Point of View

Why We Shouldn't Be Celebrating 'Barb's' Coming Out

Shannon Purser didn’t step out of the closet, she broke the door off so she could use it as a shield against harassment.
(Via screenertv.com)

Humanity can breathe a sigh of relief. The international sex symbol known simply as "Barb" (of Stranger Things fame), is officialy bisexual, opening the gates to the broadest swaths of humanity possible to indulge their internalized Barb fantasies.

Ok, so it's not really Barb who has come out, but rather the actress that plays her, Shannon Purser- who appears to be considerably chicer than her buttoned up Stranger Things counterpart.

Left: Barb in Stranger Things; Right: Shannon Purser at the 2017 SAG Awards (Netflix/Getty Images)

These days she plays Ethel Muggs on Netflix's Riverdale — a sexed up, live action, reimagination of your favourite Archie comics characters.  

Shannon Purser as Ethel Muggs on Netlfix’s Riverdale (Netflix)

It's this association that would lead to a rather unconventional coming out for Shannon: being harassed on the internet so severely she would be forced to use her "non-traditional" sexuality as a shield to survive.

It all begins with Betty and Veronica sharing a kiss on screen.

The "faux lesbian kissing" in the above scene prompted fans to call out the cast and creators of Riverdale for what they perceived to be a missed opportunity to defy convention and make these two an actual couple... aka the show Riverdale had committed the cardinal sin of "queerbaiting". What is queerbaiting you ask? Well, there are multiple definitions, but in this context Urban Dictionary is your best bet:

Queer baiting:

"When an author/director/etc. gives hints, and clever twists to paint a character as possibly being queer, to satisfy queer audiences, but never outright says they are so they can keep their heterosexual audience."

The controversy began when Purser responded to this female fan's tweet- expressing her anger at Riverdale's alleged queerbaiting:

Shannon's (since deleted) response:

"And I get that, representation is so powerful and important. But we didn't write the show? We have literally no say in what happens."

That's when things went sideways. After a barrage of tweets calling her out for a lack of LGBT empathy, she posted this lengthy note to twitter, effectively coming out as bi-sexual.

This isn't your everyday celebrity sexual affirmation. This is a young woman flailing to cope with an onslaught of criticism and it's important to note the difference. Almost every major entertainment outlet picked up on the story of her coming out...even TMZ. But they're all missing a major piece of this story. These sites are used to making big news out of someone coming out and in modern times it's usually done with a celebratory tone. In Shannon's case however, coming out ends up being a last ditch defence against hate on the internet - pleading ignorance as a newbie in the LGBTQ2 community in hopes empathy and association would stop the onslaught.

This girl didn't step out of the closet, she broke the door off so she could use it as a shield against harassment.

Yes, Riverdale did a bad thing. Queerbaiting is bad. It refuses an opportunity for complex gay characters onscreen and dupes liberals into watching. While deviations from heteronormative sex on TV can be helpful in normalizing acceptance, relegating it to teases is bad news for gay people. It suggests to the entire audience that sexual desire or preference is a side show. In the case of Riverdale, the messaging is that it can be turned on and off like a switch - bolstering ideas of sexuality as a choice. Shannon is right. She didn't write that scene or have any control over it. Her only sin here is a lack of media literacy through a queer lens, and her punishment seems to be an expedited and unprepared coming out that no queer person should suffer.

She very recently indicated that she has been struggling with her sexuality. Earlier this month she wrote:

"Getting comfortable with your sexuality is a process. It's going to be ok. I wish I'd known that sooner… Another thing I wish I'd known about sexuality is to take it slow. It can define you as much as you want it to. Either way, I know what it's like to have anxiety about it."

That was April 11. On April 18 she came out to the world as bisexual.

Shannon herself says it's something she's still "processing." This is not the language of someone ready to affirm and share their sexuality, especially not a public figure. Instead, her coming out devolves into an apology which can be read as "...Please just leave me alone. Will you stop if you realize I too am queer?"

Coming out is a wonderful thing but it can also be dangerous. It can be an emotionally volatile time coupled with extreme vulnerability. The timing of it is the most important. No human being should ever be outed or forced out. It is imperative that the person coming out comes out when they decide the time is right. I feel Shannon didn't get that opportunity and was forced to expose something deeply personal to protect herself. That's upside down.

In railing against a Riverdale moment, internet commenters may have had good intentions, but their anger was truly misdirected and ended up hurting a member of the community they sought to represent. All they did was put Barb through hell… again.

Barb in Stranger Things (Netflix)