Black Lesbian Excitement in Tejas

So … it seems two of my favorite people and/or their work will be featured in co-sponsored events by Allgo this week. For those who don’t know, Allgo is the place for queer people of color in Austin TX, a place I do not reside but Allgo often makes me wish I did. They sponsor artists in residence, film and discussion series, performances and activism, and just generally conscious-righteous stuff for the qoc.

This week they are featuring a poetic play by one of my favorite black lesbian authors, Sharon Bridgforth on Friday March 4 (TODAY PEOPLE):

8pm, The University of Texas at Austin, Winship Drama Building 2.180, 300 E. 23rd Street, Austin, TX

AND

Tomorrow after the amazing conference Performing Lesbian Archives, Allgo will be hosting an intimate dinner and discussion with  fellow blogger and newly minted PhD Alexis Pauline Gumbs (who I love and you should love too) and colleague in revolutionary black lesbian praxis Julia Wallace.

Bring a dish to share and get a chance to see footage from their amazing intergenerational project on black lesbian lives @ Out Youth 7:30pm 909 1/2 E. 49th Street, Austin TX 78751

And hey, if you can’t be in TX for these events, then consider getting your local college, women’s center, queer center, or feminist bookstore to invite these people out to your town.

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It Gets Better

Dan Savage and I are not often on the same page when it comes to issues of race and women (gay or straight), but where we agree is that the polarizing politics currently dominating the U.S. landscape is especially dangerous for the survival of queer youth. While adults fight over the meaning of marriage, diversity education programs, and even adoption, young people who are still figuring out life are subjected the backlash from these debates that vilify gender transgression, desire,love, and even people’s families. More than that, the national debate has led to a clear uptick in violence against both queer people and people “perceived to be gay or trans”. In this dangerous time, strides that we had made in helping youth feel comfortable about exploring their identities and their desires have fallen victim to policing, inaction, and despair. High profile child suicides are rocking the nation and many of them include stories of parents who tried to get the school to listen, children who tried to be stronger than the hate that surrounded them, and other kids whose lives are equally lost because they listened or were taught hate.

Dan Savage and his partner have started a youtube channel of people telling their stories to encourage young people to hang in during the bad times and know that as Radcliff Hall says “somewhere there is a place for us”. As expected, the people participating so far have been largely male, white, cis, and middle class. However, everybody’s story matters in the fight to save struggle children. If you are from a traditionally marginalized background in the queer community (person of color, immigrant, lesbian, bi, trans, etc.) please consider making a video and helping young children see the diversity of the community reflected as well as the promise that no matter who you are you can survive and ultimately thrive.

As you can see from some of the videos I have chosen, the project is open to people from all over the world who would like to weigh in, so if you are part of the 58% of my blog readers who come from outside the U.S. you can still help with the project by making a video or spreading the word!

CFP: Hip Hop Feminism

Rosa Clemente/former VP Candidate for Green Party/unattributed

There have been strong women of color at the center of Hip Hop theorizing since its inception. Many of these women have never received the recognition they deserve for their artistry or their profound critical feminist eye focused clearly on the experience of women of color at the margins and intersections of multiple identities. These artists have struggled to have their voices heard in and outside of Hip Hop even as they inspire, mentor, and help provide strength to face any number of gendered oppressions. Many of them have worked just as diligently at empowering young women and providing critical analysis of engendered experiences as they have at being the best at their craft. Often these things are inseparable. And yet, these women’s work has been overshadowed by the racist and racialized sexist discourses that only want to focus on the “video ho” until recently. (see my posts on Hip Hop for AfAm herstory and LGBT history month for more thorough posts and links to Hip Hop feminism and Hip Hop feminists.)

