We don’t really get to define ourselves — we view ourselves through others’ lenses. We know who we are from how people act towards us, or react to us. We’re well-liked, so we’re good people; we’re funny or we’re smart or we’re beautiful. When we don’t get external validation, we question ourselves: what are we really worth, if no one values us?
Last week I ranted about Rae being able to love herself, but not being able to accept the love of others; this week I kinda want to explore the other side of the coin. I want to talk about taking the love others show you, knowing it, and using it to help you love yourself — enhancing your own truth, but not creating it. Because it’s already there.
Rae’s strugglin’. She’s having issues, she’s emosh, she’s freaking the fuck out at all times. Last episode, all the shit she’d been pushing away came back as she entered school for the first time since her breakdown, for the first time since Tix’s death, for the first time as the closest she’s been to her full self since… fuck knows. The flashbacks we saw were brutal. But she repeats to herself over and over:
this time it’s different, you’ve got the gang. This time it’s different, you’ve got Finn.
And she does. She has them. We know this. She knows this. But as she walks, in one person’s stare she sees every side-glance she’s ever received. Every perceived slight is magnified, until she’s breaking away from Finn and gapping it down the halls. She’s got people, she has their love and she knows she has their love. But she can’t relate that love to the definition of herself she clings to. It’s like shoving together 2 corner pieces of a 3,000-piece jigsaw of a fucking Jackson Pollack; it’s not gonna work, and even if it did, it’s still a fucking mess.
Rae’s definition of self is the enemy here. Y’know that scene in 1×02? Fat. Fat. Fat. And it’s not just “fat,” it’s everything else wrapped up in it. It’s being undesirable, it’s being unworthy of attention (romantic and platonic). It’s being weak, it’s being sick, it’s being mad. It’s being able to even have one descriptor. It’s being a person who’s defined by one word — it prefaces everything she does, everything she is. It’s being “adjective,” but instead of and.
Rae defines herself as other, because that’s what she sees. She sees how she doesn’t fit. She sees herself through omission. She isn’t in ads, she isn’t in media. To the world, she doesn’t exist — except as a problem. She disappears from college, not finding her place because she doesn’t believe there is one, not one she doesn’t have to forge for herself. Meanwhile, Archie’s disappearing in a similar fashion: by assimilation. (Can we talk about how weirdly arousing seeing him suck on a cigarette was? Are we post-smokefree yet? I’m used to Finn watering my personal ladygarden whenever his cheeks hollow around ye olde cancerstick, but this was a whole new world. A beautiful world. A moist world. OK gross sorry I’M SORRY.)
This disappearing act leaks into her relationships. Allow me to do kindergarten math here: she was away from school a week, then goes back the following Monday and still avoids Finn. That’s what, 8 days without seeing him? Let’s move onto physics for a second: HOW. Philosophy: WHY. Law: NO. Sociology: DON’T. P.E: STOP. And Psychology: RAE LOOK AT HIS DEEP SOULFUL PUPPY-DOG BUNNY-RABBIT BABY BROWN EYES AND DO YOURSELF AND THE REST OF HUMANITY A SOLID AND JUST.
And that’s kind of the point where I freak out. Because I keep on thinking about me (not uncommon, to be honest). But not the me taking 25 selfies and uploading them to tumblr in some sort of sorry attempt at a self-deprecating collage. I’m thinking about any time I’ve had a chance with every person I’ve ever liked or (god forbid) loved. Guess what I’ve done: I’ve shot myself in the goddamn foot. I don’t talk to them — in fact, I avoid them at all costs. At any and all possibility of a fulfilling romantic relationship, I transform into a will o’ the wisp or some kind of long-distance-flying seabird that is also a hermit with anger problems. So that fear isn’t new to me. I don’t think it’s new to many of us. Opening yourself up to someone only to be rejected is a far harsher reality than to be rejected at first glance — so we reject ourselves, before anyone can do it for us.
When Rae talks about relationships, she talks about them like they’re mathematical equations, like people really do get numbers (11s and 4s), as if we’re all handed out score-cards to trade in as soon as we hit puberty. But this is what she’s learnt, and this is what she hears in that fucknut redhead’s rational for Finn being with her: all a woman has is her body. If her tits aren’t A+, then her pussy’s got to be the answer. And it’s bullshit. You know it, I know it, everyone fucking knows it, but we don’t act it out. Rae’s fantasy of engulfing that billboard of a woman — or, rather, that symbol — down to the ground is her rebellion against that. It’s just a shame it’s imaginary.
Her rebellion against these rules leaves me clinging for Rae to act on this moment of strength. She hides behind this “strength” when she breaks up with Finn, she makes a choice and sticks to it, but for all the goddamn wrong reasons. She’s not ready to face up to her body yet, let alone other’s opinions of her body. But in Episode 3, there’s this one moment that made me want to punch an orca in the face with glee — that one bite of pizza in front of Stacey ‘Dickbutt Wankface’ Stringfellow. (Side note: FUCK HER, HOLY SHIT. LIKE WOW. SHE IS THE WORST. SHE’S THE LIVING WORST. LIKE SHE MAKES ME WANT TO LITERALLY OPEN A VORTEX IN THE TIME SPACE CONTINUUM AND DOOM THE UNIVERSE TO AN ETERNITY OF NOTHINGNESS JUST SO SHE DOESN’T EXIST ANYMORE. EXCEPT THAT WOULD BE TOO GOOD FOR HER. ALSO I’M NOT INTO DEATH. But fuck me twice on Tuesdays, what a heaping pile of shit she is??? Unbelievable!)
