This week’s Riverdale summed up what it’s like to be a Queer teen

(spoiler warning : this contains minor spoilers for Season 2 Episode 3, but no spoilers for the overarching plot)

You’ve probably heard of Riverdale, the CW’s soap-murder-teen show based on the Archie Comics universe, now in its second season. In case you haven’t, though, here’s a quick primer : set in the fictional town of Riverdale, the show follows high schoolers and their families as murder mysteries shake up the seemingly quiet small town. Or, more notably, you’ll probably remember the “I’m weird, I’m a weirdo, I don’t fit in, and I don’t want to fit in” meme from earlier this year.

All meme potential aside, the great thing about Riverdale is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything else than a comic book-ish teen show — high school drama and American diners included. We can’t all be watching serious shows like The Killing 24/7, and it’s a welcome breath of fresh air. (Also theorising on who did a murder in a small town is awesome.)

Now you’re up to speed, I want to tell you about a character on Riverdale. One of the show’s flaws is diversity : while it looks like the cast is diverse, many of the characters of colour don’t get storylines as developed as their white counterparts. And when it comes to Queer and non-straight characters, Riverdale’s track record is better, but not by much : without spoiling the story, two of the show’s three (so far) LGBTQ’s characters have very minor storylines.

The one gay character that does have a storyline, though, is Kevin Keller. In the first episode of Riverdale, he’s introduced as main character Betty Cooper’s best friend, and (sadly) follows the trope of the Gay Best Friend™️. While he’s still actively involved in the resolution of the plot, Kevin and Betty’s friendship is a very noticeable example of the trope : she goes on about boys, he gives her advice.

In this week’s episode (Chapter Sixteen: “The Watcher in the Woods”), though, this trope is turned on its head, and it sends a powerful message in the same breath : no matter how far we seem to have come, growing up as a Queer teen is significantly different than growing up as straight.

We never find out precisely how many people live in Riverdale, but all signs point to it being a suburban town where everyone knows everyone, and in Season 1, when Kevin’s dad asks him “Is there not a nice gay kid at your school?”, Kevin replies that he is the nice gay kid, implying that the LGBTQ dating scene in town isn’t exactly booming.

Throughout the show, various characters warn him that cruising (walking or driving around looking for a partner for a one night stand) is dangerous, as it takes place in Riverdale’s woods, but they’re all missing the point : it’s not that Kevin wants to put himself in danger, it’s that he has to if he wants to explore his sexuality like the other teenagers on the show. This reaches a peak in this week’s episode — we see Kevin sneak out and go cruising in the woods, and when Betty hears about it, she makes him promise to stop doing it because she’s worried about his safety with a killer on the loose. He half heartedly agrees, and when she finds finds out he’s been doing it again, she follows him into the woods and confronts him.

Betty tells Kevin he should respect himself more, and Kevin (understandably) snaps :

“You live in this pale pink world of milkshakes and first kisses […], except for when you’re exploring your sexuality, which again, you’re allowed to do, but I’m not, because why? This is what I’ve got, Betty. Me, these woods. So please don’t come here and tell me it’s disgusting.”

To make a bold statement, the confrontation scene is one of the best things Riverdale has done so far. Its audience is largely teenagers, and while TV is getting increasingly inclusive, we can’t ever have enough messages about how your experience growing up doesn’t have to be the same as your friend’s ; I know for sure I would have loved to see this scene when I was 14 or 15.

Because no matter how “accepting” our straight friends and family are, there are always moments where they just don’t get it, moments where they seem to think you telling them you’re not straight is the end of the oppression you face, moments where they act like your options aren’t limited.

At the end of the episode, Betty and Kevin are shown going their separate ways, and that’s how it is sometimes : I have had countless discussions with people who just couldn’t understand what it’s like and who always projected their own experience when giving advice. I don’t come from a small town, but trying to find girls to date is still difficult in capital cities, even when you’re relatively “out” — like Kevin, I didn’t like dating apps, but I was also not presented with a huge set of options otherwise.

So, straight people, if you learn one thing from a silly teen murder show, have it be this : don’t assume your Queer friends have the same experiences as you, and don’t berate them for exploring their sexuality in ways you might not have heard of.