Welcome to the first article of our 2020 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
If you haven’t heard of or watched Netflix’s latest original series Never Have I Ever, you are severely missing out. The show primarily follows Devi Vishwakumar, a first generation Indian-American teenager, as her and her two best friends Eleanor and Fabiola navigate their sophomore year of high school. While the show as a whole is delightful to watch from beginning to end, this article will be focused on Fabiola and her journey of discovering her sexual identity this season.
The first major indication we get that Fabiola isn’t straight is in the second episode. She sees a girl, Eve, standing across the hall and is absolutely entranced by her – all while Devi is talking to her and Eleanor about her new thing with Paxton Hall-Yoshida. Though she knows that her and Eve aren’t looking at each other in a “just be friends” way, Fabiola’s first revelation doesn’t make the rest of her self-discovery and coming out any easier.
The third episode, though not specifically centric on Fabiola, is an excellent episode that showcases much of her struggle with accepting herself while trying to present a different version to her friends and her mother. Every interaction Fabiola has with Eve is awkward, as she’s visibly uncomfortable with her feelings. She panics when Eve tries to invite her to a fundraiser for a queer youth center. When she nonchalantly says “I hate all men,” Eleanor and Devi remind her about Alex Gomez, her “boyfriend.” She quickly recovers but is clearly trapped in her head about it. At the nail salon with her mother, she retreats even further into her mind after her mother attempts to prompt a conversation with Fabiola about being girly and whether she has a crush on any boys (which is what her mom assumes after something Fabiola says). In a bittersweet scene, Fabiola comes out to Gears Brosnan, her robot, relieved that she put words to her feelings, but sad that she still feels she can’t confide in a human.
Episode 3 is one of my favorite episodes from the show because of Fabiola’s developing story arc. Coming out isn’t an easy step for LGBTQ+ members, and Fabiola’s experience, though not universal, is an honest one. Up to this point in the show, Fabiola is mainly trying to understand herself before even attempting to tell others. Her feelings aren’t diminished. She doesn’t try to convince herself that she can’t possibly be gay, even if she isn’t quite sure how to process her newfound identity. Lee Rodriguez does an incredible job bringing Fabiola’s thoughts to the forefront. It doesn’t matter if she’s in the background of a shot or front and center; she always clearly displays Fabiola’s reactions and emotions, adding a brilliant complexity and realness to Fabiola’s arc.
As the show continues, Fabiola gains confidence in small but significant increments, the next happening when she tries to come out to her family. The first time she tries, she’s one word away but decides to confess that she’s switching from AP French to AP Latin (much to the despair of her mother, who was looking forward to their Marseilles trip), but this is a step in the right direction. The first human she comes out to is Eleanor, who’s absolutely thrilled with the news. In response to Eleanor, Fabiola tells her, “I feel like I’ve just solved an escape room I’ve been trapped in all my life.” (Did it just get dusty in here?) Watching Fabiola finally trust someone enough with her news was a joyous and heartfelt moment, especially because of Eleanor’s support and love for her friend.
By this point, the season is past its halfway mark, but Fabiola still has a little way to go. A couple episodes later, she comes out to Devi, who was out of town for a school trip when Fabiola broke the news to Eleanor. She tells Devi, who’s also excited for her friend, but she still struggles to say the words out loud. She mentions being worried about telling her mother and the rest of her family, agonizing that her mother is “already disappointed [she’s] not girlier.”
Both Eleanor and Devi were surprised when Fabiola shared her news, and I was admittedly a little nervous when Devi’s processing took a little longer than Eleanor’s. However, I was relieved and excited when she also gave Fabiola her full support and enthusiasm. Many media portrayals of characters coming out includes friends and family who, while they may accept it, treat it as something to handle. Of course, these are important stories, too, as they happen in real life. Never Have I Ever makes it something to celebrate, however, and paints it in a more hopeful light. Devi and Eleanor’s reactions were refreshing to watch. It’s impossible not to share that excitement with them and Fabiola.
In the same episode, however, Fabiola tells her mother after the PTA’s bake sale ends. This time around, she’s able to say “I’m gay” without the noticeable hesitation she had in her earlier coming out scenes, but this one had a tinge of dread to it. Shocked by news, Fabiola’s mother is speechless, only able to make facial expressions at her that Fabiola interpreted as disappointment and embarrassment. But this isn’t at all how her mother feels. Her mother asks her if it’s something Fabiola’s been trying to tell her for a long time. When Fabiola tells her yes, but she didn’t know how, her mother responds with, “well that must’ve been really hard.” She tells Fabiola that she loves her no matter what and “just wants [her] to be happy.” (Seriously, who’s chopping onions.) It was a touching scene, and Fabiola’s relief was palpable. In a moment of comedic relief, her mother brings up the family meeting, excited that Fabiola can switch back to AP French.
Fabiola’s journey with coming out this season reaches its conclusion with episode 8 (but of course we haven’t seen the last of this wonderful character), when she becomes frustrated with Devi at a party and accidentally outs herself to everyone. In the heat of the moment, she wasn’t thinking about what would happen if she came out while everyone was listening. She immediately realizes what she’s said and stops the argument there, walking away, at which point one of her classmates, Jonah, decides to also tell everyone he’s gay to help ease a little of Fabiola’s stress. This is clearly an upsetting moment for her, but she handles it well. Later, she’s reassured by Eve, who tells Fabiola, “what you did out there took guts. Even if it was accidental.” Then Eve tells Fabiola about her own less-than-ideal coming out. This sweet scene ends with Fabiola apologizing about being awkward around Eve. She asks her if she’d like to get food sometime, and Eve says yes. (Yeah, get your girl, Fabiola!) By the final episode of the season, it’s made clear Fabiola and Eve now regularly spend time together.
Fabiola’s story is one that’s easy to invest in, and Lee Rodriguez absolutely kills it. She brings the dynamic character to life, offering an authentic performance of Fabiola’s struggle to accept herself and share it with others. You’ll see and feel her inner conflict, worrying as she wonders how to tell her family and rejoicing with her when she finally does. As a whole, I appreciated the way the show approaches Fabiola’s arc. Her story is an important contribution to LGBTQ+ representation, and one that serves as an excellent example. Fabiola is a hilarious, intelligent, powerful, and immensely validating character. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for her. (A Fabiola-centric episode, perhaps?)
Stay tuned for the next installment coming tomorrow!
Thank you again to Emily Cole, who brilliantly launched this series for Nerds a few years ago.