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? 

HBO Max

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.

HBO Max

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.