"When I was a kid, I would get these headaches, and I went to the doctor, and they said that I needed glasses. I didn't understand that. It didn't make sense to me because I could see fine. And then I get the glasses, and I put them on, and I'm in the car on the way home, and suddenly I yell... Because the big green blobs that I had been staring at my whole life, they weren't big green blobs. They were leaves on trees. I could see the leaves. And I didn't even know I was missing the leaves. I didn't even know that leaves existed, and then... Leaves! You... are glasses. I am so gay. I am so, so, so gay! I am extremely gay!"—Erica to Callie on Grey's Anatomy
Every once in a while, you'll come across a character who has a very strong and often very sudden connection to a major character of the same sex. This new character will be very physically attractive (which will be described at every possible opportunity), and their other personality traits will precisely appeal to the established character, to an almost Relationship Sue-ish level.
Congratulations! You have just met a Closet Key.
A Closet Key's primary purpose (at least at the outset) is to indicate to the audience, and sometimes to the established character they meet, that the said established character is very, very gay. Fortunately, the Closet Key is usually gay too, so the relationships at least aren't instantly tragic. Also, it is not necessary for either character's sexual orientation to be explicitly mentioned in the text; the trope can be used as a method of "gay coding". Of course, this ambiguity leaves room for much debate.
Usually a Bishonen, but not always.
Also see Stupid Sexy Flanders, which is what the Closet Key might initially invoke (and may continue to invoke in avidly heterosexual characters/audience members). In a sense, this is the inverse of the Last Het Romance, a heterosexual character or relationship that (through it's lack of chemistry or je ne sais qoi) helps the gay character realize they're gay and out themselves.
Anime and Manga
- In Mirai Nikki Akise Aru has clearly found his Closet Key in the form of Yukiteru.
- Kaworu from Neon Genesis Evangelion. The Post Episode Trailer for his episode could practically be pasted into the trope description. Slightly different in that his appearance doesn't serve to identify Shinji as gay, but as bi, since he was previously shown to be very attracted to his pretty female co-workers and engages in... disturbing activities in the proximity of one of said coworkers in the next episode.
- Johan of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX according to the rabid Subtext-ers and Freud. In the second episode he appears, he instantly steals Sho's previously held role of "the hero's inseparable best friend."
- Fujiwara Zakuro from Tokyo Mew Mew. Before, Minto was just a snobbish Ojou who was a Lonely Rich Kid partially by choice and didn't show any sort of interest in anyone. Then she's caught with armfuls of photo books and fan club merchandise, and when confronted, goes on to describe this beautiful model in great detail with hearts in her eyes.
- And don't forget Griffith of Berserk. Guts actually asks him if he's gay during their first major confrontation.
- Gravitation has an indirect (and likely not intentional) example in Tohma Seguchi, introduced as childhood idol and fulfiller of Shuichi's dreams. It takes the story about three chapters to make it clear that Tohma's real purpose in the story is that of Yuki, Shuichi's ladykiller boyfriend whose first and only love was a man, and never shows interest in women once Shuichi has settled in his life. Tohma is easily the campest man around with his fabulous hats and gloves, feather collar, questionable dressing choices and frequent displays of an uncharacteristic possessiveness towards Yuki - and his true nature, as well as his actual purpose in the series, does not become evident until Yuki's tragic first love sets the Character Development running.
- It's pretty clear in Monster that Roberto considers Johan Liebert to be his Closet Key. Of course, given that it's Johan we're talking about, you can bet that he's going to use Roberto like a box of tissue and dispose of him the moment he outlives his usefulness ( he does).
- Gilbert Cocteau in Kaze to Ki no Uta. On meeting him for the second time the protagonist, Serge, pointedly reflects "I didn't notice in the fog what he was really like. He's so beautiful! With those crimson lips and boldly arching brows..." Indeed, at first he comes across as an Expy of the Trope Namer (until we learn more about him, that is).
- In Octave, Yukino never entertains the idea of entering into a relationship with another woman. That is until she meets her Closet Key, Setsuko who's basically set up to be Yukino's perfect girlfriend.
- In Full Metal Panic!, it's made increasingly obvious that Gauron finds Sousuke to be his perfect, ideal Closet Key. Sousuke's personality traits (or lack thereof) are precisely what Gauron, in his screwed up mind, finds to be the perfect match for himself. The moment Gauron first saw Sousuke, he literally did a double take, parked his jeep, and tried to pick him up. This might sound a tad creepier when one realizes that Sousuke was 12 years old and Gauron was 40-50.
