Dangerous Desire: On ‘Killing Eve’ and Finding Space for Queerness in a Straight-Passing Relationship
I recognize myself in Eve’s character because I don’t think Villanelle is just a woman she’s attracted to. Villanelle represents Eve’s queerness in general.
Thisis, a monthly column by Lilly Dancyger on women coded as villains in pop culture, the power in their badness, and how they shaped fans for good.
When my husband and I got married, I was fully aware that I was agreeing to never be with another man ever again. I was fine with that, and I still am. He’s still everything I could want in a man. But because I hadn’t given my sexual identity the consideration it deserved, I failed to really reflect on the fact that this marriage also meant I’d never get to be with a woman again. Or that I’d never get to have a real romantic relationship with a woman—which I realized too late was something I do wish I’d experienced at least once. And no matter how much I love my husband, this is a desire he just can’t fill.
I didn’t feel the need to call my sexuality anything until I had been married for a few years and it became clear that in this monogamous, straight-passing relationship, there was a whole part of my identity that became invisible. Once I realized that the world would see me as straight, and that I’d voluntarily signed up for an arrangement that meant I would never get to further explore this other part of myself—only then did it become important to me to identify as queer and find some other way for that part of me to exist and be seen. I know I’m not alone in this in-between space—there are plenty of queer people in monogamous, long-term relationships with people of the opposite sex who struggle to hold space for their queer selves.
There are people who see this invisibility, the protection of my straight-passing marriage, as a privilege. And I know that in some ways it is—my husband and I are less likely to be rejected by adoption agencies if we were ever to apply, and we won’t be assaulted for holding hands in public. But still, invisibility, being closed off from a part of myself and a community I want so badly to belong to, doesn’t feel like something to be grateful for most of the time.
If I was still single and discovering the new dimensions of my queerness, I would explore them in the most direct way—by going on dates and hooking up with women. I imagine it sometimes, down to the details of what my Tinder profile would say, what kind of woman I would look for, how I would dress on a first date, how we would smile at each other, and the nerves I’d feel trying to differentiate between friendly drinks with an interesting woman and a date that might lead somewhere. The kiss at the end. Naked hips and breasts. I would find my identity as a queer woman in the ways my desire and desirability were reflected back at me by other women. It would be scary, but simple.
But my marriage is monogamous, and the loving, trusting home we’ve built together relies on it remaining that way. So I find other ways to embody my queer identity. For me that’s meant being part of queer communities online, lifting up queer stories as an editor, and finding small ways to make myself visible. Sometimes that feels like enough, and sometimes it doesn’t.
There were times, especially at first, when this part of myself that I realized was bigger and more important than I’d ever considered, felt like a threat. I was happily married, but there was a little voice in my mind, asking what I was missing. Asking if I was really ok with never getting to date a woman. If I could possibly be ok with it for the rest of my life.
I felt hunted; I felt preoccupied and threatened . . . and thrilled. I felt a little bit like Eve Polastri.
I recognize myself in Eve’s character because I don’t think Villanelle is just a woman she’s attracted to. Villanelle represents Eve’s queerness in general. She is queer desire embodied—as it manifests in the life of a woman who is otherwise happily married to a man. Villanelle is an exaggeration of a woman; she’s beautiful, sensual, clever, playful, volatile, exciting. And she’s dangerous. The pull she has on Eve threatens to destroy the life that Eve has built. And Eve welcomes that destruction, even when she’s afraid of it.
I’m hesitant to talk about queer desire as a dangerous thing. It isn’t, inherently. I think queerness, like all (adult, consensual) human sexuality, is beautiful. And I’m aware of the long history of people being shamed and threatened into trying to hide or “overcome” their queerness—religious shame, cultural pressure, family rejection, all leading to depression, isolation, and abuse. This is not that. I don’t want to outrun my queerness. I don’t want to get rid of it or hide it. I don’t think of it as a negative thing—but then Eve didn’t want to see Villanelle as dangerous, either. She tried to find a way to have it all; her hairy husband and her government job—and the wild love that didn’t fit anywhere into her neatly ordered life. I hesitate to talk about queer desire as a dangerous thing, but the truth is that in some cases it can be—at least, it can be dangerous to the order of a life that hasn’t left enough room for it. But sometimes destruction is positive.
I don’t want to outrun my queerness. I don’t want to get rid of it or hide it.
In the last episode of season two, Eve gives in. She lets herself be swept away by Villanelle, running away with her through tunnels, panicked over the murder they’d just committed while Villanelle chatters happily about the life they’ll live together once they escape. They emerge from the tunnels into an abandoned coliseum, confronting the impossibility of their shared fantasy against a dreamlike backdrop that only reinforces the unreality of it all.
What Eve doesn’t know is that while she was wrestling with whether or not to give in to her desire for Villanelle, that desire alone was enough to destroy her marriage, and it was already too late. She was so distracted chasing Villanelle that she barely noticed as her life crumbled around her—her husband left and took up with a coworker, and then Villanelle locked them both in a storage unit, killing the would-be mistress. Eve thinks, in this final scene, that she still has a choice; that she can either go with Villanelle or return to her life. She doesn’t realize that the desire itself, regardless of whether she decides to let it carry her away, has irrevocably changed the shape of her life so that she no longer fits inside of it.
Lilly Dancyger is the author of Negative Space, a reported and illustrated memoir selected by Carmen Maria Machado as one of the winners of the 2019 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards, and the editor of Burn it Down, a critically acclaimed anthology of essays on women's anger from Seal Press. Lilly's writing has been published by Longreads, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, Glamour, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and more. Find her on Twitter here.