A dear friend told me months ago to watch the new short form Netflix series Bonding because I had liked Special, another short form Netflix series, and that this one, too, struck similar coming-of-age chords for LGBTQ people like ourselves.
Of course, I never did because, well, who has the time? There is too much white supremacy to not look away from, too many racist Twitter feeds to respond to (Note: Because if I don’t, who will???) and far, far too much programming already backed up on the DVR that I’m already pretending that I’ll get to but know I never will.
Nevertheless, a stolen August weekend several hours away with still other dear friends frees you up for all kinds of things. These include: philosophical talks, ocean views, good food and wine and…bonding.
One of the coolest things about being an LBTQ young person these days is that you get to see yourself more fully represented in films, television and elsewhere. Though not fully acknowledged, you are at least not relegated to lurking in the corners of the big and small screen as a coded center box on The Hollywood Squares or as a closeted and/or severely depressed third act revealed killer in some edgy Hollywood detective movie.
That is pretty much what I experienced as a 17-year-old gay kid and a big part of the reason why I now find shows like Bonding to be such a delight.
Why does a 13-18 minute per episode/seven show season about a NYC female psychology grad student/dominatrix and her aspiring stand up comic gay male assistant/best friend from high school resonate with me so deeply and, well, queerly?
There are many reasons. So many, many, many.
Oh, calm down. It’s not even barely remotely about the S&M, at least not in a sexual way.
Nor is it because it is set in NYC and has an absence of heteronormative-espousing straight male white supremacists controlling the narrative, though that helps.
Instead, it is because during its very short season Bonding managed to reflect back to me a version of myself in both its male and female protagonists. I got to see the pain, the struggle and the triumph of getting beyond the scars of childhood wounds with characters whose sensibilities reflected the types of thoughts and challenges that I actually experienced at the time in my own world.
It didn’t matter that I was their age decades ago or that the world in which they now live in is a very different place than it was way back then. What does matter is that the smart, somewhat nerdy gay guy and his female best friend (who sort of have sex on the night of the senior prom but don’t) now have the kind of loving, oddball relationship that is/was me.
No, I never donned a leather mask and urinated on…(oh gosh, never mind!) for money. Nor was any one of my friends bold enough to be a sex worker in leather even though I can recall one or two gals I know meeting up with men they don’t know in weird places where they proceeded to…well, never mind again.
Still, by using this as a setting and embracing the gay of it all and single white female sex of it all and the general insecurity and uncertainties of one’s twenties and all, without being leering or exploitative AT ALL, something happens. We, the audience, get beyond the window dressing of what at first glance make these stories feel rarefied and extreme.
These are two people. They date and go to school. They live in the kind of small and/or drab unenviable apartments most of us did/do in our twenties. More importantly, they are plagued by the same existential questions of:
1. How will I fit in and forge enough of my own path where I don’t sell out my soul?
2. Will I find love or am I even capable of it?
And, most universally —
3.Where is home and how do/will I even begin to know how to get there or recognize it if it ever arrives?
These are the ongoing tasks of not only every young person but of every member of a generation no matter what age they are or will become.
What’s different in 2019 is that audiences get the opportunity to take these journeys with LGBTQ characters in the leads, with Black, Brown and Yellow people in the leads, and with members of either sex of any age or non-binary disposition in the leads.
And play to audiences who will WILLINGLY go along for the ride.
There was a moment not so long ago where you’d get feedback at a writers’ pitch meeting on stories such as these like:
- Why does this character HAVE to be gay? Or –
- The people in this world feel really specific rather than relatable. Or –
- There isn’t enough of an audience to justify spending time with two leads who are so fringe and, too often….unlikeable.
Yeah, you might still get some of that. But more often than that it’s –
- Wow, that’s an original voice we really could respond to in this format. Or –
- Is that based on a real story? Because that will be a real plus in reaching out beyond yours, and our, niche markets. Or –
- We need it now. Yesterday. YES!
At the end of the day commercial storytelling is still a business. But right now we live in a time when a weekend of entertainment away can also mean finding yourself seen (and heard) not only in areas where you didn’t expect to be but on platforms where you were previously very much being silenced.
It’s not everything but for today…….I’ll take it.
“This is Me” – The Greatest Showman