I remember growing up; it was like a race to the finish line to shed the 'virgin' label at a certain age. Fast forward to the present day, and nothing has changed. Instead, society puts more pressure now on people regarding every facet of their life—including their sexuality and virginity. However, contrary to the title, writer, producer and creator Aden Abebe has decided to focus on many other things, and sex too, in her new CBC Gem show virgins!.
virgins! follows four forward-thinking millennial women from the East African diaspora in their mid-20s who are awkwardly navigating adulthood, relationships, sex, and love as virgins. As you can imagine, there's a lot to unpack here; Abebe split them into four characters. We have Aby [the Analytical-Intellectual virgin], Amina [the Apprehensive-Queer virgin], Delina [the Bride-of-Christ virgin], and Sara [the Family-Honour virgin].
We love to see all the different facets of the Black diaspora being portrayed. No doubt, we are fierce and mighty as one. However, we are not a monolith. Therefore, it's crucial to look into our Blackness from different perspectives. Abebe agrees, saying, "I think people always say, 'you write what you know.' And I know the community I grew up in. I know my own personal lived experiences and those of my friends that I grew up with. So when I had this idea, I thought it was about sisterhood and friendship. It was this community of young women having this experience in a western world where they feel so provocative to their African homes. Yet, they're seen and judged as being uptight by the western world they live in. So I wanted to tell the story of these women straddling two spheres. They're super vibrant. They're sexy and interesting. They have a voice, and they have agency. They're not mousey, they're not repressed, and they're not unwanted, which have always been the characterizations of virgins and virginity."
As mentioned earlier, the careless connotation of the word leads to a less desirable narrative. And it's one that no one benefits from. "It's a lazy idea just to put those labels on individuals because they've decided for themselves," says Abebe. "That narrative of if you're not having sex, you are repressed or unwanted, or you are uncool—who does and doesn't that benefit? The women who decide to make this decision, or the young men or any individual who chooses, to me, [it's just] peer pressure," remarks Abebe.
But she's not here for any of it and is doing her best to change the portrayal and people's perceptions. "I don't like taboos, and I love to make people face things, whatever it is that they put a stigma on or a taboo on. So I want to show a different representation, a different light of what it could mean and what it can look like to be a virgin," says Abebe.
I think the title alone is a statement within itself. It's 'virgins,' accompanied by an exclamation mark. To me, it's not about just the literal definition but the underlying layers too. There are many elements to being a virgin. From your job to your life, we encounter many daily instances where we find ourselves being a virgin. The key is for people to keep that in mind and to convert the discussion to a more positive one.
"I think we need to see different representations of it to expand our mind and imagination. What is a cultural norm? We get to create it. And there have been so many cultural shifts in the past 10 years, specifically in the Black community with women. We've made many cultural and societal advancements to be more inclusive and thoughtful. It's my hope that this show will counter a lot of people's preconceived ideas and cause them to think twice. Maybe be more open-minded to people. I named it virgins with an exclamation point because I wanted people to say it out loud with their chest in full force as opposed to how people usually say the word to me. They whisper, you know? It's so ridiculous, and it's just a word. There's no reason we need to be ashamed of it," says Abebe.
She's right. virgins! looks to dismiss myths and negative stereotypes by bringing the viewer into the real, modern and fun experiences of East African women. Of course, they are virgins at many things, may I add. It's definitely worth the watch, and she's already changing viewpoints.
"It's been such a moment of success for me. Whenever somebody talks to me and says the name of the series, without realizing the word they're saying, they're just talking about a show they're excited to see. As a result, many women have come up to me and are very proudly excited to say, 'Oh my gosh, I love this show because I'm a virgin, and I'm so excited to see this representation.' They don't whisper it to me when they say it, and that makes me happy and proud."
You can stream the 10-episode series of virgins! on CBC Gem.