In Defense of… Tristan Milligan

This year I’m planning on doing an “In Defense Of” series in which I choose a Degrassi character who is controversial in the Degrassi fandom and write about why they are a great character. And who better to start with than Tristan Milligan? Tristan is a character who went through a lot during his time on Degrassi. He was always the kind of character that people had very strong feelings about, but since the end of Degrassi: Next Class I personally feel that the fan hatred towards Tristan has only intensified. A lot of people don’t like Tristan because of the way in which he lashes out at other characters. Hopefully this post will help to bring some compassion and understanding to people who feel like they can relate to Tristan.

As a little disclaimer, this post is not meant to shame or criticize anyone who doesn’t like Tristan. We all bring our own experiences and points of view when watching Degrassi, and therefore we all have different interpretations of the characters and storylines. I firmly believe that this is what makes Degrassi so beautiful.

—————————————————————————-

When Tristan was first introduced in Season 11, he was initially presented as a very confident character. As one of the first LGBTQ characters on Degrassi to not have a coming out storyline, he was a new kind of gay character on the show. One who was proud of who he is from the outset, as opposed to having to learn this over several seasons. However like any good Degrassi character, we soon started to learn about his insecurities. Tristan has always been a character who is quick to get defensive and puts up a lot of walls in order to protect himself. And like many teenagers, he worries that no one will ever love him.

How Tristan’s Low Self Esteem Informed His Behaviour and Storylines

Tristan’s main issue over his 6 seasons on Degrassi was always his low self-esteem. He’s so interesting because on the one hand he’s never been in the closet hiding who he really is. But at the same time, we’ve seen how his insecurities have impacted the choices that he makes. From falling victim to a predatory teacher in Season 13 to the extreme weight loss techniques he put himself through in Season 12 to his tendency to lash out at anyone he thinks might hurt him, it’s all connected to self confidence and self-worth. Anybody who has ever struggled with low self esteem in their life knows how hard this is to overcome. Often this is something people struggle with their entire lives, and thus was the case with Tristan (or at least for his entire time on Degrassi).

Gay Rights Doesn’t Cure Gay Loneliness

As a Degrassi character Tristan showed how hard it is to be out in high school, even in this supposedly progressive time that we live in. And also the very lonely experience of only being attracted to people of the same gender and knowing you can never be happy in a heterosexual relationship. Tristan had to watch all of his friends have their first crushes, first kisses and first relationships. And for so long he was left out of all of it. I think a lot of people can relate to this experience. In these modern times, the internet can trick you into thinking that everyone is gay. But then you go out in the real world you are surrounded by heterosexuality. Tristan had to deal with this dichotomy of being accepted by his friends, but also not knowing many people like him and experiencing severe loneliness as a result of this. The truth is that gay rights never cured gay loneliness, as this is something that most gay people still experience one way or another.

Character Growth and Reflecting on Next Class

Even though there are a lot of things in Degrassi: Next Class that Tristan said or did that I disagree with or that I wish were written differently, I’m really happy with his arc and character growth overall. One moment that stands out to me is the scene in Next Class Season 3 when he finds out that Miles hooked up with Lola. The old Tristan would’ve gotten very defensive in this situation and because of his low self-esteem would’ve assumed that this meant that Miles didn’t love him. So when Tristan found the self-worth to be able to accept what happened and still trust Miles – it’s the most beautiful moment. When you experience bullying as a child the way that Tristan did, learning to trust others can be a lifelong process. Seeing Tristan eventually get to a place where he can overcome his feelings of worthlessness makes for very powerful television.

Ultimately like many people in this world, Tristan is just someone who wants to be loved. And because he has this fear of not being loved, it causes him to react negatively to situations in which he perceives he could get hurt. For this reason, I think that Tristan is more relatable than people give him credit. ❤