The Unicorn Scale: Chewing Gum
This month Netflix released a whole new flurry of shows and I have been dedicatedly binging; yes, my job is hard. The most exciting for me was probably season 2 of Chewing Gum. I got sucked into this amazing BAFTA winning Britcom earlier this year and was thrilled to see that the next season was on its way. Comedian Michaela Coel writes and stars in this show that tells the story of Tracey, a horny 24 year old virgin, living in London. She is awkward, weird, and oddly lovable. After breaking up with her gay conservative Christian boyfriend she starts dating Connor and exploring her sexuality, which leads to endless hilarity.
For the purpose of The Unicorn Scale I am going to focus on the episode “The Unicorn”, although I will be referencing events from season 1. If you’re worried about spoilers, stop reading now.
What I like:
This show is super sex positive in a charming, awkward, real way. It’s sex positive in a universe where people don’t know all the moves, everyone isn’t traditionally attractive, and orgasms aren’t taken for granted. Although we spend a lot of time laughing at the characters’ sexual foibles, we also sympathize with them. It’s refreshing to see that non-porn star sex can still be positive.
Even though it is often kookie, the show manages to model really successful sexual relationships. Tracey’s best friend, Candice, wants to practice BDSM with her boyfriend, Aaron. At first he absolutely refuses and she takes the time to explain the difference between consensual BDSM and abuse. It isn’t something that comes natural to Aaron, but he agrees to try and be more domineering in the bedroom, because that’s how Candice wants him to express his love. Couched in comedy, the show actually manages to have a very successful conversations about kinks and consent.
Tracey’s elaborate sexual fantasies and basic lack of understanding about sex combined with Connor’s own hang ups mean that even after various attempts she hasn’t had an orgasm, nor have they had sex. One day when she’s hanging out with friends the topic of threesomes comes up. All of the women start discussing why men are so into them, some of them bemoan the fact that threesomes always seem to be two women and a man, some are into them, some aren’t.
Esther tells everyone, “I am partial to a bit of cunt.”
Candice’s mother, Esther, goes on to talk about her own sexual experiences with women. Without using the word bi, she unselfconsciously tells the story of her bisexuality. She doesn’t talk about it as a phase, or some misty past. It clearly isn’t her primary sexual attraction, but it is still a real and important component of her sexuality. Esther is not the traditional unicorn, she’s not young or sexy or vixenish or tortured, she’s just everyone’s honorary mom.
In this discussion of unicorns and threesomes, Tracey decides that a threesome is the best way to jump start her sexual relationship with Connor and so she hops on a hook up app. Within a few hours she has found a bi unicorn, Sasha, and set up a time and place to meet.
Sasha is much kinkier than Tracey and Conner and the couple is initially intimidated and turned off by her voracious sexual appetite. However it turns out that Sasha is also the only person who will talk to Tracey semi-intelligently about sex. She’s the one that tells Connor and Tracey to “stop making his dick the centre of sex – dick-centric sex sucks.” She’s the first person to help them recenter sex around pleasure and be less concerned about what it means to have sex. Because she tells them to quit thinking of sex as vaginal penetration, Tracey has her first orgasm.
What I don’t like:
Sasha, the unicorn
Although she turns out to be their sexual savior, Sasha is initially portrayed as pretty gross. I’m not sure if this can only be blamed on her bisexuality, as she is also portrayed as super promiscuous and was found on a hook up app. In a lot of media bisexuality is often equated with promiscuity. In this case I felt like it was more coincidental that the only bi character was also super promiscuous, but as there weren’t many other bi characters to balance her out, it’s hard to say.
Sasha also had visible cold sores that were probably the first thing you noticed about the character. Connor says that it looks like she has leprosy. For decades, bi people, men especially, have been seen as vectors of disease. Seeing Sasha so visibly marked up by an infection certainly reinforces that incredibly harmful stereotype.
When Sasha was first introduced, I cringed, but as the episode continued I really came to appreciate her. The show exaggerates the very real flaws of all its characters and it did the same with Sasha. At the same time, I appreciated that her kinks, her promiscuity, her bisexuality didn’t stop her from being the only person who could have a productive conversation about sex with Tracey. Once she realized what the problem was, she was able to help Connor and Tracey actually talk about their own needs and desires with each other.
Ultimately, even with the cold sores, Sasha proved to be a wonderful person in her own kinky way.