Black Sails is a television show about queer wrath, and if you weren’t already aware of this fact, I can only assume you haven’t watched it yet. Beware: this post will include spoilers for all four seasons of the best television show ever made (in my entirely correct opinion).
So, queer wrath. We are introduced to our protagonist, Captain James Flint, as a man set against England and civilization. He wants to establish a self-sustaining pirate community in Nassau, and he will hunt ships and steal gold to make his vision a reality. It’s all very stereotypically pirate until season two reveals his motivation. James McGraw (his name before he became an infamous pirate) was in love with an English nobleman. When their relationship was discovered, James was exiled and his lover Thomas was sent to an asylum, where he died(ish – unbury your gays!). To avenge his loss and to rage against this supposed “civilized” decision, Captain Flint became the terror we initially met in season one.
I think it is appropriate to stop for a second and think about how incredible it is that we were given a prestige television show about a queer man (fans read him as either bisexual or gay) who is powerful, angry, and righteous. Black Sails, man. Watch it!
By season 4, Flint has tempered his personal injustice with a broader awareness of the oppression that “civilized” England forces upon multiple oppressed groups, including the African men and women who have escaped slavery and have now joined his fight against English rule. He has lost more loved ones, gained new allies, and dare I say, become wise. In the final episode of the show, he describes the problem with civilization and the freedom that comes from stepping away from its rules. It is a beautiful speech, and it changed my life.
“They paint the world full of shadows and then tell their children to stay close to the light. Their light, their reason, their judgements, because in the darkness there be dragons. But it isn’t true. We can prove that it isn’t true. In the dark, there is discovery, there is possibility, there is freedom in the dark when someone has illuminated it. And who has been so close as we are right now?”Captain James Flint, Black Sails season 4 episode 10 XXXVIII
Every time I watch this scene or read these words, they hit a little deeper. I have shared my story on this blog before, but the important thing to know is that I grew up evangelical and happy to follow all of its rules. The imagery Flint uses is especially poignant, since Christians are fond of using “light” metaphors to describe being close to God and therefore “safe.” Anything beyond the behavioural limits described in the Bible was considered not only sinful but dangerous. Outside of God’s protection, there be dragons! I was constantly told that non-Christians were to be pitied because their lives were empty (oh man, admitting this is causing me so much embarrassment); they were all seeking corrupted pleasures to fill the void that was the lack of God in their life.
One of the most significant light/dark dichotomies was, obviously, sexuality. Christians approved of lifelong monogamous heterosexuality within the context of marriage, and…nothing else. But practically, this strict boundary was made flexible for several culturally accepted sins like remarriage or sex before marriage (as long as you felt bad about it). The things that were truly sinful were any sexual act that wasn’t heterosexual or monogamous. I was warned against these my entire life, or as Flint says, “They paint the world full of shadows and then tell their children to stay close to the light. Their light, their reason, their judgements, because in the darkness there be dragons.“
It is easy to maintain this worldview if you stay inside the evangelical bubble. Although I pushed against my upbringing in many ways, it wasn’t until I moved to Vancouver and became a part of friend groups who were not Christians that I truly experienced stepping into the “darkness”…and realizing it wasn’t dark at all. I found people who created community, who thought deeply about the world and who cared about helping those who needed help.
I was surrounded by queer couples who were married, partnered, and dating. I found myself in a queer relationship, and the thing I noticed was that they were fundamentally the same as the monogamous heterosexual couples I’d grown up with. Yes, there were couples who struggled in a variety of ways, but there were those in the church that raised me too. Overall, though, I found the same love, the same care, the same devotion. In fact, in many ways, queer couples seemed healthier than the ones I grew up around – the mutual submission I defended in seminary against complementarians was suddenly expected. When gender roles cannot be assumed, conversations about family roles, desires, and strengths become the norm. As Flint says, “In the darkness there be dragons. But it isn’t true. We can prove that it isn’t true. In the dark, there is discovery, there is possibility, there is freedom in the dark when someone has illuminated it.“
This is my small attempt to illuminate the darkness. To tell those who create their own stories of light and dark that the things they fear so much are not actually scary. In fact, I think evangelicals could learn a lot from the queer community! And honestly, I think the queer community can also learn from evangelicals. When we create lines that separate, we lose the ability to learn from those who see things differently from ourselves and can offer a perspective that reveals something new and important for our own lives.
Let’s follow Flint’s lead and illuminate the dark spaces that people create out of fear, hate, and ignorance. It’s Pride Month, baby, so let’s be proud of the dragons we are, even when it turns out we’re people like everyone else.