With the Show's First Nonbinary Character, Sex Education Sets a New Standard

With the Show's First Nonbinary Character, Sex Education Sets a New Standard

As a nonbinary femme person who has always stressed the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in television and film, I can confidently say that very few shows are better at shifting standards and outsmarting stereotypes than Sex Education. Take, for example, Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa), whose character development is based on the intersection of his religious background, Nigerian/Ghanian roots, and queerness. The show’s first nonbinary character, Cal (played by Dua Saleh), is equally fleshed out, which further demonstrates Sex Education‘s ability to portray queer characters without reducing them to token caricatures or stereotypes.

Just like their character in the show, Saleh is also nonbinary, which gives this portrayal a key layer of authenticity. Not only do we see a queer BIPOC character, but also an actor whose personal identity aligns with their role — something that’s unfortunately rare. Having a nonbinary actor like Saleh play Cal makes the character that much more relatable.

Trans and gender nonconforming characters are finally starting to be written more into television and film — albeit often with less depth than their cis counterparts. Cal is the antithesis of this, which is why the character is so engaging. One of Cal’s first lines in the show is them casually telling Vivienne and Jackson that their pronouns are they/them. This scene is so nonchalant that I don’t view it as a “coming out,” as much as Cal saying a basic truth about themselves without caring how their peers will respond. I love that the writers frame it that way.

One particular highlight is Cal’s developing relationship with Jackson throughout the season. Jackson is not entirely familiar with queer culture until Cal comes into his life, which is something that a lot of nonbinary folks face in the world of friendship and dating. The labor of educating our peers, families, and significant others often falls on our shoulders, and it can get exhausting. The fact that the writers portray Jackson as a bit confused and Cal as level-headed and strong-willed is refreshing and closer to real life. During an interview with Them, Saleh commented on Cal’s empathetic personality, and how it was integral to the queerness of the character.

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