kin4life/outhiphop.com

While this shift has been important, I think currently there is far too much mainstream attention to Hip Hop feminism as the *only* form of feminism(s) of color. On the one hand, the emphasis represents a needed intervention into mainstream discourse about the “video-ho” in which black men are seen as the most misogynist men in the world and women of color are internalized sexists needing rescue from their “culture of violence, sex, and drugs.” On the other, the slowly won recognition of feminists for whom Hip Hop and B Girls have been critical forms of expression, solidarity, and empowerment has come at the price of the recognition by mainstream of feminists of color outside of these stereotyped (tho not stereotypical) scenes. This is not the fault of Hip Hop feminists or people doing needed documenting work on their movements but rather the ongoing problem of tokenizing woc feminist contributions by mainstream academic theorists and educators. In the last few years, scholars like myself who work on race and gender have been introduced as or referred to verbally and in print as “hip hop feminists” or asked what we think or will we write an article about Hip Hop feminism in the same way we were referred to as Womanists when Alice Walker coined the term and still have to fight for the right to define ourselves and our affiliations. My concern then is that there are at least two camps here: (1) those who want to embrace, document, and explore the meaning, history, and empowerment behind Hip Hop feminism and (2) those who see it as just a new word for “black feminists over there”. One way to posit a counter-narrative to the latter is to keep writing, keep filming, keep talking about what Hip Hop feminism is and about all of the feminisms engaged in by women of color in which Hip Hop feminism is only one iteration.

La Bruja/unattributed

So I am publishing this call for papers on Hip Hop feminism to encourage the continued struggle to talk about feminisms by women of color in arena that often posits us as both singular (ie one kind of feminism) and perpetual victims (in this case the video-ho) in need of feminism. I do so out of solidarity with the project of naming, claiming, and documenting our feminisms and our activism but also with the caution to take on the task of clarity and specificity in your writing so that you lend to both the needed discussion of the specific feminism under discussion and to the larger discourse about the longstanding presence of women of color in activist, feminist, circles.

melange Lavonne/David Laffe Photography

Also I would encourage readers to consider some of the queer and/or differently-abled black and Latina Hip Hop artists highlighted on this blog or even in this post for your potential papers/presentations. Just as interventions need to be made in the way mainstream feminist academics are approaching Hip Hop feminism as the new Womanism, interventions need to be made into the ways scholars have often shied away from discussions of queer sexualities or assumed able-bodiedness or cis gender. There are sub-topics in the call specifically open to making this challenge, where you could take the advantage.

Please find the CFP below:

Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media

University of Texas at San Antonio – March 4-5, 2011

Submission: 500 word abstract to Kinitra Brooks and/or Marco Cervantes blackandbrownfeminisms@gmail.com on or before November 15, 2010.

Description:

Black and Latina feminist scholars offer multiple ways of understanding feminist cultures that transcend ideological borders and patriarchal conventions. More recently, Black and Latina feminists have negotiated the positionality of the woman of color in the ever-changing world of Hip Hop since its inception.  The Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media Conference situates Black and Latina feminist theory in the context of Hip Hop representation to discuss ways Hip Hop music, film, and club industries fetishize, exploit, celebrate, empower and/or disempower Black and Brown women.

This interdisciplinary conference will feature unpublished work on women in
Hip Hop to exchange ideas, share research, and initiate a sustained conversation by and about Black and Brown women in Hip Hop media.  Vital to this discussion is attention to the blurring lines between Black and Latina feminist studies and a dialogue that attempts to understand an interweaving history of objectification, struggle, and potential for agency. How do we read Black and Brown women in Hip Hop culture? What readings of Black and Brown women other than conventional black feminist readings and Latina feminist analyses are cogent? What theories enable those readings? Finally, what would an investigation into autobiographical stories of video models yield? How would those narratives differ from that of more conventional readings?

