Season 2 of the popular teen drama Never Have I Ever, created by Mindy Kaling of The Office and The Mindy Project, premiered on 15th July, and has since been praised for its positive representations of cultural diaspora and queer issues alike. Following the lives of the equally chaotic Devi, Eleanor, and Fabiola, the show pinpoints what it means to navigate life as a biracial teenager in the US, but it also platforms LGBTQ+ issues in an unprecedented way.
Mission to impress.
Devi, born to Indian parents in the US, has never known a life outside of her town in sunny California and struggles with the strict standards implemented by her mother. Eleanor and Fabiola enjoy similarly complicated maternal relationships, with Eleanor’s actor mother having abandoned her for the theatre and Fabiola’s operating on a strictly overbearing standard since she came out as gay.
Fabiola’s character trajectory is an interesting one. She might be somewhat overshadowed by the disorder of Devi’s endeavours, but her coming out journey very authentic, albeit a little complicated. Initially, she adorns awkward polo shirts and men’s button-ups, but by season 2 of Never Have I Ever, she is on a mission to impress her new girlfriend, Eve.
With a pixie haircut and a leather jacket, Eve is portrayed as the comfortably out queer character. In many ways, she is the antithesis of Fabiola, already surrounded by a group of LGBTQ+ friends that are comfortable in their sexuality. Fabiola consistently fails to understand what The L Word is and begins to adorn the same style as her girlfriend, almost uncomfortably, in an attempt to appear “gay enough.”
Fabiola’s journey is a theme many LGBTQ+ women resonate with: wanting to fit in, and be accepted as “gay enough.” When I came out as queer, I felt pressured to “look gay”, just as Fabiola did. I didn’t know how to be a queer woman, and surrounded by stereotypes, I bought flannel shirts, ripped jeans and Vans to look the part. The pressure to fulfil the role of a “proper” queer woman was omnipresent.
It wasn’t as though anyone was telling me how to look queer specifically: more that I pressured myself into dressing and acting a certain way. I wanted the validation, and I wanted people to know that I was queer without having to talk to me.
Attracted to femme women.
I’m not alone. Catherine came out when she was twelve and though she connected with the LGBTQ+ community through the internet, began to experience inauthenticity in her identity: “I used websites like Tumblr, and this was heavily used by young people like myself. I think we were almost all in an echo chamber to fit the stereotype.” She had little media representation, so she, like me, didn’t know how to “look” queer: “After I came out, I cut my hair very short and dressed more masculine. I didn’t always feel like straight people accepted me, so I needed the LGBTQ+ community to accept me. To do that, I felt that I needed to follow a dress code.”
Similarly, when Lily came out as bisexual, she felt the need to adapt her appearance not for herself, but for her peers. She states: “As a femme bi woman who is attracted to femme women, I noticed that after coming out, that women rarely hit on me, particularly the kind of women that I am attracted to.” Lily continues: “As a result, I began experimenting a little with my fashion sense, dressing more butch and wearing far less makeup. I’ve struggled with ideas surrounding queerbaiting because this sort of butch dressing felt really unnatural, but sometimes I do want to appear visibly queer and it feels like the only way.”
No correct way to be queer.
I’ve always enjoyed wearing colourful clothes, and the plain flannel shirts I bought when I came out never felt quite right. Whenever I went out of my way to look queer, I would garner comments from friends: “God, you look so gay today”, and I basked in the sense of validation this gave me. I had spent my whole life hiding, and I wanted to be visible: donning a caricature felt the only way for me to achieve this. I wanted people to sense my queerness through my fashion choices. I wanted to put a middle finger up to the conservative town I grew up in and say: “this is me; this is who I am.” Needless to say, these clothes were not me. This was not me.
It took me a while to learn, but there is no correct way to be queer. Slowly, I began to understand that queerness was about expressing a sense of authenticity, and I learnt that I wasn’t going to achieve this by trying to fit a mould. I started to wear clothes that I felt like me in, and it wasn’t until I was recently clearing out my wardrobe that I realised how little these initial pieces I bought resembled me.
Placing these little plaid shirts into a plastic bag destined for the local charity shop, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of achievement. Five years ago, I would never have worn rainbow dungarees, and now, I navigate my wardrobe with joy. I feel authentically myself, just as Fabiola does when she returns to her organic self. Perhaps another queer woman will walk into the local Oxfam and pick up my old clothes, but this time, I hope they’re worn with pride.
Never Have I Ever is available to watch on Netflix.
Watch Rob Harkavy’s interview with Topsie Redfern.