Waverly Earp: The Lesbian Icon for Women Who Came Out Later

SyFy’s charmingly goofy, weird western Wynonna Earp does a lot of pretty cool things. A gunslinging, trash-mouthed barfly, reluctant heroine surrounded by a cast of mainly female characters for starters. Daring storylines allow those women to be messy and flawed. But on top of the zombie cowboy-killing estrogen power there’s an element the show has been universally lauded for across the board: a well-paced and delightfully told story about a young woman coming out a bit later in life.

In a tale of inherited revenge around the descendants of Wyatt Earp, cursed to hunt down his reanimated enemies, Waverly Earp (Dominque Provost-Chalkey), Wynonna’s (Melanie Scarfano) younger sister is small, mousy, and studious. She’s quick-witted, an encyclopedia of family history and lore, and full of desire to make the world a better place. She’s also incredibly gay, but doesn’t quite know it yet when we meet her.

Wynonna Earp, the TV show, is based on a 1996 graphic novel series of the same name and part of bringing that story to a TV screen was making some modernizing adjustments. Waverly doesn’t exist in the source material, and, obviously, neither does her romance with Officer Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrel), another character inventedfor the TV adaptation. Giving Wynonna a younger sister not only adds a fun dynamic, but allowing this brand new character to flourish the way she has was one of showrunner Emily Andras’s strong suits in this show. Andras’s decision to tell a unique story with Waverly has been lauded. Andras spoke about how she set out to offer a different coming out story than what we’re used to seeing, “I also think there is a story that doesn’t often get told on television, without giving too much away, is that not everyone wakes up at like 12 years old and realizes they’re gay or bisexual or have fluid sexuality.” There’s a place and need for teenagers to come out safely, but we’re a bit starved of stories like Waverly’s, even though they’re so common in the lesbian community.

When we meet Waverly, she’s knee-deep in a long-term relationship with her rocks-for-brains high school sweetheart Champ Hardy (Dylan Koroll). By the end of the first episode, she’s on the receiving end of some charged flirtations from a new cop in town, Nicole Haught. And it gets Waverly thinking. Waverly’s story is that of a woman who has set out to live her life a certain way and under certain expectations in a small, rural town. It’s something a lot of women out there could likely relate to, and it’s one we don’t often get to see: an adult woman realizing something about herself that was never an accessible identity until the moment it presented itself. No hidden makeout sessions under the bleachers or trying to go to prom together. Instead, a grown woman being on the receiving end of an unexpected pass while working your shift at a local bar.

It’s not an instant click either, even if the chemistry in that first scene (which features, I kid you not, a topless Waverly thanks to a janky beer tap). Waverly spends several episodes still navigating her passionless relationship with Champ before she realizes, first and foremost, she needs to dump her crappy boyfriend. It’s not an instant run into Nicole’s arms. In fact, Nicole does a fair amount of pining from afar before Waverly decides to take the leap. It’s not smooth, there’s lots of miscommunication, but it culminates in a well written and beautifully shot scene of Waverly confessing to Nicole that she finally understands goals, dreams, and drives and that winning Nicole’s affection is the goal she wants to achieve.

She also gets to go through the pains of a new relationship. Waverly’s psychotic other sister, Willa (Natalie Krill) isn’t so welcoming of her younger sister’s “butch cop” girlfriend. As Nicole and Waverly’s relationship grows throughout season two and into season three they have disagreements about work, personal betrayals to work through, and differences in the pacing of their relationship. There are communication problems and some secrets. Some of it is a little dramatic, sure, but what it represents is real problems faced in relationships. While not all of us likely have a secret wife we drunkenly married in Vegas, maybe we have kept secrets from our partners. Maybe we’ve been nervous about our own lack of experience as lesbian or bi women with someone else who is more confident in their identity. While not all of us have proposed on the fly to crickets, we have been in a situation where partners are simply in different places, emotionally. It’s a storyline that really takes a page from Buffy‘s book: supernatural horrors and fight scenes can’t compare to how explosive a moment of intimacy can be.

Now, it’s not the only show out there tackling the narrative of delayed coming out for lesbian characters. Supergirl‘s second season featured a coming-out storyline for Kara’s sister who is more mature in years than Waverly. But what I love about this story, in particular, is how natural it feels to have lack of access and simply lack of possibilities lead a woman to not only be in the closet as an adult, but to have no idea of her own orientation until having spent years in a heterosexual relationship. All it can take is something or someone new stumbling into your quiet, rural town and offering a possibility you always wanted but were never able to verbalize or understand. Waverly is also the literal girl next door–cheerleader, beloved by the town, studious and cheerful.

Ultimately, what I’m getting at is: you should watch this show. Who doesn’t want to watch a women-driven western about monster hunting? But it’s also about the importance and beauty of family and romance. The thing that keeps us safe at the end of the day isn’t necessarily a magical gun that kills demons, but rather who is there to hold your hand.