- The Prince of Tennis Fanon often paints Keigo Atobe and Hajime Mizuki as this.
- Challengers has Morinaga eventually appear as a Closet Key for Tomoe's violently homophobic older brother Souichi. The Tyrant Falls in Love more or less explores Souichi's very gradual recognition of this.
- Nana, of all series, seems to finally be going in this direction in the manga:
Hachi: I will look for Nana. Not because I want to make her "understand" anything. Because I love her.
- Arguably this applies with Chikane to Himeko in Kannazuki no Miko.
- In Boys Love manga, the Closet Key usually ends up being the closeted character's love interest; a rare aversion is the Fumi Yoshinaga manga Ichigenme... The First Class is Civil Law. Main character Tamiya meets love interest Tohdou, who introduces himself with a kiss... but Tamiya is just irritated. His real Closet Key is a substitute professor who gives him one-on-one tutoring, and it's only after he's had a confusing encounter with him that he realises he's gay.
- In Shoujo Sect, Shinobu appears to have that effect on the other students at her all-girl school, which she relentlessly abuses to create a harem of pretty girls.
- Kimochi no Katachi: Satsuki towards Kano.
- Arguably happens in Wandering Son, though more-so transgendered than gay. Nitori and Takatsuki have always wanted to wear girls and boys, but after they met each other is when they began doing so. Mako began crossdressing after meeting Nitori.
- Azumi is Chizuru's in Hen.
- In Prism, Megu finds out that the boy she spent a romantic day with in grade school is actually a (now very pretty) girl. Although initially disappointed, she falls in love after a surprise kiss, and her enthusiasm just goes up from there.
- The titular Revolutionary Girl Utena has inspired lots of crushes in girls by simply existing. Also, as Utena gets to know Anthy she falls in love with her despite being straight.
- Ciel's Bishonen looks in Black Butler are shown and commented on often and he has inspired interesting Ho Yay feelings in fellow males. In particular Baron Kelvin falls in Love At First Sight after meeting Ciel and quickly leaves his wife.
- Masataka of Sakura Gari expresses attraction (he gets aroused) upon being hit on by Souma who is quite the gorgeous Bishonen.
- Saizo Kirigakure is this for Yuri Kamanosuke in Brave 10. He realizes his feelings for him after he bathes in a cold river, and Saizo finds him. Yuri is then told to get rest, as he has a fever and a cold. He immediately blushes and runs off, not understanding his extreme heart rate, then starts thinking out loud. Meanwhile, Yuri finds a ferret, and starts to carry it around with him. The ferret belongs to another character, Sasuke Sarutobi. Sasuke follows Yuri to a hill where Yuri starts to talk to no one in particular about his feelings for Saizo. Sasuke interrupts him to get his ferret back, and Yuri asks if he can skin it instead. Sasuke then shouts at him for such a preposturous thought.
- Maya ends up being this for Ritsuko in Nobody Dies. It works because of two factors. First, since Yui didn't die, Gendo is off the market. Second, Ritsuko helped come to this conclusion via the sight of Maya shaking her groove thing in a plugsuit. Still took a few dozen chapters before anything serious came of it.
- The introduction of Juliet in Heavenly Creatures. Not only do her personality and interests perfectly compliment Pauline's, she is constantly shot in a romantic/idealised way, never more so than when Pauline visits her house for the first time. Whatever the true story was, the film frames it as a love story between Pauline and Juliet- and Juliet is most certainly the Closet Key.
- Tombstone: Billy, played by Jason Priestley, has a reaction along these lines to the lead actor of a traveling theater company, played by Billy Zane. He's enraptured by the actor's performance, inviting him to sit at his table in the saloon; his Heel Face Turn is later prompted by the man's murder.
- Luce, in the film Imagine Me and You, is this to the main character Rachel. They meet on Rachel's wedding day, and the rest of the film is Rachel's increasing denial about her feelings.
- The two male leads in Brokeback Mountain, for each other. Or at least Jack, for Ennis. There's some evidence to suggest that Jack had accepted his own sexuality even before meeting Ennis.
- Naomi and Michelle for each other in The Secrets .
- Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters has an interesting variation where the key in question is actually an object. The famous painting of a bare-chested Saint Sebastian being pierced by arrows that prompts Kimtakes first act of masturbation.
