Arrested Development: Queer Identity 2019

Recently, I tragically had one of my favourite shows of all time, RuPaul’s Drag Race, ruined for me by one of my closest friends. To add insult to injury, he committed what I understand to be a cardinal sin in the realm of addressing queer representation – he is a straight white man. What a dick.

For those of you playing at home, I picked episode 1 of season 6. We watched, I frothed over all the iconic parts of the episode, I explained the entire history of the show and the subculture references, and he was an amazing audience member. He asked clarifying questions and listened. And then he did it: he told me exactly what the show was about in a way that I cannot unhear.

“I get why you like it,” he told me in his typical sweet innocent cinnamon bun man manner, “and I can see why this might feel empowering but, like, isn’t this still just straight people telling gay people what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to being gay? Aren’t they still trying to say that they have to fit into this box?”

Shattered. Absolutely shattered. Face crack of the century.

Look, I still love the show, obviously. That’s a given.

But what he said plays on my mind, and not just when it comes to Drag Race. I feel like a massive part of my queer experience has been trying to behave in a way that is acceptable according to the standards of the norm. I don’t want to say for straight people exclusively because I don’t think it’s fair when the majority of my amazing friends and family are both incredible and incredibly straight, so let’s use a better word: heteronormative.

Whether or not it is realised, there is a spectrum of “acceptable” to “unacceptable” gay behaviour that has been set that I feel like I have to constantly be assessing and addressing within myself. Being confident is toward the acceptable end of the spectrum; talking about my experiences as a queer person is unacceptable in certain settings in my life. Being an effeminate gay man is acceptable if you’re a television personality; being a gay woman who wears “masculine” clothing is not acceptable typically. It’s something I’m constantly aware of, and that is constantly running in the back of my mind.

In addition to this, there is a lot of emotional labour that goes into making sure you’re the right kind of gay, and that you also take up as little space with your gayness as is humanly possible. Essentially, I feel that for a lot of queer people, Marie Kondo is in charge of how much we’re allowed to take with us to different social settings (IE. Not a great deal).

A friend recently asked me what coming out was like, and my honest answer is that it feels like I’m in the process of going through a second puberty – even now, 2 years after publicly coming out. What I mostly remember about my first puberty was constantly being in my head about where I fit in, who I am as a person, worrying about if people like me or not, and figuring out if I’m worthy or not.

When I think about my current place with coming to terms with my sexuality, I would describe it as constantly being in my head about where I fit in, who I am as a person, worrying about if people like me or not, and figuring out if I’m worthy or not. I’m in a state of identity determination – a process that keeps changing and getting easier. But it’s still a challenge. So much energy still goes into making sure people don’t judge me as one of “those” gays – where my whole identity revolves around being gay. It seems so silly even acknowledge it in writing, but it’s a real fear of mine.

I had a conversation recently with a man who has a daughter who is also gay. The whole time he was telling me how she isn’t “in your face” about being gay and that it “isn’t a big deal”, and the whole time I felt like there was an unspoken element of her being praised for not being like me. I’m vocal about being queer, and I talk about it, and it’s an astronomical part of my life experience.

The thing is, it’s not a big deal to me because my identity begins and ends with being gay. It’s a big part of me because the initial decision to come out feels like deciding whether or not to set yourself on fire. It’s a big part of me because the decision to be an openly gay woman marks a change in who I am – from being very socially anxious to being incredibly personable and open to people.

I draw a lot of strength from the experience, because I never thought I would be able to come out. Because I never thought there would be any part of my identity that I would be able to own. I thought I would spend the rest of my life apologising for taking up space. The decision to own being gay marked the decision to begin owning other parts of me that I’d thought were shameful, like I thought being gay was shameful. If not for coming out, I wouldn’t be able to lean on my friends when I need to, to support people when they need someone, or to appropriately address and process my emotions. These all come as a result of coming out; I didn’t get to be the person I am today without coming out.

It’s impossible to separate my sexuality from my life experience, because they are going to forever be linked. I understand where people are coming from when they say, “I don’t make a big deal out of being straight, you don’t need to make a big deal out of being gay” but let me also offer this suggestion: shut the fuck up.

