Our Lives Are Liminal: Queer Love in ‘We Are Who We Are’

Queer love we are who we are
Jordan Kristine Seamón and Jack Dylan Grazer in We Are Who We Are (dir. Luca Guadagnino, 2020). HBO Max.

by Josh Sorensen | February 14, 2021

Note: The gender identity of Jordan Kristine Seamón’s character is never solidified throughout We Are Who We Are. This in mind, the article refers to them by their chosen name, Harper, while using they/them pronouns.

From its opening moments, We Are Who We Are, the 2020 coming-of-age series created by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), makes one thing clear: no matter how close the leads, Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Harper (Jordan Kristine Seamón), grow together, no matter what their dynamic turns into and no matter what we, the audience, want to see, they will not end up together.

Fatalistic as that may sound, it is also broadcasted from the start of their relationship. Neither one of them is searching for romantic fulfillment from the other. Their earliest promise as friends is that they will never kiss, shorthand for never fall in love. They are in a state of transition when they form their connection, midway through defining their identities as queer people. It is not that they are incapable of loving each other and more that they are simply not ready. They have only just begun to discover themselves; their lives are still filled with question marks. Ever-present but never acknowledged is the question of Fraser’s sexuality: is he gay, straight, bi, pan? Harper’s gender-identity is equally up in the air. While they find masculinity alluring, they also seem unwilling to fully commit. Maybe they’re a trans man, maybe they’re non-binary, maybe intergender, they just don’t know yet. Fraser and Harper understand their identities follow unbeaten tracks. All they want from the other is affirmation in their feelings, assurance that their adolescence isn’t taking the “wrong course”, just a different one.

Fraser and Harper are case studies of what literature and gender scholar Kathryn Bond calls the “queer temporality.” The queer temporality, as she discusses in her book The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century, is the phenomenon where queer teenagers are excluded from the process of growing up because the markers used to signify adolescent development are inherently heteronormative. High school sweethearts, marriage, and starting a family do not graft onto the queer experience easily, and heteronormativity leaves no space for someone like Harper to question their gender identity or someone like Fraser to question their sexuality. Queer teenagers are inherently liminal beings and must find their own way of measuring development, find their own way of growing up.

The setting of We Are Who We Are literalizes the queer adolescent experience Bond describes. Liminal spaces are prevalent throughout the series. The base where they live, for instance, is both American and Italian, military and civilian, free to roam and yet totally regimented. Every episode has the same title ‘Right Here, Right Now’. On one level, the title can be read as indicative of the brand of adolescence the show is trying to portray — reckless and carefree, dedicated to the pursuit of the moment. From a queer point of view, however, the title takes on a different meaning. ‘Right Here, Right Now’ describes Fraser and Harper perfectly. They are both in transitory states, caught between the person they thought they were and the person they might be becoming, with no support or guidance available save for what little they find in each other.

When they are alone, Fraser and Harper are at their most comfortable. One scene finds the pair laying face up in a boat, drifting aimlessly downriver. Fraser is reading a book of poetry. Harper interrupts him to ask why he would choose to read poetry on a hot day when he could dive into the cool water? 

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Fraser, snappish, replies, “The same reason I hate your clothing.” She wears fast fashion, he cultivates outfits, “I’m looking for something that means something. It’s the same with poetry. Every word means something.”

The exchange is pointed, but not mean-spirited. They are both genuinely trying to understand one another and their worldviews. Their relationship is often oxymoronic, and most outsiders — Harper’s friends especially — don’t understand it at all. But there is an internal logic to their dynamic. Harper challenges Fraser’s worldview, forcing him to look inwards. And Fraser opens doors for Harper,giving them the tools and vocabulary to express themselves. The same Fraser who verbally puts down Harper about their fashion also spends the duration of the series sending them packages of men’s clothes. In one scene he explains the concept of transgenderism. Harper is first confused, and then when they understand what Fraser is saying, and how it might apply to their identity, wide-eyed. 

Throughout the series, their dynamic oscillates between modes — platonic and sexual, amatory and selfless — without committing to any. What they have is all those things; what they have is none of those things. It is, in the truest sense of the word, queer.

In the final episode, outside a Blood Orange concert, Harper shouts into the night: “Harper doesn’t exist, the two of us, we don’t exist. I mean, it’s ok … Maybe nothing exists. Like Sam or the base, or our parent’s and that’s ok. We don’t exist!”

“So, fuck off!” Fraser punctuates.

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As the night progresses, and Fraser and Harper begin to drift apart, the former enamoured with an Italian boy, the latter flirting with a bartender at the concert. Alone, they explore new dimensions of their personhood, using the liminal space of the concert to slip from one version of themselves to the next. And yet, even as Fraser and Harper metamorphose, growing further and further apart in their journeys of self-discovery, they find themselves looking to one another: for support, for validation, for acceptance. That’s why the series’ last sequence — a pitch-perfect Hollywood finale, complete with Fraser sprinting to tell Harper how he really feels about them — climaxes with them breaking their promise and kissing.

The kiss has no exact value as an expression of love. It could be platonic, or romantic, or both, or neither. Their entire dynamic was built on the understanding that they are liminal beings. The person they were yesterday is not the same as the person they are today and probably won’t be the same as the person they are tomorrow. Implicit was the understanding they might one day outgrow each other.

