XO, Kitty: A Look at Gender and Integrating LGBT storylines into traditionally “straight franchises”

XO, Kitty image from Netflix

In May 2023, Netflix released a new series called “XO, Kitty.” Now, I was skeptical at first because it looked like another version of “Emily in Paris” where a girl goes to another country, is lost and confused, and is generally filled with negative attitudes and unnecessary drama.

As someone who has seen all the “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” movies, I felt drawn to start this show. As I dove deeper into the storyline of this series, it became more and more apparent that Netflix had successfully integrated LGBT storylines into a traditionally “straight franchise.” With that being said, let’s dive into the captivating gender storylines within XO, Kitty.

The first red flag of gender norms I noticed in this show was one of the reasons Kitty was going to Korea. Kitty tells her father in episode one that she is going to the Korean Independent School of Seoul (K.I.S.S.) to learn more about her mother and to be with her boyfriend, Dae. Yikes! One thing I know to never do is to make a life decision based on where a partner is. This could be justified as long as her mother is the number one reason for going to K.I.S.S. Additionally, Kitty tells her father that Dae would be her guide and translator. Along with deciding to move countries to be closer to her boyfriend for a year, Kitty plans to depend on Dae for navigation in this journey.

The next gender norm seen in XO, Kitty is the gender norm of Song being a guy’s name, meaning that Kitty is misplaced in the dorming organization. This binary of names fitting genders is similar to the normality in America because there are names that people associate with feminine, masculine, and androgynous people.

Following the storyline in order of when information is revealed to the viewers, in episode three, we find out that Dae’s fake girlfriend, Yuri, is gay and has a girlfriend, Julianna, who is banished from ever seeing Yuri after they were caught “embracing.” This is where LGBT storylines become apparent in this show, alongside Q’s relationship with Florian. The normalization of these relationships within traditionally “straight franchises” is step closer to normalizing LGBT characters in media.

In episode six, Yuri’s mother, Jina, is happy and proud of her daughter for having a boyfriend and getting her life together. This can be contrasted with her Jina’s reaction earlier in the series when she sent Julianna away for being in a possible relationship with Yuri. Jina has these two opposite reactions because her main goal in life is to protect the family image.

Later in the season, Jina’s perfect composure is broken when the K.I.S.S. talent show is ruined. Jina begins sobbing as her husband tells her to “Pull yourself together!” At this point, Jina is done keeping the gender norm of keeping the perfect image of her family and being subordinate to her husband, so she goes to find her adopted son’s father to tell him the truth about their family.

The last example I would like to discuss ties back in with the LGBT storylines in traditionally “straight franchises.” In the last episode, Dae breaks up with Kitty because she has a crush on Yuri. Kitty calls her father in the middle of the night in an emergency to talk to him. Her father immediately thinks that something terrible has happened to her, but when she explains the situation to him (at the same time coming out to him), he responds by saying, “Thank God you’re safe and healthy.” This reaction to her coming out shows that he doesn’t have heteronormative beliefs about his children and will love them no matter who they like.

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