Acclaimed Netflix sitcom One Day at a Time features a non-binary character.
The popular Netflix show is a rebooted version of a 1970s sitcom – but with a very 2018 approach to diversity.
The show features Cuban-American veteran single mother Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) and her family, regularly dealing with a swathe of issues including depression and PTSD, immigration, racism and LGBT issues.
The first season of the show featured a central plot arc in which Penelope’s teen daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) came out as a lesbian – and the second season, which debuted last week, added a non-binary character.
Sheridan Pierce joined the cast as Syd, a non-binary teen activist who starts dating Elena – with the pair bonding over a mutual love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Supergirl, queer theory and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Syd is introduced in episode ‘To Zir, With Love’, in which the character explains they use the pronouns “they/them” to the bafflement of Elena’s mother and grandmother – who are quickly educated on the subject and non-binary issues.
Elena tells them: “Well, because some people are gender non-conforming, they have preferred pronouns.”
The character’s romance with Elena is central to the season, culminating in them attending Homecoming together.
Some fans responded with confusion that Syd was referred to as Elena’s girlfriend on the show despite identifying as non-binary – but the show’s star Justina Machado defended the choice.
She told IndieWire: “I think that realistically Penelope and Lydia [Rita Moreno’s character] would say ‘girlfriend’.
“Even if they’re trying to be P.C., or they’re trying to be great to their daughter and granddaughter, habits are hard to die.
“We had fans reach out, actually, because somebody mentioned something about it and was being really nasty. And somebody that identified with ‘they/them’ pronouns said ‘Hey, I have a girlfriend and she calls me her girlfriend and that’s just what we do.
“They’re doing their best and they’re representing us, don’t be nasty, they’re figuring it out.’ So that’s been really nice.”
Gomez added: “We have LGBTQ writers on our staff and they’re the ones who have to sit down with me and be like ‘Okay, ready?’ And explain it all to me.
“It’s so interesting because our generation is so open to it and Netflix allows us to represent us.”
Speaking to Vanity Fair, Gomez opened up about the growing queer fanbase for the show.
She said: “[The show’s queer fanbase] is fiercely loyal, and they’re so passionate about it because they lack representation. And the representation they do get is so shallow—we always see the gay man story line, and we never see young lesbians. And when we do, we see it for the benefit of men and we sexualize them.
“If I had had Elena when I was 15, my life would have been easier. It is so cool to be a vessel for Elena, and it’s so mind-blowing that me having fun and getting to do this character that I love can do that for somebody.“
Netflix has become a haven for LGBT content – with many of the online streaming giant’s biggest global hits including queer characters and plot arcs.
The streaming giant has invested in shows targeted at the LGBT community, picking up some global rights to RuPaul’s Drag Race as well as commissioning shows like Grace and Frankie, Sense8 and Orange is the New Black.
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Former Doctor Who star Freema Agyeman, who plays a lesbian dating a transgender woman on Netflix series Sense8, previously opened up about diversity in the streaming giant’s shows.
She said: “My inbox is flooded with people expressing gratitude, which blows my mind.
“I feel so honoured and proud to tell a story that people feel is truly representative of them in an area that’s so lacking in television.
“There are a lot of channels that would argue they have LGBT relationships but we’re not talking about touching on it and moving on, it’s about fully exploring it.
“Netflix is out there dancing to its own drumbeat. I can feel a momentum shift. TV is becoming so much more complex than it once was.”
Sense8 is the first big-budget show on television to feature a transgender character played by a transgender actress (Jamie Clayton) written by a transgender writer.
The acclaimed Netflex series, created by transgender sisters Lana and Lilly Wachowski, follows eight pansexual individuals around the globe with an apparent psychic connection.
Fans were left devastated when Netflix confirmed that the show had been cancelled after two seasons last year, despite winning praise for its brilliant inclusion of LGBT characters and themes.
After protests from the show’s fans, Netflix reversed the decision and renewed the show for one further two-hour special.