Supergirl Takes On Its Biggest Bad Yet: Compulsory Heterosexuality

The last few days have been absolute garbage. You know that, I know that. I don’t mean to take away from the terrible things currently happening in America and the rest of the world. That’s truly the last thing I would ever want to do, but I think it’s important to focus on little positive things in whatever way you can, and I’d been planning on writing this before the nightmarish election results happened, so here I am, writing it.

Characters come-out onscreen. This isn’t new. Is it something that doesn’t happen often? Yes. Do we need more of it? Absolutely. Coming-out scenes for characters who are in the process of realising their queerness are just as important as the need for openly confident and out queer characters. Basically, we need more queer characters. But that isn’t news.

However, coming-out scenes often seem to take the form of the same kind of one-note trope. For the most part, these characters are in their teenage years, struggling with all the stresses that puberty, school, or college bring, only to also be attempting to navigate their own sexual discovery. And let me say that there is nothing wrong with this. This is something that endless queer teens go through, and the struggle to examine your own sexuality alongside the stresses of growing up is really, really hard. But, of course, this is not the reality for all queer individuals. There are many people who don’t realise that they may not be heterosexual until well into their adulthood. Not everybody realises in their teens, to then live out an adult life of self-awareness and self-acceptance. The representation for this on television is almost non-existent in comparison to high school/college coming out storylines. But boy, did Supergirl knock it out of the park on Monday night.

Alex Danvers, sister of main character Kara/Supergirl, had no romantic sub-plot throughout the duration of the first season. In fact, the show never even showed us any of her social life (the implication being that there was no social life for Alex) as she spent 95% of her time running around with the DEO, helping Supergirl & Co save the day episode after episode. A couple of times she flirted with human slimeball Maxwell Lord in order to gather intel, but beyond that: nada. And then, during the third episode of the show’s second season, in strolls Maggie Sawyer and, after one meeting, stoic Alex Danvers is gone. Like, a ‘bumbling wreck of a person every time Maggie so much as breathes the same air as her’ kind of gone. It’s great, you guys. (Also, totally understandable, Floriana Lima manages to make that NCPD uniform look good.) Many hoped for an Alex/Maggie romance following the news of Lima’s casting as canonically lesbian DC Detective Sawyer, and it was clear to queer viewers what direction the two would be taking after only their first scene together.

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‘Detective Maggie Sawyer, here to bring your unacknowledged lesbianism kicking and screaming to the surface.’

We get a fair amount of adult women on TV shows saying ‘I’ve always liked men, I just never thought about the possibility of also liking women.’ And this is fine, this is good! We desperately need more bisexual representation on TV, it’s just that so often when this happens with an established character, the word ‘bisexual’ is never uttered. It’s always ‘it’s complicated’ or ‘I like hot people.’ And Supergirl could easily have followed suit, having Alex realise she was attracted to more than one gender, and I’m sure, judging by the way this storyline is being treated thus far, we would have received respectful representation of that. But, instead, Supergirl did something unforeseeably impressive and took on perhaps the Biggest Bad of the show so far: compulsory heterosexuality.

After a few episodes of tentative flirting and Maggie’s girlfriend popping up, only to dump her the next episode, the two finally have ‘the talk.’ Alex is eager to spend time with Maggie and make her feel better about her breakup, when Maggie eyes her curiously and says, ‘I think I read you wrong…I didn’t know you were into girls.’ The Kill Bill sirens sound frantically inside Alex’s head, and she splutters a shaky ‘I’m not’ before proceeding to all but backflip out of that situation.

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‘Am I gay? I’m ecstatic!’

Throughout the rest of the episode it’s clear the conversation’s been on her mind, and she tries to talk to Kara during an uncharacteristic mid-day doughnut but, surprise surprise, Kara has people to save and Katie McGrath to stare longingly at. After Maggie gets shaken up by three bad guys basically combusting in front of her, Alex seeks her out in their regular bar to see how she’s doing. Maggie asks her why she’s there, and what follows is one of the most authentic and touching coming-out scenes in television history.

What’s amazing is that there’s no ‘my life was fine and I’ve realised I like girls too!’ or ‘I don’t like girls, it’s just you.’ Instead we see Alex admit that dating has always, always felt wrong, and she had resigned herself to the fact that maybe it never was going to be a pleasant thing for her. She didn’t like being intimate with guys, but decided that’s just how she was always going to feel, without ever considering that it could be, as Chyler Leigh does such a heart-rending job of stuttering, ‘that…that other…’ Because, when you first realise that you might not be straight, you don’t dive headfirst into waving a rainbow banner and saying, with complete sincerity, ‘I’m gay.’ You’re confused and reluctant and, frankly, have no idea what’s going on. And getting to watch Alex do just that onscreen was immensely powerful and refreshing. On the flip side, we have Maggie, who says in one of her first scenes that she’s known she was gay since she was young, feeling alienated growing up a ‘non-white girl, non-straight girl in Blue Springs, Nebraska,’ sitting opposite Alex and offering nothing beyond a comforting smile and a couple of tender ‘about what’s’ when Alex tells her there might be some truth to what she’d said previously. To watch a lesbian in her late-twenties come out whilst directly addressing the struggle of compulsory heterosexuality is beyond amazing, and for it to be one half of the show’s most beloved characters is even better.

