Butterfly

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ITV drama Butterfly is a three-part series which follows the uneasy transition of 11-year-old Maxine, who no longer identifies as a boy and wants to transition. This realisation, however, isn’t something which has spawned overnight.

Maxine’s estranged parents, Vicky and Stephen, both believed his desire to dress in pink and wear earrings was a mere ‘phase’ before puberty comes around. The situation has increasingly taken a toll on their marriage, with Stephen violently lashing out over Maxine’s feminine behaviour.

While Butterfly is partially about Max becoming Maxine, it more predominantly, and successfully, taps into how this issue affects the entire family. A standout scene between Vicky and Stephen as they bicker over the right way to handle Maxine’s feelings perfectly illustrates how their confusion has turned into anguish — unknowing of whether major steps, like delaying puberty through medication, is the right call for someone who’s barely started secondary school.

It’s a difficult issue to communicate through a mainstream drama because the situation isn’t as common, or relatable, as something more widespread like having a gay child (which is defiantly addressed here via baffled grandparents). It therefore falls to the struggles of the parents to become the show’s understandable jumping-on point for many — which, through the excellent performances and thoughtful writing, is easily the biggest achievement here.

Butterfly, however, is less successful when it comes to connecting to Maxine herself. While there’s touching moments, like explaining to her mum how she wants to ‘feel like I belong’ in the right bathrooms at school, these are offset by extreme behaviour which feels like it’s prioritising shocks above all else. The sudden switch to Maxine deciding to cut herself, stopping her mum going on a date with another man, felt particularly ill-judged and cheap.

It’s also hard to connect when we rarely see Maxine enjoying private time to explore becoming herself. Aside from the occasional pose in the mirror and cut short Kylie Minogue dance, we aren’t shown a comfortable, fun Maxine where she’s free to be her true identity. Her sister, Lily, however is very likeable as the supporting sibling who helps celebrate Maxine on the playground, despite the smirks from school bullies.

While Butterfly doesn’t always hit the right notes, it’s undeniably a thoughtful and challenging drama of the likes which rarely hits mainstream TV. The remaining episodes will decide how the show will be remembered, but for now, this will be an important lifeline for many families and individuals experiencing the same issues.

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Netflix’ very queer teen drama Élite gets a second season

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Élite, Netflix’s latest and gayest original teen drama, has just been renewed for a second season. The show follows the students of Las Encinas, a Spanish high school for the country’s wealthiest teens. But when the school on the poor side of town collapses, three students get scholarships to Las Encinas and their presence ignites a train of events that ultimately results in murder.

Viewers have been pleasantly surprised by the unexpectedly queer series. Élite boasts two gay characters, a few bisexuals, polyamory, and even a plotline destigmatising HIV. Combine that with the high stakes of teen drama, a beautiful cast, and a murder mystery, it’s no wonder the show’s garnered such an enthusiastic fan base.

Élite is streaming on Netflix now

Netflix’ Big Mouth features a pansexual teen character

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The second season of Big Mouth, Netflix’s cartoon about the trials and tribulations of adolescence, is fixated on the same issues as the first: uncomfortably and entirely relatable gags about boobs, stray pubes and “rubbing fronts.” But this season includes an unexpected gem: one of the 13-year-old characters came out as pansexual.

In Big Mouth, the heartaches and desires of the characters are personified by hairy, horned “hormone monsters” that serve as emotional, hilarious joke-cracking guides through the land of sexual maturation.

Spoilers for season 2 ahead:

Although Jay is a side-character, he’s also a close friend to the show’s main characters and is surprisingly complex. In the first season, we learn that his father is a shady divorce lawyer who regularly cheats on his mom. He also has two older abusive brothers and a curiously self-aware and depressed pet pit bull.

In the second season’s ninth episode, Jay makes out with Matthew, the show’s only openly gay character (voiced by gay actor Andrew Rannells), during a spin-the-bottle game called “Smooch or Share.” While their initial kiss (with tongue) at first comes off as the two literally kissing and making up from a fight they had earlier in the show, the two meet up later on for more flirting and kissing during a debaucherous lock-in in the school gymnasium.

Previous to Season Two, Jay had only expressed interest in girls and a female pillow named Pam. The show could have left his kiss with Matthew at that, giving its gay fans an unexpected moment of same-sex smooching. But then, in Season Two’s final episode, Jay struggles with feeling attracted to both a male and female pillow.

The female pillow, Suzette, initially tells him that he has to decide which one he feels more attracted to. But by the episode’s end, Jay has a threesome with both of the pillows, pretty much establishing himself as attracted to more than just one gender.

While it’s great to see Big Mouth feature a pansexual teen, the show proved itself to be quite progressive in its queer and sexual views long before its final episodes. Season Two features an entire episode on how sexually transmitted infections aren’t moral failings and Season One had a coming out episode in which a young character questions his sexuality — during the episode, the show made no homophobic jokes at his expense.