- "I trembled with joy, my loins swelled, my hands unconsciously began a motion I have never been taught."
- The key for Zac from C.R.A.Z.Y. is his cousin's boyfriend Paul. However it's another interesting variation in that he denies that he's attracted to Paul, even to himself. So it's more like Zac just puts the key in his pocket and looks at it from time to time, but refuses to open the door.
- In Plan B Bruno tries to invoke this trope with the reportedly bi-curious Pablo to make him confused enough to break up with Laura so that he can get back together with her. He succeeds, but discovers that Pablo has become his own Closet Key -- or at least a Sometimes You Just Fall In Love With Another Guy Closet Key -- too.
- In Neil Gaiman's 1602-continuity, Angel is canonically gay (with the disguised (in drag) John/Jean Gray serving as his Closet Key, at least in the sense that "he" is the character by attraction to whom Angel's homosexuality is indicated). In other words, Angel thought Jean was a guy (there was much reason to) and still had the inner hots stirring.
- In Desert Peach, the eponymous Pfirsich Rommel is the Closet Key to his "fiancé" Rosen Kavalier. Rosen sees Pfirsich at a cafe and declares he want to have him; Rosen's friend knows he a complete horndog, but have never known him to fall for a dude before. Rosen claims he doesn't care that Pfirsich is a man, and gay sex eventually follow (rather bad such, since Rosen isn't skilled and cheerfully rushes on as he would with a woman).
- Magnus Bane from Mortal Instruments can be classified as this.
- Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian is forever being described in Wilde's trademark flowery, Aesthetic language. Since the novel was written when homosexual acts were still quite against the law in Britain (laws that would work very much against Wilde himself five years after the book's publication), nothing is ever made explicit about the characters' sexual orientations. However, the level of devotion and physical attention given to Dorian by Lord Henry Wotton and the artist Basil Hallward, as well as later rumors of Dorian's "scandalous" friendships with young men, have long been accepted as indications that all three men were at least bisexual, if not completely gay. Reviews of its first publication in 1890 indicate that many contemporary critics (much to their displeasure) saw the Ho Yay as well.
- Michael Chabon:
- In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, known gay character Sammy Clay encounters radio actor Tracy Bacon who is described as "well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, with a dimple in his chin and glossy blond hair" with "distinctly visible" muscles. While Sammy's attraction to Bacon is not a revelation to himself nor the reader, it does open the closet doors to Sammy's family; Sammy's mother knows after one dinner with them that their interest is romantic, even before Sammy himself notices.
- In The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Arthur Bechstein constantly describes Arthur Lecomte's apperance in obsessive detail, commenting on his shoe brand, the stubble on his jawline, the color of his chest hair and the way he blushes, among other characteristics. He even admits that he's fixated on him hours after meeting him, after a page-long soliloquoy on Lecomte's homosexuality. It doesn't really come as a shock to anyone when they do it, though it takes about 2/3rds of the book to get there.
- Harry Potter: J. K. Rowling's revelation that Albus Dumbledore was in love with Gellert Grindelwald is not surprising in light of this trope. At almost every opportunity in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Grindelwald is variously described as a "handsome," "merry-faced" man whose "golden hair fell in curls to his shoulders." He was also the nearest Dumbledore ever had to an equal, in intellect and talent, besides Voldemort.
- Second Apocalypse: Due to this trope, an attentive reader may guess that Cnaiür is closet gay long before the text finally says it relatively plainly.
- Tayend from The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan is a pretty classic example of this. The very first thing the reader learns about Tayend is that he's beautiful. His long blond hair and form-fitting clothes are described constantly, and all from Dannyl's point of view. Dannyl's open-mindedness does make the situation a little easier.
- This is actually a pretty unusual example, as Dannyl was once aware that he was gay, he'd simply "forgotten" and Tayend was on hand to remind him again.
- Kitty Butler of Tipping the Velvet is a rare female instance of this trope. Since she's a masher- a music hall artiste who dresses as a man- she appeals to the heroine in both male and female guises. Thanks to this being a Sarah Waters novel, the relationship is not left to subtext.
- Middlesex: The Object (short for "The Object of My Desire,") serves this purpose for Calliope, hence the nickname.
- In James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, the protagonist John Grimes spends a lot of time admiring his Sunday School teacher, Elisha, especially his "leanness, and grace, and strength" and would often be too distracted to follow the lesson. Baldwin, who was himself gay, freely admitted that the novel is semi-autobigraphical.