The comparison of being proud of being straight to being proud of being gay is non-existent; there’s a reason why it’s called heteronormative and not homonormative. I have spent most of my life being sent the message by society that being gay is shameful, not normal, and strange. I have to be proud of it, because it has made me a strong person who is capable of taking it when people don’t accept me. When you’ve been told your whole life that gay people end up alone and isolated, it kind of matters to be open about it and connect with people.

So much of what the queer experience entails revolves around doing what is right according to heteronormative standards. It’s exhausting to have to worry about people getting annoyed at me talking about queer issues and experience. But my straight male friend from earlier said another thing that also sticks with me.

He said to me, “I mean, yeah, if a pink elephant walked into the room you’d probably think, ‘oh fuck, that’s a pink elephant,’ but maybe if we spent less time trying to hide pink elephants it wouldn’t be such a big deal.”

I feel like  that quote was inspired from somewhere else, but I digress.

I’m really lucky. My core group of people – friends and family – are mostly straight, and I think that everyone could learn a few things about caring for your gay friend from them. So here are a few things they do for me that you can do for your gay friend!

 

  1. Listen to them and take their experiences seriously, as they take your experiences seriously and celebrate them with you. Keep being a good friend to them.
  2. That’s it.
  3. That’s literally all.

I WRITE THINGS: Representation and Me Talk

person holding chocolate bar near laptop

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In my last blog post about Mission Impossible: Fallout I touched on something that I haven’t ever really engaged with before, mostly because in the immortal words of Rick Springsteen, the point was probably moot. By which, I of course mean, contrary to what Springsteen thinks he is singing, there is almost too much to say on this particular topic. I don’t feel that I am able to adequately address it in a way that I’m comfortable with in a 500 word blog post.

 

The topic is, of course, representation.

 

Representation is one of my favourite words and concepts to unpack. As an English teacher, much of what my students and I engage in is discussion of how groups or people are being represented and why it matters. As I alluded to in my prior post, representation does matter to me, and it does have an impact on my life day to day.

 

The reality of my situation isn’t lost on me. I am fortunate enough to not only have a functional literacy level to the point where I am able to write prose and enjoy myself, but also to have the means to do so. That’s a level of privilege many people are not afforded. Even as someone technically a part of a minority, I have never personally faced direct persecution or disadvantage (to my knowledge) for the fact that I am gay.

 

At the end of the day, I am a 20 something year old who writes stories for personal enjoyment and shares them on the internet. It matters to me, I love doing it, but I’m not on the precipice of some astronomical discovery.

 

However, the reason I wanted to discuss the concept of representation, and specifically heteronormativity and writing, was because something sort of funny happened to me this week. I finished a first draft of a novel (yay!) and began thinking about what sort of story I want to write next. For me personally, story almost always starts with character – I find characters more compelling than plot.

 

As I started to plan who my next story would be centred around, I had a moment of hesitation. The question that crossed in my mind was, “if I keep writing stories about lgbtq+ characters, are people going to criticise me for it? Am I being predictable?”

 

Of course, when it comes to writing I do write for myself first and foremost, but reader enjoyment plays into the equation. I was stumped by my own question, not knowing the answer. There is of course the argument that authors like Stephen King typically write about relatively similar characters in terms of those basic features – that is, many of King’s characters are straight white middle aged men.

 

I’m still genuinely stumped on where I stand on this, and whether or not it is an issue at all or if I’m overthinking it entirely.

 

So I throw the question back to you, dear reader – what do you think? What does any of this mean? Am I over thinking the value of representation? Did I leave the stove on?

I WATCH MOVIES: I lived it: I take issue with Mission Impossible: Fallout but still enjoyed the film

night television tv video

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In many instances of my life, I find myself towing a very frustrating line. Film is one of the greatest joys in my life – from a very young age it has been a place of refuge and entertainment alike. As a part of the human condition, I seek myself in film, trying to find the parts that I can relate to, and the parts that help me to not only understand myself but also those around me. However, in loving film, I am also faced with the parts of film that I do not like. The parts that make me question whether it is okay to like a film, even if it has parts that are not agreeable to me.

 

From around the same age, I have been abundantly aware of the inequalities between men and women as a result of being the poster child of gender confusion (credit for that title: The L Word). Many, many times as a child, I was faced with situations where I thought to myself, wait a minute, so boys can do that but I can’t? This is some bullshit. In being a tomboy, the double standards that girls face on a daily basis were especially grating for me.