A select number of accepted papers will be included in a one-day, academic
conference at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a part of UTSA’s celebration of Women’s History Month on March 4, 2011 with a Hip Hop performance from local Texas as well as national hip hop artists on the evening of March 5, 2011.  This conference will be an opportunity for presenters to share views and concerns on the growing intersections between Black and Brown women in hip hop culture.  Possible Panel Topics Include:

  • Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender and Race in Hip Hop
  • Colorism within Hip-Hop video culture
  • The New Female Entrepreneur
  • Negotiating Sexualities
  • Black and Latina Diasporas
  • Video Vixens or Video Models?
  • Female Rappers
  • Chicana/o Rap
  • Alternative Models of Black Femininity
  • Latinas in Video Model Culture
  • Intersections of Video Models with Youth Culture
  • Performing the Black Body/ Brown Body
  • Reggaeton
  • A Case Study of Karrine Steffans
  • Strip Club Culture
  • Confessions of Video Vixens
  • Eroticism vs. Pornography
  • Women as Exchange among a Male Economy


Prop 8 Battle Moves Toward Equality

all images for this post come from Adam Bouska‘s No H8 Campaign

As most readers here know, gay marriage is not big on my organizing schedule. While I agree whole-heartedly that consenting adults regardless of identity should have the right to marry, I believe that the amount of money, energy, and effort that has gone into gay marriage and the antagonisms it has created within the queer community speak to a middle class vanilla focus that does not reflect the image or the needs of many of the people I know. At the same time, I think it would be wrong to argue that any effort toward marriage equality should be stopped until we have addressed other pressing issues in the queer community.

For me, marriage equality is one of many reflections of the state sanctioned inequality for queer people. It must be overcome just as surely as the lack of available healthcare for transgender women, rural lesbians, and working class lesbians of color or legal protections for lesbians of color or gay immigrants attacked by homophobes or immigration reform that allows queer people the same legal rights as straight ones. Prop 8 in particular stands out as a critical place to continue organizing precisely because it represents the conflation of conservative religion(s), neo-conservative and supremacist immigrant groups, racial tensions, homophobia and/or heterosexism, and the willingness of a seemingly liberal state to capitulate to fear mongering.

Today, the Federal Court of California overturned the California Supreme Court’s Decision to uphold Prop 8. The lawsuit argued that

  1. Prop 8 violated the Equal Protections clause of the Constitution (which it so obviously does)
  2. Proposition 8 violates the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution as an impermissible restriction on the fundamental right of marriage

The first of these two arguments points to the basic issue of equality which is at the heart of the challenges to exclusionary practices in the U.S. toward queer people. Many have tried to get around the symbolic and public issues related to equality by offering legal equality with regards to marriage, ie the right to common property, health care benefits, visitation & decision during health crisis, etc. In so doing, they have hoped to avoid larger discussions of equality by circumventing them with legal rights. Many in the marriage equality movement have countered by pointing out that names and rituals matter. Commitment ceremonies may provide legal rights establishing certain legal equality but they do not afford socio-political equality because they are still separate and Other. The people who have made this challenge then are ensuring that the conflict stays centered on the issue of equality and marginality rather than on marriage as an event. This is particularly important for including people for whom marriage is not their main organizing strategy but also for staying focused on why the marriage debate is important to everyone: ie its import to both real and symbolic equality of queer people in the U.S.

The second issue, about Due Process, relates to the question of rights afforded all citizens of the United States. Marriage as a fundamental right establishes access to citizenship in both symbolic and legal ways. As I’ve said before, family reunification is one of the major ways that immigrants legally enter the U.S. and become citizens. Lack of access to legal marriage then constitutes potential lack of legal access to immigration. Symbolically, lack of access to marriage represents an unspoken condemnation of the sexual choices and relationships of the people who are denied. Often people in the marriage equality movement have compared this situation to the equally offensive ban on interracial marriage in the past. That law was based on eugenicist beliefs that black people were less human than white people and that intermarriage would lead to degeneration of the “white citizenry or race”. Unfortunately, many people pointing to these parallels have taken the issue one step further arguing that “black people would never be banned from marrying”, which ignores multiple recent cases in which interracial couples were refused access to local churches or city halls to get married or ongoing eugenicist thinking in this country in favor of pointing to the law which allows such marriages, and worse that “gay is the new black”, ie that racism is over and that homophobia is worse than racism. These arguments have polarized the discussion in many ways by intentionally or inadvertently centering the focus on the issue of marriage as an institution. For many straight and gay people looking at marriage through this lens, the issue of equality gets lost or at least bogged down in larger discussions about the meaning of marriage, its import across diverse lines, etc. Real issues of how marriage only provides health insurance or inheritance to those with money and jobs with benefits and how activist energy and money is going into the marriage issue instead of fighting for other equality issues that would provide job security and benefits to larger and more diverse groups making up the queer community abound.

