Analysing the Portrayal of Gender and Sexual Identities through the American TV show “Euphoria”

Euphoria is an American TV show produced and written by Sam Levison. It follows multiple storylines of a group of teenagers in high school as they experience and deal with friendship, love, sexuality, addiction, and drugs. The first and second seasons aired in 2019 and 2022. Euphoria is spearheaded by Rue Bennett. She is the narrator of the show and the viewer gets introduced to various supporting characters through her.

The story begins with Rue getting out of rehab after her drug overdose. This article will be focusing on Rue Bennett and Jules Vaughn’s experiences and thoughts that are portrayed to mould their gender and sexual identity because of Rue’s attachment issues due to her father’s death, and Jules’s inherent desire to conquer femineity. Overall, Euphoria addresses a broad range of topics concerning identity, sexuality, gender, and relationships. Characters associated with “Euphoria” are complex and, to some extent, polarising.

Many people despise certain characters and regard them as morally depraved. While some people can certainly relate to the protagonists and have managed to learn about their own self-concept through them. The characters are so diversified, unlike other television programs which have one-dimensional stereotypes which also ultimately become stagnant and unrelatable despite being engaging.

Rue and Jules’s characters stand out in this show because of the unique way their gender and sexual identities are portrayed, how they are represented, and how they gradually discover themselves throughout the progression of the storyline. Scholars are familiar with themes like gender and sexuality, but for mainstream audiences, Euphoria is a game changer. A famous, highly praised show concentrating on women and illustrating the importance of not fixating one’s life on men is critical to attaining the equality and happiness that women deserve. Shows such as Euphoria have earned accolades for their portrayals of teenage characters. The depiction of the adolescent characters’ struggles with discovering their sexualities and gender makes for an intriguing plot. Its approach to teen issues can be perceived as slightly frigid, harsh, and direct, in contrast to other teen dramas that use comedy and a cheery tone to tell their stories.

Gender Identities
“Queerness is infinite,” as proclaimed by a friend of Jules is an apt representation of this show’s aim. Like metamorphosis, gender is ever-changing. In a scene where Jules is hooking up with Cal Jacobs, he said that he marvelled at the fact that the younger generation cared less about rules. As most Gen Z smash closets and stereotypes (with more than half identifying as queer), viewers realize the importance of being inclusive and considerate. This is the importance of proper representation (and the problems caused by misrepresentation) of the queer, and this is where “Euphoria” comes in.
Rue’s gender expression is portrayed by her androgynous fashion sense. She is mostly seen in her signature ugly maroon jacket or oversized shirts which breaks the “feminine” stereotype. Her hair is always a frizzy mess indicating her irresponsible nature. Girls are taught from a young age to put effort into their dressing sense. This performative aspect of gender has affected society’s perception of women to a horrifying extent. With the concepts of gender fluidity and the removal of beauty standards on the rise, queerness has become vast in nature.
When Jules dresses Rue for the winter formal, for the first time, Rue is in a dress. “I am deeply uncomfortable right now,” sums up Rue’s feelings. Later Jules apologizes to Rue because she thinks she messed with Rue’s gender expression. On any occasion, girls are always expected to show up in dresses. As a society, we have to realize that societal pressures should not force one to dress a certain way.
Rue hardly applies any makeup (except for the signature sparkly eye makeup of “Euphoria”) throughout the show, unless coerced by Jules. Euphoria’s Makeup Designer had described Rue’s makeup simply as a “No Makeup” look. This shows her androgynous nature. Makeup has been a social construct (read “compulsion”) for females for ages. With the rise of the queer, gender has flown out of the window. Anyone of any gender identity can or cannot apply makeup. This liberty of expression is being appreciated more and more by the day.
In contrast to Rue, Jules is portrayed as a transgender character, whose makeup is hyper-feminine in nature. In her attempt at “conquering femineity and obliterating it and moving onto the next level”, and her quest to be “desirable for men”, her makeup is bright and girly, to showcase her character’s personality and vibe. She thought that applying a ton of makeup will make her feminine, again a performative aspect of gender. Jules finds herself adhering to this construct to please men by having violent sex to feel feminine. Because of her deep-rooted thinking that men treat feminine women a certain way, she sought casual hookups with men to feel the same validation she had witnessed all her life.

She thought she was levelling up her femininity and “upping her manna” by buying heels, feminine clothes, makeup, and finally, hormones. Even after all her effort, femininity always felt unreachable to her, like a ladder that is infested with snakes. Euphoria contends that women’s ideas about their gender and sexuality should not be centred on men and male approval, but instead on their gender and sexual identity. Femininity isn’t biological, and it is not purely purposeful on a societal level, but rather whatever one wants it to be. Female sexuality is represented as something one actively engages in and enjoys, insignificant, and everything else in between.
In season 2, Jules realizes that she does not need men to make her feel feminine, so gradually her outfits are baggier and her makeup is not as girly. “I have been trying to conquer femineity, and somewhere along the way, I feel like femineity conquered me. I think I have framed my entire womanhood around men, when, in reality, I’m no longer interested in men. What men want is so boring and simple and not creative. How did I spend my entire life building this?” Jules told her therapist. Her change in perception towards her gender is portrayed through her fashion, which is freer and more androgynous. Jules realizes she does not need male validation to feel good about herself. After transitioning, she had only casual hookups with men, so her relationship with Rue was a huge change for her. Euphoria employs a revised version of Judith Butler’s gender performativity theory. Gender is performative (with some level of identity basis), but the performance is dependent on the individual’s idea of their gender rather than society’s gender standards. Jules’ original philosophy was, if she “conquered” men, she could “conquer” femininity. Jules considered discontinuing her puberty blockers because she became tired of basing her gender and sexuality on male ideals. Jules decides she’s not going to perform the version of femineity that men want from her. Rather, she could very well depict her variant of womanhood, one that is as strong as the ocean.

