With its first season alone, Sex Education went down in the rainbow history books as the gayest teen comedy series of all time. After introducing the instantly iconic flamboyance of Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), who has since been hailed as one of television’s most trailblazing LGBTQIA+ characters, the Netflix mainstay has continued to represent – and educate – viewers with a variety of characters of the queer experience.
From Adam (Connor Swindells) debunking bisexual myths to Ola (Patricia Allison) accepting her pansexuality, as well as Cal (Dua Saleh) flying the trans/non-binary flag, Sex Education has successfully depicted queerness in modern UK. Somehow, the series has released its gayest and most progressive instalment yet with its fourth – and sadly – final season. Following the students of Moordale Secondary School as they transition to Cavendish Sixth Form College, Sex Education continues to break boundaries on the small screen with a popular trio of queers called The Coven, consisting of: Abbi (Anthony Lexa), a trans woman with a penchant for positivity; Roman (Felix Mufti), her transmasculine, fashion-forward partner; and Aisha (Alexandra James), a woman of the Black, LGBTQIA+ and deaf experience with a passion for gossip.
“It’s been crazy exploring that, being one of the first-ever T4T couples shown on the telly,” an excited Felix Mufti tells GAY TIMES over Zoom. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t inflicting gender roles on a T4T couple, to show they break the gender binaries in their relationship.” Alexandra James is feeling celebratory too. With deaf representation lacking in any forms of media, she’s “honoured” to be on a show that will undoubtedly reach people from her respective communities. “I don’t know anyone who’s Black and queer except one person,” she says. “I’m hoping that, when deaf people watch it, they will be comfortable enough to come out.”
Here, Sex Education stars Mufti and James speak exclusively with GAY TIMES about their characters (who are destined to be fan-favourites, just FYI), The Coven’s impact on Cavendish – as well as Eric’s relationship with Otis (Asa Butterfield) – and how they’re creating a new archetype for queer teens in media.
Congratulations to you both on your roles in Sex Education. Can you tell me a little bit about your characters and their journey across the season?
Alexandra: Aisha is deaf, but she doesn’t communicate BSL because she just wants to fit in. She’s embarrassed to show her disability so she relies on lip reading. She struggles with that, but doesn’t show it. Aisha is in a non-monogamous relationship with [fellow student] PK, but… someone has caught her attention.
Felix: Roman is transmasculine and doesn’t conform to gender roles. He’s in touch with his feminine aspects in his makeup and nails – he’s very fashion forward! Roman is in a T4T relationship with Abbi and it’s been crazy exploring that, being one of the first-ever T4T couples shown on the telly. We wanted to make sure we weren’t inflicting gender roles on a T4T couple, to show they break the gender binaries in their relationship. Roman and Abbi aren’t sexually connecting at the start of the season, but we see them become more open with each other. Also, we adopt Eric and help him on his queer journey.
What’s wonderful to see about the T4T romance is that it’s trauma-free…
Felix: It’s joyful. It’s not the tragic trans story that often gets told. As a trans person I’ve seen enough of, “Isn’t being trans so hard?” I think being trans is boss! It’s a blessing to share it with the world in a way that scares the world. Sex Education were so receptive to my journey, insight on gender and how I don’t conform to a cisnormative and heteronormative lens. As a trans person in our industry, it’s always a worry for me that my trauma will be exploited – and that didn’t happen at all. I got to show the best sides of being trans.
And Aisha is one of the few examples of LGBTIQA+, disabled representation we have on screen. Alexandra, have you seen many characters like her on television?
Alexandra: She’s deaf, Black and LGBTQIA+, so no! There’s been a lack of flavour. I don’t know anyone who’s Black and queer except one person. I’m hoping that, when deaf people watch it, they will be comfortable enough to come out.
Were either of you like your characters at school?
Alexandra: Absolutely not. I was not popular at school… Hell no! I was the only deaf person at my school and I didn’t get proper access to what I needed and deserved. Also, I was very involved with the [deaf] community when I was 15, and I don’t think Aisha is. She just really wants to fit in with the hearing world, to not be judged or treated differently because she’s deaf.
Felix: Well, I went to an all-girls school and I came out when I was in Year Eight, which is quite young. I was the only lad, so it’s hard not to stand out! But, people were really accepting and welcoming of my identity and addressed me as Felix and he/him straightaway. I was a bit naughtier than most at school and I’ve always liked to say what’s on my mind. Sometimes that doesn’t fit in a school environment. I wasn’t as cool or as popular as Roman, but I was my own person like he is.
How would you describe Aisha and Felix’s roles in The Coven?
