Isak Valtersen, Pride, and Me: How SKAM Changed My Life


*Before you go any further, there are major spoilers for SKAM Season 3, so if you haven’t seen the show, and you want to remain unspoiled, click away*

I was a junior in college sitting in my apartment watching YouTube videos, procrastinating from my work. I saw a clip in my suggestions page, it seemed interesting enough, so I clicked on it. I knew what I was looking at, a clip from a foreign TV show, a teen drama about two young gay guys. Pretty typical. But the way they talked, what they said, the understated emotions between the two characters of Isak (Tarjei Sandvik Moe) and Even (Henrik Holm) was breathtaking. There was no manufactured drama, no over the top emotional outbursts, no sickeningly sweet romanization of the situation.
It looked real.
Sounded real.
Felt real.

In one scene, this show captured my interest. It didn’t force it by trying desperately to make me focus on something over the top. It didn’t push me away by using tropes and stereotypes in the most obvious ways possible. This meant so much to me, to see two characters, two boys, in love with each other. Not simply because they were boys, not because they were the only LGBT people they knew. But because they loved each other as people. They loved how understood they felt, how easy it was to talk to each other, like they had met each other before, long ago, in a parallel universe.
As I went back and watched the beginning of the season, I only grew more in love with their relationship. Sharing a smoke with each other while they talk about their love of 90’s hip-hop, (Even though Isak didn’t even know who Nas was) making terribly disgusting sandwiches, and even Isak blowing off his friends to spend more time with Even.
I became hooked. I had to find the rest of this show. Through tumblr blogs, daily motion videos, and google drive files, I found it, consumed it.

I had never found a fictional character that I related to so much. Scenes in the show may as well have been lifted from my own personal memories. Googling how to not be gay, being completely turned off by grindr. Being angry at my friends, not because they didn’t understand, but because I felt like they couldn’t understand. That fear of asking for help, knowing that I could be risking everything I held close to me in my life.

But It also reminded me of good memories. Joking around with my friends who weren’t afraid to make some digs about me being gay. Feeling accepted, loved, and supported by my friends and family when I came out to them. Lying in bed, smiling like an idiot just thinking about my boyfriend, and how incredible it was that there was someone that I could call my boyfriend.

But the thing that meant so much to me, as a young gay man in college, was seeing these two characters simply be in love with each other. With no stereotypes holding them back, no needless drama to make them more interesting than they really are. In fact it meant so much that when Isak talks to his roommate, Eskild (Carl Martin Eggesbø) about being with Even and how he’s not a “gay gay” who doesn’t “wear tights or mascara”, because “that’s what everyone associates being gay with, and that kind of sucks, for those who aren’t.” I agreed with him. I felt a sense of vindication. As if someone was finally saying what I had been thinking. That I was gay, but I wasn’t a homo like these other gays. I’m not like them, and why should I be?

And then Eskild spoke firmly and poignantly to Isak, and it felt like he was talking directly to me as well. How “those people” that I don’t want to be associated with, they’ve “endured years of harassment, and hate.” They’ve “gone out to fight for the right to be themselves”. They did so because “they’d rather die than pretend to be someone they’re not”, and that before I have gone through something like that, that I shouldn’t be putting myself above Gay Pride.

I wrestled with what Eskild said for months. Because I knew he was right. I felt disconnected from the gay community when I first came out. I wasn’t interested in hooking up through grindr or tinder. I didn’t and still don’t enjoy parties and clubs. I don’t watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. I felt like in order for me to be gay in a way that everyone could recognize me as such, I needed to meet some sort of stereotypical criteria, or I’d lose my “gay card”. But that was wrong. I was wrong. There’s no one right way to be gay. That criteria that I needed to meet? I already met it, by being a gay person.
And at the end of this season, Isak puts this same idea into a broader perspective. When he’s asked if he’s happy he met Even because he was the one who made him certain he liked guys, he agrees, but there’s more to it. He says “It’s mostly because… I lived a fake life before. I’m done with that. Now I want my life to be real. Even though it means it might be fucking terrible at times, it’s way better than a fake, and boring life.” The student became the master. He fully learned Eskild’s lesson and understood the real truth behind his message: You need to be the best version of yourself that you can possibly be, because no one else is going to do it for you. And if that’s not what pride is, then I don’t know what is.
Everything is wrapped up in a beautiful bow at the end when Isak takes the next step toward contentedness in his life and relationship with Even. “Whether you believe in Allah, Jesus, the theory of evolution, or parallel universes, there’s only one thing we all know for sure… That life is now.”

Happy pride 2019, Alt er Love.
-David Faux

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