The Pandemic, Quarantine,Netflix, and International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia
LGBTQ representation on television and cinema is helpful, but it isn't enough. During the pandemic, it's time for honesty and support.
Today, March 17, is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, a day to create awareness of violations and crimes against the LGBTQ community while advocating for increased equality and support. A day to remind people to be accepting of other’s differences and sexual/gender identity, to be good beings, and not commit hate crimes against their fellow humans. To treat others with respect. A simple message delivered in a complicated time.
2020 has blatantly displayed its chaotic and adverse nature. With a vastly-spreading virus, crippling unemployment and economical losses, failing dependency on the government at many levels, and continuous domestic racial tension, amongst other privations and struggles, what place within a national narrative does International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia have?
It's quite simple. It's part of the same narrative.
2020's International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia comes at a time of crisis and hardship for many, if not all. The current COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic has tarnished various normalcies and protocols. Everyone is practicing implemented regulations and abiding recommendations from health experts. Millions across the country are unemployed while millions of others struggle to adapt to a work-from-home routine or altering of workplace environments. Businesses are barely grappling to keep their doors open, many of which have changed their entire business model in order to do so. Workers continue to power through a fickle and uncertain workforce, especially for those whose deemed 'essential.' Healthcare and healthcare providers are navigating through the complexities of a system which doesn't openly invite the uninsured and unpaid. At the epicenter of it all are those directly affected by the pandemic; the sick and the dying. Amongst all of these people, you can certainly find someone who identifies as LBGTQ; a gay man who has lost his bartending job, a transgendered women whose beauty salon closed down, a lesbian who is working the nightshift at a local hospital.
It's part of the same narrative.
We all want to return to life pre-pandemic, but, in my ways, that life no longer exists. Through the lens of the pandemic, we've come to realize, at least that is my hope, that we're all but mere humans enduring similar battles. COVID-19 has put us all on the same playing field, paying no mind to sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and nationality. This has allowed us to see that we truly are less different from one another than we might have initially thought.
Many want an improved and better way of life with optimized work conditions, better healthcare access and coverage, and protective legislation in case of national emergencies such as the coronavirus. This narrative, however, needs to include feasible equality and recognition for marginalized communities.
Now, I'm not naive. I know that the work which lies ahead is Herculean. I know that there are many minds still to be changed, hearts to be overturned, mentalities to education and hateful manners to eradicate. Many individuals, myself included, imaged a much more progressive stance for not only the LGBTQ community in our nation by now, but for many other demographics targeted with hateful, demeaning, and disrespectful situations including women, African-Americans, and immigrants.
Before the post-pandemic world begins, how do we start constructing a world where these matters are facilitated?
That got me thinking.
In 2017, I was obsessed with the second season of "Masters of None," the Netflix series created by and starring comedian Aziz Ansari. Alan Yang, who also wrote for "Parks and Recreation," paired up with Ansari to write the comedy series which is loosely based on Ansari's own life experiences. The series went on to receive great reviews including from Rotten Tomatoes whose Tomatometer gave a score of 100 percent and has an audience score of 89 percent.
The first season was a comedic approach to everyday life situations faced by minorities and a diverse group of characters. A major focal point of the show was to reiterate Dev's, Ansari's character, struggle to find his place in New York City as an Indian 30-something year-old actor. The second second broadened its coverage of issues faced by minorities by including the struggles of women and the LGBTQ community.
The eight episode on season two, titled "Thanksgiving," recounts the story of how Denise, played by Lena Waithe, realizes that she is a lesbian. The episode spans three decades worth of Thanksgiving gatherings at Denise's house. Since Dev is Indian and his family doesn't celebrate the American holiday, he joins Denise's family every single year.
This episode is particular because it highlights three different social perplexities; that people confuse Indians with being black, that black women are destined to struggle more than their white counterparts for a living and, most prevalent in the episode, that being gay is okay as long as it's not on display.