It’s important to me to note how perfectly they handled that scene: it’s clear to her, to Chloe, and to Stacey that’s it’s a symbol. It’s a “fuck you” and an admission of an issue — and being both of these has a unique power in this situation, but also brings up a complexity that, honestly, makes me pretty fucking sad. Whilst it’s obvious that Rae can’t eat in front of people, she’s rejecting her illness’ control over her at that moment, and she’s rejecting Stacey’s control over her. But there’s power to be found in admitting your illness, your problem. To be owning it and owning yourself. I suppose, in a perfect world (which would make for a boring fucking TV show), she would’ve thrown the fucking pizza in Stacey’s goddamn face — fingers crossed for the season finale!!
Buuuuuut now’s time for the bad stuff. Rae fucked up.
Two issues to discuss here (apart from her continuing shitty attitude towards her mum. FORGIVE ME I’M OLD BUT SHE’S HONESTLY SUCH A BRAT SOMETIMES OH MY GOD):
First, and one that gets resolved in the episode, is her bullshit behaviour towards Linda Carver, aka waifish cutie. Linda’s character is largely there just to show how Rae changes throughout the episode, from feeling a kinship in the halls to ripping her to shreds when she’s safely ensconced in the student lounge with Stacey. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Archie’s balloon apology, which Rae dismisses in a moment, is echoed in Rae’s apology to Linda. I’m hoping that she continues to be involved as Rae makes it up to her.
Second, and honestly — it took me a while to stop being so angry with Rae to even think any coherent thoughts, let alone write them down. There’s no excuse, no reason for outing someone (ok, possibly death. Possibly, if someone’s going to literally kill you if you don’t reveal another person’s sexuality, I’d forgive you for outing someone). Speaking as a big ol’ queer myself, who never really had to come out because when I was 21 I had a crush on a girl and was like HEY that’s never happened before, that’s cute, and mentioned it in passing to some friends (one of whom LITERALLY forgot and then got semi-mad at me for “not telling them”), I’ve never had anything similar happen. Thank fucking Christ. But being “in the closet” isn’t “being a phony.” And conflating the two is so incredibly insulting to every single queer person who’s ever been unsure about being out for literally any reason.
Someone’s sexuality is their concern. It’s their life, and they get to decide how to action it. And not only is this something that’s no one else’s concern — simply due to respect for others and their own personhood, their own identity — this shit has repercussions. Like it or not, not everyone is completely untouchable from the outside world. Sometimes we’re not surrounded by pride parades and rainbow flags, or even people who just won’t leave us the fuck alone. Sometimes, shit is rough, and it only gets rougher when you’re not 100% the same as everyone else. Outing someone not only puts them at risk, it also completely takes away any and all agency and choice in the matter. You’re implicitly telling them that they are not their own, and that shit is Fucked. Up.
I’m honestly a bit disappointed. I can understand it from a narrative perspective — they need to move the story along, they’ve got so many episodes, blah blah blah. But it just doesn’t sit right with me, how the forgiveness is granted. If anything, it feels like Rae forced it — apologising a million times, as if Rae saying the word “Sorry” over and over again actually makes a difference, or effects some positive change in Archie’s life. I’m glad they’re sticking together; they need each other, that’s undeniable, but the way the conversation changes so quickly into Archie’s hatred for his own perceived cowardice, without properly referencing how valid his own choice to stay “closeted” was, rubbed me wrong.
Archie and Rae’s discussion about cowardice is important, though in some ways, I wish they’d make a clearer distinction between hero, coward, and someone just trying to live their life. I love that Rae tells Archie he isn’t a coward, I love that they discuss that fact that Archie using women (or anyone) as an extra shield against suspicion is awful. But I especially love the conversation about betrayal between Rae and Kester that follows. What does Rae mean by betrayal? There’s this lingering sense of shame attached to the word that can’t be shaken.
The parts we see of Finn — owning his emotions, demanding that they be respected, even if they can’t be catered to — that’s what Rae wants, what Archie wants: the power to make their own decisions. It’s my decision, Finn says. Finn’s decision to want to be with her, Finn’s decision to say that he can’t be “just friends” with her after their breakup. This power has been taken away from Rae and Archie — by their bodies, their identities, the way they’re perceived by others. And that’s the betrayal, at its essence: taking away our own sense of self, because we’re too scared of how we may be perceived. To know ourselves, we must be willing to face not only that fear, but ourselves in the mirror. That self-determination is how we find ourselves, where we find the strength to define ourselves. And not just in reaction to, or in resistance of, but in that tangle of innate and learnt and known that we comb through each day, looking for clues as to who we are. It’s where Rae’s journey to real self-love begins and ends, and it’s in every moment of this story and these characters, in every little echo of ourselves tucked away in the messiest parts.
Molly likes cats, food, bed, and TV. Yell at her about stuff at mollywaddle.tumblr.com and @mollyezmerellda on Twitter.