The Role of Popular Culture for Queer Teen Identities’ Formation in Netflix’s Sex Education

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Queer teenagers are avid readers of popular culture; as numerous audience studies prove, television plays a significant role in identity-formation for LGBTIQ+ youth, providing them with the information about sexuality, gender roles or non-normative relationships usually unavailable in their educational and home environments. In this article we analyze how some of the protagonists of Netflix’s TV show Sex Education (2019-present) utilize popular culture as a tool to explore their desires, forbidden fantasies, and gender expressions, becoming instrumental in the formation of their queer identities in a way that metatextually reflects the role LGBTIQ+ shows play for their audiences. Such is the case of Adam, a bisexual teenager that masturbates to the image of a fictional actor featured in a 1980s action film poster; Lily, whose sexual fantasies of role playing with alien creatures are strongly influenced by spatial sci-fi; and Ola, whose onyric universe is influenced by David Bowie’s genderbending aesthetics. However, the most representative example of how popular culture influences the formation of queer identities is Eric, whose non-conforming gender expression follows the example set by the trans characters in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.