‘And Just Like That’, queerness was mainstreamed by the Hollywood liberal elite

‘And Just Like That’, queerness was mainstreamed by the Hollywood liberal elite

OPINION

HBO Max is introducing its new series, ‘And Just Like That‘. The series is a sequel of ‘Sex and the City‘, one of the most well-known shows to come from the US that ran from 1998 to 2010. As a queer Arab fan of the original series, it is important to me to apply a critical lens to ‘And Just Like That’ and its representation of queerness. Sex and the City tackled issues around sex and sexuality, which were taboo back then, making it progressive for its time. Despite this, the show lacked any kind of diversity, and like most American liberal productions, centred itself on the life of white Americans and their societal norms. Fast forward a decade: the new sequel, ‘And Just Like That’, is riddled with problematic depictions of queerness.

Heteronormativity and the city

During the two decades of Sex and the City, the characters utter many lines that are transphobic, biphobic, racist, and problematic. In the third season, during an episode entitled Cock a Doodle Do! Carrie refers to a trans sex worker as ‘half man, half woman, totally annoying‘.

In the same season, Carrie dates a bisexual man and says, ‘I’m not even sure bisexuality exists. I think it’s just a layover on the way to Gaytown.‘ Furthermore, the movie Sex and the City 2 presents countless offensive lines that are anti-muslim and anti-Arab, reinforcing Hollywood’s orientalist narratives on the perceived backwardness of the Middle East and Arab men.

A decade later, HBO wants to show the world its progressiveness through the way different issues are addressed in And Just Like That. Perhaps most obviously, women of colour have been added to the original white cast of Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte.

Relationships are no longer based on the man-woman binary. Though sexuality is no longer presented as heteronormative, none of the three protagonists, or even their gay best friends, understand this. It seems that the characters remain ignorant when it comes to sex, sexuality and gender diversity. 

Charlotte does not understand why her child, Rose, asks not to be called a girl. Rose explains in a mother-daughter conversation: ‘I never felt like a girl.’ Charlotte’s gay best friend, Anthony, tells her to ignore Rose’s gender expression and requests to be respected.

In her role as podcast presenter, Carrie does not even feel comfortable talking about sex. A far cry from the women who experimented through countless sexual experiences (and talked about them) for 20 years, Carrie and her two famous pals no longer express a confident sexuality, nor do they understand sexual diversity while living in a place like NYC.

And just like that, you cannot ‘come out’ as queer!

Queer not as being about who you’re having sex with – that can be a dimension of it – but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.

bell hooks

And Just Like That introduces us to Che, a queer, non-binary, character of Irish-Mexican heritage, the supervisor of Carrie Bradshaw in a podcast, and a standup comedian.

In one of the scenes in the third episode, Che presents a standup routine about their coming out story as a queer person. ‘This Thanksgiving I came out to my family. I stood up in the living room, I said: ‘Family I love you, and I want you to know that I am queer, non-binary, and bisexual.’ They were like, ‘That’s nice.’’

This is reflective of many Hollywood narratives, where coming-out stories are often associated with middle class and white gay men. In the past thirty years, the concept of coming out of the closet as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans person à la Hollywood has been mainstreamed into simply exposing your sexual preferences to your family in order to be accepted, conditionally loved and approved by the patriarch.

As represented in Western film, the priority for the LGBT community has been presented as follows: normalising homosexual relationships so that same sex couples, like Stanford and Anthony in Sex and the City 2, can legally be married as a ‘normative’ couple.

Meanwhile the reality of queer and trans people of colour in places like NYC has been merely to survive. 

Back to And Just Like That – Che continues: ‘This year I was locked down with my family. My family loves me, my family is all love and acceptance.’

As a queer viewer, I felt conflicted. The way ‘queerness’ is presented here suggests it is a synonym for sexual orientation or gender identity. Queerness needs the approval of the hetronormative family, seeking love and acceptance to be normalised. I could not help but wonder: if we are waiting to be accepted, welcomed and normalised by the patriarchal structure of the biological (heteronormative) family … is that queerness? 

The idea of romanticising the biological family as ‘all love and acceptance’ is very toxic for the queer community. The reality for most queer people of colour is a constant struggle due to our deviating from familial expectations. As a result, queer people of colour have to create survival strategies while living with their families until they are able to independently move away, or create their own families. 

Queerness is deviation

Queerness is about deviating from the norms.

Queerness is about not accepting the norms and rules that are imposed in patriarchal societies. 

Queerness is not just another sexual identity you add next to the LGBT acronym. 

Queerness is not trying to fit within oppressive systems.

Queerness is not being part of the hierarchical structures of oppressions.

When it comes to the sexual dimensions of queerness, it is about questioning and deconstructing the concept of gender and sexuality, rather than simply thinking beyond a certain gender or sexual orientation.

After watching the first four episodes of And Just Like That, I could not help but wonder: since NYC has always been diverse, why only now have people of colour, queers and people with disabilities magically shown up in the representation of New York City? Or is what HBO presents to us simply a new season of offsetting white guilt for the racism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and cultural appropriation legitimised in Sex and the City for twelve years?


All views expressed are the writer’s own.

Article Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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