“Sort Of” And On-Screen Non Binary Depictions Through A Tender and Careful Gaze

I will never forget the people who first acknowledged me when I felt uncomfortable with stating my transness. Their simple act of asking me how I choose to identify, regardless of what I was wearing, my social conditioning, and how I was being perceived at that moment, laid the foundation for my freedom from societal gender norms. It is this generosity of care, respect, and relationship I found mirrored in 7even (a longtime friend) and Bessy (whose kids Sabi nannies) from the HBO series Sort Of. They believed Sabi deserved to bloom and take up space. I believe so, too. 


When watching this show, I resonated a lot with many of the moments Sabi experienced, including shrinking themself and their needs in order to make others feel comfortable despite them being the ones overstepping boundaries. Sabi’s willingness to be available was something that always stuck out to me while watching—their capaciousness. Even when people took advantage of Sabi’s pure generosity, they always found a way to make light of a situation with their unique sense of humor. This is how we survive. 


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Sort Of is the type of television so many other shows are trying to be but never quite achieve. Zoya Patel for The Guardian calls it “meaningfully diverse and intersectional with three-dimensional characters, hilarious dialogue, and a big heart.” She continues, “And yet, despite its quality and impact, the show has had little media coverage.” The No Country Woman writer explains what is most disappointing about the media industry at large: an unwillingness to prioritize stories that offer up real depictions of Black and brown non-binary characters through a lens tenderly and carefully; not caricatures. This is important and shouldn’t be glossed over. If Sabi were a white non-binary character with a bad manic pixie dye job, septum piercing, Doc Marten boots, and a ‘BlackLivesMatter’ pin on their backpack, there’d already be a second season of Sort Of. That, in the words of Rolling Ray, “is not giving what it’s supposed to gave!” 


With narratives created by and for our community, we offer up subjects that allow us space to hold nuanced discussions about the way culture affects one’s comfortability with their compounded identities. This brings to mind Sabi feeling like they had to hide from their Pakistani mother, despite them both wanting to be in each other’s lives. As we continue to face a world that rarely shows us the love, care, and respect we deserve, remember that we all have the power to make our own spaces that celebrate us. I look forward to more trans and non-binary storytellers centering the stories that we want to see, hear, and value to make the world a more humane and inclusive place for the future to come. We must never allow the discomfort from others that they project onto us to hold us from the happiness we could all have. That is a distraction.

About The Author : Dee Harper (She/They) is a 21-year-old Black Trans woman and multidisciplinary storyteller residing in Brooklyn, NY. She is originally from the DC Metropolitan area and she has always been in creative environments ever since she was young. Although she has faced many struggles with acceptance from her family, she still finds all the reasons to continue being her most authentic self. She is a recent graduate from The New School’s College of Performing Arts with a bachelor’s degree in Dramatic Arts, and a minor in Film Production. She is also enrolled in a dual master’s program studying Art’s Management and Entrepreneurship and looks forward to one day owning her own production company. The majority of her work tends to focus on narratives that center around BIPOC & LGBTQIA+ individuals. She is excited to continue her exploration of art in the entertainment and production industry!

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