By the time I came out at 30, programs like Schitt's Creek were finally giving me the thing I didn't know I longed for at 16: everyday, comfortable queer relationshipsby Kate Young / January 23, 2020 / Leave a comment
I could put not coming out until thirty down to a number of different factors—not least half a decade of Catholic school, and a sexual assault that cast a shadow over my 20s—but a significant part of it was that I had a specific and unshakeable idea of what my adult life was going to look like. From my early teens, I wanted marriage, and a family, and cosy domesticity. In the early 2000s, in my corner of suburban Australia, depictions of this kind of relationship were restricted to cis, heterosexual couples—both in my lived experience, and in the media I consumed.
Like many of my friends who grew up in relatively conservative communities, I relied on television and pop culture for much of my wider worldview. Inevitably, long before I questioned my own sexuality, I couldn’t help internalising the representation and treatment of queer characters on my favourite shows. I watched canonically queer characters serve as punchlines (The Simpsons, Sex and the City), and canonically straight characters have “gay” thrown at them as a slur or a joke (Friends, The Office), or kiss each other solely for the purpose of titillation (Friends—again, Smallville, One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls). There were exceptions, of course: Ellen; Buffy; The L Word. But, for the most part, in the television I watched, if queer characters were present at all the functioned as a joke or faced tragic ends. I didn’t know then what I was looking for, but I couldn’t see it—myself—onscreen.
I came out publicly last summer, not long after my 32nd birthday. A year earlier, I stood on the street in joyous tears at Dublin Pride, comprehending for the first time that I’d spent my life erroneously believing I was straight. It was undeniably a moment to celebrate. But, on finally accepting my sexual orientation, I felt anxious. Anxious about the response those closest to me would have. Anxious about arriving late to the party, about being told by women I fancied that they weren’t interested in dating someone so newly out (Callie from Grey’s Anatomy went on to become the longest-running queer series regular in TV history after her introduction in 2006, but her future wife Arizona initially rejecting her for being a “newborn” stayed with me). Anxious because I anticipated ending up as a punchline or a tragedy: that my sexuality might be seen as a phase or experimentation, that coming out to family or friends would be difficult to navigate. And anxious, mostly, because part of me feared that this realisation meant closing the door on that picture I had of my life, that it was now somehow out of reach. My circle of friends is wider and richer than it was when I was a teenager, and I knew rationally that I could see the type of relationship I longed for thanks to queer friends and colleagues all around me. Regardless, something about those early influences—about all that television I watched as a teenager—was hard to shake off.
But then, as I came out quietly and gradually to those around me, I started to see parts of that life I longed for on TV. I was furiously jealous watching Derry Girls‘ “wee lesbian” Clare begin the search for a girl to take to the school dance—something that, even if I’d known I wanted it, my Catholic school didn’t allow in 2004. I got choked up seeing Brooklyn 99‘s Rosa’s difficult coming out to her family, before her colleagues and friends rallied around her, ensuring that she knew just how loved she is. I wept watching Yorkie and Kelly build an unlikely life together in the most open-heartedly optimistic episode of Black Mirror. I was even unexpectedly moved—songs always have a way of sneaking up on me—when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Darryl sang about “Getting Bi.” I had such fun seeing ex-villain Petra on Jane the Virgin have her defences dismantled thanks to a queer romantic relationship with her lawyer JR. What felt different—groundbreaking—here is that these characters are simultaneously so much more than their respective sexualities, not a mere punchline other programs might have made them, and that their romantic storylines are treated with weight and sincerity; with love.
The “Getting Bi” song from an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. YouTube.
This trend, the advancement in terms of queer lives onscreen, is supported by hard data. The recent 2019-20 GLAAD Report reported the highest ever percentage of LGBTQ characters on television: 10.2 per cent of regular characters on scripted primetime broadcast shows, as well as an ever-increasing number on cable and streaming programming. Though there is still a way to go, and specific targets set for the coming decade, there has been much to celebrate recently. Representation, too, is more diverse than ever before. In 2019, GLAAD awarded Dan Levy, co-creator of CBC and PopTV’s Schitt’s Creek for “expanding representation of the spectrum of identities within the LGBTQ community in a way that other content creators should model.”
