This season of Shameless is about various journeys of maturation, most notably of Fiona (Emmy Rossum), who finally has decided to take care of herself before her siblings, and Ian (Cameron Monaghan), who’s discovering the limits of his sexuality.
In Season 7's first couple of episodes, his closed-mindedness and biphobia revealed themselves when he was shocked and disgusted by his boyfriend Caleb’s bisexuality. (Caleb didn’t emerge smelling like roses, though, having tried to use the argument that him sleeping with a woman wasn’t cheating on Ian, which is also pretty biphobic.) The undertone (and overtone) was that Shameless is becoming even more explicit about its depictions of gay and bisexual characters, a topic it’s explored from the beginning, and gets more nuanced as the series goes on. We’ve come a long way from Micky Macklovitch denying and ashamed of his own desires.
On Sunday night’s episode, Ian opened up a little more, and his experience served doubly as a sort of helpful nudge for viewers. While coming home from work, he meets Trevor (Elliot Fletcher), a cute homeless activist who’s in the neighborhood to help out Frank’s homeless shelter (if you haven’t been watching this season, know that Frank is squatting in an empty neighborhood home and opened up a homeless shelter there). Ian and Trevor hit it off and it’s clear they’re about to be a thing, at least until they’re grinding in the club and Ian goes for Trevor’s wang. “Feels good,” Ian says. “Well, it should,” answers Trevor. “It cost me eighty bucks.”
Ian’s moved in more diverse social groups than the rest of the Gallaghers, but his limitations and conservative-via-Frank upbringing show through here, especially. He has no idea what it means to be trans, and initially thinks Trevor means he’s brought a gun to the club before Ian freaks out that it’s a silicone penis. “I’m not a dude with a vagina, asshole,” says Trevor, after an initial patience with Ian’s ignorance. “I’m a dude who doesn’t feel like talking about his genitals to some faggot he just met.”
Ian, rather than getting defensive, apologizes and is honest: “I have no idea what the fuck that even means, all right? Sorry! Seriously, I’m really sorry.” His earnestness works, as does his willingness to learn; later in the episode, Trevor brings Ian to a gathering of several friends from his LGBTQIA center, all of whom identify fluidly in terms of both gender and sexuality, and use various pronouns, which they establish during their introductions. Ian’s open but overwhelmed, and asks Trevor if he can ask a few questions. “Better than to assume you know the answers,” he responds.
The audience here was getting a taste of an education by proxy, but it wasn’t wedged in. Nor did it feel too much like a public service announcement (though there was a tiny, helpful bit of that). What was most heartening about it was how generous the scene, and writing, was—not about frustration or hostility but about openness, particularly with Monaghan’s constantly earnest portrayal of Ian. He fucks up one friend’s “they” pronouns, looks into their eyes and says, “Fuck, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“You’ll get it,” says Trevor. “It’s okay, you’ll get it.”