Tag Archives: queer

A New Kind of Television

When I first started watching Switched at Birth, I was pretty excited to see deaf people represented on mainstream television. My ASL instructor at the time–a deaf actress herself–warned me not to be too excited; deaf was usually a one-episode story arc featuring Marlee Matlin. But despite the bizarre, uninspired plot line, the show surprised me. There wasn’t just one deaf character, there were numerous. And they didn’t all view their deafness in the same way: while Daphne speaks and occasionally hides her deafness to get by in the hearing world, others, like Emmett and Travis, do not speak for individual (though very legitimate and real) reasons. Communication between the deaf and the hearing occurs in many ways–lip reading, on occasion, but more typically slow and English-esque sign language with written or typed messages when the meaning isn’t clear or the light isn’t good enough. The show regularly and thoroughly (and without compromise!) articulates the struggle of deaf and hard-of-hearing people to survive in a world that wants to fix something that isn’t broken. While the show could certainly use some characters of color and a discussion of cochlear implants**, but while I haven’t had the opportunity, in particular since the all-ASL episode, to talk to the deaf community about their perspective, the show has left me feeling pretty good about the direction progressive television could be headed in.

Similarly, I was excited about The Fosters, albeit wary. I’ve watched Ellen, Will & Grace, The L Word, Queer as Folk, Modern Family, Glee, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: a lot of white, gay, trans*- and biphobic, rich, glamorous, effeminate men and women who hardly get to kiss (The L Word and Queer as Folk are exceptions to this, but only because they were on Showtime), let alone become more than stereotypes or issues-of-the-week (here’s lookin’ at you, Glee). And sure, they were all progress. They were all a Big Deal. But I’ve never felt represented watching any of these shows, and for that matter, I don’t know anyone who has. The characters were eye candy and comedy–or edgy and tragic. The Fosters, potentially at least, was gearing up to fill the gap that these shows left by tackling visibility, politics, and community.

I cried a lot the first episode. There’s the biracial lesbian working mothers couple. Steph talking to her adopted kids in Spanish without subtitles. The gender non-conforming Jude who wants to wear a dress. Callie who has been screwed over by the adoption and school-to-prison system. Lena, a black woman with natural hair who calls herself a feminist to a straight-white-male and it isn’t a dirty word. So much good in one episode. All the things I had wanted to fix about television: the answers were here.

And the show has not backed down. Jesus shamelessly takes his ADD medication and later pursues the morning after pill for his girlfriend (because proactive birth control and sex education are the healthy option). Lena argues with her mother about African-American racial politics. There’s a Quinceñera. When Jude is bullied for painting his nails, his friend (crush? Dare I speak too soon?) paints his in solidarity. There was a short-haired lesbian in a plaid shirt, and for once I got to think to myself, hey, she looks like I do. I could grow up to be that person. I would like that.

The thing that felt the most off to me in the show thus far is that the poetry slam wasn’t quite accurate.

You guys, read that again.

The poetry slam wasn’t quite accurate.

How privileged are we to have a television show where the thing they can’t get quite right is a freakin’ poetry slam.

No, their lives aren’t perfect. They fight, they’re bullied, they make sacrifices, and run away from their problems. But they support each other. They are community. At the end of the day, they hold hands and kiss (or get it on in the back of the car, your choice). If you aren’t watching The Fosters (or Switched at Birth for that matter), you’re making a mistake. Meanwhile, I’ll be on the edge of my seat for every episode. Thank you, ABC Family. Please don’t let us down.

 

**Editor’s Note: At the time of this post, I hadn’t watched the most recent episode of Switched at Birth, which opens up the discussion of cochlear implants. Goddammit, ABC Family. You read my mind.

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Banks, Churches, and Politicians

It seems to me that these are the people who march at Pride Parades now. In New York, DC, and the Twin Cities, the crowds were large, brightly colored, and covered in glitter. But the floats passing by, more often than not, did not contain members of our community. They were filled with allies–corporations who understand that they will gain more business than they will lose by supporting us, religious groups attempting to reach out where there compatriots have not, and the occasional politician, pandering to a crowd of voters.

I don’t know that the presence of allies at Pride is necessarily a bad thing. Their support is valuable and important, without a doubt. As anti-capitalist as my politics are, money is important if you have any sort of agenda. We need the money of corporations, and the voices of these organizations. But why is some (not identified as LGBTQ) woman from Wells Fargo speaking at Pride, instead of someone from their supposed wealth of LGBTQ employees? Why is a cis-woman speaking about all the awesome things the ACLU is doing for trans* people, and then handing the mic over briefly to trans* activists? Why do we need a cishet politician to tell us about how our community needs to speak louder about our rights? And why, when a gay woman is finally standing at the mic, does she spend her whole speech talking about what an awesome ally her brother is?

Pride is about finally being able to come out of the closet. It’s about celebrating LGBTQ-identified people and how far we have come in terms of visibility, legislative “equality”, and fighting the hetero/bi/transphobic agenda. For me in Boise, it was about seeing that I was not the only one: I was not the only queer person who has somehow ended up in this bizarre, conservative, religious, seemingly-homogenous state. And yes, some of that was achieved at Pride. I saw countless couples holding hands, hairless thin gay men in speedos, drag queens, teenagers in rainbow, plaid, and glitter, and dykes on bikes. It was exhilarating. But we were not getting up on stage. We were standing in the crowd, literally below the podium, looking up. I couldn’t help but feel like there was something horribly wrong with this image. This is, after all, our movement. Our fight. And yes, we need your help, you banks and churches and politicians. We need your money, and we need your word of mouth. But we do not need you speaking for us. We do not need you to tell us how much more we have to fight for. We already know. We’ve already been fighting, years and years and years longer than you have been (and yes, Wells Fargo, I heard you when you told us about how you have been at 20 years of Pride Parades).

