Last week, I got contemplative about Supergirl’s big gay storyline. Not critical. Not critical at all. I had nothing but good things to say about it. Secretly, though, I knew I was being critical(ish), because I was privy to what was going on in my flip-side mind.
I also said I’m here for it. Which I am, and was, last week when episode 2.09 got cute, got ‘meh,’ and got real when Maggie was all like, “Yeah. Strangely enough, as a detective, I can detect your sister is Supergirl, even if Supergirl wears more blush, keeps her hair down, and has a silly glasses disguise.”
Side note: Am I the only one who thinks it would make far more sense for Kara to wear her hair down, and Supergirl to wear her hair up? I mean, if I’m doing all that flying around with that much hair, that shit’s getting cinched back with a scrunchie.
Anyway, the courtship between Alex and Maggie is nice. It’s charming. I’ll grant them that. But, as most depictions of non-hetero relationships in mainstream media, it has it’s issues. There’ve been missteps. Well, one major misstep really, and a highly debatable one at that. I warn you now, not all of you will feel this, but here are five places Alex Danvers’ coming out went a little sideways.
1 – It didn’t have to be a coming out story at all.
I know. Touchy, touchy. The truth is, though, there was zero reason Alex needed to come out. They made no firm reference to Alex’s sexuality in season one. She didn’t even date. As such, the creators of Supergirl had the rare opportunity of having a gay character who was comfortably gay the entire time.
Sure, the audience might not have known. That’s sort of the point.
And, yes, they have out and proud Maggie. That’s not the point.
The real point is, instead of having a storyline in which Alex was unaffected by Maxwell Lord’s constant advances because she knew who she was, and, oh yeah, because he’s a bad guy, they wrote, yet another, storyline that validated the audience’s false assumptions. “Oh!” the mainstream audience could say. “I didn’t think Alex was straight because I make that assumption about every person I meet without considering other possibilities. I thought she was straight, because she wasn’t UN-STRAIGHT yet.”
2 – They wrote a gay storyline, not a gay character.
On one hand, deciding a main character is not straight after inception is good. It means the creators and writers recognize the character’s sexuality is not the main characteristic of that character.
On the other hand, it indicates creators and writers view a character’s non-hetero identity as a dramatic plot twist, rather than an integral part of who that character is. Maybe if Alex had been “gay the whole time,” we wouldn’t have been subjected to her being googly-eyed over Superman. It would have at least afforded Chyler (Leigh, portrayer of Alex) the opportunity to put a different spin on that particular line earlier in the season.
Of course, what else can be expected of creators who made this storyline an announcement? We have to face facts. Non-hetero characters are still considered events on television. And as long as we’re events, our depictions can only change societal conditioning so much.
3 – All the drama between Alex and Maggie is manufactured. And I mean ALL of it.
Maggie had a girlfriend. For two episodes. And on an extra’s pay rate at that, which we know, since she smooched Maggie, but didn’t actually speak.
Then, Maggie doesn’t want to date Alex because she’s “fresh off the boat”? Are there differing levels of heterosexuality? Are people like, “Nah, you haven’t been straight loudly enough or long enough for me.”? No? No. Then, why is it a thing that people have to level-up in gayness before they can date the real gays?
I get what the writers were going for. I do. I really do. And I’ll grant there are more landmines in same-sex relationships than hetero relationships, and this “fresh off the boat” thing is actually a thing for some people. But, as a mainstream TV plot device, this is bad. Bad!
Coming out stories are, by their very nature, otherizing. That’s why I don’t like that they’re pretty much mandatory for every LGBTQ character. If, with a little more frequency, a woman could like women without it being a thing… yeah, that would be great.
4 – Alex didn’t ask Maggie out.
She just didn’t.
This is a little nitpicky, I admit. But it’s nitpicky for a reason.
Every woman-liking-woman has had that friend, coworker, acquaintance, or dozen, who is certain you must like her like her, because you like people with vaginas, and, uh, she has one of those.
So, when Alex asked Maggie to go out in a friendly sort of way, and Maggie was instantly like, “You’re gay!” I cringed for every lesbian or bi girl who wanted to ask her good female friend to go see Hidden Figures or Resident Evil with her, whose friend was thinking, “Oh, I know what this is really about.”
Plus, Maggie said, “I think I read you wrong. I didn’t know you were into girls.” I would get into this bit of dialogue, but I’m saving it for my 300-page dissertation. ‘Cause it would take that many pages.
5 – Nobody saw the alternate possibilities.
I read this –
“At the beginning of the season for every show, we sit down and say, ‘What’s the most interesting thing we can do for any of these characters?’ For Alex, this just seemed like a natural fit given who she was.
– in this interview in Entertainment Weekly.
In another, I saw how excited the creators were to explore why Alex would have been “hiding this secret.” You know what would have been really interesting? That she wasn’t. That she wasn’t hiding anything. That her family knew and her friends knew, and that viewers realized they were simply perceiving her through the fog of heteronormativity and saw what they wanted to see in her. The creators said they wanted to tell the “realest” story possible. Trust, nothing is realer than that.
Also, I meant to mention Chyler Leigh last week, because, much as Calista Flockhart brought all the stuff to Cat Grant, I think a lot of what works with Alex’s coming out story is how much raw emotion Chyler brings to every line. Watching her on this, I’m reminded of when I first saw her in Girls Club, a show in which, coincidentally, I was pretty she was going to end up coming out too.