 

As a result, I was hyper critical of all media between the ages of 17 – 21, before throwing in the towel to try and enjoy certain films just for being fun. It isn’t so much that I didn’t see the issues; it is more that I am emotionally exhausted. It is 2018 and I still see an abundance of misrepresentation (or complete late of representation) for women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other people who belong to minority groups.

It is tiring to have to explain to people time and time again why it matters to me to see LGBTQ+ characters. It is tiring to have to explain why I take issue with misrepresentation of women. It is tiring to have to explain to people that I don’t take issue with representation of men; it is just that I want to see other representations too. Simply put, I am tired and more often than not misunderstood by people who don’t wish to understand.

 

The fact of the matter of this: I had a lot of fun watching Mission Impossible: Fallout (MI:F herein) and enjoyed the film for exactly what it was – a thrill ride. It was entertaining, tapping into our primal love of violence, sex, and an underdog story. There’s no getting past that fact. It was a fun movie.

 

MI:F didn’t sit quite right with me, still. I’m not blind to the fact that I only really consume media with guaranteed representations of the groups I belong to, and I’m also understanding of the fact that it is the job of the media to tell many stories, not only my stories.

 

Still, MI:F came as somewhat of a shock to me – and it reminded me of why I started paying attention to representation in the media in the first place. MI:F is essentially the story of a straight white man saving the world and getting his pick of women. Perhaps this is why I take such issue with this film – the seeming lack of emotional fallout that would be an issue in any other film.

 

Within the film, we see the main character (Ethan Hunt, an unfortunate moniker) with his first love interest, Elsa, then the second, the White Widow, and the third, Julie. I actually found myself laughing at something I wasn’t supposed to, that I’m not sure the filmmakers caught; Elsa and Julie essentially look and act like the same person. They are both the saviour for Ethan – the female character there to lick his wounds, love him unconditionally, and act as a prize at the end of the film.

 

I suppose this takes me to the crux of why the film didn’t sit right with me; why, despite the fact I was enjoying it, I had a bad taste in my mouth. Women in this film are footnotes and are interchangeable. They’re simply objects that Ethan has access to at whim. They are essentially all the same character with different hair colours to indicate easily to the audience what kind of person they are based on familiar tropes. The brunette love interests (Elsa and Julie) = caring loving figures who are madly in love with Ethan. The blonde love interest (The White Widow) = the girl who just wants to bang Ethan, who acts as the femme fatale element and the sexually charged figure of the film.

 

These female characters are a call back to the Madonna/Whore dichotomy that I haven’t had to overtly consume for quite some time. The fact is that all of these characters serve to act as a two dimensional love interest for Ethan. We see all of the typical tropes of female representation in films that I had assumed were extinct.

 

The only outlier in this film is the White Widow, but she still has the same behaviour when it comes to Ethan Hunt. She kisses Ethan, but then when it serves the plot, disappears and her behaviour has no consequence. And because she is the character with arguably the most sexual encounter with Ethan, she does not qualify for his love, because we all know that women who want sex are not proper women and, therefore, do not get the man.

 

Ethan has intimate moments with these women, with no emotional repercussions from any of them. He quite literally flicks between them at will, and none of them seem to care. Ethan himself never indicates interest in them overtly either, and none of them care.

 

The issue I see here is this representation of women as being at a man’s whim. There are all strong, intelligent women, who seem unaffected by the fact that Ethan comes and goes as he pleases in their lives. Even when they see moments of intimacy shared between Ethan and a woman, they are completely nonplussed. Their lack of emotional reaction renders them objects of desire for Ethan, and represents a toxic model that I thought was no longer in vogue: the model of a man being in complete control of the women around him, being allowed to do as he pleases, while the women wait for their turn.

 

Look, again, I liked the film. It was fun. And maybe I’m just sour grapes because there realistically weren’t any characters that I could identify with aside from Benji. But what I got from this experience is that ignoring the problematic parts of the media I consume doesn’t serve any purpose for me, and in being able to acknowledge the problematic parts of MI:F I’m able to once again get in touch with why it is important to be critical of media.

 

We can’t be mindless consumers, for the same reason we can’t be passive bystanders when we see bad things happening. Unless we are critical of our media, even when we enjoy it, things don’t change, and we don’t learn anything.