How Netflix's Sense8 saved Pride month for me and my chosen family
“Isolated above, connected below.”
I never could have predicted that a bit of escapist fun would lead me to explore some of the toughest issues of our time, but watching Sense8 with my chosen family was the Pride experience I didn't know I needed.
Growing up in as a queer person in Bogotá, Colombia, I never saw myself represented in television, movies, or in the streets. Moving to Los Angeles at age 16 and discovering Pride was a significant moment in my life. Seeing other queer people allowed me to accept and love my own queerness. This fascination with queerness led me to become an expert in the field. I currently live in London and just finished my Ph.D. in psychology, exploring the experiences of non-binary people in terms of language usage.
For the past four years, I’ve traveled to New York City during Pride to teach a course on the psychology of gender and sexuality. I have been fortunate that my academic career allowed me to attend some of the biggest Pride celebrations in the world: Los Angeles, New York, and London, as well as smaller, yet powerful parades held in Seoul, Tokyo, and Bogotá. Being around queer people invigorates my spirit and gives me hope that, one day, our identities won’t be subjected to oppression and harassment.
But this year is different. Due to the pandemic, I was unable to go to New York to teach this course in person, though I am teaching it online. And Pride, as we know it, has been cancelled worldwide.
For over three months, Covid-19 has kept us away from queer venues, events, and from kiki-ing (hanging out; chit-chatting; gossiping) with our chosen families (unconditional kinship). For many of us, our chosen families are vital sources of emotional, physical, and psychological support, and our connection and relations to other queer bodies makes us feel like we are part of a bigger community – a queer cluster. Physical closeness has been pivotal to our sense of self and sense of belonging as queer people. Due to the pandemic, we have been deprived of this physical element, at least for the time being. But we are finding alternatives.
The pandemic actually strengthened the bonds within my chosen families, which includes people from around the world and an array of genders and sexualities. We haven’t been able to see each other in months, but we’ve managed to stay more connected than ever using social media, video chat, and other emerging technologies. It’s allowed us to escape Miss Rona and the never-ending cycle of disturbing news that seems to be our new normal.
With that in mind, a few members of my chosen family in the UK started using Netflix Party (a Chrome extension that allows people to chat while watching Netflix simultaneously) to catch up on Drag Race Season 12. This has been a vital substitution for elaborate viewing parties with homemade meals and cocktails. It also made us feel safe and connected during uncertain times.
Recently, a few of us decided to use this platform to rewatch Sense8, a groundbreaking queer sci-fi show written and directed by the Wachowski sisters. We all fondly remembered the Pride scene in Season 2 (our favorite episode, “Isolated above, connected below.”), and Sense8’s premise of supernatural connectivity and shared human experience felt more relevant than ever during Covid-19 times, not only because we’re all separated physically but connected online, but because it’s more evident than ever that our actions have incredible consequences on others.
Rewatching Sense8 has turned into a cathartic – almost religious – experience. We tune in at least three times a week to watch one or two episodes while chatting constantly in the Netflix Part sidebar. It’s given us a place to share our inner thoughts and desires (our sexual frustrations, expectations, loneliness, and anxieties) and attempt to make sense of current social movements and discourses.
As one of the most diverse shows on television in terms of genders, sexualities, and ethnicities, Sense8 is particularly important to queer people. Through its representation of trans genders and sexualities (Nomi and Amanita’s relationship), the intricacies of closeted relationships (Lito and Hernando), bisexuality (Zakia, Capheus’ love interest), polyamory (Kala, Wolfgang, and Rajan), and pansexuality and general queerness (literally everyone), the series challenges the common rhetoric of queer victimization by showing powerful and fantastical depictions of LGBTQ+ resilience and collaboration.
It has also been a pleasure to rewatch some of the best sex scenes ever, including the various orgies in which the genders and sexual identities are both centered and decentered in revolutionary ways. These scenes are focused on pleasure, connectivity, and mutual satisfaction. Even the penis-in-vagina scenes are queer in that they challenge notions of heteronormative relationship dynamics, power dynamics, and identification. Discussing these scenes with my own chosen family – or cluster, as the psychic groupings are called in Sense8 – allowed us to refocus our desires and live vicariously through the characters.
We’ve also noticed the parallels between Sense8’s antagonist, BPO (Biological Preservation Organization), a multinational corporation dedicated to eradicating sensates and the systemic inequalities in our own world. The show allowed us to discuss racial inequalities, police brutality, J.K. Rowling's anti-trans remarks, President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, and the ways these abominations are connected.
Trump’s recent attempt to reverse health protections for trans people is a despicable move that, like BPO, erases protections for any “abnormal” form of existence. In Sense8, the good guys accomplish their ultimate mission and BPO takes on a new, friendlier shape – one that no longer hunts them but accepts them for who they are. This has given us a great sense of hope. We live vicariously through the characters and feel connected to their struggles, accomplishments, and resilience. We imagine being as powerful and competent as they are, and that our connection is as strong as their cluster. In fact, we think we are.
For me, Pride has always been about making one’s inner desires public and seeing that we are not alone in them. Our human experience is only possible through the connections we create in our social world, and these online spaces might become the future of queer interactions and Pride. Platforms like Netflix Party allow us to create and maintain clusters and alliances, and to make sense of the world. Covid-19 has taught us that, despite the physical distance, we can stay connected, cultivate our relationships, and feel pride. We are, as per Sense8’s Pride episode, “isolated above, [but] connected below.”
While parading at Pride is an important part of social representation, the queer community’s resilience and resourcefulness in finding ways to stay in touch are now more evident than ever. Sense8 has allowed us to imagine a world where multiple sexes/genders, sexualities, and ethnicities can co-exist in a just, equitable, and diverse society – one in which Pride is no longer needed.
We would love to live in a world where prancing around in multi-colored outfits and showing public displays of affection, regardless of one’s gender is deemed “normal.” For now, we will celebrate Pride by living vicariously through the lives of supernatural beings on our Netflix Party screen.
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