Finding inspiration for writing my posts sometimes comes from expected places. Typically, it has been reading or discussion in one of my PSR classes. Often it comes from a conversation when someone says something, I find outlandish. I was trained not to publicly tell them that they are out and out wrong or misunderstanding the context. However, I do need to vent my frustration that someone could indeed be such a dunderhead. LOL (this is, of course, said all tongue in cheek 😉).
This time, it comes from binge-watching the latest offering on Netflix. The show was Bridgerton. The period piece bodice ripper of the nobility during the Regency period of the United Kingdom. I am a romantic at heart and am loving the passion and drama of it all. And I do admit to the fact that I have crushes on basically all the male leads. This appreciation of the male characters and the story leads me to my thought.
****Warning past this point there are spoilers***If you haven't watched all the episodes of Bridgerton on Netflix or don't want to know what happens in books written 20 years ago, then turn around!
Why, oh why, do they all have to end up in heteronormative opposite gendered relationships? Indeed, the relationship between Daphne and the Duke is appropriate and a good story. The Bridgerton book series was written by Julia Quinn twenty years ago and for a particular niche reading group. However, I am never satisfied with just one tale, by knowing that there are future seasons, based on the same author's writing that focuses on each of the Bridgerton siblings with a romance and love match for each. In watching the season, easily two of the family could end up in a queer relationship. As happens with many literature pieces, it would be appropriate for an update into the reality of life in the 21st century. I am not a fanfiction writer, but I will take my liberties in imagining based on my observation of the two characters' portrayal.
There is Benedict, the second oldest and second son. Often in family dynamics, the second child intentionally finds ways to be the opposite of the firstborn. To portray Benedict as a copy of Anthony is not true to type. There are also those scenes where Benedict goes to "practice his painting." There is obvious sexual tension between Benedict and Sir Henry. There are several times of gay panic on Benedict's part. One when he walks in on Henry and his lover (gay husband). Another at a ball when Benedict stares across the room at Lord Wetherby. There is a titter of laughter and a complete emotional shutdown when Henry offers to introduce the two. I didn't realize that Henry and Wetherby were lovers, and I thought maybe he was trying to set Benedict up with someone for the next party. Alas, I was wrong. It makes no sense for Benedict to be with Genieve other than as a gay/bisexual man struggling to come to grips with his sexuality.
I just read a blog saying the same thing. For those of us who are Queer, we recognize the interplay of Benedict with the other men. We have all done the same thing. We feel the emotional rush of seeing a man that stirs desire within us. Simultaneously, being terrified that this will be just another selfish straight man playing with our emotions or, worse, a latent gay man who denies his sexuality and is a dangerous homophobe who will assault us physically or humiliate us publicly. These scenes may be nothing but what is called "Queer baiting." Queer baiting is portraying two same-sex individuals in homoerotic interactions and emotional settings to pull in the Queer community who are watching in the hopes that this will pay off with a Queer relationship. Which, of course, never does. Because for the most part, in general, Hollywood and society are too afraid of alienating the bigoted, narrow-minded, and homophobic people watching. So, they tease, just like that, that straight friend in high school who knew you liked him and so strung you along for his sense of power.
I, too, would like to see Netflix, which is not afraid to show authentic same-gendered love stories that are more than just sex scenes, take Benedict in this direction as an update of the story and not continue the same boring scenario for all the children. It would make sense, and since this is fiction, it doesn't matter how "realistic" it would be in the context of the time or place. Benedict is the second son, so any pressure to produce an heir is less important to him. Also, there are younger brothers to continue the line, in case Anthony doesn't (which, of course, he does). This turn would undoubtedly make this story more relatable to those who are watching.
This thought also carries to Eloise, Daphne's younger sister. She exhibits all the behavior of a woman who is not comfortable playing society's game by its rules. She is strong, intelligent, independent, and unwilling to pretend to be the type of woman her sister is or the kind her mother wants her to be. She is, what we in the modern age would call, a "tom-boy," which of course is queer code for lesbian. Just as Benedict is "artistic," queer coded words are used to politely question the sexuality of someone who suspiciously does not conform to standard norms of gender and sexuality.