Sometimes it’s about the big things. But sometimes, also, it’s about the little ones. I didn’t know anyone at Pride, so I took to introducing myself to people who looked cool or interesting or approachable. At one point, before the speeches and the parade, this meant two young girls (probably 16 and 14) and their mother. The mother immediately tells me that they are there for the first time this year, in order to celebrate her daughter, who shyly looked away. At some point it came up that I was a college student.

Mother: Oh, do you hear that? You could go to college.

Me: Yeah, college is great!

Girl: I’m not going back to school.

The words on the page don’t read the way she said them. There was bitterness, and hurt. I didn’t know what to tell her. Immediately I thought of the Harvey Milk School in New York–a school for LGBTQ teenagers who have not been able to who need a different academic setting. Namely, it’s for kids who were bullied too much in high school to succeed. I want to tell her about it, I want to tell her that there’s hope, and that education is important and okay and can be safe.

But the Harvey Milk School is in New York, thousands of miles away. At the Pride rally, there are the Boy Scouts and the ACLU and the Mormons. There is no GLSEN or GLAAD, there are no youth resource centers here for her. No high school GSAs. She does not have unsupportive parents, she does not need to run away. And yet still, all I can offer her is the hope that is offered by Somewhere Else. By waiting until you can leave. And maybe she doesn’t want that. She shouldn’t have to want that.

I don’t know the details of her story. I don’t know if what I’ve elaborated is accurate. I don’t even remember her name. But I’m not forgetting the look in her eyes or the sound of her voice anytime soon. I don’t know what to do for these kids, but there has to be something. There may not be many of them, but they are here, and we can’t just keep telling them that it will get better once they are able to leave their homes and find a big city. There has to be something better that we can offer them. Something better than a Pride Parade, more than Let’s Get Better Together.

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Never Have I Ever…

…lived in a red state. Or, I suppose, a conservative state is more accurate. I don’t think that Edinburgh, Scotland identifies as ‘red’ or ‘blue’.

But now here I am in Boise, ID. Bigger than Claremont, smaller than New York. The mountains are brown and I suppose it’s hillier than I anticipated, and hotter, too, perhaps more humid. It didn’t seem beautiful to me. Not enough green grass, or not enough interesting architecture, or not enough colorful flowers. But the sky is bigger than I’ve ever seen it; it stretches miles beyond the next building and I think I know what they mean when they say ‘as far as the eye can see’. The sky is overwhelming in the same way that the skyscrapers are overwhelming. Both make me feel small.

What is beautiful about Boise is the river at sunset. The gnats distract a bit from the surroundings, but on the narrow walking bridge surrounded by dark green trees and stones and water . . . it’s insulated, more comfortable. For me, anyway.

•••

A friend of mine once asked why Obama’s statements regarding the importance of LGBT equality weren’t good enough to consider him an ally of the LGBT community; I pointed out that believing in equality wasn’t the same as acting for equality. But Obama’s made progress, my friend said, he supports same-sex marriage and everything! And at this point, it’s only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legal everywhere, so what are we even stressing about?

I am stressing about the fact that I am a queer woman in a place where I do not know whether my safety will be at risk if I try to be anything but celibate while I’m here. Or if I want to talk about my previous relationships. Or if I want to celebrate Pride, as I have the last two/three years. Or, honestly, if I just want to exist as I have been able to exist in New York and DC and Claremont and Edinburgh. 

Walking down the street at night, I am nervous every time a person-I-read-as-male talks to me. It isn’t often, and I’m with other people who seem friendly and ally enough. But what if it comes up? What if he is hitting on me? Every interaction feels as though it could turn from okay to horrible in a matter of seconds. A girl who has lived here her whole life tells me that the only trouble one can get into in Boise is a bar fight, and even then the police tend to be sitting outside in case something goes wrong.

I don’t know how to ask her if she thinks the police will protect someone being beaten because they’re queer. Or because they look different. I didn’t bring any dresses with me to Idaho.

I don’t know if these are all stereotypes that have been ingrained in me by the narrative of queer youth in conservative areas. And young people, I know, tend to be more liberal than their parents and grandparents. Boise Pride will happen on Saturday.  There is a website, albeit a poor one, with limited information. But I am guessing that there will be something more authentic about this pride parade, in a state where same sex marriage is illegal and there are no clear rights for people on the basis of sexual orientation. 

Is New York Pride even political anymore? It is a celebration, certainly, but who marches in the parade? Churches and banks, my mom noticed. Churches and banks. The religious trying to open their arms when their comrades have brutally shut their doors, and the capitalists, monetizing our attempts to overcome our oppression.  

They could fire me for being gay. They could take away my housing. Violence against me would not be considered a hate crime. In New York, I am lucky enough to not have to worry about these things. Even now, I am working on a college campus; it is more likely than not that the people I work with will be accepting and open. But I can’t get rid of this feeling like I’m in danger, like every step I can take without someone figuring me out is a success.

To be honest, it’s quite a change from Feminist Camp.

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