Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'm on the right track, baby, I was born this way. Or not. AKA I *heart* Miranda Hobbes

I'm just going to come out and tell you right now that I watch endless reruns of Sex and the City. And I'm not ashamed. I have lots of guilty pleasure TV, but Sex and the City is something I will turn on when I'm working, bored, whatever and watch, even if I've seen the episode. Like, five times. Of all the characters, Miranda was, is, my favorite (although the whole 'I'm going to date a Black man, Robert, and NEVER talk about race cause he's just great!' pushed my limits). And, given that the actress that played her, Cynthia Nixon, is apparently as outspoken as her character was, Miranda will always reign supreme.

So it was with great pleasure that I read social networking sites and other "news" sites, all abuzz today about Nixon's recent comments on being gay and her long time relationship with her partner, Christine Marioni (I'm saying this like I know her). You know, the woman she has been with for the past seven years and recently had a child with? You may not know this because, unlike me, you don't pay attention to Nixon's personal life. But, she's an Aries (me too), so what can I say? Apparently, Nixon was asked to give an "empowerment" speech to a gay audience and in her prepared speech she stated, ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ Well, the organizers weren't too keen on that sentence and asked her to remove it because it implied that being gay was a choice. To which she responded,

"And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not."
Exsqueeze me?

I have to say I'm impressed, or maybe just intrigued, that she made this statement in such an emphatic way. Way to go, Miran--er, Cynthia. Total applause!

But I am surprised, as this is so not the line of many folks who speak for or on behalf of queer people. I'm looking at you, Gaga. Can I just say that I really hate the song "Born this Way?"  First, because I find Lady Gaga simple and disingenuous. Second, and maybe more importantly, because for me it implies that "if we had a choice, we wouldn't be gay" (or, as Gaga sings, Black, white, beige, Chola descent--wtf are these last two?--Lebanese, you're orient !!!) and there's nothing we can do about it so back off. Like her chorus, "ooh, there ain't no other way, baby I was born this way."

Um, actually there is.

You can be "born this way," or have a desire or attraction to the same gender or transgender and never act on it. Or, act on it and never identify as gay, as many of our Republican elected officials have demonstrated. See, lots of choices. And, I'm not knocking these choices, but do know that they are choices. Just as identifying, acting upon said feelings, aligning yourself with, openly loving "your people," and cherishing queer community is. a. choice.

Better yet, it's a decision.

And, I don't care how out you are, as I've said before, I don't know that coming out megaphone-style gets us any closer to ending the oppression of gay folks, which by the way, is hard as f*#@--especially when we internalize the shit. Don't get me wrong, I live a pretty awesome life: I love my woman, work at a place where there are other (actually a majority) of queer folks, have a solid community of lesbians and gay men that I surround myself with, and get to write this blog and other pieces about my love for LGBTQ folks. It's super!  I never thought that my life would be this good, really.  Growing up as a Black girl and seeing the things that I did, I really didn't see myself living past or even making it to 30. For the first year after that, I didn't know what to do with myself (that's a whole other blogpost).

But even though things are great, I can't say that I dodge being targeted as an out, Black dyke. And I experience these things because of the way that I chose and continue to choose to live my life as a queer person of color: Students who are a little more aggressive and challenging in your direction.  Threatening stares when I'm holding hands with my partner on our cross country trips (and, yes even in the Yay Area). Being told recently that I haven't slept with the right man yet. Or, having sneaky feelings come up when I try to do things in my life that only straight women are supposed to do--more on this later--and feeling like maybe I, as a lesbian, shouldn't be doing them. And even though all of this sucks a$$, and not in a good way, I would never change my decision to come out and live and love the life that I have. I would never opt out of being gay. But, let's not pretend that this isn't a decision that I, and many other queer folks, didn't make at some point, regardless of how we were "born," or have lived our lives up to that point. Nor should we overlook that for many it's a decision they (we) make every. single. day.

