Queer at Every Level

Young Royals is a Swedish Netflix series that follows a fictional Swedish prince, Wilhelm, and his time at the Hillerska boarding school. Hillerska caters to the upper echelon of Swedish society, and all of the boarding residents are the children of the extremely wealthy. A few day students also attend this school, but it is known that it is because of scholarships and that these students do not hold the social clout of the boarding students.

Wilhelm finds himself entangled with one of these day students and struggles with his feelings that he might be gay. What sets him apart from his love interest, Simon, is not only a financial divide but a class divide and difference in societal expectations. Arguably, Wilhelm has anything that a person could want—wealth and power. But, while Simon has neither of these things, he has a warm and accepting family and lives his life out of the closet rather than burdened by the weight of discretion Wilhelm is forced to upkeep. 

I think that this story represents the idea of myth making particularly well. American society, specifically, is drawn to this story as a result of our intense interest in the English royal family. Although this story is Swedish, the audience is still drawn to a story of royalty because it is a perspective we will never know. This story is also influential because the family it writes about is fictional but the Swedish monarchy is real. This story could, in one way or another, happen in real life. It makes us draw connections between the show and the real world. We wonder how many times something similar has happened to a real monarch. While royals are few, statistically some of them must be queer. Yet, we never hear about it.

The idea that something that could be real, is similar to the mythmaking we see in The Legend of Auntie Po. Mei develops a story based on a “real” mythical character Paul Bunyan. Even though Mei’s story isn’t necessarily true, the circumstances in which she lives are historically accurate to some degree. While the book is a work of fiction, it, like Young Royals, invites the reader to consider our relationship with history, as well as the relationship that groups we are not a part of have with history. Ultimately, I think the way both of these works contribute to the genre of myth making is important because they accomplish the goal of myth making: by providing representation for underrepresented groups. Individually, I also commend these works because they help an audience recognize that queer people exist beyond a single setting and time period.

When living a predetermined existence

In the play Angels in America by Tony Kushner, it is difficult to identify any main characters who can truly be described as happy. Instead, we find characters who are struggling, in one way or another, with legacy. By intertwining his characters with prominent political, religious, historical, and even familial power structures, Kushner questions whether one can truly make their own way, or if destiny is predetermined.

Prior Walter is an openly gay man who suffers from AIDS. Because he is living at a time when political powers refuse to acknowledge the pandemic, he, like the wide population were unable to access experimental drugs that could improve his condition. In act 3 scene 1 of Millennium Approaches Prior Walter (a family name) is visited by prior Walters. The ghosts which have come to visit him have died of the plague in Europe hundreds of years ago, saying “They chose us, I suspect, because of the mortal affinities. In a family as long descended as the Walters there are bound to be a few carried off by plague” (Kushner 91). The implication here is that in a line of people, in history, there are at least a few who are bound to fall victim to their time. It is poignant that the current Prior Walter is visited by plague victims because of the prominence of his own sickness (even despite the furtive nature of political officials). One wonders whether present Prior had any chance at all or if his circumstances have cemented him to his fate.

In contrast, Roy Cohn is a deeply closeted gay man who works as powerful attorney in the same city as Prior Walter. Despite having AIDS, he is, in fact, one of the people denying its existence by keeping silent. We see Cohn do everything in his power, politically and financially to alter his prognosis. In Perestroika Act 2 Scene 6, Cohn calls a political ally from his hospital bed and demands a personal stock of the trial drug AZT “That I control, here in the room with me” (Kushner 156). He threatens to expose and slander the person if he doesn’t agree. Yet, despite his perceived power, perhaps even by himself, Roy Cohn still doesn’t have the ability to dictate his own future. He is, literally, haunted by Ethel Rosenberg a woman he sent to the electric chair for Communist malfeasance. In act 3 scene 5 of Millennium Approaches Cohn insists to Ethel’s ghost that he has forced his way into history, and in that way he will never die. To this Ethel responds “History is about to crack wide open. Millennium Approaches” (118).  It is understood by this that Roy Cohn will not have defined himself in the history books, but history will have defined him, revealing his sexuality and his disease, more than he ever wanted to be known for.

The comparison of Prior Walter’s fate to Roy Cohn’s reveals Kushner’s belief that power isn’t able to define destiny. This is perhaps his ultimate proof of the idea “time will tell” because it is existing at a time within which a historic disease is present that will cause the end of these two people, powerful or not.

In Hindsight, a New Perspective

On page 38 of Exile and Pride, Clare explains that when he and a long term friend reached the age where one goes to college, he found himself disappointed when he was applying to go to college and she was planning to be married. Clare uses the term “copping out” to describe what he felt his friend was doing. I find this term interesting because it reveals Clare’s preconception of what someone should be doing. In turn, we see more of Clare’s biases and judgements as his younger self. When he uses the term “copping out”, we can understand that he believes college should be an obvious next step for a high school senior. This belief in itself shows the privilege and narrow world view of a young Clare. Unfortunately, college is a luxury and a privilege rather than a right—an idea which is often misconstrued by middle and upper class people who are raised by parents who also pursued higher education. This fact was also true for Clare—though he acknowledges that this was not true for many people who lived in his town. Later, Clare explains that in hindsight he realized his friend had to get married because of financial hardships caused by the loss of her father. He reflects on the situation with understanding and some disdain for his former self’s opinion. In a similar change of heart, Clare acknowledges that he did not know best for himself either. He found himself missing his home town, even though he had spent his former years wishing to escape.

I found Clare’s experience was closely related to the idea of Metronormativity. A younger Clare hoped to move out of his small, neighborly town. But when he actually did, he felt even more out of place and longed to return. I think Clare’s story shows us that it is natural when one idea or decision feels so big that it dictates our life. However, we must be able to empathize with our own needs or those of others when those big choices aren’t exactly right.


“If he wraps his arms around me, / it will be the rest of his life. / I don’t even know what I am  /in this dress; I just sway with/ my arms open and wait.” (Jones 29)

There is a sense of helplessness here. The speaker feels empty, he lacks self. He feels uneasy at this selfless-ness and is willing to give himself to a man just for a role, a part in someone’s life. “If he wraps his arms around me” signifies an ownership, a feeling that you have a right to touch someone. But it is not just a touch of the arm, a hand at the waist. The arms are wrapped around, enveloping the speaker. If the speaker is encircled, then he will become this other man’s. “I don’t even know what I am” he says, and he feels an intense discomfort with that, with the dress, with the situation which has, in fact, been in part caused by the power (known to us not only by his financial status, but also the speaker’s belief that he can simple be taken by him) of this other man. So, the speaker sways; he has considered his lack of self, his emptiness, the dress enveloping him. To be stationary is to think, and he will no longer be stationary. He is dressed up as something he does not want to be. But what does not wanting matter when you are no one to begin with? He opens his arms and waits, feeling as though the decision is better left up to fate, to the other man in the room, perhaps to greater powers—whether that be a cosmological will or simply a man with higher status than he. However, the speaker is done thinking about it. Instead, he watches—not willingly nor unwillingly—but without a choice in the matter, his identity hang in the balance.