The kiss, then, is not a declaration of something eternal between them, but rather a monument to the moment. Fraser holds Harper; Harper holds Fraser; through touch they prove to one another that right here, right now they exist.

Years from now, when Fraser and Harper are older and know exactly who they are, they might recall that moment and think: they loved the me I was then, and they loved the me I would become.


Josh Sorensen is a writer and student from Wollongong, Australia. He writes a column on literary adaptations for Film Inquiry, and has appeared in Kill Your Darlings, Overland, and Screen Queens. You can follow him on Twitter @namebrandjosh.

We Are Who We Are and Unconditional Acceptance

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We Are Who We Are, Right Here Right Now #3 (2020) dir. Luca Guadagnino. HBO.

by McKinzie Smith | October 15, 2020

Luca Guadagnino’s newest venture We Are Who We Are may best be understood as an expansion upon his previous work (I Am Love [2009], A Bigger Splash [2015] and Call Me By Your Name [2018], also known as the ‘Desire Trilogy’). Set on an Italian military base, the HBO mini-series follows the American teenagers whose lives have always revolved around their parent’s active duty. They act out by fighting with their families and going on all night binges around the town of Chioggia. Though it is very much an ensemble piece, the emotional gravity centers itself around Fraser (Jack Dylan Glazer) and Caitlin’s (Jordan Kristine Seamón) burgeoning connection. This friendship (or maybe more) is exemplary of the depths of youthful intimacy that the show evokes so well. Both kids are in a stage of questioning; Fraser is grappling with a crush on an older soldier, while Caitlin is drawn to a more masculine gender presentation. Neither is sure about what they want out of life yet, but this is what makes their relationship all the more interesting: They push each other to figure it out. 

The series starts with two individual episodes each introducing Fraser Wilson and Caitlin Poythress. In episode 3, “Right Here, Right Now III,” we are granted a closer look at Fraser and Caitlin’s friendship and life on base. As neighbors and friends, they spend their afternoons drifting on the water in Caitlin’s small family boat or going online in Fraser’s sparse bedroom. It is in these conversations that they edge at potentially precarious topics. Boredom leads to realization as they look at photos of a trans man and contemplate the meaning of gender itself. 

“So, transgender is like, you change your name, change your face and your body, everything?” asks Caitlin. 

“No, I… We were told for ages that we were either males or females, okay? And that was that. Males would do certain things and females would do certain things, end of story. Transgender means that you can just — you can just cut the bullshit.”

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Caitlin and Fraser in ‘Right Here Right Now III’.

Fraser has given this more thought than Caitlin, but the weight of it seems to settle on her. She asks to touch Fraser’s stubbly boy beard and he begrudgingly accepts. She’s fascinated. Understanding implicitly what her desire is, he leads her to the bathroom and applies shaving cream to her face. Fraser walks her through the steps of shaving, just as his step-mother did to him. He nurtures her interest in manhood, even as they scramble to hide it when Fraser’s mom comes knocking on the bathroom door. For now, this rush is theirs alone. 

With only four episodes having aired, it’s hard to tell where Caitlin’s journey will take her. Perhaps she will make the choice to transition, or perhaps not. What matters right now is the exploration made possible in the safety of Fraser’s presence. This is an experience that can often feel unique to childhood; the unconditional acceptance granted by someone just as confused as you are. When your parents are ultimately in control, connection with other young people can be a beacon toward the you that you wish to be. You figure it out together, one step at a time, even when it feels dangerous or uncertain. 

This dynamic isn’t one-sided, though. Later in the episode, Caitlin and Fraser attend a local festival where they run into their peers and superiors. As they sit on a bench and listen to music, Caitlin brings up Fraser’s eye for an older soldier, Jonathan (Tom Mercier). At first, he pushes back, assuming that Caitlin only thinks he’s gay because his mom is a lesbian.

“Just ‘cause my mom’s a lesbian doesn’t mean that I’m gay,” he asserts.

“You don’t have to not be gay, either.” 

Fraser seems taken aback by this and, for once, doesn’t talk back. She has given him the green light to think about his sexuality in a way unmoored from parental and societal expectations. For kids watching the show, this moment could prove as a catalyst for further introspection. 

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Fraser and Caitlin explore their identities together.

Much of We Are Who We Are is hard to watch. Fraser and his mother have an abusive relationship, Caitlin’s father is a Trump supporter, and many of the romantic relationships among the younger cast are decidedly unhealthy. However, these elements make the friendship between Fraser and Caitlin all the more compelling. If they’re able to be each other’s saving grace, then it follows that real kids at home experiencing similar circumstances can do the same for their friends. The negative forces in their life do not have to define them. Do we always have to create lives for ourselves based on what others expect? Wouldn’t it be more freeing to figure it out on our own terms, with the people who grant us the grace to do so?

This is ultimately what appears to be the show’s thesis statement. If we truly are who we are, we must figure out exactly who that is. This is a process of becoming, one that begins in adolescence but never actually stops. What Fraser and Caitlin have may set them up positively for genuine experimentation and understanding of themselves. It is a blueprint for how young people can help each other grow into who they need to be. To watch two kids grant one another such unconditional acceptance is a wonderful thing to watch and I’m very intrigued to see where Guadagnino takes us from here.


McKinzie Smith (she/her) is a Film Studies graduate from Portland, Oregon. She loves French films, french fries, and her french bulldogs. Follow her on Twitter (@notmckinzie).