Emily & Maya <3 Pretty Little Liars
I love teen tv. I used to try to pretend like I didn’t and there were points in my life where I sincerely believed I hated it. That was just me trying to resist the “evils” of mainstream culture.
To be honest, most of it is evil (heteronormative, capitalist, racist etc.). But I love watching it.
To be able to forget my own struggles for a little while and indulge in the world of white girl problems is a weekly pleasure that distracts from my everyday life. Also, there’s so much fun in critiquing that shit, as evidenced in this post.
Growing up, I saw the presence of lesbian women on tv as, well, non-existent. I didn’t really know lesbians existed outside of late night naughty television on showcase. I didn’t know of anything other than something referenced as “butch” and ‘bisexual’ I came to understand as a term for femme women who were either confused, being taken advantage of, lost or actually gay but in denial. There were barely any examples of lesbians or bisexual women existing outside of stereotypes, if they existed at all. When they did, they were always white.
The O.C. … remember that shit?
Forward to 2010.
Not only are there homos on tv, but there are actually queer women of colour! Queer FEMME women of colour, like ME.
This both excites and confuses me.
I mean, who is interested in portraying queer women in this particular way? Where are the masculine women? The only female ‘same-sex’ loving I see happening on TV is exclusively between femmes, why is this?
It would seem that femme visibility on tv is still for hetero-male consumption. If straight guys can’t enjoy it, it can’t be on tv.
But seeing these beautiful, fierce, intelligent, femmes of colour on tv not just making out but dating and forming relationships with other femmes (sometimes even other femmes of colour!) is so wonderful, powerful and affirming that I don’t even care that it’s not ‘for me’ because ultimately it is. They’re femmes dating femmes.
I think because I rarely see femme/femme of colour relationships in real life and because my queerness is constantly denied to me as a femme, I’m so intrigued by these tv relationships where this isn’t an issue. The femmephobia that exists in queer spaces, both white and of colour, is so complicated. I get that there is anger and resentment because we ‘pass’ as straight and aren’t subject to the same forms of homophobia/bullying/harassment as androgynous, genderqueer or butch women. I don’t think that phobia is okay, but I understand it.
What I don’t understand is queers playing into homophobia through denying femmes our sexualities by constantly questioning our authenticity, labelling us as a threat or placing definitions of legitimacy for what constitutes queerness onto us. That shit is so damaging and hurtful, especially for queers of colour who have more difficulty in identifying with ‘LGBT’ or even ‘queer’ as terms which have been defined by white folk and are grounded in whiteness. Same thing goes for markers or readers of queerness/queer identity which folks of colour do not have the same access to as white queers. It creates spaces for the constant interrogation I receive from other (mostly white but not always) queers about my politics, relationships and sex life which is forced onto me both because of my femme identity and as a result of being of colour.
That’s why seeing Santana on Glee being so unapologetic (“Only straight I am is straight up bitch”) about being a lesbian is so wonderful to me. There’s no questioning her attraction to other women, she won’t allow for it and neither do the writers which I find really interesting. Same thing goes for Emily on Pretty Little Liars. These homos are homo in and of themselves, not because their lives are horrible or they’ve been traumatized. They’re not experimenting with women through a few episodes only to date men exclusively and never talk about sexuality again once that storyline is over (as has been traditionally the case with lesbian and bi female characters). It has nothing to do with being edgy or controversial.
Their storylines are inherently gay. And I love it.
I love it because it’s so huge! To see a queer femme of colour on some of tv’s biggest shows is a huge victory (not that visibility alone is the be all end all or that it in and of itself changes the discrimination we face). That type of acknowledgement is still lacking from so many queer spaces/organizations that I participate in. Forget the representation bit, I know that it’s token in so many ways and that these characters don’t explicitly ever talk about race, but the presence of these characters themselves acknowledges my identity and experiences as real.
Seeking that type of acknowledgement from the mainstream is dangerous, I know, but I don’t think that I’m seeking it (feel free to challenge me on that). I rarely expect anything positive/awesome/anti-oppressive from the tv shows I watch. It’s just a pleasant surprise in the middle of getting my fix of drama, fashion and pop music. It’s like oh, hey, you know that I exist, well that’s new.
It’s huge because I feel like if I had these characters when I was a teenager, shit would’ve been a lot less confusing for me.
I wouldn’t have had to look to hetero/white folks on Dawson’s Creek. I would’ve seen myself in Emily, Maya and Santana.
That other younger queers of colour have the potential to do so is exciting to me.
The day I’m able to see queer folks of colour (of all genders and sexualities) on both mainstream tv and in alternative media, where we already represent ourselves, will be a fantastic day. I eagerly await seeing masculine women, butches, trans folk, gender queer and gender non-conforming people featured in horrible teen dramas.
Until then, I’m going to envision some type of amazing cross-over drama where Emily transfers to Ohio and becomes a Cheerio. Or, I’ll just keep watching and waiting.