Dear TV Writers: Please don’t be so weird about pronouns

In the fourth episode of The acolyte, Osha (Amandla Stenberg) meets some new Jedi and Jedi-affiliated friends. One of them is a small, otter-like creature named Bazil. Bazil and Pip, Osha’s fussy robot companion, keep sniffing and beeping at each other, interrupting the mission briefing Osha is trying to follow. Then Osha approaches Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen) for an awkward conversation that’s all too familiar to gay people who’ve watched television in recent years:

Osha: Who is that?

Jecki Lon: That’s Bazil.

Osha: Is he (dramatic pause)… or she… with us?”

This is the latest example of what I’m about to mention the Globby problemexpertly parodied The other TWO: Well-meaning writers and showrunners – some of whom call themselves queer – who clumsily try to insert non-binary or genderqueer representation into their show, usually through the show’s requisite “queer” nature. The result, on the other hand, is often quite different.

In The acolyteOsha only asks for Bazil’s pronouns, not those of the other people she meets. This reveals more about Osha than I think The acolyte‘S writers were planning; the exchange involves her actively taking other Bazil and assuming that he (yes, it’s later revealed that Bazil uses he/him pronouns, which makes this all even crazier) must be gender variant because he looks strange.

I understand that the intention is to remind the viewer that not everyone subscribes to a binary form of gender expression, and Osha tries to be open-minded about that. To be clear, I’m not asking that every character ask every other character about their pronouns when they first meet. That would be incredibly boring television! It’s very easy to establish characters’ pronouns by having other characters use those pronouns when speaking about them. This happens all the time. (“This is Bazil, they will help us on the spot” is the easiest thing in the world to bring into conversation, in a world where Bazil uses they/their pronouns.) But The acolyte going out of your way to make a show by only asking about the character who looks the most different is pretty weird (and unfortunately makes Osha look a bit like a dick). The end result is that no one is happy – toxic Star Wars fans are angry for the usual bigoted reasons, and I’m angry because it’s so thoughtless.

Because it is not alone The acolyte! Even Star Trek: Discovery, a show with largely thoughtful and committed queer representation and characters, encountered this during its recently aired final season. As Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) approaches an alien planet, she turns to a crew member and marvels in awe at how the planet has three genders. Besides Captain Burnham’s ship, the Discovery, has (at least) three genders on board!!! Within that context, that makes Captain Burnham sound like a captain who, at best, forgot she had a non-binary crew member on board, and at worst failed to respect that crew member’s gender identity. There is no chance that this was the intended effect of the Discovery writers room, but that’s the only way to read that line within the context of the show.

These examples clearly seem to be the result of showrunners and writers who mean well and want to be inclusive, but stumble along the way. It leads to even more non-binary and genderqueer people when you consider which characters are put in that position, and when other characters ask for pronouns. While broader representation of more genders is good, asking for pronouns on your television show isn’t necessarily a positive outcome in the end. If characters only do this with characters who are clearly and visibly different – ​​even real animals, in Bazil’s case – that’s weird! It doesn’t feel like an honest attempt to accurately represent gender and its many different variations and contexts, but instead like they’re treating representation as a checklist that can only be achieved through language.

In case of The acolyte, it feels at best like an empty gesture and an empty pandering to queer fans, and at worst like Disney weaponizing the most toxic fans in the Star Wars fanbase to fuel conversations by making them predictably angry are for nothing. Personally, I don’t entirely agree with that last theory, but I think it’s notable that if Disney wanted to design empty gestures that would anger toxic fans without actually transgressing in any meaningful way, it would look exactly like this like this scene The acolyte.

On the plus side of things, the recent Doctor who episode “Rogue” is a great example of how to do this naturally. While talking about a past love, Rogue (Jonathan Groff) merely says, “I lost them” without any grand performative gesture that he would deign to use an “unconventional” singular pronoun. And hey – maybe the person he was talking about doesn’t use pronouns, and Rogue just didn’t want to be too specific. The important thing is that he said it like a person, not like he just won a GLAAD award for allyship. More shows that want to delve into broader gender representation should give it a chance.