There really ain't no other way.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

First You Gotta Put Your Neck Into It: Loving Pariah

I went to see Pariah on opening night in San Francisco last Wednesday. And I loved it, from the very beginning. In fact, it was the beginning that I really loved. From the first few minutes of the opening scene of a queer women's dance club, fully equipped with scantily-clad go-go dancers and Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)" playing in the background, I was pulled in.  Given that you know, as a moviegoer, that the movie is about a young, Black lesbian coming of age in Brooklyn, those lyrics and the go-go dancer in slow motion take on a different meaning. At least I think it does. If you don't know the words, or haven't heard the song before, it starts out like this:

All you ladies pop your pussy like this/Shake your body don't stop, don't miss/All you ladies pop your pussy like this/Shake your body don't stop, don't miss/Just do it, do it, do it, do it, do it now/Lick it good/Suck this pussy/Just like you should/Right now, lick it good/Suck this pussy just like you should/My neck, my back, lick my pussy and my crack

Now, imagine those lyrics with a young Alike, the protagonist, smiling, with a line of women behind her with dollars, her best friend, Laura, included. I know this doesn't change the fact that there is a half naked woman dancing on a stoop with people throwing money at her but, personally, having the film open in this way signaled that this film was indeed, mine. It was ours.

I've written about the context of queer women's clubs being a place, another place for me to come out as a queer Black woman and to (re)embrace my love of hip-hop (look, if it wasn't for queer girl clubs, I'd still only be listening to Belle and Sebastian). And while I'm not the clubster I once was, it still serves as a site that makes me love being queer and being in queer women's community. Squeezing onto a packed dance floor with a bunch of other women who dig other women and are only there for the purpose of looking for someone to take home, look good for their partner that they dance with all night, or just getting a chance to "release" on the dance floor with their friends? Sign me up. Even if it's over a sexist, misogynistic beat, which it usually is. But I love it. And, I'm not going to defend Khia's lyrics or my stance. Look, I'm a bit more of a shy, easily embarrassed feminist so to continue to sing along to the lyrics:

First you gotta put your neck into it/Don't stop just do it, do it/Then you roll your tongue/From the crack/Back to the front/Then ya suck it all/Til I shake and cum

You know, it makes my cheeks a little red, even as I sit here and type.

But the choice to open this film about a queer, Black woman with this song, centers the experience of Black lesbians in an important way. It signals that this isn't "the feel good film of the year," in the way that we all want to relate to film characters and feel good when we leave the theater. Rather, it suggests that you are here as part of my experience and I'm not here to make you feel good in the way that we all want to feel good about gays and lesbians in this particular moment. In other words, Ilene Chaiken's version(s).  And, Pariah is not the first film about Black lesbians to do this, as Salamishah Tillet (and others) has pointed out, Pariah rests on the shoulders of the brilliant, often overlooked Black lesbian filmmaking of the last two decades. But what I love about Pariah being released last week, at a time when there are gay characters all over nightly television sitcoms, and we all love gay people, is the opening scene and others that make no apologies for being queer. There's no "we're just like you" narrative underlying the film, or "look, I'm just a normal girl trying to figure out who I am, let me be." No, from my reading, Pariah says, "this is what it looks like, if you're in, let's go, otherwise, peace!" And how refreshing is that from a queer woman of color perspective? Especially from a butch perspective.

Which is the other thing I love about the movie. Alike, for all intents and purposes, is butch--or presenting as butch in the beginning of the movie. And we all know how I feel about butches, or, in this case, those trying to figure out their gender presentation (go ahead figure it out, I'll wait:). If you don't know, I *LOVE* them. And, I LOVED who Alike, and her best friend Laura, was in the film. No apologies. She (they) pushed her way into various settings, even when she had to cover herself up at home. Broken open. Like the scene when one of the girls at her school who "liked girls, but loved men" glanced in her direction and, within earshot, said, "she's cute, but if she was just a little bit harder." Swoon. And another moment of "get in or get out." Similar to when Alike was trying on the strap-on that Laura got her and her sister walked in. Unapologetic. She, and Laura, pushed back on their mother's rejection (which, I have to say, is not the freshest representation of Black motherhood, and a critique that Summer M. nails over at the Black Youth Project), without changing who they were. Even Alike's pushing back on Laura's expectations of her presentation and her sexuality is a strong statement of who she is. Breaking is opening. And that's a brave take on Black queerness in this moment. A moment when real Black queerness (if you can say such a thing) is overlooked, discredited, and ignored.

So thank you, Dee Rees, for putting your neck into it. And for remembering that Black queer girls are not broken. We are free.