‘Sex Education’ is Queer, But the Gayest Part is My Crush on Gillian Anderson

Since her days as Dana Scully on The X-Files, Gillian Anderson has amassed a widespread and, um, vibrant queer fanbase. Basically, we all want her to tear us limb from limb and eat our faces. The British actress, who is queer herself, has riled up her lady-loving fans for years with her austere performances, killer power-suits, and willingness to openly flirt with Kate McKinnon.

Her latest endeavor, a teenage-centric Netflix dramedy called Sex Education, is queer as can be, with lesbian sex scenes and numerous LGBTQ leads. But the gayest part of Sex Education is actually the velocity at which my heart throbs for Gillian Anderson.

One boy in the show refers to Anderson’s character as a “sexy witch,” which would normally be the ultimate compliment, but in this case, barely scratches the surface of her sex appeal. Gillian plays Jean, an acclaimed sex therapist and promiscuous mother to 16-year-old Otis, who is sexually repressed as a result of his unconventional upbringing, being surrounded by phallic statues and jarring conversations about sex. Anderson wears motherhood well, despite usually playing less maternal characters. But she maintains her ever-severe disposition. Throughout the show, Gillian does a lot of staring in a British accent. There’s also some glaring in a British accent, judging in a British accent, and lots of intimidating in a British accent—all of which confirmed that I want Gillian Anderson to step on me.

I’ve written about the queer community’s desire for Brie Larson to punch them in the face—a craving I definitely share. But underneath Brie Larson’s superhero exterior as Captain Marvel, there’s something sweet and endearing about her. The same cannot be said for Gillian Anderson. I am scared of her, she makes my bones quiver, and I want her to stomp on my face and leave an oily black shoeprint on my forehead. What I’m trying to say is: I’m so gay for Gillian Anderson that my desires for her have surpassed normalcy. She has radicalized my lesbianism and I would let her do ghastly things to me, especially as the perpetually lustful Jean from Sex Education.

While I initially watched the Netflix show so I could pretend Gillian Anderson was yelling at me, Sex Education actually turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve seen in the last year. I expected to be bored during the evergreen virginal teenager content, but was pleasantly surprised by how gay it was. Long story short, I ended up unhinging my jaw and swallowing the show whole in less than 24 hours, leaving a tear in the space-time continuum where my TV used to be.

Queerness is ubiquitous in Sex Education, and does what every show or movie should do with sexuality: the show finds the delicate balance between normalizing queerness and removing its shock factor, and illustrating how sexuality can still be a big deal for certain people. For example, there’s Eric, a flamboyant gay guy and best friend to Otis, who is cursed with heterosexuality. What I love about Otis and Eric is that they’re lifelong besties who visibly diverge in personalities, sexualities, and interests: Eric is theatrical in his exuberant temperament and garish outfits while Otis is mild, both behaviorally and in his lackluster wardrobe which says “I’ve been wearing these clothes since I was 11.”

I hate having to say this, but it’s nice to see an unlikely and intimate straight-gay male friendship. It shouldn’t be rare, and I don’t want to call them an “unlikely” pairing, but they are. Otis and Eric are the perfect example of how life should be—straight white males like Otis, when freed from the prisons of toxic masculinity and homophobia, can form close bonds with gay men without feeling like others will think they’re gay by association (which, newsflash, isn’t a bad thing—it’s a compliment).

I’ve seen other straight-gay male friendships attempted on-screen before, like in Set It Up (2018), when Pete Davidson and Glen Powell were paired as besties—but their entire relationship felt forced, like Powell’s straight character was constantly calling out his friend’s queerness, as if to say “Look how chill I am with this dude being gay! I can talk about it without even being weird!”

In Sex Education, there’s no leftover bro detritus or defensiveness. Otis and Eric openly talk about their romantic endeavors and give each other advice on both girls and boys. They dress up in drag to attend a showing of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Eric playfully grinds on Otis and slow-dances with him at the school dance, just like a pair of girls would do without being judged, labeled, or experiencing gay panic. We, as the audience, can see how special and unique Otis and Eric’s bond is, and how Eric’s queerness is NBD to his best friend. However, Eric’s sexuality is a big deal to other people in his life.

Eric’s father, who teeters on the edge of being openly homophobic, reprimands his son multiple times throughout the series—not necessarily for being gay, but for dressing up and standing out, because he worries about his son’s safety (which is heartbreakingly compromised when Eric is attacked by vicious straight men on the street).

Queerness is also a big to-do for Adam, the repressed school bully who (surprise surprise) targets Eric because he’s got a secret crush on him. We’ve seen this storyline tons of times before—looking at you, Karofsky from Glee. However, when the trope is contrasted with the low stakes queerness of the other characters, it works, as it demonstrates the spectrum of homophobia that unfortunately exists today. For example, it’s worth mentioning that there’s an out lesbian couple in Otis’ high school and no one ever targets them and they’re never the butt of the joke. The couple has a few cringey sex scenes, and later seek Otis’ expertise for sex and relationship advice—which, again, is NBD to him.

Unfortunately, Gillian Anderson’s character isn’t queer (that we know of—the show’s only in its first season and she’s clearly very sexually open). And even though I was totally sated by the range of queerness and LGBTQ storylines that Sex Education had to offer, I was markedly distracted by Anderson’s angular bone structure and Miranda Priestly hair. I would recommend this show to anyone who’s starved for queer content—so, everyone—but I would assign it to any queer Gillian fan. Jean offers the gravity of Stella Gibson in The Fall, the intimidating, lengthy pauses of her character in The Spy Who Dumped Me, and the fiery sex appeal of 1,000 mean lesbian suns.

But be forewarned: Watching Sex Education while crushing on Gillian Anderson will likely create a big gay black hole where your TV used to be—binge at your own risk.


Jill Gutowitz

Jill Gutowitz is a writer and humorist currently living in LA, originally from The Void.

twitter

in case you missed it