The 4th episode of the 3rd series of Black Mirror, “San Junipero” (and if you’re unfamiliar with Black Mirror, think Twilight Zone meets the technological age) has been much-ballyhooed as a triumph over the tired, homophobic “Bury Your Gays” trope.
And, in many ways, it indeed seems to be a happy ending. After all, the 2 lead female characters (Warning: Second, and final, spoiler alert!!) ~ after back-and-forth drama ~ do end up in virtual-reality eternity together, complete with a happy end-scene montage to the tune of Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth”.
There seems to always be a “but” when it comes to how Lesbian love is portrayed, and this particular portrayal has a big “but”:
Only one character (Yorkie) is a Lesbian; therefore, the relationship could never be mutual, happy, or true love. (And: Yorkie is a Lesbian whose family would not accept her, leading to tragedy…an all-to-familiar outcome for many Lesbians).
The other character, Kelly, is a bored straight woman who was married for 49 years to a man. Early in the episode, Kelly vaguely alludes to some never-acted-upon same-sex attractions over the years of her heterosexual marriage:
“They were crushes…Never acted on any of it. Never did anything. I really was in love with him.“
This fleeting reference to Kelly’s unrequited same-sex flirtations led some viewers to call her “queer” or “bisexual”…but the truth is, it is clear that Kelly is oriented toward males. She married and stayed with a man for decades; plus, only a week before she meets Yorkie in San Junipero, Kelly was f**king a random man for “fun”.
The creator/writer, Charlie Brooker, explains in a spoiler interview (in reference to the same-sex relationship which is central to this story):
“in terms of the writing of it, I tried not to think of that. It’s just two souls.”
The actress who played Kelly, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, chimes in with:
“And that’s sort of the beautiful thing about the characters—in relation to their sexuality—is it’s really not about that, it’s not an issue, it’s not a problem. Obviously they all have their own relationships, how they’ve come to be in San Junipero and their own histories, but I think it’s about human beings and love and souls. And it’s not about it being a problem. That wasn’t the focus of the story and I think that’s actually really refreshing.”
Of course, all of that sounds very accepting and liberal and oh-so-very-nice, doesn’t it?
But here’s the thing: That sort of “sexuality-is-fluid, it’s not about same-sex love, we’re all just people, it’s just two souls” rhetoric is completely dismissive and erasing of real Lesbians. Note that they cannot even say the word “Lesbian”; instead they both refer to us and our love as “that“!
For Lesbians, our love is not just about “two sexless souls”; our orientation is not “fluid”; and furthermore, we deserve to BE the actual focus of a story.
But it’s not just the hetsplaining and (seemingly) benign ignorance of the creator/writer and the actress that I had a problem with in this episode.
My MAIN problem is, as usual, the Lesbian was just expected to accept, even embrace, shoddy treatment from a Straightbian, as if we are somehow LUCKY to be graced by their presence.
I am referring to the scene that decisively showed Kelly’s true colors and her arrogant straight privilege: the scene in which she abusively slapped Yorkie in the face, then condescendingly lectured her:
“You can’t begin to imagine. You can’t know the bond, the commitment, the boredom, the yearning, the laughter, the love of it. The fucking love.
You just cannot know! Everything we sacrificed.
The years I gave him. The years he gave me.
Did you think to ask? Did it occur to you to ask? We had a daughter. Alison.
Always difficult, always beautiful. Died at 39 years old, bless her heart.
And Richard and I, we felt that heartbreak as one.
You think you’re the only person ever suffered, go fuck yourself…I pitied you, and that’s the truth.I pitied you. Now you give me some sales pitch about how fucking peachy forever could be… You wanna spend forever somewhere nothing matters? End up like Wes? All those lost fucks at the Quagmire trying anything to feel something, go ahead. But I’m out. I’m gone.“
Kelly obviously didn’t remember (or care) that she was the one who refused to talk about serious topics, opting on insisting on a “good time”, instead of forming a real connection. Kelly obviously thinks that Lesbian Yorkie couldn’t possibly fathom the “depth” of her heterosexual marriage. She admits she married Yorkie out of PITY…not love…or even friendship. Furthermore, Kelly is quick to dismiss and disparage the people in the Quagmire (a new-wave, punk-rock sort of “anything-goes” club) as “lost fucks” even though she herself visited there for recreational f**king! Hypocritical much, Kelly?
Many viewers discussed in reviews and in online discussions about how “touching” the above scene was, because they perceived it to show “depth” to Kelly’s character.
What this specific scene showed was NOT true “depth”…at all. Instead, what it showed was Kelly’s complete disrespect and disdain for someone who had been nothing but kind and loving toward her. It showed the writer’s casual and callous dismissal of Lesbian feelings in favor of the alleged fabled “bond” of a heterosexual union. It showed the underlying nastiness lurking below Kelly’s seemingly fun and free-spirited facade. It showed outright physical and emotional abuse. It showed Kelly’s true heterosexual orientation and straight privilege. It showed an utter lack of understanding of, and a complete lack of respect for, not only the Lesbian lover who Kelly purported to care about, but also for Lesbians in general. And there is absolutely zero acknowledgement of, or empathy for, the tragic and HOMOPHOBIC circumstances that ruined Yorkie’s life.
Instead of discussing the very real dilemma Kelly was facing in a way that would have shown respect for the woman she allegedly cared about, Kelly’s character was shown to lash out physically and verbally in a very mean-spirited, immature, unattractive, narcissistic, selfish, straight-privileged, and egocentric manner.
And instead of handing Kelly her ass on a platter as she should have done, the Lesbian character, Yorkie, ends up apologizing, as if she had anything whatsoever to apologize for.
Furthermore, despite Kelly offering no apology to Yorkie (nor did any scenes afterward indicate any real soul-searching on the part of Kelly), the audience is magically supposed to believe that Kelly suddenly decides to show up in San Junipero for a happily-ever-after eternity with Yorkie and we are supposed buy into the concept that Yorkie should be happy to get Kelly back.
The sad truth is that Kelly would be f**king a man within a month, and Yorkie would get her Lesbian heart broken.
This is not the happy ending Lesbians deserve. Instead, San Junipero turns out to be just another slap in the face.