In the finale of The Sex Lives of College Girls’ freshman season, Leighton Murray (Reneé Rapp) came out to her roommate and new friend Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) in an extremely emotional and heartfelt scene. That moment, which myself and others hail as one of the best coming out scenes in recent memory, served as a prelude to Leighton’s newfound confidence in Season 2, and set the stage for her journey of self-acceptance and happiness.
Flashing back to that scene, which came in one of the quieter moments of the finale, Leighton was crying in her room after being broken up with by her short-term girlfriend Alicia (who broke up with her due to her closeted nature, no less). When Kimberly enters the room and asks what’s wrong, she casually comes out while telling her about the breakup. “It wasn’t a guy, it was a girl. I’m gay,” she says as if she were simply relaying the weather. Kimberly is surprised that she is telling her first, but says she’s proud of her. Leighton then expresses what is so often left out of coming out scenes and queer storytelling as a whole: “I don’t want to be like this [...] I don’t want my whole life to change.”
The personal nature of the scene, and how closely it dove into things like internalized homophobia and all the fears that come with coming out, make it as effective as it is. Rapp, who identifies as queer, told Vulture that playing out the scenes related to Leighton’s insecurities was difficult, as it felt like she was “vomiting out [her] deepest, darkest fears about [her] own internalized homophobia.” Despite Rapp’s own hesitation about bringing those fears to the screen, the scene has become a point of connection for the series’ dedicated queer audience, and has allowed for happier scenes that have already played out in the first episodes of Season 2.
In Episode 1, titled “Winter is Coming,” Leighton is surprised by a column of “gay pride balloons” inside her dorm room. Kimberly confesses that she thought Leighton had already come out to their other roommates, Bela (Amrit Kaur) and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), hence the celebratory balloons—she was sorely mistaken. Later in the episode, though, Leighton does come out to her other roommates, and the scene serves as her first step towards self-acceptance. Kimberly silently encourages Leighton to tell the other girls when they are all in the dorm the morning after a party, and with a touch of hesitation, she is met with nothing but support from Bela and Whitney. Through that scene, Sex Lives slowly builds Leighton a stronger support system, which allows her to reach new milestones in her journey with her sexuality.
By coming out to Kimberly first, Leighton had the solid beginnings of a support system in place, which then allowed her to feel comfortable enough to come out to Whitney and Bela. With her support group even larger now, her roommates encourage Leighton to DM a girl she met at the frat party the night before, one she was too uncomfortable to reach out to on her own. The way Sex Lives has gradually built Leighton a group of people that accept and love her is a true highlight of the show, one that no doubt mirrors the experiences of many queer viewers, and imbeds queer joy into its solid foundational focus of female friendship.
In that way, The Sex Lives of College Girls offers one of the most empathetic portrayals of internalized homophobia and the closeted experience. The series allows Leighton to grow and change as a person, to take her time coming out and coming into her own, while still acknowledging the extent to which her internalized homophobia and fear of coming out to her parents in particular impacts her daily life.
In the Season 2 premiere, we get our first glimpse at Leighton while she’s in the car with her father, who is dropping her off after Thanksgiving break. He’s crying, and Leighton mentions that it was a rough holiday. It’s easy to assume the worst, that Leighton has come out to her parents and was met with animosity, but it’s quickly revealed that Leighton’s brother Nico (Gavin Leatherwood, who exited the series before Season 2 began filming) was actually expelled, and that’s the reason for her father’s tears. Her family casts a large shadow over Leighton’s life, as shown through her own teary-eyed confession from Season 1. She greatly fears those around her, her family in particular, viewing her differently post-coming out, as she believes their whole perception of her will change. Season 2 picks this thread back up, inserting it in the middle of Leigthon’s attempts to embrace her identity. At the frat party in Episode 1, Leighton is made hyper-aware of the surrounding party as a girl attempts to flirt with her. The staring eyes of her peers become overwhelming, as Leighton’s anxiety exacerbates and manifests into a physical fear of being seen—identified—as a lesbian by her peers.
However, the further her family (including Nico, whose absence is likely another weight lifted off of Leighton’s shoulders) gets from Essex, the more she steps out of her shell and embraces her identity. It’s satisfying to watch her shake off the lingering self-hatred that she inherited much like her fortune. The absence of Leighton’s short-term girlfriend Alicia so far this season also brings more lightness to her storyline, allowing Leighton to become more comfortable with herself before she attempts to rekindle that relationship if she so chooses. Sex Lives itself has committed to giving Leighton the time she needs to grow and become comfortable in her skin, and without Alicia in the picture, the series cements that Leighton is doing this for herself, and not to gain the approval of her now ex-girlfriend. Showcasing Leighton’s journey, and her motivations being to simply improve her own life and live freely within her own skin, is incredibly important, and sets The Sex Lives of College Girls apart from past portrayals (specifically where a lesbian character’s coming out is inherently tied to their love of another woman, only leading to potential heartbreak down the line when that relationship ends).
After that original coming out scene showcased so much fear and heartbreak, it is satisfying to watch as Leighton slowly becomes more and more confident. In Season 2’s second episode, she’s even told by Whitney’s soccer friend Willow (Renika Williams) that she’s one of “the hottest queer girls on campus.” It’s strikingly realistic to see Leighton’s confidence and demeanor skyrocket upon coming out, thriving within the safe environment Essex provides. Though she still has a long way to go before she will be completely secure and freed of her internalized homophobia, The Sex Lives of College Girls is more than willing to give her the screentime and the space needed to bring her to the other side stronger than before.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert—if Twitter still exists.
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