At the same time, embedded in the issue of marriage as a fundamental right is the issue of the goals of the State/Nation. Is it the goal of the U.S. government to represent and provide equality for all of its people or is it the goal of the nation to define citizenship according to a distinct set of subjective principles? While we tend to think of the U.S. as a place that does the former, history clearly shows that it is actually engaged in the latter. If we go by the letter of the law, then the State must uphold the right of all consenting citizens to marry one another. To not go by the letter of the law then reveals the bias behind the institution of marriage and renders the bigotry behind dubious arguments about “sanctity” “family” “right/good” visible for everyone.

Today, the court chose to go with the law by declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. Not only does that represent a win for Californians and marriage equality proponents but it also takes a step in the direction of recognizing the humanity of queer people. This step did not occur because marriage is back on the books as some might argue. Tentative acceptance of marriage in one state is not concrete acceptance of marriage equality there or in the nation as a whole. Rather, the win has to do with how the court made its decision. The court sided with gay marriage based on the testimony of two queer couples who talked about their love for each other, their relationship, commitment, and experiences of both bonded joy and discrimination. In other words, this case was won on the basis of the court’s recognition of the fundamental humanity and citizenry (ie symbolic right to be considered N. American) of same sex couples. The import of that cannot be underestimated.

As such, the HRC has asked that people in the queer community take time out to thank the brave couples involved in the lawsuit for opening up their lives to the court and risking endless shaming and blaming to turn the tide. You can send a pre-written thank you letter by clicking here.

I’ll end by saying this is not the end. Prop 8 supporters have vowed to take the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. As reported here during the Prop 8 debacle, Mormon’s have been using huge donor phone trees and even their own college BYU to amass massive funding dollars to fight marriage equality in California and across the nation. They are aided by communities across race and class lines but particularly conservative Eastern European immigrant communities that are changing the landscape of California and older communities that appear to have less exposure to information about alternative sexuality than other groups. These communities, as well as the many pockets of conservativism , fear, and hatred, everywhere, need more outreach, more non-top-down education and exposure, and more opportunities to be included rather than excluded or scapegoated for who they are rather than what they think. No one is going to be open minded in a discussion in which their basic identity is vilified not queer people excluded from basic rights nor communities taught to hate excluded on the basis of being X rather than thinking or supporting hate. Each of us can make a difference on this front even as we keep our energy focused on larger pushes for equality for everyone in the queer alphabet.

—–

last image co John Elton Creative Studios all others Steve Bouska

WordPress Wednesday Aug. 4

brittanica.com

As promised, this marks week two of the raw data on the identities and subjects of bloggers highlighted by wordpress as the best bloggers on wordpress have to offer. While this week avoided outright racist posts about people of color the trend toward highlighting mostly white male authors and white heterosexual authors on Freshly Pressed continues. Among the things we found most interesting this week was that in order to give the appearance of diversity, wordpress staff used captured images from videos on several posts whose photographic images were all of white people; the videos were done by black artists. In another case, they used a captured image from a black artist’s video on a post that had several images relating to its actual subject matter, including a photo of children of color. In both cases, the captured images did not reflect the focus of the posts in question. In all cases, including one where the post was actually about a black artist and wordpress staff decided to use a more stereotypical looking captured image than the much clearer photos available in the post, the posts were written by white people so that the visual diversity they created on the Freshly Pressed page was dually misleading.

Also interesting was that in at least one case, a video capture of a black artist was used on the Freshly Pressed page for a post that focused primarily on Asians. At the same time the overwhelming majority of authors of color highlighted were either Asians (as in, APIs in Asia) or API Americans. Like last week, there were several days in which no authors of color were highlighted including today.

