'Riverdale' Just Got Real About "Cruising" As A Gay Man And It's SO Important
27 October 2017, 13:08 | Updated: 27 October 2017, 13:21
Riverdale's LGBTQ representation has come a long way since season one.
There were several gag worthy moments from the latest episode of Riverdale (not least the fact that Midge and Moose survived being shot at point blank range, honestly, what the actual fuck?!) but it was the return of Kevin as a main character and his new-found love for cruising that really got people talking.
For those that aren’t aware, Kevin, played by Casey Cott, was originally intended as a recurring character (basically he was Betty’s “Gay Best Friend” and little else). But after receiving a warm reception from fans of the first season, they decided to promote Casey to the main cast and explore Kevin’s life in more detail. And, boy, did they come through with the goods in Chapter Sixteen: The Watcher In The Woods.
At the start of the episode, we watch Kevin going cruising (which, for those not in the know, means looking for sex in a public place) while running at night through the woods. Eventually he hooks up with a fellow jogger but they are rudely interrupted by the sound of gunfire. Kevin rushes towards the sounds of screaming and discovers Midge and Moose covered in blood. You’d think that would be enough to put anyone off entering the woods ever again, but not Kevin, who goes back again a few nights later and finds himself in another dangerous situation.
Kevin’s BFF and moral crusader Betty is worried about his behaviour and urges him to use “Grindem” (which we assume is the Riverdale version of Grindr – a popular hook-up app for gay men) but Kevin disagrees, arguing that, “Nobody is who they say they are online. At least in real life, what you see if what you get”. Eventually Betty drops Kevin in the shit by telling his father, Sheriff Keller, about the cruising. Judging by the frosty reaction Betty receives in school the next day, he’s not very happy about it. At all.
At the heart of this storyline is Kevin’s profound feelings of loneliness, and as a result he’s becoming increasingly reckless with his own safety. It’s an experience that many small-town queers will be familiar with. With few openly gay men around, Kevin’s options are limited. This is impacted further by his straight friends getting into relationships, leaving him further isolated. This is on top of years of living in a heteronormative society wherein homophobia is still rife. As a result, Kevin is alone and wants affection, at any cost.
The most revealing moment came in the scene in the hospital between Kevin and Moose, who hooked up together in the very first episode of season one. Kevin, who is clearly shaken up by his recent experiences, explains that he hasn’t been making the best decisions but, “I can’t stop myself but it’s like I don’t even care. What is that?” Moose, to his great credit given he’s just been shot three times, tries to calm Kevin down by putting things into context for him. “I don’t know but guys like us, like you, in a town like Riverdale, you don’t have a lot of options. So even if something bad could happen, we go for it because what if, for ten minutes, or maybe even just for two minutes, we’re not alone.” Instead of slut-shaming Kevin, the show provided a real moment of human connection and understanding between the two characters and that deserves to be applauded.
While things have improved a little in recent times, it is still commonplace for gay male characters in mainstream TV programmes and films to be little more than promiscuous, sex-obsessed beings. To see Riverdale attempt to give more context to Kevin’s life and give him an opportunity to open-up about his struggles is an important milestone for gay teen characters. After a disappointing first season for LGBTQ representation, Riverdale is showing that it’s willing to take the lead on this topic in season two and it’s a promising start. Kevin is now a three-dimensional character – complex and imperfect – not just there for light comic relief.
They didn’t quite get everything right. The link between gay sex and murder is a common TV & film troupe. As INTO rightly pointed out, there was an 80s-film called Cruising which followed a murder mystery in New York’s S&M clubs. More recently, Stranger by the Lake also featured a murderer on the loose at a gay cruising spot. While there are legitimate points to be made about the safety on engaging in cruising, linking Kevin’s personal struggles to the Riverdale murders was an unnecessary over-exaggeration and Betty’s suggestion to use “Grindem” as the ‘safer option’ isn’t exactly a well-founded opinion either. Both have their positives and negatives but perhaps this is something that could be explored with more care in the future. Betty could do with being a little judgemental and stay in her own lane, but when again, who doesn't have at least one (straight) friend like that?
There were other moments that hinted Kevin’s character development has only just begun. When he accuses Betty of calling his actions “disgusting”, despite the fact she didn’t actually say that, we caught a glimpse of Kevin’s self-loathing which could be fertile ground to explore in terms of Kevin’s mental health and the effects of heteronormativity on queer youth. Then there’s Kevin’s relationship with his father and their promise to open-up more. Will they be able to bridge the generational and sexuality divide between them? Oh, and then there’s his ex-boyfriend Joaquin. Will he be back on the scene soon or could Kevin and Moose make a go of things? Only time will tell. But you can bet Betty will be there to let Kevin knows what she thinks, whether he wants it or not.