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The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Features Ice Cold Homophobia

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When I saw that Netflix was releasing a dark reboot of Sabrina the Teenage Witch I was immediately spellbound. How could I not be? I’m a queer millennial feminist whose mother is a medicine woman. I’ve watched every episode of Mad Men and the video essays breaking down each character’s development on Youtube. Kiernan Shipka had bewitched me long before she was cast as a sorceress.

But when I sat down with my queer coven to watch Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the new LGBTQ television darling, by episode two the show didn’t feel like a slick satanic hex.

In the episode, Sabrina finds that her nonbinary friend Susie is being bullied by a quad of traditionally toxic masculine football players, likely for their identity. So, Sabrina enlists the help of some deliciously demented older witches aka the Weird Sisters to scare them off. These girls are the plastics of the Riverdale universe, so whatever they’re delighted to do to these jocks is guaranteed to be demonic.

And it was. But it was also alarmingly homophobic and in a non-consensual way.

The Weird Sisters and Sabrina lead the football players into a mineshaft where they cast a spell on them to believe they are kissing the witches. But in reality, their tongues are down each other's throats Sabrina snaps a photo of them in the act and threatens to out them as gay if they bully Susie ever again.

So...the most wicked thing a witch can do to a nemesis...is to make them look gay?

Now, I get it; the football players are homophobic, and to a degree, Sabrina is using their homophobia against them. But, in a show where Sabrina uses her powers to do demonic things like infesting her principals home with thousands of spiders, and she literally has casual chats with Satan on the high school grounds, the show puts being perceived as gay as a curse. Meanwhile, it encourages that taking consent away from people and outing them.

I get it, I'm a precious social justice snowflake. I'm ruining the fun of a show that is pretty excellent at performing wokeness; you have a nonbinary actor. Sabrina's cousin Ambrose is a pansexual man of color that Twitter is drooling over. Prolific gay showrunner Greg Berlanti's name is on it! 

But that doesn't change the way my stomach sunk watching the scene. 

The problem is that calling homophobes gay doesn't just happen in Sabrina's world. It's a complicated trend in real life.

Recently Chelsea Handler was accused of being insensitive when she made comments about Lindsay Graham being gay. Jimmy Kimmel drew similar criticism from calling Sean Hannity and Trump gay. Even Kim Kardashian insinuated that Tyson Beckford was gay in a homophobic clapback after he said he wasn't interested in sleeping with her.

The LGBTQ jury is not out on whether these jokes are insensitive. The question remains, who is being boiled in the comedy cauldron? 

It's the homophobes (or in Kim's case, male models who aren't into her bod) but it also is the homosexuals. 

How is comparing gay people to those who victimize them empowering? How could it not be perceived as a way to depict LGBTQ people as depraved, self-hating, and ashamed? 

"Why do 'progressive' comedians so readily jump to homophobic jokes when it comes to mocking conservatives?" writer Ira Madison III commented on Kimmel's jokes.

"Either insinuating that they like receiving anal sex via bottoming — or any other homosexual sex act — is the surefire way to knock someone down a peg. Because insisting that they’re gay must be the ultimate insult, right?" Madison wrote. 

In each of these cases, the jokes are being made to emasculate the public figure, maintaining the narrative that a gay man can never be the man. It's very rare these jokes aren't dripping with other forms of homophobia; Kardashian referred to Beckford as "sis," which has queer implications and weaponized it against him. Kimmel portrays gay sex as vile in his tweets.

Handler has a different approach, which represents the second disgusting part of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina; she consistently has tweeted that human kidney stone Lindsay Graham should come out.

Um, okay. As if outing people without their consent hasn't lead to actual deaths in the LGBTQ community. As if Tyler Clementi suicide didn't teach us that outing has a brutal human cost. This publication refuses to out people for a reason. Because it doesn't increase visibility, it makes LGBTQ people vanish.

Even if you aren't enchanted by my arguments against weaponizing homophobia against homophobes, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is not the place to do it. It's aimed at a young audience – its rating is TV-14. In 2018, that means eight-year-olds are watching it on their iPads. The show not only has spells but literally spells everything out for you, as if it's for a child. It's even in the same universe as Riverdale (and helmed by the same producers) which has usurped Thirteen Reasons Why as the ruler of teen television

These kids aren't going to grasp the distinction between mocking someone for being gay and someone for hating gays that you, educated reader, might. They'll see that making someone look gay is a way to punish them, and being perceived as so is a curse worthy of Sabrina's wide range of powers.

In the meantime, they'll watch a nonbinary character who is entirely on the sidelines, displays little agency, and only exists to be tormented to help the straight character (as cute as she may be) go through her arc. I might be a snowflake, but if I'm 100 percent H2O, I can recognize a watered-down-win.

ARIEL SOBEL is a writer and producer living in Los Angeles. You can learn more about her at her website, but if you want to get really personal, check out her TEDx Talk.

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