Another interesting trend that seems to be emerging is the fact that many authors addressing issues of language or race highlighted on the page are writing from outside of the U.S. The majority of these authors have been Australian but not all. Further their discussions of race are largely about imperialistic interplays rather than racial contentions and almost all are written from a white perspective. In some cases, this perspective has coincided with the desire to deconstruct colonial gazes while in others it has embraced them.

On the positive side, while women were seldom pictured this week, at least two images included “plus size” women. Both of these women were white.

Some Data Issues

The data on images in general is misleading this week because wordpress highlighted a post on India that was a photo essay so that people of color appear over represented in the sample this week when in fact they were only pictured in a few posts this week. Again, the author of that post was white and equally interesting, he had chosen a header image of a boy of color walking for his blog design.

The focus on animal and plant blogging also decreased the overall number of human images further inflating the number of people of color depicted this week beyond the actual reflection of representations chosen.

Also as implied by the beginning of this post, in order to cross-check this information you need to look at the posts since simply scanning the Freshly Pressed page can give the wrong impression about who and what is highlighted. Interestingly, wordpress is aware that I do these stats on Wednesday’s and today’s Freshly Pressed page is particularly misleading with regards to supposed diversity of highlighted posts.

News of the Odd

One of the outlined criteria for Freshly Pressed is that the posts be interesting, entertaining, or otherwise inform. While we ruled out counting posts we found “boring” because that was entirely too subjective, we did find it interesting that wordpress chose to highlight a flickr page and several magazines that are presumably hosted by wordpress rather than actual bloggers on the site. They also highlighted a blog post that seemed to imply it had been plagiarized, and one that, while fascinating, claimed that upper middle class students are more oppressed than anyone else. They also continued to highlight posts that had copyright infringements despite their express policy against doing so, and in one case the post amounted to one giant uncited photo and a paragraph of text.

The Raw Data

Here are the numbers for the week in their raw form. We are collecting more information than I have highlighted here but I want to focus on the identity issues that started this project.

There were roughly 278,000 bloggers and between 285,000 and 346,000 blog posts per day from which they chose 11 to highlight each day. This weekend no new posts were highlighted. We only counted actual photos of people not videos of people even when wordpress staff chose to ignore images in favor of video screen captures for the Freshly Pressed page. The reason for this was that we noticed how the video images they chose did not reflect the post & videos are rarely highlighted on Freshly Pressed posts which makes them less important to us as an overarching indicator.

Identity

  • pictures of men of color: 11
  • pictures of women of color: 3
  • TOTAL IMAGES OF PEOPLE OF COLOR: 14
  • pictures of white men: 19
  • pictures of white women: 12
  • pictures of white people where gender was unknown (feet, hands, arms, etc.):5
  • TOTAL IMAGES OF WHITE PEOPLE: 36
  • Images of white people in the header: 9
  • Images with people of color in the header: 1
  • men of color authors: 2
  • women of color authors: 5
  • person of color author where gender was not given: 1
  • TOTAL AUTHORS OF COLOR: 8
  • white male authors: 26
  • white female authors: 20
  • white author where gender was not given: 3
  • TOTAL WHITE AUTHORS: 49
  • authors who mention spouse or parenting: 14
  • authors who mention queer identity: 0
  • white identified or eurocentric posts: 3

You will note in this section that white people vastly outnumber people of color in both the images used for highlighted blogs and the people authoring them even with the issues of over-representation of images of poc this week.  You will also note that both with regards to authors and images, men outnumbered women overall while female authors of color outnumbered male authors of color. As implied there were no images or authors that identified as transgender and no mention of queer identity or couples. Images of older people in this week’s Freshly Pressed were also down, and those depicted were all men of color down on their luck in a photo essay in which everyone else appeared to be working class or higher reinforcing a eurocentric view of poc.

WordPress Criteria Stats

These stats include the things that wordpress has expressly said they would not highlight, like posts with grammatical errors or un-cited images or other copyright infringement.