- Cece is this to Holland in Keeping You a Secret. Of course, that's the whole point of the book.
- Heralds of Valdemar: In The Last Herald-Mage trilogy, Herald-Mage trainee Tylendel is this for Vanyel; in fact, he's the reason Vanyel discovers that homosexuality even exists, his homophobic family having done their best to prevent him from ever learning about it.
- Clive Durham from Maurice. He helps Maurice realize his homosexuality. However Forster really only describes his physical appearance once (and very vaguely too).
- In Odd Girl Out, Laura admits that "her own high school crushes had been on girls," but she doesn't believe they meant anything. Her relationship with Beth helps her accept that she really is homosexual.
- In Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness, the first two books of Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series, Seregil is this to Alec, first introducing him to sexuality in general, then easing him into the strange notion of bisexuality as a social norm, then they fall in love. It takes until the middle of the second book, but the way is pretty clear from the beginning, with Alec getting all kinds of confused when seeing Seregil in drag, and later choosing a female prostitute who reminds him of that look.
- In The Heritage of Hastur (of Marion Zimmer Bradley's voluminous Darkover series), Danilo Syrtis is this for Regis Hastur (in more ways than just the sexual - Danilo's magic power is to release that of others, and since in this Verse magic is linked to sexuality, well...); technically Regis is also the Closet Key for Danilo, in an It's Okay If It's You kind of way.
- In Tanya Huff's Smoke and Shadows trilogy, protagonist Tony Foster proves to be this for his crush, actor Lee Nicholas.
- Annie for Lisa in Annie on My Mind.
- Sammy for Wayne in The Book of Joe.
- Lara is this for Bree in Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan.
Live Action TV
- Obligatory Buffy the Vampire Slayer example: Willow is, aside from a few hints, considered entirely straight; then, after her break-up with Oz, she meets Tara, and suddenly is no longer interested in the "stubbly" side of things.
- Chris Keller for Tobias Beecher in Oz. While Tobias points out that he has been in sexual relationships with men before (usually without his consent, not that he's willing to refer to it like that), he never loved another man before Keller and finds it difficult to understand how they can connect like a "man and a woman" would.
- In Everybody Loves Raymond, Robert tells Ray about a fellow police officer who had no idea he was gay until his Closet Key came to the door one day (a pizza guy or cable guy or something), and they now live together in Hawaii. Ray then considers the possibility that everyone has a Closet Key, and that neither of them have met "Mr. Right". This mentality lasts at least until the end of the episode: when confronted with an extremely attractive UPS worker, Ray is extremely uncomfortable until he leaves. At which point, he passionately kisses his wife just to make sure.
- 8 Simple Rules: In a rare case involving two people of the opposite sex, Rory once helped a crush of his realize she was a lesbian by pulling out all the stops to woo her and failing, leading her to realize "If I can't be attracted to a sweet, charming guy like you; then I must not be attracted to guys at all."
- Brittany to Santana in Glee. An odd example where the two of them already had been best friends and sexual partners for a while when the Key-moment happened. What happened was this: Brittany and Santana were playing the Bi the Way-game, having numerous male partners while "just having fun" with each other behind closed doors. This worked until Brittany got a serious boyfriend, and asked Santana to stop her bullshit and explain what she meant to her. A lot of thinking made Santana realize that she was only interested in Brittany, and that all those guys had been her way to hide her feelings from herself.
- Kurt is this for David Karofsky.
- Another odd example is, again, with Kurt. In the first season, he had a crush on Finn, and despite Finn being straight, Kurt kept trying to seduce him anyway. He ended up trying to turn himself into Finn's Closet Key, and was somehow convinced that he could somehow turn Finn gay for him - and he ended up doing some pretty manipulative things to try and make this happen. It didn't work, but considering that they're now step-brothers and happy with that, then you could argue that that's a good thing.
- In Torchwood, Jack is this for Ianto. Ianto's a bit bothered by it, as shown in season 3, and claims that he'd never experienced attraction to a man before. They become a proper couple.
- In the episode "Captain Jack Harkness", Jack seems to have ended up being this for the original guy named Captain Jack Harkness in the few hours they met. Maybe the man already knew he was gay, but in either case, Jack's gentle encouragment (secretly knowing it was the guy's last night on this mortal coil) caused him to gather up his courage, kiss The Beard goodbye, and go for it with Jack.
