A look back at Alex Danvers' coming out on Supergirl

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Oct 9, 2017, 3:06 PM EDT

I know Alex Danvers. I’ve yet to come across any women in real life who fight aliens for a paramilitary secret spy ring, or whose sisters happen to be alien superheroes, but I’ve come across plenty of Alexes. Or, to be more honest, I’m an Alex.

I remember the day I called my mother last fall, because I knew she watches Supergirl, to tell her that understanding Alex Danvers was the key to understanding me. Just a few months earlier she had struggled to reconcile the way I describe my closeted years when looking back from the happier version of me she seems to remember - the mask I wore. And now, thanks to this TV show, I had something to show her that could say it better than I had tried to.

Sped up for the pacing of television and seasoned with the spice of a superhero action series, Alex’s coming out -- including a gut-wrenching performance from Chyler Leigh -- was an impressively real representation of coming out at a very specific era in one’s life, beyond the dawn of adulthood. Alex embodies the post-teenage, post-college coming out, a coming out when one has rested on our coping mechanisms for so long that we just assume they’re a natural part of our personality.

Most coming out stories in TV tend to revolve around either teenage characters concerned about being social outcasts or losing family support, or older folks whose coming out dismantles their own family after decades of building. Alex represents those of us in the very specific generation for whom the gradual mainstreaming of LGBT identities seemed to land right in the middle of our adolescence. She lives in the space between that trickle of dignity that started to arrive and the shadow of a childhood when it was something we just didn't talk about. The end result of this combination is a specific generation of kids who academically understood that being gay was okay, but just couldn't make that step towards giving ourselves permission to accept who we are. 

For a character who wasn’t originally conceived of as gay, Alex has taken to it amazingly well. It’s a reverse-engineered retcon that snaps right into place. Some of this is directly stated by the character during her process, like her laser-focus on her career because she doesn't want to leave time for something she hasn't given herself permission to have.

As far as unstated changes within her pre-written plots, her mostly-business-but-flirting-with-pleasure date with Peter Facinelli’s Maxwell Lord from the first season takes on a whole new layer. Instead of a “will they, won’t they,” kiss or kill each other plot or a “can she really fall for him or trust him” scenario, those same scenes now play as building blocks. The Alex we see there is a woman who's buried her own ability to pursue love for so long. In those scenes, she has a completely laissez-faire attitude towards putting her dating life out there as just another weapon in her DEO agent arsenal. For Alex in season one, a date is really just another mission.

Not so much for the Alex of season two. Her love for Maggie is entrenched. She has no time for games, no desire to dance around emotions. Out Alex’s earnestness and directness in her relationship betrays her history of being in the closet. As someone who kept herself out of the game most of her life, she doesn’t know the rules and she doesn’t care to. She’s got no interest in keeping a single emotion in check ever again. I see my own overt directness in Alex, the same bluntness about my feelings when I’m pursuing another woman. The only real difference between her and I is that she’s got a love interest who is written to respond to it with something sweeter than an arched eyebrow. Oh, also that whole superhero sister and spy training thing.

Supergirl's third season premieres October 9.

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