A Newbie’s interpretation of Hitchcock’s Psycho or Why I don’t want Psycho touching me
Alfred Hitchcock’s immensely iconic 1960 film Psycho is a film that American culture knows without watching. It’s one of those movies forever referenced by media that it feels like you don’t even need to watch it to know it. Maybe that’s why it feels like a bit of a chore to sit down and watch. I know there’s the shower stabbing and I know that sooner or later we see Tony Perkins kill while dressed up as his aged mother.
For the record, I’m not a classic film buff. In the past five or so years I’ve learned some names and watched some movies to raise my status from a film dunce to a mildly enthusiastic newb. And I have to admit that one of my favorite classic movies, a film that gets me excited to watch more classic film, is Hitchcock’s Rope. Rope is a film that can do no wrong for me. That thing, where they never leave the room? That drives me nuts in every other movie I’ve seen *cough*CatOnAHotTinRoof*cough* but Rope did that right. Rope made me never want to leave that room, it made me connect with the villains, it made me an accomplice. If the only way queer characters get to be in Hays Code films is as murderers you damn well bet that I want them to be murderers that I can relate to. John Dall and Farley Granger’s characters in rope are almost lovable to me. Robert Walker in Stranger on a Train is more villainous but he’s defiantly not dull, I wanted to know more about him the whole time. These are all characters that Hitchcock had us intentionally read as queer or gay and even though they are baddies these depictions have never out right offended me.
Psycho does offend me. Maybe I’m too new school but I don’t want to see the mommy’s boy queer tropes, or any other tropes that are in Psycho, even if the film is one of the reasons we see so many of them. Tony Perkins’ character is supposed to be seen as queer in this film but honestly I wonder why. To me he is a harmful and negative sexual deviant, not a homosexual. The character Norman Bates is an awkward dude (though Perkins is a total cutie pie) he stutters and has “unhealthy” hobbies (I know nice taxidermy aficionados, thank you). None of those traits read as homosexual to me. Honestly the whole first part of the movie he’s obsessed with Janet Leigh, obsessed as in romantically interested. Maybe this is just simple thinking but when a dude is trying to get in a ladies pants that doesn’t flare up the homo alarms.
As the story progresses we learn more and more about the abusive relationship between Norman Bates and his mother, ultimately concluding that in a fit of codependent jealousy Norman murdered Mrs. Bates’ new male relationship and Mrs. Bates herself. To erase the crime of killing his mother he steals her corpse and takes on a split personality so that his mother lives on in him.
At this point I really don’t understand how Norman Bates is supposed to read as a homosexual. To me it reads as child abuse, possibly Oedipal incest and that’s it. And it’s a huge insult to relate non-consensual sexual deviance to homosexuality, period. Why are we supposed to read his obsession with his mother as gay? Because whether or not it’s true (as we never see the true Mrs Bates) the whole time we are told that they have an abusive relationship. As far as I know the Mommy’s boy queer trope is that the son is smothered by his mother leaving the son emasculated. The idea that emasculated men = gay men is outdated and offensive but if we’re going to use it Norman Bates character still doesn’t read as emasculated more as broken and abused. Apart from being controlled by his mother he has a relatively manly hobby (taxidermy), he runs a business (old fashion idea maybe, but ownership of land and business was a predominately male privilege until the women’s right’s movement so women are still trying to bridge the gap of that privilege), and has interest in dating women, none of that reads as effeminate. And we know that he crossdresses as his mother due to his split personality disorder, meaning that his wearing a wig really has nothing to do with queer identity at all, as it’s something he has no control of. Honestly if Norman Bates wasn’t played by Anthony Perkins I wonder how queer his character would come off. This may be a stretch but there’s an impression that Anthony Perkins was ashamed of his homosexuality so it’s possible that he played this broken character as a response to inner turmoil. In any case I doubt that I would still read Norman Bates as gay if I didn’t know that Tony Perkins was gay. Or if I wasn’t told that I should read his character as gay. What is gay about an abusive and codependent relationship with a parent? Unless you want to tell me that it was gay to “allow” himself to be a victim to a woman, which is all kinds of messed up.
In the end Norman Bates is an abused mentally ill character that may or may not have been incestuous. There is so very little proving that his character is actually gay but hints that he is sexually deviant. I’m going to go ahead and say that incestuous relationships can never be consensual because they will always come out of a place of abuse or coercion (and honestly this is not up for debate to me because you’ll make me barf on you). This idea that non-consensual (incest, bestiality) sex is on the same level as homosexual sex is one of the reasons that I DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHTS I SHOULD HAVE. So forgive me if I’m not thrilled to see people calling Norman Bates a queer character. I live today and I lived in California during Prop 8. I heard over and over again people telling me that my loving, consensual and dedicated relationship with my same sex partner was no different that fucking a dog. If you are a straight person, can you imagine that? Can you imagine being told that your relationship with your partner is the same as sexually abusing a child? Think about how nasty and horrible those homophobic thoughts are and punch the next person you hear speak them. No, Norman Bates isn’t to blame for the idea that queer relationships are the same as negative sexual deviance, but guess what, it promotes it. It’s ingrained in our thoughts, the success of Psycho surely encouraged lots of media with similar plots and tropes. If this is your only few exposures to queerness (and in the early 60’s it may have been) it’s going to form your opinions subconsciously or not. It’s not our lovable, relatable Homicidal-Homos from Rope, and that’s why I don’t want Psycho anywhere near me