sex and the city’s reboot was desperate to be progressive and included multiple trans storylines. but were they successful?
in december 2021, after over fifteen years since sex and the city’s series finale, hbo released a reboot which followed our favourite chaotic new yorkers today: and just like that…
as someone who spent one too many nights at way too young of an age watching the show in secrecy, i’ve been following and just like that… relentlessly every week, and over the ten episodes felt emotional, joyful, and mainly very very nostalgic.
the fashion was still as extra, their lives were still as ridiculous and all of the women were still as bad at decision making as they were in their thirties.
however, one difference was very apparent from the get go: the show seemed now a lot less concerned with sex (probably also due to samantha’s absence) focusing instead on a, perhaps slightly desperate, attempt to include social justice and identity politics in its storylines – challenging the roaring political in-correctness of sex and the city, which makes young people (re)watching today it violently cringe.
sadly, but unsurprisingly, this insertion of mainstream political and social discourses in the women’s lives is actually source of an even bigger degree of cringeness – from miranda getting everything wrong in her first interactions with her black professor as a newly enrolled mature student, to the excruciating sound of the gender-inclusive podcast carrie’s part of x, y, and me.
the show’s obsession with getting-things-right is also palpable, with every single new female character being a woman of colour, from carrie’s fabulous estate agent, to charlotte’s new chic best friend – whilst this challenges the overwhelming whiteness of the original cast, none of these women is given particular depth or purpose, making them mainly accessories.
over the course of the show, trans identities are also a pretty hot topic, with a number of new gender diverse characters. these personalities sit in violent contrast with the treatment trans people received in sex and the city – and specifically the trans sex workers working below samantha’s flat in season three’s episode finale “cock a doodle do!”. the three women are portrayed as vulgar, obnoxious and shallow. in the episode carrie refers to them as “half women-half men”, and samantha ends up calling them trannies whilst throwing a bucket of water on them for being too loud. with samantha’s fan favourite status, it’s a hard episode to watch, and one that aged very badly.
so did the show redeem itself with these new characters?
with the season now finished, my feelings on this remain very mixed.
on one side we have che diaz (played by sara ramirez): carrie’s non-binary latinx boss and podcast co-host. che is a successful slightly cocky comedian who, in a shocking twist of events, ends up being the person responsible for miranda’s long overdue queer awakening.
whilst i would love for che to be a likable character, they really aren’t.
che is not only embarrassingly un-funny for a comedian, but also seems to be the personification of any meme i have ever seen taking the piss of non-binary people. their only personality is their queerness, making them come across righteous, deeply annoying, but, most of all, unrealistic. che is portrayed like an internet parody brought to life, and it saddens me this is what straight viewers might think non-binary people are like.
it might have to do with my deep love for miranda’s original partner steve, but che is, sadly, a form of representation i don’t feel we needed.
on the other side we have rock (played by alexa swinton): charlotte’s teenage child exploring their gender identity.
unlike with che, i find myself deeply warming up to rock and, surprisingly, even charlotte.
rock reminds me of the well-intentioned slightly annoying middle class white trans kids i see on the internet every day: a little bit angsty, a little bit rebellious, and a little bit desperate to be oppressed.
charlotte also reminds me of the (not always) well-intentioned slightly annoying middle class white straight women that work with me in the art world: a little bit anxious, a little bit conservative, and a little bit desperate for me to like them.
with this in mind, watching charlotte react to rock’s trans identity comes across as one of the most genuine portrayals of queer kids’ parenthood i have ever witnessed.
charlotte initially struggles with rock’s coming out, name change and gender presentation, but eventually comes around and finds herself accepting their child’s identity as, deep down, she wants nothing more than their happiness.
this portrayal comes across so apt to the journey of neoliberal parenthood i often witness: a constant swinging between resentment of their kids’ queerness, and a degree of unconditional acceptance.
whilst i don’t see this as an impressive level of parenting, i’d argue it’s actually a pretty poor one, i find myself annoyingly enjoying seeing it on my screen, due to how realistic it is.
i find myself holding a slight hope for rock (and the middle class kids they represent) to challenge charlotte (and the straight women she represents) and the future that may or may not come from those challenges.
the last trans character the show introduces is rabbi jen (played by it girl hari nef) – a trans woman leading rock’s they-mitzvah. whilst a fairly short cameo, i find myself really liking rabbi jen – from her dry sense of humour to her quirky sense of fashion.
i especially like the nonchalance with which she deals with carrie and miranda’s ridiculous straight women tiff nonsense.
rabbi jen reminds me of the girls on twitter with 20k followers and a new book deal – a representation i’m not mad at.
whilst all of these newly introduced trans characters are not portrayed in a particular negative way, i question the value of their representation and how it aids our liberation.
and just like that… (i’m sorry i had to!) i find myself with a newly found appreciation of the og sex and the city trans characters: destiny, china and jo.
whilst their portrayal was embedded in transphobia, anti-blackness and anti-sex work narratives, as i watch their short scenes, what actually stands out is resilience, fun and sisterhood.