Alexandra: In the real world, she’d be a third wheel. But in The Coven, no one is left out. Aisha is a very independent person and has her own separate friendships with Abbi and Roman. From what I know, they’ve been friends for a long time. They’re not happy with the term “popular” because when you hear that word, you think of mean girls. But, they care about the environment and being kind to people.
Felix: Sometimes, Roman can find himself in the middle of their disputes because they have a lot of inflicting views. Abbi wants to be positive, but Aisha likes to gossip. He’s a mediator, of sorts. He loves them and is the glue that sticks them together.
Although The Coven aren’t feared like cliques we’ve seen in past media such as The Plastics or The Heathers, they still hold a lot of power and influence at Cavendish. Do you think they’re aware of that?
Felix: The students look up to them as three outwardly proud queer people who have accepted themselves in every form. They see them as role models.
Queer people have notoriously been viewed as the “other” in high school depictions, so this really is quite groundbreaking.
Felix: I was like, ‘Whoa, we’re really switching the narrative.’ As queer people, we’re so used to seeing ourselves as the sidekick, best friend, outcast or one who’s bullied. But, we’re not the “other”: we’re at the forefront and we’re the popular ones. It’s not often you see queer people have those roles in a school environment – there weren’t many references to go on. We’re creating our own archetype and that was fun to explore.
The Coven are a huge part of Eric’s storyline this season. Why do you think they’re drawn to him?
Alexandra: It’s all because of Abbi. She is the leader of The Coven, definitely. Abbi and Eric connect through their shared faith.
Felix: And the students of Moordale didn’t accept queerness in the same way we do. When The Coven see Eric, a queer person, we want to help him step into his light. As a watcher of the show, it was great to be part of this narrative of Eric accepting himself.
Their friendship causes a slight rift between Eric and Otis. Can you talk to me about that?
Alexandra: I understand why, but they don’t do it on purpose. When you watch seasons one to three, Eric doesn’t hang out with people who are openly gay. Adam is not open. I don’t think Eric has anyone who is queer, gay or trans that can relate to him. He’s always been surrounded by people who are straight, and that’s what makes him steer the wheel towards The Coven because he feels accepted and wants to explore. Otis accepted him, but Eric wants to be more involved in his community.
Felix: The Coven brings up hard questions like, “Does Otis really understand you? Where you come from?” and that’s hard for their friendship. Eric starts to become more aware of the blocks in their relationship that he’s not consciously thought about before. That was hard as an actor because I love Otis and Eric! Their relationship is one of the most positive things about Sex Education; a straight white cis man having a brotherly relationship with a Black gay man.
I mean, The Coven are definitely responsible for this being the queerest season of Sex Education ever.
Alexandra: You’re right! This is the queerest ever.
Felix: It’s always had such a queer core, especially with Eric being such a loved character, but it’s never had the opportunity to show that outward expression that we all have in the queer community, especially when we’re all together. The queer characters, although they’ve all been there, have always been quite isolated and not had relationships with each other. The Coven are bringing them all together and showing the queer side of Moordale. Like, who knew there was a gay club?
What is your favourite memory from set?
Alexandra: Probably working with Dua Saleh. I got to work closely with them and know them outside of set. That way, it was so much easier for us to bring Aisha and Cal’s chemistry alive.
Felix: The queer club scene. I’m a drag performer and go-go dancer, so queer nightlife is my life. I told that to the director from the start and he was very receptive in creating a realistic screenshot of current queer nightlife in the UK, hiring Queer House Party and a ballroom community. It was special because it goes past acting and a script. It was real people’s experiences coming together on a worldwide platform. Sex Education gets broadcast in countries where being gay is illegal, so it felt like we were creating history. As queer people, our histories, for sure, haven’t been archived. They’ve been forgotten and erased. It felt like we were creating a queer archive and that goes beyond any experience I can ever have as an actor.
Post-Sex Education, what can we expect from you both?
Alexandra: Interesting question. I’m the type of person who likes to try new things. I could play a killer, know what I mean? I’ll be a killer queer. Over the past five years I’ve done a lot of theatre, stand-up comedy and radio and I’m really excited for my future. I’ll show you that I can do it all: watch me.
Felix: I love acting, but I’m also a huge writer. I’ve been working on a play called Be Gay, Do Crime so expect to see that in a few years. I’ve also been focusing on music. I’m launching a band called DLS and we make Scouse techno-rap. The world isn’t ready! My work focuses on pushing the boundaries, and what’s pushing the boundaries more than queer Scouse techno-rap?
The fourth and final season of Sex Education is streaming now on Netflix.