Cartoons are queerer than ever

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While Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe gets plenty of credit for bringing queer issues to kids’ TV (rightfully so) thankfully, it’s not alone. In fact, the number of queer cartoons is rapidly increasing. And while not every show necessarily gets it right (looking at you, Voltron), at least there are many more other opportunities for young LGBTQ kids to see themselves on screen.

The past few years, there have been many queer cartoons — or at least queer cartoon characters. There was the first same-sex kiss in a kids’ cartoon in Disney’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil, gay parents have appeared in Cartoon Network‘s Clarence and Nickelodeon’s The Loud House and there was a relationship between two Adventure Time characters being build up over ten seasons.

Of course, the one doing the most for queer representation in animation is Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe. Alex Hirsch, creator of Gravity Fallssaid Sugar is “driving a race car way, way ahead of everyone else,” when it comes to representation. “Every time a creator or a network decides to try to go a little further and do something maybe other networks have been scared to do, suddenly we’ve opened up that space.”

Hirsch’s Gravity Falls has had its own issues with trying to insert representation. In a 2014 episode, “The Love God,” about Cupid making people fall in love, originally was to feature a couple of old women in love. The women were depicted as background characters in the storyboards — basically, a blink-and-you-miss it situation.

But Disney’s standards and practices department objected. Hirsch says, “The truth is they’re scared of getting emails from bigots and they’re cowards. So they’re letting the bigots control the conversation. My response was basically, ‘Let ‘em complain,’ ‘they’re wrong,’ and ‘they’re just gonna have to live with it.’ Unfortunately, it got so contentious that [the network] essentially told me that if I didn’t cut the scene they would cut the episode and they strong-armed me out of it.” Thankfully, in the season finale, Hirsch was allowed to have two other characters, Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland, come out as lovers.

Even Rebecca Sugar had problems initially; she said Cartoon Network came to her with notes, but she held her ground. Sugar said, “If this is going to cost me my show that’s fine because this is a huge injustice and I need to be able to represent myself and my team through this show and anything less would be unfair to my audience.”

On July 4, Steven Universe aired the first same-sex wedding, featuring a full on-the-mouth kiss. And as a added twist of the knife to the international markets where queer issues are censored, she put the more traditionally feminine character Sapphire in a suit, and the more masculine Ruby in a dress. (In these homophobic countries, Ruby is often dubbed with a male voice actor, to avoid having Ruby and Sapphire be a same-sex couple.)

Though we’ve come far with queer cartoons, as we’ve discovered with Voltron, there’s a long way to come. Even though Voltron engaged in the “bury your gays” trope and the queer representation was shown in only two scenes, Netflix promoted the show with lots of rainbows — trying to take advantage of the trend for LGBTQ representation while botching it just the same.

My Name is Josie Totah — And I’m ready to be free

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Yesterday Josie Totah came out as transgender in an essay for Time. Josie, who starred in the sitcom Champions and appeared in Other PeopleGlee, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, explained she felt “like I let myself be shoved into a box: ‘J.J. Totah, gay boy’” in her acting roles, and in the discussions of herself in the press.

That description did not match her actual identity and “has never been the way I think of myself,” she explained. “My pronouns are sheher and hers,” Totah writes. “I identify as female, specifically as a transgender female. And my name is Josie Totah.”

Totah says she came to terms with her identity when she was 14, watching the show I Am Jazz about a transgender girl who is transitioning. Days later, she started meeting with specialists and taking a hormone blocker.

She will start college this week, but she plans to continue acting. “I plan to play roles I haven’t had the opportunity to play. And I can only imagine how much more fun it’s going to be to play someone who shares my identity, rather than having to contort myself to play a boy,” she writes. “I’m going to gun for those roles, be it a transgender female or a cisgender female. Because it’s a clean slate — and a new world.”

You can read her powerful essay here.

High School Girl?

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Spoilers ahead, watch the video first ;) 

If you watch the ad again, you can appreciate the quiet subtlety with which it shows its hand: It’s less of a reveal than a call to be more attentive. The opening scene, for example, focuses not on the teacher but on what she is holding: An image of a piece of art depicting a woman. This image is flipped at the end to reflect how easily we can be fooled once we’ve looked at something, decided what it is, and moved on.Here’s the making-of video:

Good Job, Good Girls

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Izzy Stannard as Sadie in Good Girls

NBC‘s new comedy Good Girls (also available on Netflix) is about three women who, in the midst of financial emergencies, decide to rob a supermarket. The show has its central characters being unwittingly pulled into an even bigger criminal operation. The writing is smart and sharp, funny and a bit dark, and the chemistry between the leads is amazing.

