Graphic by Sophia Escudero
Graphic by Sophia Escudero

Our Flag Means Death gives the gays everything we wanted

Spoilers for HBO's Our Flag Means Death
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by Sophia Escudero

In episode five of Our Flag Means Death, the two leads share a moment under the moonlight. Stede gently folds a piece of fabric that Ed’s mother had given him and tucks it neatly into a pocket of his waistcoat.

“You wear fine things well,” he says, tenderly, and Ed looks up at him with nothing short of adoration in his eyes. He leans in, then stops himself, and as the two part ways they look back at each other, both clearly wanting more but unable to bring themselves to voice it.

That’s pretty gay, I thought to myself, but I didn’t dare hope that this scene was intended as anything beyond bromance.

I grew up on Tumblr as a queer kid at the height of Superwholock, reblogging edits of Emma and Regina from Once Upon a Time looking longingly at each other and watching conspiracy videos about how, if you really read between the lines, the BBC are totally going to make Johnlock canon in the next season of Sherlock. I believed that the new Star Wars trilogy would give us gay Jedi, and the MCU would give us gay superheroes. Eventually, this hope faded. Each new season of Sherlock was worse, each “first gay Disney character” was less relevant to the plot than the last, and every video I saw from a con featured actors and writers mocking fans in the audience for daring to ask if there would be queer characters.

I grew to accept that any show that was not explicitly marketed as being about coming out or facing homophobia would ever have a central queer romance. Any scraps I got would be something confirmed on Twitter or by an actor in an AMA and the void would have to be filled by fanfiction.

When I saw that Taika Waititi was producing a comedy about pirates, I was all in. I was pleasantly surprised when a side character was revealed to be nonbinary and used they/them pronouns. Frankly, my bar for LGBT representation in media is subterranean. If a single character is canonically queer, doesn’t die and is not treated as a joke by the narrative, I will embrace the work wholeheartedly. I don’t ask for much, but I still rarely get more than a “wait and see.”

Every episode was tailor-made to convince me that this was a love story, but I refused to be tricked so easily. When these characters were found in suggestive scenarios, I accepted it as a joke, and when they shared moments of tenderness and emotional vulnerability, I accepted that they were just really good friends. Even when the cast and crew said, verbatim, “this is a love story,” I was certain they meant it in the nebulous way that a buddy comedy is a love story, and that if I read into it I was a stupid, greedy little homosexual trying to make pop culture gay. Hell, I made it to the ninth episode, where they kiss each other on the lips and make a plan to run away together, still half-convinced that this was some kind of friendship kiss found only in advanced queerbaiting.

It shouldn’t be shocking to me that queer people exist in television and movies. As a queer person, I should know that we do. Yet, years of media telling me otherwise had convinced me that maybe I was wrong. It has been over a month since the season finale aired, and I haven’t recovered from the sheer impossibility of seeing a romance between two men as central to the plot in a show about something other than queer pain.

These characters are in love. They kiss, they hold hands, they exist outside of subtext and punchlines. Some jaded part of me thinks that a second season must end in death and suffering, but the inner 14-year-old that was hopeful enough to suffer through four seasons of Sherlock dares to believe that maybe, just maybe, gay people can be happy outside of fanfiction.

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