“Unicorns.” That’s what I called us the summer we fell in love.
My wife and I didn’t know any other couples like us back then: She’s cisgender; I’m transgender. I’m white; she’s a woman of color. We met about a year into my transition, which made me feel seen—like she wanted me, not the person I used to be. In fact, my gender identity was barely a topic for discussion. She just looked at me with dopey adoration all the same.
For six years, I haven’t seen that look anywhere else—until this summer, when I watched the HBO drama Euphoria, which airs its season finale this weekend. There’s a lot about the show that I can’t relate to—I’m an older millennial, not a Gen Z high schooler with a dark secret—but one thing about the show is achingly familiar: The way Zendaya’s character Rue looks at Hunter Schafer’s Jules feels like it was ripped from my memory.
This is the first time I have seen a love onscreen that resembles mine—and it feels so good that I almost wonder if I deserve to witness it. Euphoria is dark, yes, but also tender and beautiful, and at its heart lies a relationship that echoes all of the most cherished and most painful notes of my own early romance.
My wife Corey and I met—as I am fond of telling people—in the elevator of the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Ind., like we were characters in a queer rom-com. She was 21, and I was 26, but there were ways in which I acted like an immature high schooler: When you redo puberty as an adult—especially as a privileged grad student—you can become self-centered, too caught up in your process to notice what’s happening around you.
Just as Jules is blissfully unaware of how deep Rue’s feelings run at first, I didn’t realize that Corey was in love with me until it was painfully obvious. She and I were both visiting the Kinsey Institute from out of state. After our elevator meet-cute, I proposed that we get dinner together, which turned into a night of giddy, delirious, but still platonic fun. Much like with Rue and Jules, our first night ended with us sleeping in the same bed as friends.
I had offered the couch at my rental, but just like Rue invites herself over in the Euphoria premiere, Corey said, “Or I could sleep in the bed with you.”
That night I thought, in my naivete, that we were going to be gal pals—maybe even lifelong ones. Like Jules, I saw a brief flash of “spending the rest of [my] life with her,” both of us in some “shitty New York apartment,” but never imagined us getting married one day.
But that’s where our braided stories diverge: Corey wasn’t in opioid withdrawal like Rue is. And although I was certainly enmeshed in some toxic relationship drama like Jules, I didn’t get myself into a complicated blackmail imbroglio with the captain of the local football team. Euphoria ventures into much grimmer territory than Corey and I have experienced, even with all our past traumas—and we’ve had our fair share.
Hunter Schafer and Zendaya in Euphoria.
But more than any specific plot points, it’s the texture of the romance between Rue and Jules (#Rules) that induces the most nostalgia: the moments they reach out to touch each other’s hair, their laughter at nothing in particular, the way their relationship dances on that high wire between friendship and something more. I’m personally called out by the way in which Jules is a little too in love with her own uniqueness and the attention it brings her. In Rue, Corey sees a reflection of her own attempts to disguise her intense interest in me under a Zendaya-esque layer of chill.
Watching the show together, we often say, “That’s literally me!” or “That’s literally you!”—and that’s something new for us. We’re not used to relating to love stories on TV.
Even as LGBTQ representation has improved and become more widespread, it is still rare to find depictions of transgender women in relationships with cisgender women. On Orange Is the New Black, Laverne Cox’s Sophia had an estranged wife, but spent much of the series alone while other queer characters on the show hooked up with each other and fell into love triangles. FX’s Pose focuses primarily on the complex relationships between men and transgender women of color—but it’s such a groundbreaking and revolutionary show in other respects that it’s hard to complain about something that escapes its focus.
And yet, in a world where disproportionately large percentages of transgender people seem to identify as something other than exclusively heterosexual, we should be seeing those same-sex transgender love stories, too—stories of transgender men in love with cisgender men, transgender women in love with cisgender women, and transgender people of all genders in love with each other.
Before Pose, I had only really witnessed something close to my own story twice: First in Netflix’s Sense8 (#Nomanita) and then in the Emmy-nominated web series Her Story. It’s probably not a coincidence that queer and transgender women created both shows. (The Wachowski sisters made Sense 8, while Her Story was created by Jen Richards and Laura Zak.)
Watching both of those series, I felt validated in the way that any viewer does when they see a story like their own onscreen, professionally written, acted, and scored. But in the past six years, I have also met more couples like us in real life. Although I still like to believe that Corey and I are uncommon, there’s an even greater delight in realizing that your experiences are not as rare as you thought. Women love women by the millions. That includes cis women and trans women in all sorts of glorious configurations.
That realization made media representation less important to me—but then Euphoria came along with all its glossy lushness and swept me off my feet all over again. While watching the show I have often thought, This is what it must feel like to be straight and cisgender—to have the media you consume reify the authenticity of your experience.
Still, I’m aware that I need to be prepared for heartbreak: “I know this isn’t gonna end well,” Rue says near the end of a recent episode, in a gorgeously shot strobing fantasy of her and Jules in bed together, as lovers this time—and she’s right. There’s no way this show will have a happy ending, despite its title. All signs point toward tragedy.
My life, fortunately, went in a different direction: Corey and I got married three years after that first meeting. She’s still a curly-haired goddess, and I’m still the blonde weirdo, but we’ve grown in ways that I suspect some Euphoria characters will never get the chance to.
But whatever the fate of Rue and Jules, they have made us feel a little less alone as they’ve flickered across our screen, fleeting but brilliant. Corey and I are still unique. But we’re not unicorns anymore.
The season finale of Euphoria airs Sunday at 10 p.m. ET.