It’s hardly surprising. In Dan and Eugene Levy’s imagined small-town Canada, a place I wholeheartedly wish to live, homophobia simply isn’t afforded any screen time. As a result, the relationship that emerged in mid-season three between Dan Levy’s character David and his business partner Patrick (Noah Reid) has been an extraordinary one to witness. As a couple, they’re spoken about in the same breath as ‘classic’ TV love stories: Jim and Pam on The Office, Eric and Tami on Friday Night Lights, Ben and Leslie on Parks and Recreation. This past December, promotion for the program’s final series featured David and Patrick front and centre: gazing fondly at each other in promos, kissing each other on billboards in LA, New York, and Toronto.
We have seen queer couples on screen before, of course. What feels most distinctive about David and Patrick’s relationship on Schitt’s Creek is that it is both achingly passionate and intimate, and relatable in its comfort and domesticity. For all the sweeping, romantic gestures between them—Tina Turner’s The Best (twice!), the four golden rings that Patrick proposes with—what I find most moving are the relatively minor moments: Patrick reading in bed while David snoozes, them greeting each other with a kiss in their store, or standing close at family events, a chin tucked over a shoulder. Dan Levy has spoken of wanting never to have to question whether the intimacy between the characters goes “too far” for the studios. He and the team behind Schitt’s Creek are simply telling a love story on screen in a way that makes sense for the narrative—the way they would were it any other couple. Patrick and David’s life together is not played for laughs, nor is it about moments of high drama, or about ‘issues’ or teachable moments. The show feels revolutionary in its treatment of a queer relationship precisely because these are moments we have seen between other on-screen pairings over and over.
I keep thinking about my sixteen-year-old self, and how much of a difference it might have made to have had this representation, back when I wasn’t even aware of needing it. Patrick and David’s relationship has been a joy to see play out, and finally showed me what I’d been so fiercely longing for: a picture of a domestic life that I could have as a queer person. The impact of their imminent happy ending—there will be bumps along the way, I’m sure, but I’m blithely and confidently assuming Patrick and David will reach the end of the series still very much together—is hard to overstate.
David and Patrick say “I love you” in an episode of Schitt’s Creek. YouTube.
I’m hardly unique in this. Schitt’s Creek has collected a passionate, enthusiastic fan base, many of whom have made it clear just how much the show means to them. From people who have used David’s “I like the wine and not the label” analogy to explain their pansexuality to friends, to those who have watched the show with their parents and felt a tangible shift in attitude, the internet is filled with stories of Schitt’s Creek’s positive and lasting impact. The show may be ending (all too soon) in ten weeks, but the way that it has changed the cultural conversation, and revealed to us a better version of the world, will, I’m hoping, continue long after we say goodbye to the once-reluctant inhabitants of Rosebud Motel.
While I can’t turn back the clock, and show all this to my sixteen-year-old self, I’m immensely grateful that it’s been here for me at thirty-two. I’ve been able to watch Patrick fall head over heels for David, before coming out to his loving, accepting family in the fifth season episode “Meet the Parents.” For a minute or two it appears as if Patrick’s parents, invited to his surprise party before he tells them of his relationship with David, might be the first to react negatively to his boyfriend. They don’t, of course—this is Schitt’s Creek—but his fear struck a tangible chord in me. He’s exactly the character I didn’t know I needed to see: relatively “late” in his realisations about his sexuality, struggling with his own deep-rooted fears about how people might respond, but eventually finding only love, acceptance, and supportive enthusiasm from his family and community.
I came out to friends and family as I was watching series four and five and, in the end, Patrick’s experiences reflected the ones I was having. My dad toasted my coming out in a fancy London restaurant. A dear pal grinned happily and hugged me before he quickly moved on to discussing women we both fancy, and where our ‘types’ might intersect. Another calls me regularly so we can laugh about those years that I was trying so desperately hard to be straight. I know how lucky I am that this has been my experience: that the instances of derision and homophobia I’ve faced have been outweighed by the joy and acceptance I’ve seen in most of my close friends and family. But in those moments where it’s been difficult, I have let myself be bolstered by these moving, meaningful, human relationships on television—by all the representation I couldn’t see as a teenager—and felt a little less alone.