American Gods’ unwavering, honest depiction of gay sex is one of its finest moments

Starz

Thanks to networks like HBO and Showtime, we’ve gotten used to seeing explicit sex scenes depicted almost weekly on television. We’ve grown more comfortable with the stereotypical approach to the scene; we know what’s going to happen. The sense of eroticism associated with the forbidden has all but disappeared. Sex has become normal on television and the shock factor that was once so heavily associated with it on series like Sex and the City isn’t there.

Outside of series like Queer as Folk and The L Word, which have been criticized for their over-the-top depiction of gay and lesbian relationships, genuine, on-screen and explicit relationships between people of the same sex have been rare. The question is how do showrunners tackle showcasing genuine stories about queer couples in a way that don’t feel like a group of people are being fetishized or exploited?

If you’re Bryan Fuller and trying to depict a memorable gay love scene in American Gods, the answer is relatively simple: Put yourself behind the camera, because you know what you’re talking about. The scene in question occurs during an interlude that introduces Salim (Omad Abtahi) to viewers. After having a rough day in New York City, Salim’s luck changes when a cab being driven by Ifrit (Mousa Kraish), who is one of the most powerful supernatural figures in Islamic mythology, picks him up.

Through their mutual ranting about New York City and the disregard people have for their culture, they wind up becoming closer than either thought would happen. Ifrit invites Salim back to his hotel room and, after some tentative hand holding in the elevator, the two engage in the most explicit gay sex scene television has yet seen.

Though it ends with a rather memorable moment, the encounter never feels excessive. The relationship between the two men doesn’t feel like it has been fetishized for a specific audience or commercialized as a way of selling a show to viewers. I didn’t choose to write about the scene because it was surreal or odd; I wrote about it because it was a lesson in how to showcase the romance between two men on television without having to worry about being censored for a more “mainstream” audience.

The scene in question lasts four minutes. Fuller doesn’t shy away from the material author Neil Gaiman provides in his book, but rather expands upon it. The only restrictions he faces are imposed by network executives; fully erect penises can be shown, but it can’t be pornographic. Fuller is making a statement about what sex between two men can look like on television in an era when we, as an audience, have already embraced heteronormative sex without question. The only thing Fuller suggests with the scene is asking why it’s taken so long to get to this point.

“We felt like the djinn, in this romantic gesture, wanted to give him a more intimate sexual experience,” Fuller told Vulture. “We wanted it to be incredibly visual and gorgeous.

“We wanted those things not to be lurid, but to be beautiful and captivating and for heterosexuals to watch the love scene between these two men and not go ‘Ew,’ but go, ‘That’s gorgeous.’”

Fuller, himself a gay man, added that he wanted to make people comfortable with seeing two men love each other — and that meant ensuring certain things were realistic. There were logistical questions that arose when Fuller was choreographing the scene that never came up with Gaiman’s text. Fuller wanted to be able to show both the network and audiences that, like straight sex, gay sex could be depicted honestly and correctly.

Both Fuller and the two actors wanted viewers to see a strong and authentic love between the two characters. “Sex scene aside, just seeing two Middle Eastern men represented in that way—with humor and love and joy … It’s taken me 11 years to get to that,” Mousa Kraish said at a GLAAD conference last week, as reported by Buzzfeed.

This scene may be the most talked-about moment in American Gods for as long as the series is still on the air, and for good reason. But unlike scenes in Westworld or Game of Thrones, we shouldn’t fetishize the content. Instead, we should take its courageous stance, to demonstrate love between two men in the explicit manner that hundreds of heterosexual couples have received before it, and applaud Fuller and his co-showrunner, Michael Green, for doing an incredible job with it.

American Gods is a series that has a lot to say about queer relationships, racism, sexism and a plethora of other topics. It’s quickly becoming one of the most important shows on television and this scene will act as a constant reminder of why that is.

American Gods airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.

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