Euphoria, a popular new HBO show, follows the life of 17-year-old Rue (Zendaya) as she returns to high school from rehab. This show has garnered significant attention for depicting “how teens live today,” and it goes a long way to de-stigmatize marginalized gender identities and challenge traditional masculinity.
Euphoria is a show that challenges basically every social norm pertaining to identity. The cast is highly diverse in terms of race, sexuality, gender, and the show’s storyline pushes against societal conventions at every turn.
Euphoria challenges the gender binary by refusing to make gender the focal point of character development. Instead, gender is presented as but one aspect of a character’s identity. For example, Jules, (Hunter Schafer) is introduced as a cool, stylish, eccentric young woman from New York City. Jules is transgender, but this is not revealed to the audience right away, and when it is revealed, it is shown as inconsequential instead of a plot twist. The audience gets to know Jules the person first.
Euphoria also challenges constructions of masculinity with its complex characters and plotlines. For example, Nate (Jacob Elordi) is white, popular, and preppy, but despite having many social advantages, he struggles with his closeted homosexuality. Nate’s father, who is also gay and closeted, puts immense pressure on Nate to perform traditional masculinity. Euphoria shows the damage done by aligning masculinity with heterosexuality in a limiting way.
Another character, McKay (Algee Smith), is a black football jock whose father puts extreme pressure on him to be hyper-masculine and competitive in his pursuit of a career in the NFL. Euphoria shows these inter-generational struggles to fit into the man box in a critical light—as unfair to both of the teens who are experiencing the violence and harm of traditional masculine expectations.
Euphoria tackles the real-world struggles of teens navigating a shifting culture, trauma, identity, drugs, sex, and love. It is very explicit, gratuitously so at times, and is not at all appropriate for young viewers. But for older teens who are struggling with these same issues, Euphoria provides a liberating destabilization of limiting gender norms.