 

Unsurprisingly, however, there have been reactions of wariness to this storyline. Following the worst year in TV history for the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope, and Supergirl now airing on the same network as the show that killed off fan-favourite Lexa back in March, some people are reluctant to get invested, understandably so. But I think one of the best things about this storyline is that it isn’t done to create drama, or for shock-value, or for forced representation. It’s being done, as Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg says in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, because ‘I want Alex to be happy.’ After a season of watching Alex feel like she’s always second-place, this is a storyline that is going to let Alex find happiness and go onto to experience life with a sense of inner-freedom that she didn’t know was possible. And, on top of that, Kreisberg had said, ‘It’s going to be funny, it’s going to be serious, it’s going to be romantic, it’s going to be heartbreaking. It’s going to be everything that any relationship that you see on TV, no matter what the gender, should and will be.’ WHICH IS AMAZING. Alex is the female lead, behind title character Kara, and taking into account the amount of screentime already dedicated to this storyline in only three episodes, I’d say that’s a good sign. Plus, with openly-gay producers Ali Adler and Greg Berlanti at the helm, as well as Lima’s Maggie signed on for the whole season as a regular, I’m going to let myself believe that this storyline will unfold in the way that we, as fans and as a community desperately in need of authentic, healthy representation, deserve.

Supergirl is a silly show, as my housemate and I like to yell at the screen whenever Kara narrowly avoids being revealed as Supergirl, or the bad guy reels off the most cringe-worthy dialogue imaginable mid-fight. But god, is it fun. It’s all bright colours and found-families and a superhero who may very well be the human (well, alien) equivalent of a puppy. But this show’s strength lies in its characters and their relationships with one another. Alex is set to come out to Kara in the next episode, and their relationship as sisters is absolutely the best thing about this show, so it’s bound to be wildly touching. Alex and Maggie are currently the driving romantic relationship of Supergirl, a show that doesn’t focus a whole lot on romance, and I have complete faith that their story is going to continue to be treated with the kind of respect and slow-burn that they deserve. And if that hasn’t made you feel any better, when asked about the BYG trope, Kreisberg said, ‘Well, they’re not dying, either of them, so we’re not really thinking about that right now.’

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That one time they went on a date and took down an alien fight club because, duh.

My fingers are crossed and my eyes are peeled, and I am more than ready for the next few episodes of this show, as we all watch Alex Danvers become the Big Damn Gay Hero we all need right now.

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2 thoughts on “Supergirl Takes On Its Biggest Bad Yet: Compulsory Heterosexuality

  1. Reblogged this on Busy Nurse Research and commented:
    This was one of the two things I saw on tv this week that, quite frankly, I really needed to see for my sanity. (The other was Dean Winchester taking out a re-animated/reincarnated Hitler last night with the help of a terrified med student who found her courage at the 11th hour. ) This blog post does a great job analyzing just why Alex’s coming out was so very different than anything we ever see on tv, why it was so important, and some hints of what to (and not to) expect from Supergirl’s sister.

    Like

  2. Yeah this was just. Beyond amazing. It’s so rare to have a character’s coming out handled in a way that feels respectful, honest and intensely resonates. I’m a bit floored that they addressed compulsory heterosexuality so head on. That they actually let Alex as a lesbian say that dating and sex with men has pretty much been consistently terrible. Like, how often do you see that?? Ever? And the way it was so difficult for her to discuss (that deep breath she takes before admitting she never liked “being intimate” with men ;___;). Too freaking relatable and perfect. God there’s just so much I want to gush over.

    I also adore the way this initial coming out was between two gay characters. Too often we get intensely uncomfortable scenes with straight characters, and their reactions (especially when written by straight people) can be terrible. While no doubt there will be some uncomfortable straight reactions, I’m so glad for the first time Alex acknowledged it out loud, it was with Maggie. The quiet, warm understanding of another gay person, and the very gentle prompting she offered was perfect.

    I’m just so psyched because honestly? While some people (bless them!) can shift their interests towards whatever has gay content, I’m definitely the sort of person who needs to have other things pull me in first. And my main interests are Power Rangers and its Japanese counterpart, so I’m fairly resigned that “gay things” and “My Thing” are very rarely the same. So cheesy super hero show? With my favorite character being a lesbian?? And handled in a way that is honest, respectful and resonates intensely? I’m still in shock that it even exists.

    I’m especially happy that we don’t look set to see any miserable/dead lesbian tropes again. Even moreso than that promise that nobody will die, is the way every time they’ve talked about this storyline, its mentioned that it’s about Alex getting to lead an infinitely happier, more complete life. And that’s so refreshing!! To hear a lesbian character and storyline discussed in that manner. It gives me hope that I can just sit back and enjoy things as they come, rather than agonize over what bad things could happen to them this week.

    Like

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