Rebelde Made Me Gay (& The Netflix Remake Is Telling Our Queer Stories)

Photo: Alamy ; courtesy of Netflix.
The age-old proverb states: “If you were a little too obsessed with Rebelde as a nine-year-old, re-watching scenes on YouTube, concerts, and music videos, and staring a little too long at the scantily clad singers — you’re most definitely gay.” Of course, this is a well-known phenomena to older Gen Z Latinx queer peeps only in retrospect. In the eyes of the then-third and fourth graders watching the 2004 Mexican novela about a band at a super-elite boarding school (the Rebelde remake hit Netflix this week), there were a plethora of excuses at the ready to explain away our totally-not-gay obsessions: from professing our love of the music or storyline to claiming “I just want to be them!”
And I’m no exception.
I wasn’t actually allowed to watch the novela as a third-grader when everyone in my class was obsessing over it (and I’m talking obsessed! My class even performed a themed dance on our talent show, short skirts and everything). But I wasn’t completely deprived. I bought every single album as soon as it came out, getting the first one under my Christmas tree as a mere eight-year-old. But more importantly, I had the concert movie. Tour Generación RBD En Vivo — ​​the fictional band was a real-life one that went by the name RBD, releasing top hits until way after the show ended in 2006 — on DVD. It was to me what the novela was to everyone else: a gay awakening.
Not that I knew that then. As a Catholic private school student with helicopter parents in Puerto Rico and very minimal access to the Internet, I didn’t even know what gay was. But I cannot emphasize how many times I watched this damn movie, my eyes only on the girls on stage. The hair, the tiny skirts, the Y2K bikini tops — everything! — was iconic. I couldn’t look away. I told myself that I was envious of them, that I was just admiring the fashion. Lies, obviously. Compulsive heteronormalcy really had me in a chokehold.
Because the band consisted of an equal number of guys and girls, they were — of course — paired off together often (in both concerts and in the actual novela). The main couples were Mia and Miguel, Roberta and Diego, and  Giovanni and Lupita. Sometimes, they would mix it up in the concerts, but for the most part you were either more of a Mia/Miguel or Roberta/Diego type. “While every other girl wanted to be with Diego because he was cute or whatever, I wanted to be him, I wanted to be in his shoes, I wanted Roberta to want me!” Maria Isabel Cardona, a 24-year-old actress and singer from Puerto Rico, says. 
Opposed to the male characters on the show (and most notably in the band), the female characters were divided into very clear archetypes. Mia was the blonde, fashionable rich girl who always wore a star on her forehead, Lupita was the dark-haired innocent good girl with a secret sexy side, and Roberta was the dyed-red-hair, bad-girl rocker with an attitude. Wanna take a wild guess on the lesbians’ favorite?
Roberta, duh.
I didn’t rewatch that part of the “Aún Hay Algo” music video where Alfonso jumps rope shirtless, but I would rewind in the beginning with Dulce Maria’s (who played Roberta) cleavage and the scene with Lupita (played by Maite Perroni) dancing sensually and slowly by herself. “Roberta’s character, like any 'dark' character, was a huge gay awakening for me growing up. Something about grungy girl characters was hot,” Cardona says.
If you identify as a lesbian now (or at the very least sapphic or queer), you remember the look vividly. “The uniforms were very revealing. Of course, my gay awakening happened because of this,” says Sofia Sanchez, Instagram influencer and owner of the spiritual brand Sofcare, and fellow RBD-made-me-gay believer.
The uniforms. A Halloween staple to this day, the Elite Way School shorts skirts, loose tie, and tied white button-down are insanely recognizable.
But it’s not just the outfits or even the hot girls that made us all gay, it’s the songs. From the heartbreaking yearning to the most dramatic sad songs (the emotions only reserved to lesbians, duh), these are definitely the gayest hetero lyrics in our modern age. For example, in one of my favorites, “Liso Sensual,” “La vi llegar como una diosa entre la gente.” When have you ever heard a man describe a woman as a goddess? Exactly.
As a true fan, I can sing every lyric from every song, but as a child, my favorite parts to sing were always the male. One of the most underappreciated bops of the century from the first album was “Futuro Ex-Novio,” a song that should by all rights be the most hetero of them all. Wrong. It’s the gayest. Giving your everything to a girl even while knowing it won’t work at all? That’s the full lesbian experience, baby!
All jokes aside, the lesbian representation, just like the Afro-Latinx representation, on the original Mexican novela was non-existent. But there’s real hope for the 2022 Netflix remake. The first trailer hinted at potential sexual tension between two female characters, which the teaser made official by showing a scene of them making out.
Andi, that resident female queer character, is exactly what I needed as a gay youth. Seeing her gay panic while talking to her crush? Seeing Luka, our other resident gay character, tell off someone for not using the gender neutral term “todes” in the first episode? All of it felt comforting and unbelievable. Taking a page from the Gossip Girl remake, the characters look and are queer. And while high schoolers having sex is typical for these shows, the Rebelde remake at least makes sure their uniforms are actually school appropriate.
I’ll admit, When I first heard the words “Rebelde remake,” I cringed — like everyone else in my generation. The band and the songs are still very much a part of my life and I didn’t want anyone to replace it. But after walking down memory lane, and realizing that my gay awakening came about by accident with no actual representation behind it, I and so many others are excited that this new generation will have queer characters to cling to.
“I just love that I'm not the only one who's a lesbian and can look back at their childhood and say, 'ohhhh, that makes a lot of sense. I wasn't weird; I just liked the girlies,'” says Sanchez. While we battled through the comphet and tried to explain away the attraction, I hope the remake will give new Rebelde fans a word to describe their feelings. Plus, I’m sure Andi is already someone’s gay awakening, just like Roberta was ours.

More from TV

R29 Original Series