Why it matters that Hulu added queer women to Gilead in "The Handmaid's Tale"
When I saw queer representation on Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, my heart soared — despite the harrowing situations Moira (Samira Wiley) and Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) endure simply for being queer. If women are second-class citizens in Gilead, queer women are third-class.
The queer terror of Gilead is horrifying, but it’s important to show because it isn’t fiction — it’s very common in today’s society: think conversion therapy, fighting over bathroom laws for trans people, the treatment of gay men in Chechnya.
Margaret Atwood is famous for saying,”I didn’t put anything into the book that has not happened sometime, somewhere,” when discussing the horrors in the near-future of Gilead. Nothing in her book is invented, only history repeating itself — and this new addition to Hulu’s adaptation is no exception.
Samira Wiley, who plays Moira and is queer in real life, told The Advocate that the treatment of queer people in Gilead doesn’t strike her as foreign.
Often, people will forget how much the LGBTQ community still has to fight for. Many people want to act like achieving marriage equality was the end of the battle — but it is only the beginning. The horrors faced by queer people in 2017 are still routinely dismissed.
In the show, Moira and Ofglen are two of the strongest characters. They send the message that queer people are invaluable to the resistance and deserve to be recognized.
In Atwood’s book, Ofglen wasn’t gay. Offred wasn’t as easily accepting of Moira’s sexuality — she got there, but it took some time. In the Hulu show, Ofglen says “my wife” very casually, and Offred doesn’t bat an eye. As both a queer woman and a professor, Ofglen is everything the leaders of Gilead fear — which is pretty badass.
What’s done to her later in the show because of her sexual preference is unspeakably gruesome. The horror that befalls queer women, or “gender traitors,” is worse than what happens to straight women in Gilead — but at the end of the day, all of the women are subjected to absolutely terrifying things and I’m glad they thought to add in queer characters and women of color. No matter the world created onscreen, it should be as diverse as the real world.
Elisabeth Moss, who portrays Offred, told TIME that the creators and cast of the show “…wanted the show to be very relatable. We wanted people to see themselves in it. If you’re going to do that, you have to show all types of people. You have to reflect current society.”
I won’t pretend it’s not problematic that Ofglen’s girlfriend gets killed for being queer. The unnamed Martha, who slept with Ofglen, eventually becomes part of the “Bury Your Gays” statistic — but she is not the only one without a happy ending. Happy endings are nonexistent in Gilead, no matter who you are. Being gay is a crime in Gilead, but so is being an academic, or a doctor, or outspoken and unique in any way.
Anyone who jeopardizes Handmaids’ abilities to further the human race is a threat — and being queer is one of the biggest threats to their society.
During a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Wiley (who also recently played a queer female character who got killed off, Poussey Washington on Orange Is The New Black) talked about “Bury Your Gays” and The Handmaid’s Tale.
Is it frustrating that most of the queer characters on TV get killed? Yes, but unlike most shows, The Handmaid’s Tale has multiple queer characters — not just the one that eventually dies.
And these aren’t small background characters or stereotypical white gay men — these are two strong, intelligent women, one of whom is Black.
In the same interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Wiley also touched on the importance of Moira as a fully developed character, not just the gay bestie.
More badass queer female characters on television? Praise be.