Welcome to the next installment in our 2021 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.
Derry Girls, in my professional opinion, is one of if not the funniest television shows of all time. Set in the 90s during the very un-funny times of conflict called “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the show follows five friends and the sometimes unbelievably ridiculous shenanigans they get up to. The group consists of Erin, the “main” character, her cousin Orla, who’s a bit odd, Clare, who’s a bit neurotic, foul-mouthed Michelle, and James, Michelle’s cousin who happens to be both the only boy and the worst thing a person can possibly be: English. The five deal with typical teenage stuff like proms and crushes, but also the very real political realities of bombs and violence that were a part of growing up in Derry not too long ago. And at the end of season one, the five deal with something that may seem commonplace but definitely didn’t then – a lesbian in their midst.
When the rest of their high school’s magazine’s editorial staff quits, Erin enlists the squad to help her come up with something to publish. Only problem is, their ideas are quite awful. She decides to go through the story submissions and choose one to pass off as their own. Erin goes through the box and finds one titled, “Suffocation: The Secret Life of a Gay Teenager.” It’s anonymous and causes great intrigue. Sister Michael, who functions as the principal, forbids them from publishing it. So the group decides to publish it anyway as an act of rebellion parading under the guise of allyship.
The next morning as they distribute their illegal magazine, the story is all anyone can talk about. Everyone is desperate to know who wrote it. James tells Michelle that he thinks if she ever does reveal herself, she’ll be a celebrity. True to character, Michelle takes this as an opportunity to get the students’ attention and announce herself as the lesbian. It’s pretty obvious that she’s lying, and the crowd groans and goes back to ignoring her. Everyone except Clare, who seems more anxious than usual. She pulls Erin aside and tells her she knows it’s not Michelle, to which Erin scoffs because of course she knows she isn’t. But then she clarifies, “No, Erin, I’m the wee lesbian!” And Erin … doesn’t take it well. She assumes Clare has a crush on her, to which she assures her she’s not her type. She says to “go back in” as Clare says she’s coming out, and even says she’s going to be sick, and Clare walks away crushed.
By the end of the episode, Clare and Erin, and Michelle and James, make amends and come together to support Orla, who is being mocked by her classmates for just doing what she loves. They realize no matter if it’s sexuality or individuality, it’s easier to be one’s self with friends by their side.
What I love about this is that it’s not a typical coming out story. It doesn’t go perfectly, but it’s also not another coming out rejection story that’s focused on queer pain. It has both serious and funny moments, which Derry Girls does best. It’s important and meaningful, but also just not that big of a deal. Clare isn’t any different after coming out, but she does have a little more depth and adds to queer representation on television, which is awesome.
Throughout Season 2, Clare’s sexuality isn’t mentioned very often. That being said, it’s a BBC show so the whole season is only six episodes, so it’s possible with a longer season they would have delved into it more. Clare hasn’t had any love interests yet, and to be fair none of the other characters have either. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely ignored. Throughout Season 2, all five members of the squad wear rainbow pins both on their school uniforms and “regular” clothes. I didn’t even notice this detail until my second time watching the show because there’s no scene where the friends make the decision to wear them – their allyship is just a given. It’s a subtle but consistent choice that affirms the group is proud to show their support for Clare no matter what, but at the same time, again, it’s no big deal, it’s just a normal part of their routine and outfit choices. This detail was a great way to add something almost unnoticeable while still being clear that even if Clare doesn’t talk about her identity in an episode, the themes of Pride and acceptance are always a part of this show.
When it came to telling a coming out story, Derry Girls found itself torn between two times — the less accepting Derry of the 90s and present day when gay marriage is legal and, though not everywhere, being LBGTQ+ is more widely accepted. The showrunner Lisa McGee addressed this, and said she made the choice to reflect today’s attitudes despite the setting. She chose to put the emphasis on the potential real-world impact, and I absolutely think that was the right call.
Derry Girls has been picked up for a third season, but due to Covid-19 there is no current timeline or release date. When it does come, I certainly hope Clare gets to explore this aspect of her identity even more. Regardless, Clare is a great example of lesbian representation in a way that’s both subtle and impactful, both funny and earnest, the dichotomy at the heart of Derry Girls.
Stream Derry Girls on Netflix.