Look, All The Women In “Ghostbusters” Are Gay — Deal With It

By now, you’ve probably heard that Kate McKinnon’s character in Ghostbusters—the tool-loving, ghostbusting engineer babe Jillian Holtzmann—is the queer action hero of your dreams. But the Holtzmann Is Super Hella Gay narrative misses out on one crucial Ghostbusters detail: THEY’RE ALL QUEER. Sony, no doubt, doesn’t want you to believe there’s anything gay about any of the ghostbusters. Paul Feig could only grin and nod when asked if Holtzmann—who is probably the gayest scientist to walk the earth—is indeed gay. He had to be coy about it because of “dealing with the studios,” but Feig definitely seems to be in on the Gay Holtzmann reality. And maybe, just maybe, Feig and Katie Dippold worked even more queerness into the script that they knew would get by Sony but would catch the eyes of those among us who are seasoned Gay Subtext Detectives.

Here is what I saw when I watched Ghostbusters, and as Detective Superintendent (this is a very high rank, which I know because it was Helen Mirren’s rank in Prime Suspect) of the Gay Subtext Detectives, my interpretation is basically law:

Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin used to date. Maybe it happened right away, right after Abby became the only person who believed Erin saw a ghost at the foot of her bed every night. Or maybe they really were just friends for a long time until they became something a little more (think Carol and Abby, but in this case, things worked out a little better). Abby was one of the first people who didn’t just see Erin as “ghost girl,” and ever since, they’ve had a very close relationship. Here’s the thing: They started out friends. At some point, friendship turned into something a little more. Then they got wrapped up in paranormal science, and they wrote a book together—a book that Abby quite literally refers to in the film as their child.

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“But, Kayla!” say the naysayers. “A human woman and another human woman can share the most sacred and intimate parts of their lives together and be each other’s emotional support systems and also just be friends.” I propose the following counterargument: Nope.

Sure, I’ve oft heard of women being friends with other women. I even delightedly participated in the practice of befriending other women myself. But I know gal pals when I see them, and even more so, I know ex-gal pals when I see them. And when Abby and Erin reconnect in the beginning of Ghostbusters, it 100% looks like two exes tensely reuniting. Erin’s timidness and Abby’s resentment in that scene make me think Erin is the one who ended things. The deeper they got into their paranormal research, the deeper they got in their relationship, and the more entangled and inextricable the two parts of their lives became. Erin got out of the ghost business, and she got out of the relationship, too, because she could no longer tell where one ended and the other began.

love triangle

love triangle

So when Erin left, Abby eventually rebounded with Holtzmann. There’s no better rebound than an ethereally hot and flirtatious engineer who has an arsenal of powerful toys—er, “weapons.” Abby and Holtzmann never dated, but they hooked up a few times and decided to just keep being friends and co-workers because they genuinely enjoy each other’s company and also probably still make out from time to time after a few post-laboratory drinks. Indeed, in that scene where Erin and Abby are reuniting, there’s a sense that Holtzmann is sizing Erin up, and Abby cozies up awfully close to Holtzmann to see how her ex might react.

Holtzmann and Abby also very casually bring up the time they spent several nights together in the Chelsea Hotel. Supposedly, they were just there to track ghosts, but I’m sure there was time for other activities—ones that don’t involve ghosts but do involve the feeling of transcending the spectral plane and entering a new dimension. (Orgasms. I’m talking about orgasms.)

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Everyone’s screaming about how gay Holtzmann is, but Abby’s equally covered in a thick coat of subtextual queerness, especially when it comes to how she acts around Erin. When Erin, who I am positing as the resident bisexual, develops a light crush on Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), Abby doesn’t understand it at all. She’s probably thinking what we all are: Who would be looking at Kevin when Holtzmann is right there, her combat-booted feet propped up on her desk as she leans back and methodically fingering her goggles? Abby and Holtzmann might just be occasional makeout buddies, but Abby certainly knows how smoking hot her co-buster is. At one point, she gets very close to Holtzmann’s face. I’m talking almost-kissing close. Sure, she’s technically possessed by a ghost at the time, but I choose to believe that she’s so physically attracted to Holtzmann that she temporarily overrides Rowan’s strength in the moment.

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And then there’s the greatest love story of them all: Holtzmann and Patty (Leslie Jones). Patty, at first, is slightly terrified of Holtzmann’s intensity. But she certainly isn’t immune to her swagger, and soon enough, she finds herself falling for the sexy weirdo. Note that Patty is the ghostbuster who comes up with the affectionate nickname “Holtzy” for her. Holtzmann flirts with everyone—and has chemistry with every ghostbuster, every ghost, and every stranger on the street throughout the movie—but she starts to fall for Patty. Their connection deepens when Patty saves Holtzmann’s life from Rowan-Abby, and it all becomes very official when Patty slaps the ghost out of Abby, because that definitely seems like something Holtzmann would be into.

