Pin It
download (1)
Barbie, 2023 (Film Still)

Birkenstocks and Indigo Girls? Barbie is a lesbian

As Barbie chooses Birkenstocks and belts out ‘Closer to Fine’ in her car, we unpack the secret meaning behind the trailer – and whether the film could end up being the lesbian Matrix

Barbie is a lesbian. And here’s how I know. Yesterday, the new trailer for Greta Gerwig’s hotly-anticipated Barbie movie was released and it’s an absolute pepto bismol-hued romp, filled with camp cowboy outfits, top-tier acting from Ryan Gosling and some quite unsubtle hints that Barbie is gay.

Let me set the scene. The opening strums of the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine” kick in as Margot Robbie’s Barbie arrives at the doorstep of Kate McKinnon’s Barbie. Kate McKinnon’s Barbie then presents Margot Robbie’s Barbie with a Matrix-esque red pill/blue pill scenario: she can pick the classy, rhinestone baby-pink heels and “go back to her regular life” or she can pick the mocha-brown Arizona Birkenstocks and “know the truth about the universe”.

Margot Robbie’s Barbie first tries to choose the heels, but Kate McKinnon’s Barbie says she “has to want to know” and then we cut straight into a scene of Margot Robbie’s Barbie driving in her car singing her heart out to “Closer to Fine” before Ken pops out of the backseat and sings along too.

So why is this so gay? Let’s break down and unpack the evidence that Gerwig and the team made a series of seriously lesbian-coded creative choices. Firstly, Kate McKinnon is openly gay. In 2020, while presenting Ellen DeGeneres with an award at the Golden Globes she thanked her for making it less scary to accept her sexuality and helping her feel like she wasn’t an alien. Before being on SNL, she starred in The Big Gay Sketch Show and she has a very public long-time crush on Gillian Anderson.

Of course, an actor’s sexuality doesn’t dictate what kind of characters they can play and just because McKinnon is gay doesn’t mean her Barbie is. However, having it be her character – who, by the way, is not a polished high-femme Barbie like the other Barbies, but a broken one with marker all over her face and a safety-scissor haircut, which led queer women’s publication Autostraddle to call her character “GAY GAY” – presenting the Birkenstock does add a subtextual layer of queerness to the interaction.

Then we get to the Matrix shoe choice. Birkenstocks are a big lesbian stereotype. Lesbians love a sturdy, sensible shoe and the Birkenstocks have traditionally been a short-hand way of referring to a woman as queer. In 1992, a New York Times piece noted that “some people think that lesbian women wear only jeans and Birkenstocks”. In an article tracing the history of the Birkenstock-lesbian stereotype, author Kate Clinton says at a 1979 women’s writing conference she went to with Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde, “it was all flannel. It was women from communes. It was Birkenstocks. That’s where I first ran into Birkenstocks”.

In an interview for Iowa State University’s exhibition on LGBTQ+ fashion, Fitting the Stereotype, one queer woman shared her experience being referred to as an “old-school dyke” because she was wearing Birkenstocks and a thumb ring. While in a 2004 episode of Will & Grace, Jack jokes “put yourself in her Birkenstocks” about a female character coming out as gay.

As to why lesbians loved sensible Birkenstocks, long before they became the height of fashion, Sherrie A Inness writes in The Lesbian Menace: Ideology, Identity, and the Representation of Lesbian Life: “In the 1970s, many lesbians strove to appear as unfashionable as possible in protest against society’s beauty dictates.” Considered ugly and frumpy, the Birkenstock was a political statement against the patriarchy and societal expectations of women to be desirable for the male gaze. With the sandal, Barbie is given the choice to reject the artifice of heteronormativity and embrace “the truth”. (It’s true that Barbie does initially try to choose the traditionally feminine pink heels but then, haven’t we all, in our own way, before finally accepting who we are?)

If you are still not convinced this fashion choice is gay, please refer to this advertisement for “lesbian culture and politics” magazine DYKE A Quarterly from circa 1976. With uncanny similarities to the Barbie scene, the advertisement shows a picture of two shoes, a strappy, open-toed heeled sandal and a lace-up boot, with the question “which shoe fits you?” If the reader says the boot, the advert continues, “then DYKE magazine may be for you.”

And then finally we come to the most compelling piece of evidence: the Indigo Girls and “Closer to Fine”. Before WLW were asking their crushes if they listened to Girl in Red, the Indigo Girls and k.d. lang were codes to signify that you were into women (In 10 Things I Hate About You, a character asks if Kat is “a k.d. lang fan”). “Closer to Fine” is a well-established, long-time lesbian anthem, appearing on countless listicles of LGBTQ+ anthems. In season one of The L Word, the gang take a road trip to Palm Springs for “lesbian spring break” Dinah Shore Weekend. On the journey, they have a prolonged, repeated group sing-along to “Closer to Fine” and then all share their coming out stories. 

In a Reddit thread from three years ago, one user wrote of the scene: “As a 40-year-old seasoned lesbian, I can tell you that’s when I knew I’d be hooked on the show. I don’t know any lesbians my age that didn’t sing “Closer to Fine” at the top of their lungs on a road trip. It’s a rite of passage.” And who do we see belting out “Closer to Fine” at the top of her lungs on a road trip? That’s right. It’s Barbie.

But Ken pops out from the backseat and sings along too, you might argue. Let me then direct you to James Greig’s article about how Ken has always been gay. “The doll has a long history as a gay symbol, which stands to reason: minus a handle-bar moustache, he embodies the kind of beauty ideals that in the 70s and 80s would find you atop the sexual hierarchy of Fire Island,” he writes. “He is also, of course, extremely kitsch – a vibe which has always been popular among gay men.” So really, what we’re seeing in this scene is some good old-fashioned cocksuckers for muffdivers solidarity.

Many people on social media have also been picking up on the lesbian-coded subtext in the trailer. Vanity Fair’s Katey Rich tweeted, “I think we all remember where we were when Kate McKinnon first appeared to offer us a Birkenstock – it’s how I wound up at Wesleyan”. While authors Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez wrote, “I cannot tell you how much I love that Barbie and Ken are singing along to “Closer to Fine”, possibly THE quintessential Fuck the Patriarchy/Be Gay Do Crimes anthem.”

It seems highly unlikely that the creative team behind the film would make a series of choices so strongly lesbian-coded that it verges on full-on stereotype by accident. Birkenstocks and the Indigo Girls are two of the biggest signifiers of queer women culture that there are, and to have Kate McKinnon be the person to offer Barbie this lesbian Matrix decision between staying in the artificial heteronormative fantasy or “know the truth” by accepting the Birkenstock cements the gayness.

Until the film is released in July, we won’t know whether they will really be brave enough to make Barbie explicitly lesbian or if the queerness is just used as code for rejecting societal expectations and embracing your true self. But until then, the evidence is pointing gay.

Join Dazed Club and be part of our world! You get exclusive access to events, parties, festivals and our editors, as well as a free subscription to Dazed for a year. Join for £5/month today.