The Voice of Reason in 'Osmosis' is Gender Non-conforming: Looking Towards the Future of the Queer Identity


Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Osmosis is more than the French answer to the popular and oh-so-scarily relevant technologically controlled future we’ve seen as audiences in Black Mirror, which it has been frequently compared to. Though it has some of the key aspects of the somewhat dystopian outlook of what the onslaught of implanted technology could possibly bring to society, the show’s representation of what the queer identity could look like in the future is something Black Mirror hasn’t quite touched on beyond its fan-favorite episode, “San Junipero.”

Another trope we’ve seen before in early and recent sci-fi is how we’ll date and fall in love in the future -- a theme focused on heavily in Black Mirror’s “Hang the DJ” and Spike Jonze’s Her. Osmosis takes these examples a step further in that instead of using dating apps that measure a relationship’s expiration date for you, or falling in love with AI, the creators of a program called “Osmosis” aim to help testers find their soulmate through an implant that measures their emotional responses and desires, and provides them the face of their soulmate after configuring the algorithm within the brain that will unlock it.

This implant--the finding of their one true love and 100% match--is supposed to help testers feel not only relief at the idea that anyone is lovable, but that they will not have to go through life alone. Feeding on these human impulses is what makes “Osmosis” a hit among this fictional, futuristic tech-industry. What business could fail that’s not only selling love, but true love?

12 testers arrive hoping to change their lives if only they agree to allow the Osmosis to literally be implanted into them. What Black Mirror and Osmosis get so right about what makes sci fi terrifying at times is how easy technology can become not just a necessary part of our existence, but an actual part of it. Relating these technologies to the emotions we feel as human beings make things all the more harried. Why go out looking for love IRL, if you’ve got the chance at a 100% match that will stick with you FOREVER and never even leave the seat up.

This turns out to be just as brutal and problematic as it sounds like it would be. The siblings running things, the brilliant, soul-less techies Esther and Paul Vanhove, are at once seemingly sociopathic, though revealed to be extremely traumatized by childhood experiences (which doesn’t excuse Esther implanting memories into two testers’ implants to cure her invalid mother or Paul furiously trying to track down his wife who’d decided to have her implant removed as a way to free herself from his stifling control) are as self-centered as they come even without their history of trauma.

So, what is the saving grace for a company that is taking advantage of human beings’ most personal desire? Enter the voice of reason and one of the few conscience inducing characters in the show, Billie, a nonbinary scientist that uses the pronouns she/her and is walking into every sterile room in Osmosis with heels and a fierce shaved head. Not only is she the most humanistic of the bunch, she’s also the most fashionable and we would gladly watch her sashay out of any room with a look on her face of absolute purpose.

Billie works exclusively with the beta testers, some of whom are absolutely losing it from implanted memories, and others from their own issues, and creates a space for them to talk and feel safe. She’s also the one who is most frequently overseeing how the implant is affecting their emotional responses and overall mental health. Billie is beloved by the testers despite being a loner in the dating scene herself, and is the first to address the moral issues that the siblings exhibit.

Billie, besides being the moral force on the show, is also not overtly questioned or analyzed about her gender identity by those around her. One of the most telling scenes that signal their nonchalance, or rather acceptance, is a flashback of Billie before her transition. There’s no coming out moment that we as viewers get, but rather the idea that Billie being nonbinary just simply isn’t a big deal.

There are no strange looks from other characters when it comes to Billie’s appearance, and there isn’t any struggle with her preferred pronouns. Billie, played expertly by Yuming Hey, commands respect but also displays the most empathy in a tech-ravaged, morally suspect age.

We’re here for every example of flawed, brilliant, complex, vibrant and realistic portrayals of the queer identity, and hardly do we get to see how that could look in the future. With such a focus on how we’ll date in the future, it’s worth representing all sexual orientations and gender identity in film and TV as we move towards a broader spectrum of inclusivity.

Dakota is a poet, journalist, and right in the damn center of the Kinsey scale. Follow her on Twitter: @Likethestates.