Poor Gay Judd, by Alice BS Rooney

Or: Why it was totally fucking obvious that John Bender in John Hughes' The Breakfast Club was a flaming homo (it just took us 15 years to notice)

For the alienated middle-class girl growing to womanhood in the early 1990s, there were some things that were assumed.

Few such chicks at the time would have dared argue with the conventional wisdom that you could never be too glum, too fond of cider, or own too many pairs of scuffed DM boots with multi-coloured laces.

And the greatest film in the canon of 20th Century cinema? If you don't know that answer you were never an alienated teen, male or female - quite obviously, that would be The Breakfast Club.

Equally obviously, it has to be stated that you could not be a truly alientated girl-teen if you didn't feel a somewhat masochistic urge to be humiliated by and then in turn to seduce Judd Nelson in his guise as John Bender, the bad boy with the bleeding heart.

The acid tongue, the Rottweiler puppy-dog eyes, the soft silky hair, not to mention the easy access to vast amounts of evil illegal intoxicants: John Bender had everything you wanted in a boy.

Though you knew deep inside that John Bender would rip your heart to pieces like a textbook and then confuse you by weeping over the pages, you still wanted to hang out with him in the car-park, and for it to be your earring he proudly sported in his left earlobe.

Oh, to kiss John Bender on the neck whilst locked in a broom cupboard. These are the things that Physics lesson daydreams are made of.

But watching The Breakfast Club last week for the first time in too many years, something struck me. Something I'd never thought to notice before, although it was staring me in the face throughout my adolescence. John Bender was gay.

No, hear me out. First of all, there's the name: John Bender. Well, there's a semiotic signpost if ever there was one. How did we miss that little touch?

Secondly, there is the undeniable fact that Bender was, to quote Molly Ringwald, 'such a bitch'. How many straight men are actually that bitchy?

I don't mean to generalise, but hello! 'Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?' There are drag queens working guest-lists who would stilletto you in the eye for a line that cutting.

The whole gay nostrils combined with macho don't-give-a-fuck thing is also a dead giveaway. You see, Judd Nelson was a genius.

He knew that other, lesser actors would have taken the character John Hughes gave him and, ignoring the narrative power of subtext, camped it up horribly - maybe even going so far as to do the whole film in a Gaultier dress and toting a cigarette holder.

So he went in the exact opposite direction and had Bender wear flannel and sing Eric Clapton tunes. Thus the character simultaneously becomes a satire on American masculinity and a touching window on the true nature of keeping your essential personality hidden.

In support of my argument, I would like to again mention the nostrils. Those are not the nostrils of a heterosexual man.

And the bit where he says to Emilio Estevez that he has such great admiration for men who roll around on the floor with other men? Men wearing tights? I think context demands that we replace the word 'admiration' with 'jealousy'.

I mean, methinks Bender doth protest way too much. He so blatantly wants Emilio to knock him to the ground and tape his buns, it's almost palpable. It's jumping out of the screen at you, for Christ's sake!

Finally I'd like you to remember the scene where he's under the table looking at Clarie's cunt. Doesn't he rather look as if it's the first time he's ever been that close?

(Please note: I'm not saying that Judd Nelson himself is actually gay, although I do think you'll find a similar thread of conflict running through his portrayal of Alec in 'St Elmo's Fire'.

'No Springsteen is leaving this house?' Oh admit it, Alec - you just want to keep the sleeve of Born to Run! You won't be listening to the actual album!)


The essential subtext of Judd Nelson's performance is not simply that Mr Bender Snr. is an evil asshole and that consequently John has issues with authority.

Rather, Bender is gay as a hat and doesn't know how to deal with the horrifically narrow-minded environs of the typical Chicago high school, except with anger and disdain.

This is a performance dripping with homoerotic signfiers, the relevance of which I cannot believe it has taken 15 years for anyone to pick up on.

Judd Nelson is, through the persona of John Bender, making a plea for understanding and tolerance, exhibiting Bender's need for a space in which he can be proud like a lion and free like a bird; a place where he can wear tights and read Molliere without feeling shame and anger.

We know that one day John Bender will try out for a 'scholarsheee-ip' - to the University of Gayness, specifically the Out and Proud campus, a place where he can be the Bender he wants to be.

Jesus. I forgot to mention where he hides his doobage. I rest my case.

Alice BS Rooney


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