It would be an understatement to say that gender-nonconforming characters are having a bit of a moment right now. Though pop culture representations still have a long way to go, television seems to be quickly picking up the mantle in creating multi-faceted queer characters.
Online streaming services especially seem to be at the forefront of this push, with sites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Studios providing a platform for storylines that have never had room in cultural narratives before. Sophia of Orange Is the New Black, Nomi of Sense8 and Maura of Transparent likely wouldn’t have existed in the way they do now if it weren’t for the freedom streaming sites can lend. Thanks to the subscription model, writers and directors are less beholden to the desires of advertisers, giving them the artistic license to unabashedly take risks. The result is more authentic programming.
An Emmy-nominated show that has been on for three seasons and is only continuing to pick up steam is Hulu’s East Los High. Starring teens at a fictional East Los Angeles high school, the drama is Hulu’s first and currently only original series with an all-Latino cast. It’s also one of a growing number of youth-targeted shows that prominently features queer relationships.
New genderqueer character Daysi—portrayed by actor Karen Anzoategui, who uses the pronouns they, them and their—provides valuable insight into what it means to be gender-nonconforming, young and a person of color. In genuine performances, Anzoategui broaches the subject of QPOC (queer person of color) sex and dating in an open and honest way that one would be hard-pressed to find on network television, which is often limited in its scope of LGBT experiences. For instance, in a scene where their character has sex with a female love interest for the first time, the pair casually banters about dental dams.
Anzoategui, who is also a genderqueer activist off-screen, told the Ms. Blog that they hope gender-nonconforming actors aren’t just experiencing a “moment” but the beginning of a shift towards more inclusive narratives.
It’s about time we have a reflection of what is truly in our communities and what we see on a daily basis. [The show] breaks through the binaries of what we’re constantly consuming from the media and encompasses realities that aren’t being addressed … Those who are ashamed of who they are can actually feel more confident and feel free to be who they are.
In a media landscape often dominated by white, straight, cis narratives, East Los High feels like a refreshing and much-needed departure. The show is rare in its candid portrayals of young queer Latinos, and dares to cross boundaries with storylines that involve everything from abortion to sexual assault to immigration policies like DACA. And East Los High has a big audience: It’s the top show on Hulu for Latino viewers and was one of the top shows on the site during its premiere month.
For queer young people of color who may lack support networks or feel isolated by their identities, characters like Daysi go from being mere entertainment to a lifeline. With provocative writing and engaging performances, East Los High is widening the space queer youth of color occupy in the public’s imagination.
You can watch the latest season of East Los High on Hulu. You can also follow actor Karen Anzoategui on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Photos via Karen Anzoategui