The Life-Giving Sexuality of David Rose
My favorite kind of shows are the infinitely rewatchable ones: The Office, Parks & Recreation, shows that you can either pay rapt attention to or put on in the background while you’re vacuuming and doing dishes. But after you’ve watched Jim put Dwight’s office supplies in jello approximately fifty-six times you start to wonder if maybe you should diversify your portfolio of reliable television shows — and that’s where, for me, Schitt’s Creek has come in.
Schitt’s Creek has that same rewatchable quality — you can jump in at almost any point and get a laugh out of it without feeling behind, but if you hang out and pay attention you’ll also get a lot of sweet and poignant moments and thoughtful treatments of complex issues. This is nowhere more clearly illustrated than in one of the series’ main characters David Rose: a fashion-conscious pansexual man who’s never had a job that wasn’t underwritten by his wealthy parents.
To see a non-monosexual character portrayed in such a normalized light on a TV show that doesn’t even feature sexuality as one of its main themes... that’s powerful, to say the least.
Played by Dan Levy, who identifies as gay in real life, David’s sexuality isn’t completely clear when we first meet him. He reads gay, but the thick wall of sexual tension between himself and another main character, badass lady hotel proprietor Stevie Budd, begins building almost immediately (leaving me, A Bisexual, in an impossible “who’s hotter?” quandary). When they finally consummate the relationship, Stevie is filled with anxiety at the thought that their tryst represented a brief, marijuana-induced lapse in judgement and that he’s not actually attracted to women. While perusing wine to take to a dinner party, Stevie and David have a heavily coded conversation about his sexuality in which he reveals that he “likes the wine, not the label” — and even though their sexual relationship eventually comes to an end, the fluidity of David’s attractions continues to play a role in the storyline of the series.
But the series is not about David’s sexuality, and that’s what I love. Often when sexual minorities are portrayed on television or in movies, they’re either tertiary characters who exist to provide laughs at their own expense — or the entire plot becomes about their struggle to accept their sexuality or their family’s struggle to understand. David Rose exists as a main character and as a normal person in the show’s world, and his sexuality is treated as such. Outside of the conversation with Stevie about red versus white wine, there is just one episode where David’s parents (played by Catherine O’Hara and Dan Levy’s real-life father Eugene Levy) wonder about the fluid nature of his sexuality and his mother Moira has to remind his father that it’s “not a phase.”
But beyond that, David’s attractions come and go as normally as anyone else’s. An ex-boyfriend comes into town and stirs up drama. He and Stevie, who is straight, are attracted to the same man at a party after their breakup, hijinks ensue, and a poly triad is even briefly considered. In the current season, which concluded April 11, David navigates a budding relationship with his closeted gay business partner (played by the unbelievably adorable Noah Reid), a pairing shipped and supported by Stevie.
To see a non-monosexual character portrayed in such a normalized light on a TV show that doesn’t even feature sexuality as one of its main themes... that’s powerful, to say the least. Schitt’s Creek imagines a world where a person attracted to people of all genders could move freely through various relationships without risking their own self-esteem or the disapproval of their family or society. Is it realistic? Maybe not for a lot of us as we consider the worlds we live in. But I’m not entirely convinced that the goal of good television is always to present the world exactly as it is. This representation is inspiring, and moreover, just makes me really happy to watch.
Schitt’s Creek, through the character of David, has given itself a part in developing the cultural scripts around discussing identities like pansexuality and bisexuality.
And David, in spite of being somewhat image-conscious and bad at compromise, actually navigates most of his relationships with a fair amount of tenderness and nuanced communication, a refreshing trait to see in a male character. He shows a surprising willingness to have difficult conversations and be vulnerable with his lovers in sharing information about himself. He’s just a lovable, winsome, relatable character — who also happens to be attracted to men, women, non-binary and trans individuals.
There’s this particularly insidious type of erasure of non-monosexual individuals from media and society in general. As a bisexual person — and moreover, a bisexual woman married to a heterosexual man — I feel that erasure trying to sink its teeth into me on a daily basis. When I’m with my husband, I’m assumed to be straight. More often than not when I’m alone or with friends, I’m assumed to be gay. Total strangers ask prying questions about my marriage because they feel they’re entitled to know, and in conversation I often have to do some rudimentary education about sexuality before I can even get to the “coming out” part. I don’t see people like me represented well, or frequently, in the media. Part of that is not the media’s fault, necessarily, because we simply do not have very many cultural scripts for talking about these identities. But Schitt’s Creek, through the character of David, has given itself a part in developing those cultural scripts. In doing so, the show is participating, in some small yet vital way, in the work of creating liberation for all of us.
There are a lot of other reasons to recommend Schitt’s Creek, from the witty dialogue to the character development, but David is by far the most stunning character of the series. He’s the character that keeps me coming back over and over.
The first three seasons of Schitt’s Creek are available on Netflix, and season 4 is available for purchase on Amazon Prime. Definitely watch it if you’re looking for a laugh — but it’s also for you if you’re a little hungry for representation; a little tired of shows whose underlying belief seems to be that the lives of LGBTQ folks are about their sexuality and nothing else; and a little ready to see healthy, thriving queer persons living their best life on television and out in the real world.
Emily Joy is a spoken word poet, yoga-teacher-in-training, and creative justice enthusiast. She creates art for people who are tired of the status quo and the same old stale spiritual answers and long for a faith and a life that is beautiful, authentic, and contributes to the sum total of justice and goodness in the world.
You can find her work, book her for live poetry shows, and more at emilyjoypoetry.com.