There is also the relationship between Eloise and Penelope Featherington. Women can have close emotional relationships with other women without bringing public condemnation. There seems to be more than just a strong childhood bond of friendship. If these two were of the opposite sex, we would see this strong friendship turn romantic and end up sexual. But because they are two women, we cannot let them explore their feelings and physical attraction for one another. Once again, non-verbal body signals indicate more to the relationship than two young women who grew up together and are like sisters. Eloise is portrayed as someone who doesn't have time for sentimentality and pretension. Her matter-of-fact manner leads one to suspect that she, like many queer people, is continually monitoring herself for unacceptable thoughts. Her words are intentionally circumspect, even for one who is so well-read and intelligent.
It makes far more sense for Eliose to end up with Penelope than what happens in the book series. After Colin returns, he "realizes" that there is more to Penelope than only a childhood friendship, and so they court and marry. Colin never shows any real romantic feelings for Penelope, even though she has feelings for him. But we can't have a bisexual character in a main-stream romantic novel, can we? Something that queer people have known for a long time (myself included), sexual attraction is fluid and on a spectrum. It is possible to be physically attracted to both men and women, even simultaneously and to varying amounts over the extent of one's life. Penelope to have feelings for both Colin and Eloise represents a reality that even now society does not acknowledge.
It is far more likely that Colin "falls in love" with a woman he meets on his Grand Tour. The Bridgerton’s seem like a family ruled by their emotions and not their thoughts. Colin decided to propose to Marina in the heat of passion. Most likely, he will meet someone and fall in love with the first woman who has sex with him, much as Anthony did with his mistress. At least that's where I would take the three stories rather than play out the same, friends to enemies to lovers boring storyline that seems to be the template for most romance tales.
Why do you go on about this? That is easy to say. Growing up as a queer kid, repressed, abused, and rejected, I always looked for people like me—boys who liked boys. Boys who fell in love with their best friend and, instead of being rejected, humiliated, and beat-up, found their love match.
Today, Hollywood is telling these stories but not during my childhood. I have always cheered for the close buddies to realize that they were in love with each other instead of growing apart as they both moved on to "realistic" matches with females. I want Steve and Bucky to end up together. I want Buck and Eddie to admit they are already family and raise Christopher together as parents and show him that men can be in love and together. I want there to be men, like me and many others, who felt pressured by society, religion, and culture to deny who they were, get into opposite-sex marriages, come to grips with it when they are older and don't have a love interest. Men who did their best to do what they were supposed to do and yet finally understood that they never really had to do that.
Can there be some normalization of queerness, so that young adults can safely explore their feeling and emotions in healthy ways without feeling shame or rejection? Can it be more than just a movie on the perimeters of normalcy? Would it be possible to break through stereotypes and racist conformity? I know this is happening on some level, but we need more than Ryan Murphy doing it. We need more than beautiful white masculine men to be the safe gays for the straight world. I know that it is easier to look at beautiful people and imagine ourselves with them. But how do we change reality unless we push back on all the ways that racist, heteronormative patriarchy is forced on us and presented as the model and ideal for everyone who isn't straight, white, cis-male?
Here's a link to the blog and article I found; it's on a Kito Diaries site. Who else expected Benedict Bridgerton to be gay?, by Pink Panther. I don't know if that's another site, and I want to give the author full credit. I am not surprised that others have come to the same conclusion. It is evident to those of us who are queer. We are always looking for subtle clues, hints of community, and the essence of queerness amid a straight white patriarchal society.
If enough of us question how culture presents romance fictionally, then there is a possibility that things could change for the better. We don't need more gay erotic fiction. That's not what I mean, but rather real stories about real love and romance and relationship. How can we make the margin part of what is every day and expected?
So, Netflix, give us gay Benedict, lesbian Eloise, and bisexual Penelope. Let the world see that queerness is not aberrant, abhorrent, or something that must be hidden and shamed. Let us see the truth. The upper classes never followed moral convention, certainly not in their private lives. Heterosexual morality is forced upon the marginalized and powerless by the privileged powerful to keep those out of power living in fear and dread. Represent all voices and persons in the public square without conforming to the model of only one group.
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66206788