Phoebe Waller-Bridge is Awakening the Baby Queer in All of Us


It’s Pride month, meaning that anyone who mislabels me as straight during June is homophobic. That said, this is the first of Junes that I’ve felt truly comfortable in my queerness, even though I’ve technically been an “outish” bisexual for two years. Growing up queer, no matter if you have a supportive family, friends to talk to, or fellow queers to march with, can be isolating. I know I’m preaching to the choir on this one. Just hear me out.

Something we can all relate to in the queer community is not being represented authentically in the media until very recently. While we have the internet now, with all it’s gag-worthy content, and shows like Pose and RuPaul’s Drag Race are mainstream and beloved by gays and straights alike, it hasn’t always been this easy. Those who came before us clung to their scratched up DVD copies of The L Word or Queer As Folk, or desperately hoped that Stanford Blatch would get something compelling to say on SATC other than asides assuring the audience that he was doing the token gay thing effortlessly.

What I always hoped for were characters I could relate to that were female, powerful, and confused about their own sexuality regardless. There is something so emphatically human about flawed characters, struggling against themselves and society simultaneously, because they remind us of ourselves--especially as queer people.

While waiting for the perfect she-protagonist to meet this description, in stepped the brilliant and assuredly chaotic mind of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Waller-Bridge has so far written two of the best TV shows to follow female leads, Killing Eve and Fleabag. Not only do these series put their female characters unabashedly at the forefront, but these women are dynamic, dark, problematic enough to be outcasted, and holy shit, are they queer.

Waller-Bridge adapted Killing Eve from Luke Jennings’ series of novels entitled Villanelle. The show -- and if you haven’t watched it yet, my face is giving you one of the harshest “how dare you” squints that I am capable of -- not only reinvisioned the spy genre comprised of women, women, and more women, but also added an overtly queer angle for its main characters’ conflict.

Eve Polastri, played by the intoxicatingly perfect Sandra Oh, an MI6 agent racked with boredom on the job and at home, becomes obsessed with a hired assassin and definite psychopath, Villanelle, played by the equally incredible Jodie Comer, that she is supposed to be investigating. And investigate she does, as she goes deeper into the spiral of numbness and violence that is Villanelle’s psyche, Eve finds herself not only drawn in intellectually, but sexually, too.

It’s never a question that Villanelle is queer, as in season one, we meet several of her past conquests (most of whom are women). However, it is seemingly a departure for Eve, who is linked up with her mustached English husband through all of this. Although the idea of sex lingers above them for all of season one, it’s inextricably linked with violence, morality, and, of course, the question of Eve’s sexuality. This awakening in Eve makes her more bold, elusive, even dangerous. The portrait of a baby queer coming to grips.

Although Waller-Bridge wasn’t the head writer for season two of Killing Eve, the queer storyline continued with Eve and Villanelle moving towards not just consummation, but a truly romantic end. One especially compelling scene that would be a shame not to mention as evidence, is the two characters meeting in season two after Eve stabbed Villanelle at the end of season one. Eve opens up about her true feelings -- and not just to satisfy the narcissistic tendencies of the psychopath in front of her, but because so much of it is truth.

Eve treads lightly while Villanelle entices her with gifts that double as weapons, mind games that they both live for, and exhilaration borne from violence. Each time that Eve tries to convince herself that Villanelle is just a psychopath, she’s drawn in further, she’s even more obsessed. That is one intense first same-sex crush.

Where Killing Eve’s queer storyline is blatant and at the forefront, Fleabag approaches subtly. To preface, if you haven’t watched Fleabag, I’m not bothering to give you the “howdareyou” that can only come out as one word, but I am contemplating leaving the room in silence so you can think about what you’ve done.

With its second season just having premiered in the U.S., Fleabag stands as one of the joys to have graced us with its darkly comic, horrifically familiar and familial take on social norms, sex, and loneliness. The second season is the series’ final, and explores Fleabag apart from her best friend’s death and family ostracization, but as a woman who is deeply lonely and misunderstood.

Where we see Fleabag using her sexuality as a means of connection in season one, season two has her exploring how she relates outside of it, especially in a world that avoids relating to her. Though she spends most of the second season rebuilding her relationship with her hilariously manic sister, her bakery, and chasing after the holy grail of unattainable -- a priest -- she also explores the other side of her sexuality, which includes women.

The most noteworthy example is Fleabag’s interaction with a colleague of her sister’s, Belinda Fries, played by the unceasingly exceptional Kristin Scott Thomas. It remains as one of the sweetest and most anti-climactic interaction between two queer characters. As Belinda sips on her martini, Fleabag openly and nervously flirts with her, looks at her longly, and has all the subtle tells of a baby queer peeking out from the cocoon.

These two shows are milestones for women in television. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, if you ask any lesbian, is an icon. My baby bi heart just about exploded from the sheer force of shared experience. These shows open up a dialogue for those who know they are “different” in that wildly vague gay way we use it, and gives us the opportunity to relate.

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