The Queerness of Pee-wee, From the Closet to ‘Big Holiday’
Pee-wee Herman has long existed in a queer space, though one only subliminally alluded to. Paul Reubens’ feminine boyish persona, oscillating between effeminate gay man and asexual man-child, has long played with ideas of gender expression that comment on an underlying queerness. From the drag queen genie Jambi in Playhouse to Pee-wee’s episodes of crossdressing, from his makeup and exaggerated feminine gestures to the fluctuating inflections of his comical voice, Pee-wee has been deconstructing gender and sexuality norms all along while disguising it as campy comedy. Yet Pee-wee never directly acknowledged the queerness of his imaginative universe and even struggled with embracing it, as an early episode of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” shows. In the Season 2 episode “Pee-wee Catches a Cold,” the host reveals the daily secret word as “Out,” and then immediately falls ill, as if weakened by the idea of being out to the world. But after a 28 year absence from the big screen, Pee-Wee is finally coming out.