Euphoria is one of the most popular television shows of 2019 and one of the most anticipated series of 2022– and it’s not difficult to see why. The show flawlessly combines stunning cinematography, complex, interesting characters, an iconic wardrobe, and a fascinating storyline to create a once in a lifetime viewing experience.
One of the most enticing aspects of the series is the psychoanalytical approach that the directors, writers, producers, and contributors take when it comes to character development. Each episode in the first season of Euphoria is dedicated, to some degree, to telling the backstory of each main character in order to help the audience analyze and understand the reasons as to why each character acts the way they do as an adult. For instance, Rue has always struggled with mental health ever since she was a child, and the death of her father led her to feel such sadness that she began using narcotics to help her cope with the struggles she was facing. Cassie, another main character in the show, has an alcoholic mother and a father that abandoned her and her sister, Lexi, because of his crippling drug addiction. This left Cassie to struggle with codependency in romantic relationships.
There are so many different points of interest when it comes to the characters’ personal lives in Euphoria. However, amidst all the psychoanalysis that the show deals with, there is one common trope in popular media that has been (arguably purposefully) left out: That of defining and labeling one’s sexuality.
In many television shows, movies, and other popular forms of media today, there is often a specific character that must come to terms with their sexuality or identity. Even Disney Channel has taken on the trope of the “token queer”. This isn’t to say that characters coming out is a bad thing. In fact, a group of characters that is diverse in sexuality and gender identity is incredibly important for the visibility of queer folks all over the world. However, Euphoria has taken a much different approach to its queer characters than I’ve seen done in any TV show or movie before this.
If you are familiar with Euphoria, you’ll know that none of the characters have defined or labeled their sexuality. There are certain implications that a character might identify with a specific sexuality, but it is never entirely clear. For instance, Cal Jacobs, the uptight, traditional, stoic father of Nate Jacobs is seen in the first season of Euphoria having sex with men and transgender folks, both masculine and feminine passing. In season two, Cal states, “I’ll fuck men. I’ll fuck women. I’ll fuck transsexuals. And I’ll have a mighty fine time doin’ it”. However, his sexuality is never labeled in the show. Another character, Jules, is seen in relationships with both men and women throughout seasons one and two. However, her sexuality is never labeled either. Rue is seen in relationships with both men and women, and Nate’s sexuality is speculated about by viewers, but neither of their sexualities are labeled throughout the entirety of the show.
The only instance where a queer person’s identity is definitively labled throughout the series is Jules’ backstory in season one- she is a transgender woman. However, even though her identity is labeled, it is not Jules’ defining storyline and point of psychoanalysis. This brings up the question- is it necessary to define queer characters sexuality every time? Should their coming out be the defining moment of an episode or series- does it need to be a big deal?
There are two sides to this argument. On the one hand, seeing a character that someone looks up to bravely come out of the closet could be a good thing for someone who is ready to define their sexuality, especially if they are nervous to tell other people. On the other hand, although many people do prefer to label their sexuality, some don’t. Therefore, is it necessary that a character is automatically labeled as gay if they kiss someone of the same sex? Is it necessary for a person to define themselves or are we past that?
Euphoria navigates this concept in a way that I’ve never seen done before. Many of the characters seem to exist on a spectrum of sexuality, and even if they are to define themselves, it does not serve as the defining characteristic of their specific character. I personally think that this approach can be, for many people, very progressive and beneficial. Queer folks are much more than how their identify when it comes to gender or sexuality, and many television shows, movies, and popular media tend to ignore that. Someone who is gay can, and does, have many other aspects of their life that don’t include the fact that they are attracted to the same sex.
The fact that Euphoria allows characters to express their gender and sexuality on a spectrum and makes sure to give them a more complex identity that isn’t centered around their queer expression helps to destigmatize queer people and advocates for a more diverse, inclusive future of media.
Featured Graphic by Carolyn Ellis
Olivia Barnes is a contributing columnist for the Crescent Magazine. She is a sophomore majoring in Communications and Cognitive Studies with a minor in English. Olivia is also a writer for the Tulane Hullaballoo and a member of Chi Omega sorority here on campus. In addition to writing for Crescent, Olivia loves to travel, write music, sing, and hang out with friends.