As we are introduced to the characters, we learn that their primary incentive for the crime is supporting their family, more specifically, their children. Annie is the youngest of the trio. She is a single mother, though her ex-husband is very much in the picture, and the primary caregiver to Sadie, her 11-year-old daughter that has begun exploring their gender identity.

And, this might be the most exciting part, Sadie is portrayed by an actor that actually is non-binary himself. A refreshing decision in today’s TV business.

The FostersShamelessBillions, and Madam Secretary are among the shows currently featuring adult non-binary characters. What is unique about Good Girls‘ take, however, is that Sadie, at 11, is still figuring themselves out, and hasn’t expressed whether they identifies as female, male, or otherwise.

While a large part of the show highlights the struggles of everyday life for the main characters, that Sadie is non-binary or potentially trans is not one of Annie’s problems. The fact that Sadie is wearing boy’s clothes or has short hair is irrelevant, and Annie’s dedication to her child is such that she doesn’t miss a beat in completely shutting down her ex-husband’s suggestion to enroll Sadie in Catholic school, or that Sadie should be in therapy, as if there is anything about them that needs to be fixed.

Though Annie is portrayed as being the least responsible one of the Good Girls, it’s refreshing to see her become resourceful when it comes to her child. She enlists a dangerous criminal to go to Sadie’s school in order to scare the living daylights out of her bullies for pulling Sadie’s pants down, where he promptly breaks one of the kids’ fingers (like I said, it’s a little dark). Most of her money goes to hiring an attorney to help with maintaining full custody.

It would have been so easy for Good Girls to have taken the lazy route by making Annie’s dilemma that her kid is being difficult and won’t just put on a dress to make things easier for everyone. Instead, Annie’s distress comes from seeing Sadie navigate childhood, which is often times more cruel than adulthood. Her greatest struggle is making sure she’s doing all the right things to bring up Sadie in a safe space that will allow them to be strong and confident.

If the writers continue their approach in season 2, Sadie’s journey promises to be a satisfying one. Seeing a child who is non-binary on network television not have a completely miserable home life is the future. Let’s have more of that, more happy home life, more of Annie bringing Sadie to expensive stores and having her fitted for awesome suits. More of the Super Mom all kids deserve, when she’s not partaking in clumsy criminal activity.

 

Christians upset over Drag Cartoon

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The Christian Film and Television Commission is demanding Netflix cancel plans for an upcoming drag queen superhero cartoon called Super Drags, saying the show is “driven by a politically correct transvestite agenda.” Netflix, predictably, hasn’t deigned to acknowledge the ridiculousness.

A petition started by the group asks supporters, “Netflix offers wholesome shows like ‘Clifford, the Big Red Dog’ and even ‘VeggieTales.’ But do we really want our children to sit down to watch a fun new superhero cartoon series and instead have them lose their innocence to sexual wickedness?”

At time of publication, over 26,000 people had signed the petition. The group also strangely insinuates that the company is forcing employees to create the series against their will:

“Netflix has taken the skill sets of those who create wholesome, educational content for children and has inserted the homosexual agenda into their content,” the would-be censors claim.

Netflix hasn’t released many details on the show beyond a brief trailer and the characters’ names. The show revolves around a trio of harried department store clerks who transform into drag queens Lemon Chiffon, Cran’s Sapphire and Crimson Scarlet “ready to combat shade and rescue the world’s glitter from the evil villains.”

Backstreet Girls

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Back Street Girls, originally a Japanese manga series by Jasmine Gyuh that was released in 2015, will be turned into an anime.

There’s two sides to every story, and in the case of Back Street Girls there’s two sides to the leading men, too: yakuza and idols. After a trio of hapless yakuza make an unforgivable mistake, they have two options: Commit honourable suicide or go to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery so they can become a popular idol trio. 

Once a yakuza, always a yakuza, but these three are going to try their best to make their boss loads of money as idols. To get in the groove, two flavors of promos have been released. First up we have the hard-boiled (yet still bubbly) gokudo version (above), followed by the idol version /(below). The only real difference is the voice acting in the back half of each promo.

The series premieres on Japanese television on 3 July. It will air on BS11, Tokyo MX, and MBS. It will likely also be part of anime streaming service Crunchyroll.

Alex Strangelove

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Next month, Netflix is premiering Alex Strangelove, a new teen sex comedy with a gay lead character directed by Craig Johnson, the writer/director behind True Adolescents starring Mark Duplass and Skeleton Twins starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader.

Alex Strangelove is about Alex Truelove, a straight-laced and driven high school senior with a wonderful girlfriend and a bright future ahead of him. After his buddies discover that he and his girlfriend, Claire, haven’t had sex yet,

Alex becomes obsessed with losing his virginity. But things get complicated when he meets Elliot, a handsome and charming gay kid from the other side town, who unwittingly sends Alex into a sexual identity panic. What results is a hilarious and moving exploration of love, sex and friendship in modern high school.