Degrassi has always been known over it’s 30 years on the air for being the show that ‘goes there’. Everything from mental illnesses to sexuality to teenage abortions has been covered since the show first aired in the late 1980s.
One of the most recent storylines, however, stands out amongst the crowd, especially to non-binary audiences like myself.
In season four of ‘Degrassi: Next Class’, one of the newer characters, Yael Baron, comes to identify as non-binary after having struggled with their identity for a majority of the season. The show has had one transgender character in the past, however non-binary identities are something entirely new to the series.
The storyline itself was handled with respect, and showed how hard it really can be for non-binary youths to not only discover who they are, but be accepted and understood.
Right from the very first episode, Yael, then identifying as a cis-girl, was clearly beginning to feel uncomfortable in their body, and one of the most moving moments of the season comes when they pull on a binder toward the end of the episode and immediately become more comfortable in who they are. The recognition of what they’re going through isn’t immediate for them, however, and they don’t even realise – as many young people don’t – that there is an option other than male and female.
Just tell me what you’d want to look like if you weren’t worried about being a boy or a girl – if you were just worried about being Yael.
Their self acceptance is built up slowly throughout the episodes, and by episode six, they openly state to their friends and their boyfriend that they are neither a boy nor a girl, having been assumed to be gay or female to male by many of them.
The plotline covers everything wonderfully, from the incorrect use of pronouns to the confusion that arises for a straight person from dating someone who is neither a boy or a girl.
The inclusion of transgender characters in the media is something that is becoming more and more normal with shows like ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and ‘Sense8’ beginning to include trans mains. Non-binary representation, however, is something that is only seen very rarely, if ever at all. Yael’s storyline was important, moving and entirely meaningful for many people who have more than likely never seen their gender identity portrayed on their screens.
While we certainly have a long way to go concerning non-binary representation, having one of the main characters on a mainstream teenage program is a fantastic place to start, and even one character can begin to make non-binary audiences feel validated and accepted, and give us something and someone to relate to.