- It also appears that Ianto never had any other male partner before starting an at first mostly physical affair with Jack because he smelled so irresistible / before setting out to seduce Jack and trading sex for a place at Torchwood 3 to help his girlfriend. Either way, it led to genuine love and devotion, once the girlfriend was dead and gone, so Jack must have meant something special to him, in any case.
- Callie is this to Erica in Grey's Anatomy, although the metaphor she opts for in a heartbreaking monologue is "glasses," referring to the stunning clarity provided to her the first time she got glasses as a child. Erica, in turn, shows Callie that she is Bi the Way...and then tells her that "you can't be kind of a lesbian," and then leaves the show forever because the powers that be didn't think their relationship "sparkled" enough. She is then replaced by the younger, bubblier and cutsier Arizona, to whom Callie is now Happily Married.
- Noah's Arc: Noah is this to Wade.
- Take a listen to K.T. Tunstall's Suddenly I see and tell me that it is not all about this. Case in point.
- Although fitting, and ambiguous enough for listeners to believe it was about this, a woman's first child or about a lover, Ms. Tunstall has said that the song is a tribute to female power. Although she's also admited the piece was inspired by the picture of Patti Smith in the cover of Horses, so who knows.
- Hanschen is this to Ernst in Spring Awakening.
- The Knight of Chiffreville is this to Don Juan in the french re-writing of the famous play.
- An unfortunate example in The Children's Hour. Possibly in denial, or confused about her feelings, for several years it takes a child's Malicious Slander to make Martha realize she's gay.
- Ash of Misfile might be a double unlock. Emily is ambiguous since she herself isn't sure if her attraction to Ash is regardless of her gender or if her being female is a factor. Missi, on the other hand, didn't know about Ash once being male and became interested in girls through her as a result.
- In World of Fizz, Dawn reveals early on that she had a crush on Kelli since the first grade, and the two later enter into a relationship.
- Cuanta Vida: Bleu for BLU Scout (doesn't stop him from calling Bleu homophobic names, though.
- Possibly alluded to in Rip and Teri, when Tatanya uses the book The Picture of Dorian Gray as a conversation topic while trying to ascertain whether Teri likes women.
- Ellen in El Goonish Shive, a magical Opposite Gender Clone of Nanase's ex-boyfriend Elliot. Ellen's creation involved a glitchy Magitek device capable of turning men into beautiful women with "super pheromones", combined with an ancient magical artifact ostensibly designed to remove curses, but actually spawning a clone of the victim's cursed form in the process. When Nanase started spending time around Ellen, she assumed any physical attraction she felt was the result of those pheromones, but Susan eventually informed her that the pheromones had worn off before Nanase met Ellen, triggering Nanase's Suddenly Sexuality realization.
- Questionable Content: Photos of fetish model Veronica Vance helped Dora realize she was bisexual. Now, years later, she's dating Veronica's Son. Oh, wait, never mind, that's over now.
- Penny and Aggie: Aggie, for Penny. Lisa, for Sara and Aggie.
- The author of Niels heard this phrase used to describe the title character and decided to run with it.
- Duke Devlin from Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series. This is what Joey Wheeler says of Duke: "What does he have that I don't got?... Besides the fangirls?... And the pretty hair?... And those gorgeous green eyes?" Duke then reminds Joey about his "sweet ass," and Joey admits, "Yeah, and a sweet ass too! But other than that, he's got nothing."
"Warning: This episode contains copious amounts of Duke Devlin. Women with heart conditions are advised not to look directly at Duke Devlin. This also applies to women without heart conditions. See? See how pretty he is? He's VERY pretty. I want to run my fingers through his hair, and I'm just a voice. Anyway, enjoy your crappy anime cartoon."
- Also, Florence for Marik. There were indications he was gay before they met (in flashbacks, anyway), but the two have a ridiculous amount of UST going on, and in Marik Plays Bloodlines part 6, Marik finally admitted that he was gay and had a thing for Florence. Florence, on the other hand, has been out all along.
- Narrowly averted in Daria. Despite initially freaking out when guest star Allison makes a pass at her, Jane visibly begins warming up to the idea soon after. However, much to the chagrin of fanfic writers everywhere, learning just how much of a self-serving bitch Allison really is finally puts Jane off girls.
- Justin had been only half-jokingly implying that maybe she's just not into boys since she broke up with Elliot. It just took Susan dropping that particular bomb to make Nanase realize he had a point.