  • Grammatical Errors: 7
  • Copyright Infringement: 17 (not counting youtube videos)

While this represents a small fraction of the highlighted posts, it stands to reason that in the 300,000+ posts each day that wordpress staff had to choose from, they could have found posts written by people of color and/or queer people that neither violated copyright or had grammatical errors to replace this posts.

Conclusions

Despite what one wordpress staff person said about the Freshly Pressed page striving to reflect the diversity of the bloggers who use their format, the reality seems indisputable. In the last two weeks alone the majority of blog posts highlighted have been written by and illustrated using images of white, heterosexual, cis people primarily from the middle or upper class. They have also assumed a white audience in many cases and in some recreated both sexist and eurocentric narratives.

If you are concerned about the lack of representation not only on the Freshly Pressed page but the way wordpress is ultimately crafting its image through that page, please link to this post using some of the data in your post and considering asking wordpress to be more inclusive.

The Real L World but Not the Real L A

post still in progress – images added tonight

Let me start by saying I watched the entire run of the L World on Showtime, wrote essays about both its import and its failings, and teach it in my popular media course. Despite the many things I enjoyed about the show, from both an academic and viewer standpoint, the promises Chaiken made to be a multicultural show written from the perspective of biracial lesbians and lesbians of color, as well as white lesbians seldom panned out in the ways she promised. So I admit it, I was cynical about the racial politics of the “reality” show version of the L Word from the minute I heard it was in the proposal stage.

Like many of you, I watched 6 seasons of the L Word where overall the characters and storylines were compelling but black women, butch women and trans men (the latter of which were often collapsed into a single category) were largely absent and/or almost always depicted in profoundly offensive ways: Kit starts out as a drunk and bad mother whose parents and children hate her. Though she improves over the series she is also the outspoken gender and transphobe whose only white counterpart is the always inappropriate Jenny. As the only consistent black female presence on the show, she also acts as a subtle reinforcement of the idea that black people are more homophobic than white people (the visibly white, tho multiculti cast is all lesbian, the visibly black woman is straight with offensive gender politics) even as she subverts this idea by being openly supportive of not only her sister but the entire community. Yolanda, the only black woman in Bette’s lamaze class, is perpetually angry and constantly attacking Bette for passing. The audience is invited to judge her anger and be repulsed by her politics and beliefs even in the one scene where she is not yelling or on the verge of yelling. More than that, this first season encounter establishes the narrative of whiteness that often undermined attempts at diversity on the show, ie that if you can pass for white, live a life in which you are largely or completely treated as white, then you should and so should the show. As Better put it in response to Yolanda’s accusation that she had failed to embrace her entire cultural heritage and become white, “why shouldn’t I?” And her list of all the privileges and advantages that passing affords her are stated without irony nor complexity as if to further affirm the politics of privilege. The only offset to this mantra is that Bette makes an effort to have a biracial baby with her white partner and that her search is intentionally juxtaposed with her decries about the rightness and goodness of whiteness or lightness.

Latinas faired slightly better in the L Word partially because Papi, who was the quintessential “hot tamale” stereotype, was brought in for a plot twist and then quickly edited back out. Yet like Chaiken’s promises of multiculturalism in the promos for the first season of the show, quite a bit of media buzz surrounded Papi’s entrance into the L Word as a Latina lesbian character. Promotion promised us a character that had largely been missing from the show, what they delivered was a character who helped white lesbian Alice get her groove back and then was largely missing from the show.

At the same time the L Word did give us more interesting secondary characters of color. Candace Jewell, Bette”s fling, though tight-lipped was decidedly not a Saphire character, instead she offered us one of the only positive depictions of working class, [soft] butch identity on the show. She was intelligent, passionate, and hard working. Though some of have criticized the character for the jail house love scene which for them tapped into certain stereotypes of blackness. Tasha also went a long way in fixing some of the earlier missteps of the show with regards to gender politics and class identity. While her character was also more fleshed out than others, it still tapped into certain, more subtle stereotypes, about black women as angry, aloof, and conservative (vis-a-vis white liberal feminists). Carmen, as femme, also complicated an alarming equation of butchness and working classness or hickness that seemed to permeate the show, especially when Moira arrived before transition but also with Kelly. She was perhaps the most well-rounded and integrated character of color in the series. She was tied to a main character so that she was hard to marginalize and the scenes involving her family dealt with both Latinos who are opposed to homosexuality and those who embrace it in ways that avoided stereotypes about people of color and homophobia. At the same time neither of the Latina characters were played by Latina actresses bring the sum total of prominent Latinas employed by the L Word to ZERO. The absence of Asian women, which can only be countered by the casting of South Asian women to play Latinas, was also glaring in a show set in LA.

