How "Sex Education" Avoided Being A Queer Cliche Disaster

·5 min read

In television, the "bury your gays" trope has long plagued the LGBTQIA+ community.

The character of Lexa in The 100

Warning: Spoilers and talk about homophobic abuse ahead.

Whether it is the transgender character playing a sex worker who ends up dead or the only queer couple in the show being killed or brutally attacked, many shows featuring mostly straight roles often see the queer characters suffering.

The Walking Dead, Jane the Virgin, The 100, and many more shows have featured the "bury your gays" trope. And when Netflix's Sex Education premiered in 2019, it seemed that one of its main characters, Eric Effiong, would fall into that arc.

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Eric Effiong, played by the brilliant Ncuti Gatwa, just might be one of the best characters on not only Sex Education but all of teen television.

Eric Effiong setting at the park

For those unaware, Eric is one of the leads of Netflix's hit sex comedy Sex Education. Its third season dropped recently to rave reviews and an even better season of teen madness.

Eric is not only (in my opinion) the best character on the show, but he is one of the greatest queer teens to ever grace television screens. He does this by not only being amazingly dressed, funny, and charming, but by showing that leaving behind the "bury your gays" trope only makes for better television.

However, while the show has grown into a wonderful vehicle for queer excellence on television, it didn't start off that way.

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His effervescent personality was almost stomped out in the first season's storyline.

Eric dressed as Hedwig

On his birthday, Eric is dressed in full Hedwig and the Angry Inch drag en route to see the show when he is stood up by Otis over a girl. Upset and scared about being out in public in drag, he heads home, where he is mocked and then physically attacked by some random men on the road.

The attack caused a traumatic rift in Eric’s life, isolating himself from his friends, hiding his personality, becoming depressed, and at one point lashing out and punching someone. This is in part a response to his father, who believed his son's queerness would hurt him and frequently told Eric to "tone it down."

Although the show originally sets up a scenario ripe to bury the gay character down in suffering, it allows Eric to embrace his queerness and show that by being his authentic self in the face of hardship; he comes out the victor.

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For Eric, the show’s later seasons brought him a love triangle with hot new French kid Rahim and his former bully, Adam.

Eric, Adam, and Rahim

In the later seasons of the show, Eric is thrust into a love triangle that not only tests himself but the relationships in his life.

Despite the poetic, hot, and French Rahim offering Eric everything a person could want in a romantic partner, his mind can’t get off of his former bully, Adam.

The son of their school's headteacher, Adam, is the complete opposite of Rahim and wrapped up in shame and confusion, knowing he loves Eric, but unsure of how to get over the shame of his bisexuality.

This goes directly in the face of Eric’s out and proud queerness and causes a deep rift between the two. Soon enough, Eric realizes his relationship with Rahim is lacking the sparks he is looking for, and toward the end of Season 2, Eric ends things with Rahim and tries to make things work with Adam.

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When Eric was forced to decide about whether he would still be with Adam and his shame, it produced one of the best episodes in the entire show.

Eric breaking up with Adam

In Season 3, shame and fear test Eric and Adam’s relationship, with the latter unwilling to tell his family about his boyfriend and embrace his partner's queerness.

After a fight over the subject, Eric heads to Nigeria for a family wedding, where he contains his queerness to please his worried mother. At the wedding, he connects with a queer photographer, who takes Eric to a queer nightclub, leading to a beautiful moment of happiness and queerness for him as he kisses another man.

Coming home, Eric breaks up with Adam, saying that he can’t be with someone so wrapped up in shame and needs to live his life as openly as possible, something Adam cannot do at the moment.

Through Eric, Sex Education lets its queer characters make mistakes and come out the better for it. In fact, all the queer characters in Sex Education rise above the trials of being queer in this world and show the strength and beauty of queerness, or at least they do in a small English town.

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With the most recent season of Sex Education, Eric once again rises above the "bury your gays" trope.

Eric at the school dance

By leaving behind his bully-turned-lover, Eric also leaves behind a common trope of queer people seeking suffering and situations that cause them pain.

Instead of relying on that tired cliche, Sex Education let Eric become a queer icon for the ages.

Being a queer teen isn’t as traumatic as television may have made it seem in the past, and Sex Education proves that by embracing queerness, the quality of the entire show improves. The show has included other varied queer storylines and characters more and more as it has continued season to season, showing the depth and possibilities for queer storylines on not just teen television, but television, period.

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