Very OnlineWhy Are “Euphoria” Viewers So Desperate to Paint Jules as the Villain?

Hunter Schafer as Jules. Screenshot from Euphoria S1 E1, "Pilot." (Photo credit: HBO)

Recently, a trend exploded on Twitter in which users reveal the “real” villains on their favorite TV shows and movies. Though Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) is treated as the villain on SpongeBob Squarepants, we should really be talking about Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) being a staunch proponent of capitalism and monopolizing the food market in Bikini Bottom. If you’ve always thought Isis (Gabrielle Union), the leader of the Compton Clovers, is Bring it On’s villain, then you’re completely overlooking Torrance’s (Kirsten Dunst) complicity in appropriation and anti-Blackness. But as the entertaining proposed villain versus real villain trend has continued, one unexpected pairing popped up: A now-deleted tweet from @blondedtre presented Nate (Jacob Elordi) as Euphoria’s proposed villain and Jules (Hunter Shafer), one of the only transgender characters on TV, as the show’s true villain.

After @blondedtre’s tweet received more than 5,000 retweets, a number of subsequent tweets suggested that Jules has always been Euphoria’s villain because she’s so manipulative and toxic, particularly toward the show’s protagonist Rue (Zendaya). Though HBO’s breakout teen drama revolves around the complex and layered lives of a cast of high schoolers, Rue and Jules’s relationship drives the narrative. Jules immediately catches Rue’s eye when she moves to town, primarily because Rue needs a friend after alienating her classmates in the midst of her drug addiction. Jules comes into town—and into Rue’s life—after Rue’s been released from rehab following a drug overdose, so they latch onto one another. They’re both flawed, struggling, and in some ways, lost, so it makes sense that they become quick friends, bonding during sleepovers over their shared feeling of being excluded and being judged—Rue for her addiction, Jules for being trans—by their classmates and their families.

Jules has struggled with gender dysphoria and depression, and she distracts herself from her pain by hooking up with older, married men who she meets online. These are terrifying endeavors that often involve Jules meeting these strangers in hotel rooms, and as the show progresses, her risqué approach to sex becomes more and more concerning. The show also pits Jules’s preference for horrible, unavailable, and abusive men against Rue developing romantic feelings for Jules. When Rue expresses that she doesn’t just love Jules as a friend, it puts Jules finds in a tricky spot because she cares deeply for her best friend—“I hate everyone else in this world but you,” Jules tells Rue—but she’s also attracted to Nate, their school’s quintessential jock.

There’s no doubt that Nate is the show’s villain: He’s a wealthy, white, cool kid who’s the quarterback of the school’s football team and wields his social cachet to target and harass students who he considers beneath him. Nate also abuses, manipulates, and stalks his girlfriend, Maddy (Alexa Demie), and is transphobic toward Jules, though he doesn’t initially realize that Jules is in a sexual relationship with his father. Nate hates Jules: In the pilot episode, he approaches her at a party, corners her, and saysi, “Nobody that looks like you is minding their own fuckin’ business. I know what you are. Yeah. Yeah, I see you. So what do you want? You want some, some fucking attention? ‘Cause I’ll give you some fucking attention.”

The desire and the desperate need to map evil onto Jules says more about those who seek out a reason to hate her than it does about her character.

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Nate’s the epitome of a teenaged misogynist, leading Entertainment Weekly to name him “the most terrifying, and realistic, villain on TV,” and he requires all of the men around him to be just as sexist and violent as he is. Eventually, his transphobia leads him to devise a plot to manipulate Jules: He catfishes her to become her love interest, and, it’s not until they meet in person that Jules realizes who Nate really is. During their meeting, Nate threatens Jules, saying that if she didn’t “keep her head down [and] mouth shut” he would report her to the police for sending him nudes, which is technically child pornography since Jules is a minor. There’s no reason for Nate to threaten Jules, but he does it because he knows he can.

Though Jules is a flawed character—as all the characters on Euphoria are—there’s no way to conclude that she’s the show’s real villain, especially when she’s compared to Nate. If anything, declaring her the villain only reinforces the rampant discomfort viewers have with seeing trans people onscreen. The transphobic hate toward Jules got so bad in some Reddit threads about Euphoria that some users made posts demanding that the hatred stop being posted. The r/GenderCritical subreddit, which was deleted this month due to its transphobia, especially hated Jules (and her relationship with Rue). Jules is a teenager and she behaves like one. She makes rash decisions; she falls for the wrong people; and, she sometimes manipulates the people in her orbit, including Rue. She breaks Rue’s heart time and time again, but cis, straight teens break one another’s hearts all the time. Trans teens shouldn’t be held to an impossible standard of being morally perfect angels to be considered realistic. The desire and the desperate need to map evil onto Jules says more about those who so seek out a reason to hate her than it does about her character. Schafer spoke to this in a 2019 interview with Variety. “There need to be more roles where trans people aren’t just dealing with being trans; they’re being trans while dealing with other issues,” she said. “We’re so much more complex than just one identity.”

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Schafer herself has been involved in broader fights to dismantle transphobia, particularly in policies. She was one of the plaintiffs in the American with Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against North Carolina to end HB2, a state statute passed in 2016 that required people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate. (The bill was ultimately repealed in 2017.) “I was in a place of privilege in my transition and felt like I could handle making myself visible in order to help my state understand why what they were doing was detrimental to my community,” Schafer told Variety in 2019.

Jules is a game-changing character for myriad reasons. As Serena Sonoma captured in a 2019 piece for Teen Vogue, the character resonates with trans teens because they not only saw themselves in her, but they recognized that they could be as complex and complicated as every other teen without being wholly alienated. One teen Sonoma spoke to said that she appreciated how Jules was granted “so much love and empathy,” even within her complicated relationship with Rue. Despite the gains that have been made for trans representation, as this conversation about Jules as a villain has shown, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Transphobia is still a standard in Hollywood and trans people are still fighting for layered roles. (Just this week, Halle Berry had to be shamed out of accepting a trans role.) But it also reinforces the importance of Euphoria: All of us need to see more trans characters and a yearning to paint trans characters as villains does little more than lean into the harmful stereotypes we’ve seen onscreen that paint trans characters, and trans people, as master manipulators.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to remove a culturally appropriative phrase. [July 22 at 3:36 PST.]

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by Rachel Charlene Lewis
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Rachel Charlene Lewis is the Senior Editor at Bitch. She has written about culture, identity, and the internet for publications including i-D, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Greatist, Glamour, Autostraddle, Ravishly, SELF, StyleCaster, The Frisky (RIP), The Mary Sue, and elsewhere. Her literary work, reviews, and interviews have been published in Catapult, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Normal School, Publisher’s Weekly, The Offing, and in several other magazines. She is on Twitter and Instagram, always.