Given the racial and gender politics of the fictional version, I doubted the unreality of the proposed reality show would veer much further from Chaiken’s seeming preference for feminine, white or light characters; the previews for the Real L Word seemed to confirm my suspicions. There are no black women on the Real L Word and the emphasis on upper class identity in the show seems to imply that black women are poor and therefore not running in the same circles as these “top 10% ” lesbians (to borrow one cast member’s self-description). While I doubt the class-race connections were intentional, the failure to provide wide shots during Rose’s class discussion which would have shown an array of visibly brown and black women leaves the viewer with a particular message even as Rose’s own presence complicates it. More than that, the tight shots in these first scenes may have been an issue of consent and production but also serve to further erase darker women of color from even the background of the show.

Both Latinas in the Real L Word are white by Latina standards and at least one can likely pass by U.S. ones. In fact, I did not know she was Latina until she makes a Spanish language phone call to her mother in an anglicized accent. Interestingly, Rose, the more outspoken of the two could not pass.

At the same time, Chaiken has made an effort to include both butch women and her oh-so-light woc lesbians as equals in the show. Two of the main characters are women who self-identify as not feeling comfortable in a dress. One makes sure to tell us she is “a top” (though her make up artist girlfriend promptly says otherwise) and the other one says “There are heels and boots” and she is definitely “boots”.  A lot of time is spent on Miss Boots storyline in the first episode, so perhaps the producers are discovering something we already knew, ie women of all gender presentations are interesting not just us girlie girls.

The show also spends a considerable amount of time with both Latinas. Unlike the Papi character, Rose’s loud-mouthed womanizing is offset by her time with her family, discussions of growing older and getting out of bad relationships, and her negotiations with her live-in partner who I think is also Latina. Thus, she is transformed from a stereotypical version of Latina womanhood into a well-rounded character who likes to party. Since this is reality tv and bad girls sell, Chaiken’s decision to depict Rose’s complexity is particularly important and a key sign of the growth in racial representations begun in the later seasons of the L Word. Rose’s time with her family is also a critical counterpoint to Tracy’s conversation with and about her mother. While Rose has a supportive family who actively discusses her love life, Tracy’s mother has simply refused to address it and Tracy has had to make the difficult and familiar choice of cutting her emotional-sexual life out of her relationship with her parents. Again the two women’s experiences give us a much wider view of Latina women than we might otherwise get from someone invested in uncomplicated racial stereotypes and sensationalist tv.

Ultimately, I found the first episode of the Real L Word compelling. Not only does it expand the discourse of gender and race beyond that of the fictional show but it offers us a wide range of interesting characters with recognizable issues and lives. It humanizes the experience of lesbians across the lifecycle and thus offers another opportunity for people to see the gay community as normal or to see a snippet of themselves reflected on tv. However, that snippet continues to erase black and Asian women and to privilege a preference for lipstick whiteness and/or lightness that makes me wish Chaiken would deal with her own biracial issues and come into her racial own (instead of emulating Bette’s “why shouldn’t I [pass for white]”). As one biracial girl to another, I can tell her that life is much better on the other side of racial confusion and fear of blackness (all though I cannot say I ever shared those two issues with her). So I will keep watching the Real L Word while rooting for Chaiken to live up to some of the promises she has made over the years and let go of some of the baggage she has defended. And truthfully, the show is interesting, often compelling, and literally hard to turn away from even in the midst of the worst dyke drama.

What did you all think?