Degrassi, the Canadian teen TV franchise renowned for its groundbreaking storytelling, is continuing to challenge the norms. Its newest incarnation, Degrassi: Next Class, features gay, bi and lesbian characters — and, when it returns to Netflix Friday for its fourth season, will count a genderfluid character among the cast.
In a preview clip debuted on Entertainment Weekly, main character Yael (Jamie Block) kisses their friend Lola (Amanda Arcuri) in hopes of deducing whether they are gay. Yael’s pretty sure they aren’t but knows they’re not totally straight.
“I don’t feel like a girl, or what everyone thinks is a girl,” they explain to Lola. “But I’m definitely not a boy either.”
Lola introduces Yael to the idea of being neither — or being genderfluid — by showing them one of her favorite genderfluid vloggers. “If being a boy or girl is made up, then you can make whatever you want,” Lola says.
Though Degrassi has broken through plenty of barriers in LGBTQ representation before, Yael is the first non-binary main character on the show. Considering what a hot-button topic gender fluidity on television has become, Yael’s coming out is hitting the Degrassi world at exactly the right time.
Mere months ago, Billions and Orange Is the New Black actor Asia Kate Dillon made waves when they challenged the gender binary at awards shows. Their letter to the Television Academy ahead of Emmy Awards submissions, published by Variety, earned acclaim for its forthrightness, and the Academy responded thoughtfully in kind.
Though expanding the binary is more complicated than just making acting awards categories gender non-specific, Dillon started a conversation that needs to be continued. Young people are increasingly more comfortable identifying as fluid, both in terms of gender and sexual identity. As with people of all races and sexual orientations, representation of people who don’t live on the binary matters.
That’s why Yael’s coming out on Degrassi is so vital. Not only is their presence groundbreaking on that show, they’re still among the few gender non-binary characters on television as a whole. How appropriate that they would be on a show aimed at teens: As young people think more outside the binary, it makes sense that their fictional counterparts would as well.
Degrassi: Next Class season four premieres Friday on Netflix.
Mic has ongoing TV coverage. Follow our main TV hub.