Be warned, spoilers ahead!


Moving out to go to university or college is a life-changing moment for many young people, especially those who identify as LGBTQI. It’s an experience we’ve seen a lot on screen, from Booksmart’s best friends saying goodbye to the Glee teens finally leaving that high school. HBO’s new series The Sex Lives of College Girls, from creators Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, spotlights a slightly different kind of queer college narrative.

In the series’ first episode we meet Leighton (Renee Rapp), who appears every inch the picture-perfect posh girl – a true 2020s Regina George, complete with designer outfits and shiny blonde hair. When her school friends slyly prevent her living with them, saying that she has been acting too distant and secretive, we get our first inkling that there may be more to her than meets the eye. This episode then ends with a big reveal: we see Leighton swiping on a dating app in a bar and arranging to sleep with a woman. 

When caught drunk on campus, Leighton is assigned volunteer hours at the Women’s Centre, where she is forced to spend time with a circle of queer women and non-binary people who use terms like “safe space” – her worst nightmare, confirming all of her worst assumptions about gay people. However, she also meets Alicia (Midori Francis), who runs the sessions and the two gradually discover that they get on better than they originally expected. When they start a secret relationship, Leighton is forced to reckon with what it is to exist as an LGBTQI young woman in the present. 


A huge part of what sets The Sex Lives of College Girls apart is that Leighton starts the series knowing her identity. This isn’t a typical self-discovery coming out narrative: she knows she is a lesbian, but has firmly decided nobody needs to know. We also see almost no homophobia in he show: Leighton’s problems with her identity stem from within herself, as she explains that she will not come out because she doesn’t want everyone to think of her as “gay” above all her other characteristics. 

It is also rare to see a character explore the sexual side of their identity before the romantic, with many other queer TV shows such as Love, Victor introducing a sexual aspect only in later seasons once characters are in a relationship. In contrast, The Sex Lives Of College Girls portrays Leighton as comfortable with one night stands, becoming uneasy and trying to cut all ties as soon as romantic feelings are involved. Another important moment on the show came when Leighton forces herself to have sex with a man, feeling like there is no way around it other than to out herself. While difficult to watch, the storyline emphasises not only Leighton’s attraction to women, but her lack of attraction to men. 


Notably, Leighton’s arc over the course of the season doesn’t end with a grand coming out or declaration of love. Instead, she comes out to awkward roommate Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) while sobbing over her and Alicia’s breakup. This is a huge step for the character, finally admitting to herself how much she cares about Alicia and telling someone about their relationship. It’s also a heartwarming moment for her friendship with Kimberly, who is shown as uncool and from a poorer background, causing her and Leighton to clash throughout the series.  

Leighton’s first steps towards self-acceptance also begin to highlight that she doesn’t need to dress or act more stereotypically lesbian. It has been refreshing to see a lesbian character that, while closeted, is portrayed as sexy and confident.

With a second season already confirmed, fans can look forward to Leighton’s story continuing. We can likely expect her to begin coming out to more people, as well as feeling more comfortable in herself as she gradually tackles her internalised homophobia. Perhaps we will see her get back together with Alicia, or else venture into a new romantic relationship. Renee told Entertainment Tonight that the new season will bring “chaos, sex, hell-fire”, adding “at least for me, I feel like we’ve taken the bluntness up by like 10″. 

So who knows what adventures are in store for Leighton? We may not have to wait too long to find out, with Renee sharing behind the scenes moments from filming and season two expected to drop some time this autumn or winter.

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