13 Reasons Why may have drawn controversy for its depiction of teen suicide, but the hit Netflix show gave us countless reasons why the last days of Hannah Baker are a must-watch, breaking new ground with a surprisingly balanced depiction of today's LGBTQ youth.
Instead of fetishizing or tokenizing its queer characters, #13ReasonsWhy boasts a diverse cast of #LGBTQ teens and adults who struggle with the same kind of issues as their straight counterparts. Join us as we break down exactly how Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why achieves this, setting a new benchmark for gay representation on #TV.
Tony Padilla Is A Catholic, Gay Latinx
The relationship shared between Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker may have been the focus of 13 Reasons Why, but anyone who watched the show couldn't help but fall in love with Tony Padilla, the "unhelpful Yoda" who tried his darndest to help Clay, Hannah's parents and even Hannah herself, in a mostly thankless role.
At first, the Catholic Latinx student operates largely in the background, spending all of his time dealing with everyone else's problems. However, as the story progresses, we're soon given insight into Tony's own struggles as tries to cope with his guilt over Hannah's death.
In "Tape 6, Side B", Tony's pain finally comes to the fore during a conversation with his boyfriend Brad, who's casually incorporated without the usual fanfare surrounding more tokenistic portrayals of gay teen relationships.
Upset that Tony just refers to him as a "friend," Brad worries that his boyfriend is worried about being labelled in a gay relationship. However, once that's dealt with, we discover that Tony is under far more duress than we ever realized before. Fortunately, Brad understands this and comforts Tony in one of the most loving and naturalistic portrayals of #gay affection that we've seen on our screens in some time.
Forget the likes of How To Get Away With Murder, which focuses more on guys doing things to each other's asses that "made my eyes water." Instead, 13 Reasons Why takes a far more nuanced approach, portraying the pain of a teenager fighting to reconcile his homosexuality with the machismo attitude and Catholic beliefs that are often prevalent in Latinx culture.
Courtney Crimsen Is A Lesbian Raised By Two Gay Fathers
As one of the titular "reasons" in question, Courtney Crimsen isn't necessarily a likeable character, but she's an important one. The show runners behind 13 Reasons Why recognized this and decided to incorporate LGBTQ issues into her story, despite the fact that Courtney was depicted as straight in the original book.
After a drunken game of Truth Or Dare leads to a make-out session with Hannah Baker, Courtney immediately denies her homosexuality once photos of their kiss begin to circulate around school. While that's understandable to a point, Courtney then takes things a step further, openly outing Hannah as the girl in the picture in order to distract other students in fear of being outed herself.
One might argue that this negative portrayal of a #lesbian character could do more harm than good, but when incorporated into such a richly diverse cast, Courtney's inability to deal with her own feelings is actually the realistic and relatable portrayal of homosexuality that we need right now. Not everyone accepts their sexuality with such ease as the likes of Kurt on Glee. To portray LGBT teens in just purely positive or victimized terms isn't enough. There are plenty of young people out there who don't deal with their sexuality in a positive way, and may even take out their pain on others.
What's particularly interesting about Courtney is how she herself was raised by two gay fathers, leading fans to wonder why she would be so resentful of being gay herself. Later on, it's revealed that growing up in this environment put a surprising amount of pressure on Courtney. All too aware of the stigmas that gay parents face — potentially "turning" their own children gay — Courtney didn't want to put her Dads in that situation. Not only did this scene shed an important light on a rarely dissected stereotype, reinforcing that such assumptions are absurd, but it also revealed that Courtney's admittedly unkind acts came from a place of love — albeit one that is misguided.
Hannah Baker Explores Bisexual Feelings Without Self-Judgement
For a girl who spends the majority of 13 episodes talking about the effect she's had on boys, Hannah Baker's sexuality is arguably the most fascinating of all. Key to her journey is the relationship she nurtured with colleague Clay Jensen, yet Hannah also explores bisexual feelings with relative ease, free of the usual worries and hang-ups that usually accompanies representation of this kind onscreen.
When Hannah first realises that Courtney is flirting with her, she seems somewhat taken aback by the possibility of what's to come. However, Hannah soon relaxes into it and begins making out with her new friend during what started out to be a relatively innocent sleepover.
Unfortunately, Tyler's arrival on the scene interrupts the pair before they can take things further, but it's refreshing to see that Hannah wasn't plagued with issues of self-doubt after. Sure, Hannah struggled with Courtney's betrayal, but the act of kissing in and of itself wasn't what upset the poor girl so much. In this sense, Hannah's acceptance of the sexual chemistry she shared with another woman was rather refreshing.
While we'll never know if Hannah would have explored these feelings further or whether she was simply experimenting, 13 Reasons Why should be commended for exploring what is in fact a key teenage experience for many, one which is rarely portrayed onscreen without titillation or judgement.
- '13 Reasons Why': Who Really Killed Hannah Baker On The Hit Netflix Show?
- '13 Reasons Why' Alternate Ending: Should Hannah Baker Have Survived On Jay Asher's Netflix Show?
- '13 Reasons Why' Fan Theory: Did Tyler Shoot Alex In The Season 1 Finale?
13 Reasons Why may not always portray LGBT people in a positive light, but they're not depicted as stereotypes or token characters either, and that can only be a good thing. The success of 13 Reasons Why proves that there's a market for shows that incorporate diversity so seamlessly, sticking a giant middle finger up at the majority of mainstream stories that choose to marginalise or outright ignore the reality that many teens face today.
Admittedly, the equally important trans element of the LGBTQ spectrum is absent here, but we hope that the show will continue to explore sexuality in all its forms if 13 Reasons Why returns for a second season. At the very least, we live in hope that those who ship Alex and Justin in real life will see their dreams come true one day on the show.
Were you impressed by the LGBTQ representation in Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.