“How to Get Away with Murder” Gay Sex Scenes Making You Squeamish?

I’m having a confounding reaction as a gay man watching How to Get Away with Murder. The frequent intense sex scenes involving gay law student Connor are making me squeamish. Now as the editor of a website focused on gay representation in pop culture, I should be thrilled that a hit show on broadcast television is really “going there”… and with regularity. And there’s no denying that the guy playing Connor, actor Jack Falahee is easy on the eyes. But I find myself cringing when his onscreen conquests say things like “he did this thing to my ass that made my eyes water.”

What, did he stick an onion up there or something?

I know many people love the series and I’m probably going to get a lot of pushback on this. I’m not trying to say my gut reaction is the right one. The purpose of this post is just to be honest about it, maybe work out what’s causing my “eww” reaction– and also ask if any of our readers are having a similar response.

Theories as to why HTGAWM is making me squeamish….

1. The gay sex scenes are only there for shock value

Creator Peter Nowalk recently told E! Online that he “wanted to push the envelope, especially with the gay sex.” He has succeeded in doing that. For instance, the show’s pilot had an extended sex scene involving Connor– and a rim job was clearly implied. That’s something Russell T Davies pulled off with the first episode of the original British version of Queer As Folk — but as far as I’m aware, no American series — broadcast or cable — has ever tossed a gay salad before. It certainly was memorable, the kind of thing people talk about around the water cooler, but it also felt a little craven. Maybe my unease with the show is that, so far, it depicts gay intimacy as something shocking rather than natural and universally relate-able.

How to Get Away with Murder and other Shonda Rhimes shows are definitely unsettling conservative viewers with gay content. Which may be a great thing– but less of a great thing when it inadvertently reinforces the stereotype that gay men are hyper-sexual creatures.

Last night, Rhimes got into it on Twitter with a woman who really wants the gays out of Shondaland.

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Rhimes’ response was swift, powerful and heartwarming–  if you take it as a given that her Twitter complainer is just a homophobic bigot.

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But does the person complaining have a valid (or at least debatable) point? What if she isn’t a homophobe, has no problem with gay characters or storylines, but simply doesn’t appreciate gay sex held up for shock value. In which case, she might just be making a fair critique when it comes to How to Get Away with Murder.

Okay, I admit that’s probably a stretch and the woman really is just a bigot.

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2. The excessive focus on Connor’s love life throws the show out of whack.

Where are the scenes of the other, hetero law students having graphic encounters? If you quantified the amount of sex depicted on the show so far it might run around 80% gay / 20% straight. (Viola Davis’ Annalise has had one memorable moment with her police detective lover and guest star Elizabeth Perkins got a sex tape last week, but other than that the onscreen sex has been reserved for Connor.)  That does seem to be an imbalance given that Connor is just one guy in an ensemble cast. There’s no denying that actor Jack Falahee is sexy as hell, but I wouldn’t mind seeing co-stars Charlie Weber, Alfred Enoch and Matt McGorry getting some action too– of any variety.

sexygif1Nowalk has said, “writing some real gay sex into a network show is to right the wrong of all of the straight sex that you see on TV.” If the gay sex on HTGAWM really is to counterbalance all the straight sex on broadcast television, then that’s admirable and feels only fair– since sex scenes on TV are overwhelmingly hetero and gay scenes of intimacy are rare and generally more implied than seen. The problem is, HTGAWM viewers (myself included) are looking through a narrower lens of just the universe of the show itself – not all of TV. When considered that way, it does feel out of whack.

The remedy for the lack of gay representation in television maybe isn’t to load it up all in one series. Can’t we spread it out a bit? Having so much Connor action in HTGAWM and so little everywhere else on the TV dial feels a little like gay gerrymandering.

 

Next page… Internalized homophobia or just plain unpleasant characters?

 

 3. The gay sex scenes are unpleasant because the characters are unpleasant.

Strip away the titillating gay sex and HTGAWM can be a slog to watch. Like all Shonda Rhimes productions, it certainly is slick and has some amazing set pieces. Case in point, last week’s scene where Annalise strips off her makeup and wig and then asks her husband “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?” Brilliant. An exquisitely memorable moment. But the characters are, at this point at least, almost uniformly unlikeable and worse, unbearably strident. (Please flashback gods, don’t make me sit through Connor manically braying “Don we now our gay apparel!” ever again.)

sexygif2The scenes of gay intimacy would be so much more welcome if they involved characters you really cared about. For instance, imagine Brothers & Sisters if Kevin & Scotty had gotten the type of action Connor is getting. My colleague snicks says he’s been “patiently waiting for Glee’s Blaine to say ’Kurt did this thing to my ass that made my eyes water’ for years!”

To be fair, How to Get Away With Murder is only four episodes in. The characters will surely develop. Maybe we’ll come to love Connor and better understand why he is the way he is, and then we’ll be cheering him on in his love life.

But right now he’s just a smarmy, oversexed sh*t.

4. Internalized homophobia

Here’s my final theory for why HTGAWM’s gay sex scenes make me squeamish: Maybe for the same reasons holding hands in public feels forced or awkward to me. I’m just too focused on and unnerved by who is watching. More conservative audiences are certainly going to have a negative reaction to suggestively graphic gay sex on broadcast television. I’m seeing it through their eyes and internalizing their response.

In which case, I’m the first to admit that I really need to get over it.

 

I would love to hear from our readers about their reactions to How to Get Away with Murder. Please sound off in the comments.