By the end of the movie, Patty and Holtzy are practically sewn together by the seams of their jumpsuits. Holtzmann’s tearful toast is directed at all her fellow ghostbusters, but when she talks about how they taught her how to love, it sounds like Holtzmann might finally be ready to seriously commit to a relationship. The power of Patty compels her. “That was real. That was real,” Patty says. And just like that, their relationship is the real deal. (Holtzmann subsequently has to end things with her “mentor,” played by Sigourney Weaver, who she had a casual thing with as evidenced by their palpable chemistry during one of the credits scenes.)

this is how Patty looks at her Holtzy

this is how Patty looks at her Holtzy

Erin and Abby are back together in the end, too. It took saving New York City and a whole lot of green slime for them to realize they belong together. When Erin jumps into the vortex to save Abby, she says that she wasn’t going to leave her a second time. Again, these two might as well be wearing signs that say “we are ex-girlfriends.” In that moment, I could have sworn they were going to kiss right before they get pulled back up into reality. But then, I was sucked back out of my own vortex of gay delusions and faced with the harsh reality: Like ghosts trapped between our world and theirs, the queer subtext of Ghostbusters never quite breaks through to the surface.

there is nothing straight about this movie

there is nothing straight about this movie

Look, one of the most subversive aspects of Ghostbusters is that it’s a movie about women that doesn’t hinge on any kind of romantic plot. It’s about bad ass ladies bustin’ ghosts and not needing any men to help or give them permission (Kevin is wonderfully expendable). But I think it’s even more than that. They don’t merely not need men; they don’t want men, either. The male gaze is entirely absent from the film (which is probably a huge reason why straight cis dudes are so up in arms about it). These women just seem so different from any characters I’ve ever seen in a summer blockbuster and yet so familiar to me. There’s power in the movie’s lack of overt relationship drama or romance, but as a lesbian who has loved action movies my whole life, there’s power in the narrative I’ve constructed here, too. And you know what, it’s pretty substantiated. I may be extrapolating, but I am pulling my theories from very real, very present stuff. This is basically science, y’all. I’m certainly sick of settling for subtext, but I cannot deny that this was the most queer summer blockbuster my gay eyes hath ever seen.

Say it loud, say it proud: Ghostbusters is gay.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a Brooklyn-based writer, television critic, and comedian who spends most of her time over-analyzing queer subtext on television, singing "Take Me Or Leave Me" in public places, and assembling cheese platters. She has a cat named after Piper Halliwell from Charmed, and her go-to karaoke song is "Everywhere" by Michelle Branch. Her writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her screaming in all-caps about Kalinda Sharma, Jennifer Lopez, and oysters on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 130 articles for us.

91 Comments

    • No.

      I really appreciated the very normal way in which Holtzman’s sexuality is presented…but I think assuming all women who become buddies are lesbian is the same Kirk/Spock bullshit that makes it harder for men to be straight and have warm friendships. I’d rather not women suffer the same fate.

      If anything, Abby strikes me as asexual — she seems to be focused on secondary characteristics rather than looks. It didn’t OCCUR to her that Kevin might be attractive…because primary sexual characteristics don’t faze her. That would also be cool.

      • “but I think assuming all women who become buddies are lesbian is the same Kirk/Spock bullshit that makes it harder for men to be straight and have warm friendships. I’d rather not women suffer the same fate.”

        That’s extremely unlikely to happen outside of relatively small portions of fandom. Many people will still passionately deny the existence of sexuality and romance between women and expect a burden of proof comparable to a murder trial. Please see the “gal pals” phenomenon and now literal decades-long debate over Xena for reference.

    • My best friend is a trans woman, and she thinks that that sketch is hilarious. She cracks up every time we watch the Big Gay Sketch Show.

      I’m sure Kate didn’t mean anything by it.

      • Just a thought, but no good conversation can be had when a defense starts with “my friend is a…”

        Just like straight people with a gay friend or white people with a black friend, it’s not appropriate for cis people with a trans friend to cite that as a counter to something someone who may be trans said.

        My two cents. 🙂

  1. So here for everything about this.

    Related note: how soon do you think goggles-wearing-women will start popping up at a local queer bar near you? (My guess is literally in two days, two-and-a-half to be generous.)

  2. I have sincerely loved all of the Ghostbusters content on AS this week, thank you so much for full on embracing this movie! I’ve retweeted/ tumbl’d/ Facebook’d so many articles!

    But this, bar none, WAS THE BEST THING I READ THIS WEEK. Not just on Autostraddle. Not just Ghostbusters related. THE GREATEST THING FULL STOP.

