When Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror was released on Netflix last year, there was one episode that really stood out — and it wasn't the one which saw Britain's prime minister fuck a pig. "San Junipero" was praised for many reasons: for its positive representation of queer women, for its nostalgic depiction of the Eighties (and sly commentary on the addictive nature of this very nostalgia), but most of all, "San Junipero" was praised for its happy ending. For all these reasons, the episode's recent Emmy win is very much deserved — and with any luck, it will effect a much needed change in the way #LGBT stories are told.
A Subversive Happy Ending
In a show that deals primarily with the dangers of technology, demonstrating the dystopian possibilities that society is careering towards, "San Junipero" was a refreshing reminder that sometimes, technological advancements can actually connect people and bring them joy. This wasn't just important to add a bit of variety to Black Mirror, but in regards to the lesbian love story, "San Junipero's" happy ending was vital to avoid a very damaging trend in fiction — the "Bury Your Gays" trope that garnered much criticism earlier on in 2016.
Interestingly, Brooker explained to Collider last year that he allowed Kelly and Yorkie their happy ending because they are a same-sex couple, and in the year of 1987 they would have faced extreme prejudice and legally would not have been allowed to get married.
"I was trying to change up how we do things... And it subverts quite a lot of the Black Mirror rules. As soon as you think, 'well, what if they’re a same sex couple, what happens then?', all sorts of resonances began to present themselves. Like a same sex couple getting married in 1987, which wasn’t possible then, you can gift them that in this world."
Above subversion and damaging tropes, by avoiding a tragic end, Brooker also gave queer viewers the rare, and precious gift of a sci-fi lesbian love story. And that's something we desperately need more of.
Why We Need More LGBT Characters In Genre Fiction
Where do we go when we need empowering escapism? If you're straight, then you're everywhere — you're reaching for the stars or flying through a city, shooting arrows at orcs or courting a medieval king. Queer people are given no such luxury.
LGBT people are consistently, systematically excluded from genre fiction. For some reason, the suspension of disbelief that allows us to accept spaceships traveling at lightspeed just doesn't quite stretch to imagining a queer person at the helm. In fact, this is something that GLAAD (a non-profit research team dedicated to LGBT representation in media), has pointed out several times, noting that queer people rarely appear in sci-fi, fantasy, superhero shows and films, or period dramas. If you peruse Netflix's LGBT section (and it is depressing that queer representation is so rare it's deemed a genre), you'll find gritty realism, tales of difficult comings-out or lifelong struggles against prejudice.
Queer people get parables, get tragedies, get real life stories that deal with the same struggles we face every day. We are offered little escapism — we are not the costumed heroes, not the knights or the pirate captains. We are background characters, killed off for shock value often, rarely seen in fantasies or space operas because creators are incapable of seeing us there. We are bound, inexorably, to the real world, told again and again that our lives are hard. Which is pretty difficult to bear when you're already living that hard life.
So thank you, Charlie Brooker, for giving us a sci-fi lesbian love story. Thank you, Emmys, for awarding this episode with TV's highest honor. And now I look to you, television writers and producers. It's your turn now. A queer genre story won an award once, maybe it'll get you some critical acclaim too! And as a bonus, you'll be helping LGBT people feel like they can be superheroes, not just tragic tales.
With any luck "San Junipero's" win will mark a shift in the storytelling tide, and it's about time too — I don't want to see another coming out story, another character ostracized by parents and rejected by society. I want to see gays in space, dammit!
Tell us in the comments: What genre would you like to see queer people thrive in next?