Sexual Identity
Rue’s father’s passing was an extremely critical event in her life. A movement with such importance impacts the person for the rest of their life. It affects their ability to trust and it makes it hard for them to get close to people or fall in love. They live with the fear that at any moment they could lose their loved ones. Rue’s commitment issues were evident due to her past relationships and her interaction with Jules. Rue struggled with her addiction and mental health ever since she was young so she didn’t see a reason to stay clean but her perception of life changed when she meets Jules.
Rue’s attachment issues become visible in her relationship with Jules. She becomes dependent on Jules to maintain her sobriety. She was insecure in her relationship with Jules and kept overthinking whether Jules loved her for who she was or wished she was different. Rue felt that she was messed up as a person and she did not want Jules to be affected because of this. Jules comforts her that she does love her unconditionally and eases Rue’s insecurities. After getting diagnosed with a kidney infection and depression, Jules asked Rue if this had happened because she had left her alone but Rue denied it. This toxicity takes a toll on their relationship as Jules suffocates in their claustrophobic relationship and Rue stands oblivious to this fact. Attachment issues can make one insecure in themselves so they attach themselves to the next best thing in an attempt to anchor themselves.
Jules started to question and second-guess herself because of the suffocation she felt in her relationship with Rue. She felt guilty for leaving her to fend for herself as Rue had spiralled into drug abuse yet again, due to their relationship tinkering on the edge. This kind of insecurity and co-dependency is never healthy. Both Jules and Rue needed to reassess their choices and their relationship and analyse if they were bringing out the best in each other.
Rue’s past relationships include a few boys which makes it evident that she suffered from compulsory heterosexuality. She was not sexually or romantically attracted to any of them, nor did she have fulfilling relationships with them. This also shows her inability to commit to someone due to her commitment issues. Societal pressures on youngsters to have heterosexual relationships become conspicuous when they suppress their repressed desires and force themselves to do something they would not want to do because of our patriarchal and heteronormative society. This results in emotional trauma and this ordeal affects them for the rest of their life.
In a few scenes, Rue’s sister and her mother tease her about being in love with Jules. Her mother also tells her to take it slow with Jules because she thinks Rue is delicate because of the mental suffering she has been through and her drug abuse. Jules’s father also supports her transition and her relationship with Rue. The queer population has never been known for having healthy familial support. Although some might say that these characters are privileged for having family support, the representation has been appreciated by audiences around the world. Especially, when one is going against the normalised standard of society, they deserve their family’s utmost support.
Before getting together with Rue, Jules had an online relationship with Tyler (who was Nate Jacobs posing as Tyler to catfish her). Tyler and Jules had a healthy casual relationship online. They met each other on a gay dating app, texted frequently and got to know each other, and gradually fell in love. Jules kept thinking about Tyler even after getting to know that it was Nate, all along. She found it hard to get over him even after he threatened to get her on a sex offenders registry for knowingly producing and distributing child pornography. Even after he blackmailed her, Jules goes through a lot of emotional trauma and keeps thinking about him. Towards the end, Nate confesses to Jules that he had, in fact, fallen in love with her too, and he apologises. This indicates Jules’s deep attachment issues and Nate’s internalised homophobia due to his father’s influence. During this ordeal, Rue was visibly jealous of Nate and Jules’s online relationship but she still supports her as a friend and tries to keep her safe. Most teenagers are open to casual relationships as a way of trial and error. This process indicates how their future can look like with or without a partner.
Throughout the show, Rue and Jules’s sexual identities are never confirmed or talked about, which showcases the decreasing importance given to labelling oneself. Although, Rue had had heterosexual relationships before and Jules was her first relationship. Jules had never committed to someone after transitioning and had only had causal hook-ups through a gay dating app. As the word, “queer” is used to identify people who go against society’s standards of gender and sexuality, most people are not comfortable using that word to self-identify. But, over time this perception has changed and the ones who are not open to labelling themselves as the many labels under the LGBTQIA+ community (for example, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual etc) have started identifying as “queer”. The broader usage of this term and the de-stigmatisation has been celebrated all over the world.

A Rhapsody
“Euphoria” has challenged the portrayal of unique portrayals of the characters and appropriate representation of the LGBTQIA+ population and it will continue to do so. This analysis of the gender and sexual identities of the two main protagonists, Rue and Jules, was to showcase the progress of our society in accepting the change in society’s perception of queer people. The progression of the beautiful storylines of these beloved characters is what led to my selection of this show’s analysis. I have gained new perceptions on the show and it has opened my eyes to the struggles of queer folks as I hope to be more considerate and inclusive in the future.

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