“How much of my life has happened inside of a car?”
Frank Ocean dropped that question on his zine, “Boys Don’t Cry”. If anybody else had asked it, I’d dismiss it. But from Frank, an artist who often finds meaning in cars as refuge, as freedom, as vestiges from lives past, it was a perfectly valid question trying to negotiate one of his most recurrent motifs with its cultural perception as a “straight boy fantasy”, something that Frank, as a bisexual man, finds anathema.
Frank Ocean’s work is important to me. Hip hop is an environment that’s often hostile to queers like myself. Yes, there are rappers who are LGBTQ (and LGBTQ friendly) but Frank’s hangups about relationships, his desire for isolation and to live life in his own terms are things that I struggle with everyday. To me queerness is not in Pride parades and raising the LGBT flag. Queerness is in not playing by the rules, in not existing in the mazes and the labyrinths. To be free and to be yourself, discovering love in the world, regardless of how it’s packaged and giving it back.
I couldn’t help but stop and think of that as I was watching San Junipero, Black Mirror’s best episode from its latest season. In it, Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw play a lesbian couple (Yorkie and Kelly, respectively) in the 80s who find each other while vacationing in San Junipero, an idyllic California vacation spot. Their romance is relatively straightforward (Girl meets Girl, Girl loses Girl, Girl regains Girl) but it’s heartfelt and it works because it’s not afraid of leaning on the fact that these kids are queer and they’re fighting for happiness in a world where being queer has mostly meant missed chances and lives unlived.
As we learn that San Junipero is not just a beautiful California town, but the simulation of one built to be an afterlife, where the elder living upload their minds as a form of therapy (and free trial), we also learn that Kelly was a married woman who lost both her husband and her daughter to time and disease. To Kelly, San Junipero is just a mind respite, not a final destination. A place where she can re-explore her youth through hedonism as she fades away, since to her husband, moving to San Junipero when their daughter could not was unfair. Kelly hopes to join both of them in the afterlife.
To Yorkie, however, San Junipero is a place where she can finally be herself. After coming out to her parents in her youth, her parents rejected her. In her longing for freedom and need for catharsis, she got on her car and drove off until she got in an accident that left her paraplegic. But in San Junipero, she can finally live the life she missed on because her parents didn’t accept her and she couldn’t accept herself.
As the two get to know each other, they break apart and vacillate around the idea of a relationship because they both have such different expectations of what the afterlife could and should be. For Yorkie, it’s a new lease on life. For Kelly, it’s a long-awaited reunion after a lifetime of struggle. But at the same time, Kelly and Yorkie both have lived lives where they simply were completely unable to find the ability to be as queer as they wished. They were endlessly drifting through, Kelly in her life, while avoiding to act on it for the sake of her family and Yorkie by being forced to live out her life in a bed, with no way of escaping the consequences of her parents’ homophobia.
San Junipero features cars constantly. But whereas in Frank Ocean’s work, they are a refuge (from hurricanes and oppression), in San Junipero, they are reminders of oppression and the fear that all young queers are burdened with. After all, it was a car that deprived Yorkie from living out her life. But Kelly drives recklessly with Yorkie on the shotgun seat, and at first, she’s scared because she remembers what happened the last time she was on a car. But as Kelly shows Yorkie the affection she was denied by her parents’ inability to love her for who she is, the reminder of Yorkie’s parents homophobia becomes a symbol of freedom and queerness. Of living and loving in your own terms.
I still feel weird saying it. Queer. Acknowledging my own bisexuality took a lot out of me. It was especially hard for me because I feel society teaches you queer denial from the moment you are confronted with sexuality. You are taught that you don’t really find men attractive, you find them “aesthetically pleasant”. You are taught that your crushes and budding romantic affection are really “bromances” or “lady crushes”. You are taught that every feeling you have for people of the same gender as you is unreal and that when you’re in a heterosexual relationship, it’ll feel different.
I still haven’t come out to my parents. I still think I won’t. Yorkie’s story was a powerful reminder of why. My parents are loving and kind but they often talk about queerness as something sinful and deranged. I am not at the point where I can even sympathize with that view but I still struggle with love and what it means. To have to deal with that while dealing with the dim hope that my parents will accept me for who I am? Laughable.
And that’s the real beauty of San Junipero to me. San Junipero doesn’t advocate for not coming out but simply that there’s nothing wrong with not coming out. That your queerness isn’t defined by other people knowing so much as you knowing and finding your own peace in your own terms and spaces. Coming out is a wonderful thing, to live your truth publicly, unashamedly and knowing your loved ones are aware of who you are is probably the most encouraging thing in the world. I wouldn’t know. All I know is that in my life, there’s no space for me to include a family that still can’t cope with the fact that gay marriage is legal both in my country of adoption and my country of birth.
But San Junipero reminded me that I still yearn for that freedom. Outside the mazes and the labyrinths, to ride on my car with the love of my life on the shotgun seat. Us against the world and making them all see that there’s no reason to live life in any other way than this, as true to yourself as you can be.