the south and all…Idgie was my role model numbah 1! I appreciate this post more than y’all know. And I’m pretty positive this is the movie that made me realize I was totally gay.

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    My mother loves this movie and I’ve been watching it with her since forever!
    Idgie Threadgoode was the only movie character I ever related to as a child. It seemed like all the other tomboys always grew up and became “pretty” girls and that was supposed to be a happy ending or something but I always hated that. Idgie never “grew out of it.”

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    THEIR LOVE IS THAT POWERFUL. IT CAN TRANSCEND MUSIC I AM NOT INTO!

    I hereby nominate this statement to be the official motto for every Fan Fiction/Video Maker.

    [I’m not the only one with a secret ‘video’ collection for rainy days, am I?]

  16. Thumb up 14

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    Fun fact – this was the first movie I was in…making it EVEN MORE GAY, YOU GUYS.
    10 points if you can find baby Haviland in here. (hint: Riese knows where it is)
    Another fun fact – I was on set every day during this shoot, and had a massive childhood crush on Mary Stuart Masterson. Idgie remains in my heart the hottest fictional character of all time, pretty much.

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    I remember eating fried red tomatoes and watching this with a bunch of girls (about 3/4 of whom were queer) in college. The whole way back to our dorm my friend and I were squeeing about how the movie was TOTALLY TOTALLY GAY and the first thing I did when we got back was rush to Wikipedia to confirm the gayness.

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    I was obsessed with this movie as a child! Rejecting traditional gender roles as a young childperson was definitely easier with the help of characters like Idgie. I remember not being able to fully communicate (or understand) my feelings about things like dresses, sports, or being a tomboy in general until I was exposed to Idgie Threadgoode. It was the first time I saw a piece of myself in a character from a movie, and she made me realize that I, too, could ditch the dresses and climb trees.

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    Love this movie! And, I’m actually glad they toned down the relationship for the movie because because there was no way I would have been allowed to watch it when I was little otherwise, growing up in the conservative Christian household that I did. (this movie sparked a “is it ok to divorce your husband if he’s beating you” debate between my sister and I, for real.) But it made my heart soar and I loved Idgie so so much and rooted for her and Ruth so hard. Even though I was sheltered enough I never for a moment considered or figured out that they were a real couple, it made this really intense impression on me. As an adult I watched it on a whim one night and was like “oh, hey wait a minute, they’re totally gay!”

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    I need to see this movie. I’ve read the book though — good stuff! (Except if I reread it I’ll probably skim past the 1980s sections because I really really hated Evelyn. Even at her best she was so much less interesting than Idgie and Ruth and everyone in their town.)

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    I love this movie and the book. The movie came out when I was in the middle of my first lesbian relationship and, even without more overt gayness, it helped me deal with some of the tumultuous feelings I was going through at the time. Then I read the book and confirmed the absolute gayness of the story and that cemented my love for the characters and the movie. Plus, Mary Stuart Masterson was awesome as Idgie and had great chemistry with Mary Louise Parker…sigh.

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    I have sooo many feelings about this movie……I watched it like 3 or 4 in the cinema when it came out .
    I remember a massive crush on Ruth and really badly wanting to be Idgie, I sort of lived in that movie in my mind for weeks.
    Hardly suprisring – I was 12 or 13 and trying to figure myself out.
    I never once questioned if this was a queer movie or not – it definitely was and is for me.
    And yes – the book is way more direct and clear but the movie to me is supersexy and cute and funny and ….*sigh*…sooo many things at once for me.

    If you have not seen it – please go watch it. It is well worth it.

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