In the episode, Denise finally comes out to her mother while in college, even though she has identified as a homosexual black women for years now. Earlier in the show while her and Dev are in their teenage years, she confesses to him to being "Lebanese," mentioning that she is uncomfortable with the word lesbian. More importantly, she says "being gay isn't something black people talk about."
And it isn't something Latinos talk about either. Or Middle Eastern families. Or Asians. Or many families across American for that matter.
Since 2017's season two of Masters of None, Netflix has done an exemplary job at integrating and normalizing queer characters with many of its most famous shows; Queer Eye, Orange is The New Black, Elite, Hollywood, amongst others. Perhaps they haven't always gotten it right, but their representation of the LGBTQ community has expedited the inclusion of queer characters into cinema and television which was so direly needed.
A while ago, I was talking to my mom about when I came out to her. We talked about how I was adamant about not being "accepted." I wanted to be acknowledged. To live my life without hiding from anyone. I didn't want to repress what I had repressed for years. She told me it was a different experience for her because I wasn't looking for sympathy or pity, I was simply inviting her to be part of a life I had already embarked on.
That resonated in my head. I thought back to "Masters of None."
In the show, Denise's mother, who is played by Angela Bassett, advises Denise not to tell her grandmother because "she isn't going to be able to take it" while crying because she doesn't want her daughter to make her life harder than it already is by being a black woman.
Denise eventually invites a girlfriend over for her family's annual Thanksgiving dinner, but all doesn't go in her favor. The tension is obvious when Denise's mother doesn't go in for her girlfriend's embrace and instead shakes her hand. During dinner, their apparent companionship makes the other family member's uneasy, looking away and rolling their eyes. When they have a moment to herself, Denise's mom tells her "you can be lesbian if you want to but when you come up in here, you gonna respect my house."
For many of us, our homes are our haven, especially now during quarantine. Those of us who can count on support and acknowledgement from our family and friends and concur that we are blessed. There are many members of the LGBTQ community that have been harassed, threatened, beaten and disowned. But how far we do have to go to receive even the smallest of "acceptance?"
Although I was adamant about being recognized for who I was with my family, I never was comfortable with being affectionate with my two ex-boyfriends in front of my own family. A holding of hands and a casual hug was alright, but never a kiss on the lips or an enduring embrace. Why is that? While my heterosexual siblings have always been affectionate with their spouses in front of my parents, I preferred to keep my intimacy behind closed doors. How adamant was I then being with being acknowledged?
The answer is simple: our social culture hasn't "accepted" it as a norm. There's plenty of banners and slogans, demonstrations of support and allegiance, rallies and marches. Truly though, we haven't obtained the acknowledgement we deserve. As long some don't see our queerness front and center, then everything is okay. But it really isn't, especially in a time where representation and visibility is everything. People need to know we are home owners, essential workers, nurses, and patients just like them.
Mediums such as Netflix have helped to bring different sexual and gender-identities to the forefront of national narratives, but most of it is entirely fictional. While the representation of LGBTQ people in television and all forms of entertainment is essential for other individuals to perceive us as equals, it's up to us to give it flesh and bone in the real world.
The pioneers of the LGBTQ rights movement, people who had died for its cause and meaning, would not be honored if that is where we let it stop. Are we going to be content with simply being acknowledged? Is freely living our lives truly what we want? Then why kiss behind closed doors?
Until we can walk hand-in-hand, can embrace for longer than a minute and can go in for a sweet kiss from out partners wherever we damn feel like, then there is still work to do done. During COVID-19, we must continue to have these kind of open conversations about identifying as LGBTQ and how those who don't have be supportive by being acknowledgeable.
Masters of None hit a bullseye when it comes to LGBTQ issues back in 2017. Now in 2020, and on International Day Against Homophobia, I hope we all do as well by discussing this and coming to terms that it's just love. Do it with your children while you practice shelter-in-place, perhaps while watching one of Netflix's many queer-friendly shows.
The pandemic has given us many conversations to partake in; global health, social responsibility, diseases and treatment, the ways of the economy, and human equality. Let the stance against homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia de part of these conversations too.