Queering the Gaze: Visualizing Desire in Lacanian Film Theory





queer film, film theory and criticism, gaze, psychoanalytic film theory, queer theory


Film theorists typically conceptualize the gaze in film in terms of power and mastery. However, using Lacan’s notion of the gaze as the objet petit a, or an unattainable object that provokes desire, this essay examines the objet petit a as the foundation of an intersectional queer gaze, aligning queer identification with desire and mirroring the lack of mastery that spectators who are queer, female, or people of color experience. In applying Lacan’s invisible object that provokes our gaze as a lens through which to read queer existence and desire within discourses of queerness as “invisible” or an “open secret,” we can locate non-heterosexual identifications and desires and radical queer potential in the unseen spaces in film. Examining the films Safe (1995), Carol (2015), and The Watermelon Woman (1996), I identify and employ three forms of the queer gaze: reciprocal queer gazing, inclusive spectatorship, and re-visibility. These tools more successfully capture the mechanisms of queer gazing both on and offscreen, allowing us to better view queer cinema and spectatorship and disrupting the privileging of “representation” in contemporary LGBT discourse.




How to Cite

Grace McNealy. (2021). Queering the Gaze: Visualizing Desire in Lacanian Film Theory. Whatever. A Transdisciplinary Journal of Queer Theories and Studies, 4(1), 433–466. https://doi.org/10.13131/2611-657X.whatever.v4i1.106



Languages, Aesthetics, Bodies: The Queer Within Cinema and Audiovisual Media