Using Sex to Cope with Grief: DWP Episode 6 Review
One of the particularly curious aspects of Dear White People is the sexual tension between the characters. There’s a lot of sex and sexuality in this show since, after all, the characters are young, hot-blooded, and attractive. But sex, like pretty much everything else in the show (and in real life), is political.
The episode spent some effort building up the tension between Reggie and Joelle, whom I’m rooting to become a thing. But throughout the middle to end of it, the tension shifted to Reggie and Sam. By the time Reggie and Sam went to the speakeasy and Reggie delivered his poem, I had a sinking feeling that they were probably going to hook up. Despite Reggie’s and Joelle’s chemistry, Reggie did not reveal his innermost thoughts in her presence. Reggie did not let her see his trauma in its full rawness, the way in which he grappled with the history of white supremacy and how it almost led to him losing his life. Instead, Reggie showed Sam his pain and allowed Sam to feel the intimacy of his fear.
This frustrated me for several reasons. First, Sam is with Gabe. Second, Joelle is practically throwing herself at Reggie, and he’s still tripping over Sam. Third is the way that Sam refuses to let Reggie process his pain without making it a tool of protest. Reggie calls her out on this but then they end up sleeping together. I didn’t like this at all. I was literally yelling at my TV screen for them not to hook up. It’s not just that I don’t support the Sam and Reggie pairing, it’s the context of the hook up. It feels like Sam slept with Reggie because she felt guilty that she picked Gabe over him and Reggie almost felt manipulative, like he was consciously baring his emotions so Sam would sleep with him. And there is a deeper reason for my disappointment in their hookup and it relates to the ways in which we as a culture react to black men being vulnerable.
I encountered this regularly in the first year or so after my father died. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be too vulnerable. I didn’t want anyone perceiving me as a burden or being repulsed by my display of emotion. But on the other hand, I needed to express my pain. I tried to channel it through the gym and writing, but I also needed to talk to someone, for someone to invest in the emotional labor to acknowledge the grief in my soul. I needed someone to see the hole and help me grapple with it. But I also struggled with my sense of masculinity after being vulnerable. I felt like opening up to others was transgressive, and I hated for anyone to see me as weak. So I isolated myself, told people that I was okay even when I wasn’t. I buried myself in school work to keep people from approaching me. But I reached a breaking point and that almost led to me failing my master’s program.
So I get Reggie’s desire for intimacy after almost losing his life. I sincerely do. I sought the same thing as a coping mechanism. However, I can say from personal experience that using sexual intimacy to cope with grief and fear doesn’t work. If anything, it just intensifies the insecurity and makes it harder to open up in a more constructive way. It reinforces the gender norms that men need to be satisfied sexually to get over our trauma. And that’s at the core of why I was yelling at my TV by the end of this episode. I was hoping that Reggie would exercise enough self-awareness to realize hooking up with Sam would just cause him more pain. I found that out for myself the hard way.
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