*Spoilers ahead, obviously!
I confess, I am afraid of Gen Z. They’re savants on the internet and likely making the best memes, smoking Juuls and blowing the residue in my face on the subway platform, acting like their fashion sense isn’t something we already did and ruined in the early 2000s, and are constantly needing reassurance that they are, indeed, baby.
What scares me the most about Gen Z (in the best way) is their willingness to be open and accepting about their varying degrees of queerness. Gen Xers and those who came before them had to really fight the closet door in a way Gen Z has been busy not only breaking open with the force of their collective Twitter followings, but also decorating with as much neon as they can find. I have to show them some respect. Gen Zers seem to be the first generation who simply don’t give a fuck about whether or not you’re queer.
Enter some delightful TV faire that proves this point with HBO’s newest series, Euphoria. Seemingly built from the framework that the beloved E4 series Skins left before them, Euphoria, despite all its bubblegum fashion and glittering eyeshadow, is actually quite dark. Where the brightness of queer acceptance makes us feel safe as viewers, the danger of a less evolved society still rears its ugly head with violent examples of misogyny, internalized homophobia, and assault.
Focused on the internal exploration of all its characters with an episode devoted to each, (another narrative tactic also used in Skins) Euphoria isn’t about beautiful, frivolous teens spreading rumors about each other in high school (though the threat of revenge porn is a theme that’s recurring). The series is determined to have us look straight into the underbelly of the violence we would rather not discuss. And at times, it makes it hard to watch.
One of the most overt examples of reclaiming the queer narrative is exemplified in the relationship between main character, Rue, played by Zendaya, and Jules, played by Hunter Schafer. Their relationship is what keeps addict, Rue, clean despite the euphoric aspects of their relationship being another type of high for her.
The relationship builds from the first episode, with Rue slowly coming to terms with her less than platonic feelings for Jules. Jules, who is trans, disrupts the rest of the characters’ fragile narratives when she moves to town and has a sexual encounter with closeted super-douche dad of the psychotic (and likely also closeted) Nate, which starts an avalanche effect of catfishing, violence, and blackmail.
Jules’ episode, which begins with a young pre-transition Jules being admitted to some type of psychiatric or conversion therapy unit by her mother and subsequently attempting suicide -- continues on into her post-transition life and observes how her prior sexual encounters have a striking similarity -- these men assured her that they were “totally straight.”
In other shows dealing specifically with queer topics and characters, like Pose for example, many of the lovers, clients, or sugar daddies that appear also have this in common -- totally, totally straight. While there is freedom in Jules being allowed to properly express her gender identity, Euphoria’s characters, young and old, out or not, still have instances of living in the shadows.
For example, Rue’s reckoning with her feelings for Jules don’t come without their internal repercussions. Once Rue attempts to kiss Jules and essentially make her feelings known -- an interaction that is unrequited -- she is immediately off the wagon and gives her former drug dealer a grief riddled rant attempting to dull the pain of losing her newfound high.
Eventually, after realizing the trauma she has experienced at the hands of men, Jules decides that a relationship with Rue might be in her best interest. While it’s problematic that Jules might be manipulating Rue’s feelings for her, especially seeing as Rue isn’t quite out at queer, their relationship seems to be one of the most loving of those included in the show. That said, the other relationships are chock full of domestic violence, manipulation, slut shaming, and avoidance.
Besides the fact that the characters on Euphoria are coping with more than what the average teenager might, or attempting to, there is one fluid thread that anyone who’s queer will notice. With the exception of the closeted characters, most all the characters in the show simply don’t give a shit about the queer status of the others.
In “The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed,” while visiting old friends, Jules attempts to explain why she’s still interested in sex with men in spite of their treatment of her is because of her wish to “conquer femininity.” When asked if she has, Jules pauses as her friend wisely responds, “queerness is infinite.”
This is metaphoric of what the entire show is aiming to capture. As Gen Z moves towards progress and fluidity, (more than half of them identify as queer or fluid) the culture must evolve with them.
The queer status of the characters in Euphoria means less than the more pressing aspects of society that include addiction, violence, and mental illness. By allowing for a certain nonchalance, the characters are able to grapple with the aspects of the culture at large that are truly dangerous and should be confronted.
Dakota Smith is a poet, journalist, and right in the damn center of the Kinsey scale.
Follow her on Twitter: @Likethestates.