We all know Kevin Keller, the very handsome gay man on Riverdale who just wants to be loved. Even though Kevin emerges as a relatively strong character in the show's first season, he kind of ends up standing to the side as the problems surrounding Archie, Veronica, Archie's abs, Betty, and Jason Blossom's murder take center stage. Sure, Kevin has his boyfriend Joaquin, and he's definitely, like, there. But by the time we reach the season one finale, and even after the season two premiere, I still couldn't help feeling like he's more or less faded into the background.
In the second episode of season two, that changes. Kevin gets something to do. Fresh off his breakup from Joaquin, Kevin is just like every other teenager: heartbroken and horny. It's tough for a small-town gay kid to immerse himself into the dating world. So, Kevin starts to cruise in the woods near town. He goes out after dark and finds other thirsty men who will hopefully satisfy his needs.
Kevin's cruising is a strong choice for the show. Here's why I'm excited:
- It gives Kevin a actual storyline and a substantial opportunity for him to grow as a character.
- As Betty gets involved, it adds love and tension to their friendship, which was previously one-dimensional.
- Betty's reaction gives the show an opportunity to shed light on the slut-shaming sexually active gay men face every day.
- It's cool to see a teen show that goes there. This isn't just about representation; the story is actually educating a younger audience on an aspect of gay culture they might not have known about.
- It puts Kevin in danger! There's a murderer on loose, so going into the woods and meeting strangers after dark makes us worry about him in a way we haven't before.
- It sheds light on the reality many gay men face in small towns. Large urban cities might have plenty of options and a large selection of out gay men, but there are rural towns all over the country where few (if any) people are comfortable being openly homosexual.
Suffice it to say, Kevin suddenly has a lot more going for him. It's great to see him stepping into a meatier role in season two. It's great to see that he doesn't just get a cool boyfriend with a gay happily every after. There are stakes. He's not dead (yet). There are things to contend with. I can see how good this is! And yet, at the same time, Kevin's storyline worries me. Here's why:
- Even though it hasn't happened yet, there's a risk that Kevin will be boiled down to his sexuality and his libido. Right now, this is a huge aspect of his character. When it comes to gay characters, I want to see more than their sexual behavior. Is there any lingering struggle with his identity? Is his dad totally cool with it? Is he keeping up in school? Is he depressed? Yes, sex is one crucial aspect of a gay teenager's life. I'm hoping Kevin's journey becomes more nuanced over time.
- The cruising reinforces the idea that gay men are reckless with sex. Riverdale is 100 percent trying to work with the stigma. That's Betty's purpose in this context. At the same time, though, I don't know! Something irks me about this. I realize it's a reality for many gay men, but I resent that Kevin, the one gay character on the show, is the one who's being irresponsible with sex.
- I'm worried it won't be educational enough. Sure, Kevin is schooling Betty on how he's owning his sexual agency and how he can engage in as much consensual gay sex as he wants. Which is true. I do hope Riverdale can educate young gay men (and women) about sexual safety and other dangerous stigmas surrounding sex, though, including consent. I'm not sure it's enough just to bring these things up. It would be best if there was a message involved.
It's clear, at this point, there are more pros than cons when it comes to Kevin's sexual activity. And I'm not automatically opposed to a gay character who's keen on immersing himself in the community's anonymous hook-up culture. I will say, though, that Riverdale may be walking a tightrope. In a case like this, it's pretty easy to lose your balance.