When Showtime first announced yellow jackets, the premium cable channel’s psychological horror show about a high school girl soccer team surviving in the wild after a plane crash, I could feel it coming.
Long before the first episode aired, and long before all the recaps, theory posts, and Twitter fandom, the spirit of my newly gay 90s teenager stirred inside me and whispered a call for air of the time: “This show is going to be gay as hell.”
Not since the days of buffy the vampire slayer has a TV show with horror elements and a strong queer sliver been this exciting. As someone who went to high school between the years of 1991 and 1995 and first realized I was gay when I had a dream at age 14 of kissing Winona Ryder, a show like this couldn’t not be more perfect.
It’s set partly in the ’90s, features a soundtrack of platinum hits from the decade, and features a hard core of Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, and Tawny Cypress. The first season is coming to an end and I still get dizzy just thinking about how yellow jackets even exists.
Aggression concentrated on the football field. Parties in the woods. The letterman jacket tossed nonchalantly on the floor next to a pile of Insolent magazines, all backlit by a Lite-Brite that spells out something vile. It’s the gay peak of the 90s before it even hit the gay parties. I’m like Misty when I say let me go in this landscape and break the flight recorder so no one can ever find me and bring me back.
“Are they…?” “Duh.”
A key for yellow jacketsPopularity is the show’s ability to deliver content that appeals to a wide range of viewers, while possessing some intangible consistency. The show’s psychological horror elements appeal to mass audiences, as do the main cast who have, collectively, starred in fan-favorite TV series and movies over the years.
The writing, the acting, the music, the staging are all tools skilfully deployed by a show that quickly became an obsession. So it’s easy to see how a larger fandom has latched onto the series while the queer community can, jointly, claim it as their own.
Without being directly marketed as such, Yellowjackets is a very gay show because anything can be considered gay if you just try hard enough, and that’s half the fun of being gay. (That practice gets a special description these days, “queer reading,” and I’ve put it to good use in every Angelina Jolie movie since. Foxfire, and, each episode of Riverdale).
Yes, this show is about survival, trauma, dissociation, brutality, manipulation, etc. But it’s also a lot about adult Natalie (Juliette Lewis) applying dramatic eyeliner in a hand mirror while listening to Mazzy Star, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) pushing her husband Jeff (Warren Kole) into a piece of furniture with an energetic unmistakably feminine, Jackie (Ella Purnell) with her hard, wild woman hair and lingering “best friend” looks, and the letter-opening dexterity of Taissa (Tawny Cypress).
The combination of underlying gays listed above and openly gay realities like assistant coach Ben’s (Steven Krueger) finger slaps in response to girls doing a dance routine in the cabin, teenage Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Van (Liv Hewson) fill their bites with mushrooms in the woods and adult Taissa’s terrifying family life with wife Simone (Rukiya Bernard) gives us plenty to work with, and it’s all very welcoming for a medium that teasingly steers us towards cannibalism among teenagers.
“And I asked myself questions about the present: how wide was it, how deep was it, how much was it for me to keep.”
What enhances the impact of a show like yellow jackets his late 2021/early 2022 debut is his ability to hold up a mirror for fans who went to high school during the time frame depicted in his flashbacks. Fans who are now middle-aged with their own families in a time that, in many ways, seems so much darker and dimmer than 25 years ago – and in many other ways, better. And for younger generations of the show’s fans, they can see themselves in characters, both gay and straight, navigating a culture that hasn’t always made it so easy for a person to live their truth.
LGBTQ+ culture certainly wasn’t as taboo in the 90s as it was in previous decades, but the portrayal of LGBT characters (the Q+ was just a glimmer in our eyes at that time) in the media has nevertheless aroused quite a surprising stir. Sandra Bernhard’s portrayal of a bisexual character named Nancy Bartlett on Roseane was a big task, just like the story of Ellen DeGeneres coming out in “The puppy episode” from his sitcom Ellen in 1997. Willow Rosenberg, Alyson Hannigan’s character, talks about her homosexuality in season four of buffy jaws drooping left and right.
Compared to the raw, edgy days of Euphoria, the 90s looked like a glass of untouched whole milk. Young viewers of yellow jackets may find it strange that Ben kept his sexuality in the closet, and that Van and Tai hid their relationship for so long, but that was how it was back then.
Gay life – queer life – was a fun little secret that we made our way into in private, or in the accepting graces of a chosen few. We have certainly made cultural progress there, but much of the trepidation and caution of being in the queer community remains. Even in these wild, wild woods of 2022.
Fast approaching the end of my 44th year on this earth, I look yellow jackets and think how fun it was to be gay in the 90s. Everything felt so new, like it was just for us. We smoked our Marlboro Reds, listened to our PJ Harvey, and it was just gay, gay, gay times. How good for this show to remind me, and us, that we’re so much closer to being able to have fun, with just a little less – when everything goes as it should – bloody parts.