The Bi Line: Already Missing Sense8’s Amazing Queer Representation

6/8/2017

SPOILER ALERT

The cancellation of Sense8 sent shock waves through the internet. Fans have launched a petition that has already amassed 400k signatures asking Netflix to bring the show back. The decision to kill the show after only two seasons will leave fans with an unfinished storyline and a gap in queer representation on television. Sense8 offered us stellar queer representation.

The thorough representation left many viewers upset, particularly for the show’s same-sex sex scenes. The series got pushback for its numerous sex scenes between individuals of the same-sex, actress Jamie Clayton, who plays Nomi Marks, said in an interview prior to the season 2 debut. While it is not unusual for people to be upset at queer intimacy portrayed on screen, it is unusual for a show to show it as much as Sense8. That’s one of the things that made the show great.

In season 1 of Sense8, 8 characters are introduced, two of whom are gay and trans, from around the world who experience each other’s sensory world in what’s known as a cluster. The group’s connectedness reaches climax when all eight characters participate in a sensory fueled orgy.

Instead of inhibiting the queer characters, Sense8’s writers pushed the heterosexual characters to put pleasure over sexual identities. All eight, both the gay and trans characters as well as the six other decidedly straight main characters engage in a fully queer orgy, first in season 1 and then again in the Christmas special. The depiction is erotic: bodies intertwined in pure ecstasy with viewers unable to tell where one person ends and the other begins.

Sense8‘s strong queer representation wasn’t solely based on sex. In their first solo encounter in Season 1, Nomi comforts a then closeted Lito as he comes to terms with his sexuality. She shared many of her experiences due to both her struggles with her gender identity growing up and the challenges she faced coming out.

At the end of the Christmas Special, character Lito is outed as a gay man when intimate photos of him in an act of pleasure with his partner leaked to tabloids. In season 2, Nomi continues to face her transphobic parents at her sister’s wedding. Yet they didn’t just show us homophobia and transphobia, Sense8 showed how it can get better.

The queer characters are complex. They aren’t only facing anti-LGBT stigmas, they are also driving joy from their queerness. In season 2, Lito gives a speech as the grand marshal at the pride parade in Sao Paulo enthusiastically yelling “I am a gay man!”, kissing his partner Hernando. Nomi finds progress with her parents when her dad defends her, telling an FBI agent who had been hunting Nomi on false charges to “get your hands off my daughter!”

Both Nomi and Lito are in long term same-sex relationships which only get stronger throughout both seasons. At the end of Season 2, Nomi and her partner Amanita, propose to each other after attending Nomi’s sisters wedding. The relationship is a rarity when so many queer women on television end up being killed off.

To the dismay of Sense8’s critics, the last season is even more queer with the introduction of a bi character. Zakia, a journalist in Kenya dating one of the characters in the cluster, comes out by beautifully stating: “Yes, I loved a woman. It’s true. I’ve also loved men. I fall in love with the person, not their genitals.” It was full LGBT representation embedded seamlessly into a complex sci-fi storyline.

Check out Amanita’s bi pride hair!

There are still even subtler injections throughout the seasons celebrating queer identities. Both seasons have significant scenes at Pride festivals, the opening credits feature scenes of rainbows at pride festivals, and even Amanita’s coloring in her hair coincidentally are the colors of the bi flag. Even more, actor Brian Jacob Smith tweeted he believes all the characters in the show are potentially pansexual and are unafraid to explore intimacy with members of the same-sex. And an actor in season 1 was even rumored axed and replaced in season 2 for not being LGBT friendly.

Sense8 succeeds in places other shows fail. According to GLAAD’s Where We Are On TV report, LGBT characters rose for the most part, minus representation for lesbians, across platforms. Still the representation isn’t always good. As GLAAD points out many of the bi characters fall into dangerous tropes. Many of TV’s gay and trans characters are sidelined, lack depth, or have no partner or intimacy with them.

The few shows that show sexual intimacy between members of the same-sex portray, more often than not, cisgender men. Sense8’s inclusion of sexual intimacy between two women is a rarity — and still rarer is seeing trans characters with sexual agency.

Whereas some shows that include same-sex couples neuter their same-sex couples, Sense8 celebrates them. The LGBT storylines do not detract from the show neither are they presented with much fanfare. The LGBT characters were treated authentically and presented as peers to their straight counterparts, not as novelties, tragedies, or cannon fodder.

It may seem trivial to some, or gratuitous to others, but queer intimacy is only taboo due to its foreignness in mainstream media. The reaction of some viewers to queer intimacy speaks to a lack of exposure to queer relationships on television and beyond. Another GLAAD report showed that while many people were for marriage equality, many of them also felt uncomfortable at the sight of two members of the same-sex kissing. It’s this inherently homophobic repulsion to queer intimacy that lends to violence against queer bodies. Sense8 inclusion of queer intimacy pushes it to normalization.

There’s nothing wrong with queer sex. It’s not gross or abominable. Sense8 showed it can be can be beautiful, and yes, even celebrated.

Eliel Cruz
Eliel Cruz is a speaker and writer on religion, (bi)sexuality, media, and culture at Bisexual.org, The Advocate, Mic, and Religion News Service. His work has also been published in the Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, Washington Post, Soujourners, DETAILS Magazine, Quartz, Rolling Stone, and various other international platforms.