I used to have a copy of a book called Lesbianism Made Easy by Helen Eisenbach. It went missing one move, but there were key insights in her hilarious take on the matter that stuck with me to this day. One of the ‘types’ of lesbians was the delayed born lesbian. That is to say, the person who was a lesbian all along, and one day woke up to realize that’s what she was.
Let me set the stage for you, in case you don’t watch this absolutely adorable superhero romp.
Maggie Sawyer is a cop. Out and loud. She’s been working with Alex on various cases since coming to work with National City PD’s Science Crime Department (look, people can fly, just go with it). And it’s not been a secret to anyone that the tension between Maggie and Alex was palpable. But this is TV, we’re pretty used to unresolved sexual tension and fanships being the things we make up in our heads.
Instead, what happened was we met Maggie’s ex and her current girlfriend (who got no name), and then in the season two episode “Crossfire,” Maggie admits she’s down in the dumps because she got dumped. Alex takes it upon herself to be a one-woman-cheer-squad to help Maggie feel better. And Maggie? Well she gives Alex an eye and says she’s sorry, she’d obviously misread Alex and thought Alex wasn’t into girls.
Very quickly Alex says she’s not.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? In a hundred other shows, that would be it. We’d have the “I’m not gay!” defense and we’d move on. But instead, Alex started to really, really think about what the hell had just happened. She tried to talk about it to Kara, only to be interrupted, but we could see how Alex was really thinking about everything. What if she was different.
Then, in the closing scenes, she meets up with Maggie at the alien dive bar (which yes, it totally a gay metaphor) and they have the following conversation:
Alex: My whole life has been about being perfect. Perfect grades, perfect job, being the perfect sister taking care of Kara. But the one part of my life I’ve never been able to make perfect was dating. I just never really liked it. I, I, I don’t know, I mean I tried. I got asked out but I never liked being intimate. I just, I don’t know, I thought maybe that’s just not the way I was built, you know? ‘It’s just not my thing.’ I never thought it was because of the other, the fact that maybe I… I mean I don’t… I don’t know. Now… now, I just, I can’t… I can’t stop thinking about…
Maggie: About what?
Alex: That maybe there’s some truth to what you said.
Alex: What you said…about me.
Of course Alex doesn’t say the word gay. She can’t yet. Most of us couldn’t at first, even when we had the most wonderful, caring, welcoming parents on the planet. Because to say “I’m gay” changes everything in a way you can’t ever take back. Even if you later sort out that you’re bisexual or pansexual or (yes) heterosexual, you’ve fundamentally changed how you look at the world and how it looks at you.
But there, we got a moment where a main character for a show has started to process the realization that there was nothing wrong with her all along, it was just that she was different than she expected. Alex had grown up with heteronormativity and always thought she was straight, because the perfect girl marries the perfect boy right? And here she is, faced with a girl who is none of that and yet still perfect and Alex realizes that she was wrong about herself.
That’s a horrible moment, by the way. The day you wake up and realize you’re wrong about yourself is shocking. How can you be wrong about yourself? And yet that’s how a great many people feel. They live much of their life under an assumption that’s just wrong.
Alex’s story is different for network TV. You normally don’t get to see this story at all. Looking back on some of the more famous lesbian discoveries late in life, you get things like Kerry Weaver, who just figured it out, kept it a secret for a while, but moved ahead. And then there’s Gail Peck, who just bam was a lesbian. But with Alex, and also with Serena Campbell over in the UK, we’re finally getting that later-in-life shock of “Oh my god… This is me!”
It’s okay to not realize you’re not straight until you see someone of the same gender and think the thoughts you were ‘supposed’ to think about the opposite gender. It’s okay.
I want to end this with hope. Because hope is what the ‘S’ Supergirl wears actually means. Yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter posted an article about this gay storyline where the executive producer talks about this story and why they made the choice to have an older character work through this:
Usually this kind of personal journey is explored on the small screen with a younger character, most often with teens in coming-of-age stories. But it was important for the Supergirl producers to be true to life and explore this with an adult character.
“After talking to [executive producer] Greg Berlanti and doing some research on my own, anecdotally it seems like people who come out later in life come out because they’ve met someone,” [Andrew] Kreisberg says. “There’s a specific person for whom they’ve fallen. The idea that Alex who never really had a strong romantic connection with anybody and had come to dismiss it, and then meets Maggie and has her world turned upside down, it seems like interesting territory to us, that it wasn’t about a young teenager coming to grips with it. It was somebody who was an adult and in some ways had more to overcome on an internal level to get to the point where she could recognize that she has these feelings.”
Of course, we worry about the Bury Your Queers trope (who wouldn’t in 2016, a record year for dead female queers).
The decision to add a lesbian character to Supergirl comes not long after several TV shows were criticized for killing off prominent lesbian characters — a controversial trend that became known as the “Bury Your Gays” trope.
However, Kreisberg says that hasn’t factored into Alex’s narrative. “Well, they’re not dying, either of them, so we’re not really thinking about that right now,” he says.
While Kreisberg admits he didn’t know about the term “Bury Your Gays,” he promises that producers made sure to “try to be as truthful and real as possible” when it comes to writing Alex’s coming out story.
“Especially on a show like Supergirl where there are so many fantastical elements, we try to make sure that the emotions are as real and true to life as possible,” Kreisberg says. “That’s just the same litmus test that we apply to Alex’s coming out story. We just wanted to make sure we were telling the story in as respectful, educational, entertaining and thoughtful way as we could.”
So there we have some hope for the future. A main character lesbian with hope.
But that actually wasn’t why I referenced the article. No, I did it because of a comment made by KarenAn:
Yes, KarenAn’s 13 year old daughter. It’s okay that you feel like that too.