    I love it so much! It was a bright spot of pure joy. Thanks again.

  3. I like to think that holtzmann was also totally trying to hit on Erin during the dancing scene, and that she also is really fascinated by Erin’s attraction to kevin, since she always looks so curiously at their interactions. Holtzy is probably into other people being together. (Hell yeah, complex possibly poly relationships!)

  4. Its a big fat turd bomb so who cares what they are? Crash and burn this weekend with a 60% fall in bo! too bad-maybe next time instead of an all female gimmick, you can concentrate on an actual script??

  5. I had no intention of seeing this movie but my friends won’t stop talking about it. I might have to. It’s just not really my bag – I was never that hardcore into the original GB either. Thus, I have no opinion on the whole “it’s killing my childhood” debate. I reserve that vitriol for the abominations that are the new Michael Bay TMNT movies. I hate you forever, Michael Bay, and don’t you ever CGI my Turtles again!

    Seriously, I might have to check it out, but if I’m going to be arsed to see a movie alone instead of on date night (hubs is in no way going to see GB), I still think I’d rather see Finding Dory.

    • Honestly I didn’t really care that much about the original either, so even though I wasn’t *against* the new GB I wasn’t incredibly gung ho about seeing it either. I did end up going Sunday night with my partner and a couple friends and was absolutely blown away by my own visceral *love* for it.

      I liked it so much better than the original because until this one, I never realized how much I didn’t *care* about the original. If anyone were to ask me if I liked the original, I would’ve said yeah, it’s a classic, it’s funny, etc. but I never felt connected to it like I did this one.

      I would say definitely go see it even if you were never that into the first one because unlike the first one, this one actually feels like it’s made for us and until now, I didn’t really know what that felt like. And let me tell you—-it felt great. 😀

  6. I also thought that Abby and Erin were definitely exes who became no-longer-exes at the end of the movie and I am so glad Autostraddle agrees with me on that. Also, while I ship Holtzmann with pretty much everyone in this movie, I mostly ship her with myself, so all other ships are mostly tangential. Though I would be 100% willing to go poly with Holtzy.

  7. I think you’re completely off-base on Erin. Your justifications of the Abby/Erin relationship are based on wishful thinking, especially the downplaying of her “light crush” on Kevin. She practically orgasms the first time she sees him. She’s a severely sexually repressed, socially inept straight virgin. She ended her previous friendship/collaboration with Abby because at some point Abby wanted a sexual relationship and that freaked her out. That was especially hard because Abby was her only friend. The confirmation that ghosts exist caused Erin to see some things in a new light. In the end it helped her come to finally accept her friend for who she is.

  8. when I sat there in my movie seat I began cheering and shouting at not only how queer the film is but about the relationship between women. I don’t know if a lack of male presence is inherently queer but a film about women and their friendship/companionship is something I began cheering about in the theater.

  9. I finally (FINALLY!!!) saw Ghostbusters this weekend and immediately came to the conclusion that Erin was the only one attracted to men at all, because in Hollywood, if you’re a woman and not attracted to a man who looks like Kevin, you’re gay. AGREED about everything in this article! Just wanted to add an additional observation.

  10. What are you talking about? Holtzmann flirts with Erin the entire movie , it’s obvious that she have a sexual interest on her, even the way they met was like any movie when the potential couple appear together in a scene, and you never mentioned. I think the subtext of the movie is clear, Erin is bi and she is leaving the closet, I mean she is not indiferent at Holtzmann flirting,and everytime Holtz flirts with her or they have some interaction Erin gets in contact with slime (she gets covered or step on it) if that it’snt a sexual meaning I dont know what it is. Holtz is super sexy but she doesnt flirts with the other girls, it’s okey if you like the other ships but seems to me that some people want to ignore the actual facts and the canon to justify their favorite ships.

  11. I’m so happy you wrote this, before I watched the film I knew little about most of the cast (bar Melissa Mcarthy) and the whole film I was consumed with these thought of “wtf she’s sooo gay” the only one that got past me was patty I never noticed that one so well done.

  12. I agree with the gay subtext but saw it from a different angle: ghostbusting and interest in the paranormal as a metaphor for lesbian sex. Erin talks about her first ghost encounter like an admission of molestation. Her own parents deny it and send her to therapy. Abby is her only ally, the only one who believes her. Thus, Erin is conflicted about her sexuality. After college and her experimental phase she embraces hetero life but it all falls apart when her past catches up with her. So she owns her identity but is still on the fence throughout, as evidenced by Kevin and also her confrontation with Bill Murray’s character, who represents the patriarchy. (He even played the corresponding role in the original all-male movie) Patty is a self-described friend “with benefits” and shows the other three how to be themselves in NYC, and Holtz is, of course, out and proud.

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