Whoever thought we would be doing this again?
#BerenaDeservedBetter was born out of anger and rage at a storyline that promised representation and degenerated into… Well, we all saw the result. We thought Berena deserved better than it got. Looking back, we were probably quite bloody-minded about it. It mattered. It still does. We needed to take that hurt and harm and redirect it away from ourselves rather than internalise it. That way leads to so many of our LGBTQIA+ community taking their own lives. But sometimes the reasons we do things, or why an idea takes hold in us, are complicated and ill-defined and we cannot articulate them or understand them. But these reasons are still important. They are still our reasons.
The anger and rage I felt over Berena dissipated a long time ago. Life has happened, these past three years, as life does. Catherine Russell left Holby City. The world learnt of a new virus called Covid-19. Cameron Dunn descended into evil mayhem. The BBC announced the end of Holby. Simon Harper moved on as executive producer. Nine months ago – not that long a time in TV land.
What was left was… A space. A small, empty hole in my heart that life grew around but never filled. Like most Berena fans, I held my breath over these three episodes of Bernie Wolfe’s return, wondering if the new Holby City powers-that-be were going to do it all over again. Break my heart. I don’t know if I could have done it a second time. I barely managed the first.
Life can be a strange thing sometimes. The older I get the more I think I cannot be surprised. A disparate group of women from all over the world held together by their rage – and I would like to say, their Pride – in a storyline that promised so much, raised their voices and… The usual when women and/or those marginalised protest something that affects their mental and emotional wellbeing, their physical safety. Their lives. We were being too sensitive. We didn’t understand the necessity of the storyline. We were overreacting. Overly dramatic. Drama does after all, need drama. Bisexuals cheat, lesbians deeply in love break up, out lesbians die. It’s mature. And all perfectly normal within the context of everything else that happens on the show called Holby City.
The heteronormative context of everything else that happens on the show called Holby City. #RepresentationMatters – that was the point. The space in my heart wasn’t that the then Holby City powers-that-be had somehow missed this point. It was that they didn’t seem to care that they had missed it.
And just as I was no longer surprised at this, the world turned. Henrik Hanssen picked up the phone to call someone he wanted Cameron to talk to, and Bernie Wolfe looked up from across the hospital car park and saw her son. I’m still not sure what to make of that.
But a week on from Bernie leaving Holby to return to Serena, there are two things I’m pretty certain of. The first is that many fans chose not to remain silent after the degeneration of the Berena storyline at the end of 2018, and made a noise. A great deal of noise. We got very, very angry. Whether we chose to channel that anger through #BerenaDeservedBetter or not. We signed petitions, submitted formal complaints, sent postcards, wrote fanfiction, had articles published in UK newspapers and international zines. We made an absolute racket on social media and the internet. Whatever our reasons, working together, we did something quite profound: We stood up for ourselves. I don’t think the BBC quite expected it. We did good.
The second is that as Bernie looked up from her ringing phone, it was Jemma who faced that camera with the new Holby powers-that-be behind her. In doing so, she faced the Berena fandom in all our wrath and anger. Perhaps trying to mend something that was once quite precious. Because #RepresentationMatters. It really does. The dead lesbian was no longer dead. And although it was never stated outright that Bernie and Serena were back together, “home” for Bernie was Serena in Spain. I can’t help thinking that they heard us. And that even if they didn’t understand our anger and protests, they knew it was important to try. That takes courage. As well as something deeper: Acknowledgement that they tried to do the right thing to the best of their ability amid an ocean of wrong. They did good.
That matters. I’m surprised by how much that matters.
The space in my heart is still there. It will always be there. A small, empty void that was the possibility of a life and love that was Berena. Maybe it still is. But life has grown around it. Life has been added, three Holby episodes now accumulating onto the layers. Three episodes that were far from neutral. Where perhaps the perspectives and experiences of a fandom of disparate women from all over the world were taken on board and listened to, despite the heteronormative context. Perhaps. Sometimes reasons are complicated and ill-defined and unknowable and it doesn’t make them any less valid. It just makes them reasons.
By River Kingston