It’s Pride Month, which means three things: Corporate Twitter accounts will start talking like “Drag Race” contestants, the queer community will continue fighting our annual blood feud about kink’s place at Pride and there will be think pieces about LGBT representation in the media. If you’re like me, the thought of those three things is enough to make your eyes glaze over.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that conversations about representation aren’t important. Letting viewers see themselves depicted in art helps people feel less alone. It tells them they’re OK. It tells them that they are worthy of story and narrative and, yeah, maybe love. And it exposes people to folks who are different than they are and makes the case that those that we don’t understand are worthy of empathy and love. That’s all wildly important, but it’s also self-evident.
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But as a trans woman, I’m sick of these conversations because it feels like we only get to have them in June. I’m sick of these conversations because I’m sick of feeling like representation alone is enough. I’m sick of these conversations because I’m sick of art that seems to simply argue on behalf of our community’s collective humanity. That humanity should be beyond debate. I want stories of complex queer and trans people. That was our goal when making Peacock’s “Queer as Folk.” To depict queer folks who were messy and made mistakes but were still ultimately worthy of love and narrative. I want that to be where we’re going. I want more than just “representation” for our community.
And yet, here I am, in June, writing an article about the continued need for more queer representation. Why?
I was recently driving from Los Angeles to New Orleans. Now, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the geography of the American Southwest, but that’s a drive that puts me in Texas by myself for something like 15 hours. Not ideal.
One night, a little before midnight, I was a couple hours outside of Austin when my dog Leo woke up and very clearly needed to go to the bathroom. I took the next exit and pulled into a mostly empty gas station plaza. I parked along the edge of the lot, hopped out, leashed up Leo for an impromptu walk and encouraged him to move quickly. Just then, across the parking lot, three guys left the convenience store part of the station and headed to a van. As they made the walk to their car, I felt like they were looking at me, but they were far away, and my nerves were on edge, so I tried to dismiss the thought and turn my attention back to my pup, who had finally found a rock worthy of his pee.
Only I couldn’t dismiss it. And as I looked back to the van, I felt my blood run cold. The van was driving across the parking lot toward me.
It parked about 10 or so feet away from me. Close enough that I could see the faces of the men inside looking at me and talking to each other, but not so close I could make out what they were saying. There was laughter, but the kind that feels coated in razor blades. A joyful noise paired with hostile eyes.
I turned back to Leo, grabbed him, and returned to our car. I pulled out of the parking lot only for the van to follow. I drove back to the highway entrance, with my heart in my throat, and my eyes fixated on my phone’s lack of service. As I stopped at a red light, a million scenarios played out in my head at once. All of them bad. The light finally turned green and I finally turned onto the entrance to the highway. Once I did, I saw the van pull a U-turn and drive off into the night.
In some ways this is a story of something not happening. I’ve been assaulted for being trans before. I’ve been groped. I’ve had beer bottles thrown at me. Why this story and not those?
Because these men looked sure of their anger. They had the air of a group who felt like they had morality on their side. And why wouldn’t they? Right now, trans rights are under attack across this country. The Republican Party has spent the last two years explicitly running an election strategy to weaponize trans panic. On Fox News, trans people and those who support minors having access to gender-affirming care are being recategorized as “groomers.” On Netflix, famous straight comedians make jokes about trans women being dangerous in bathrooms, as well as worthy targets for their audience’s anger. All this leads to a simple but scary truth. When you start to say a group of people is dangerous, you empower your followers to become dangerous to them.
And it’s not stopping with trans people. “Don’t Say Gay” bills are becoming common in state legislatures across the country. And with Roe v. Wade likely to be overturned soon, Supreme Court protections that queer folks fought long and hard for are also seemingly back under threat. It’s not doom and gloom to say that things feel like they’re getting worse right now. It’s a realistic reading of the situation.
So, here I am, in June, saying that we need to make art that shows that queer and trans people are worthy of love and respect. Yes, I want to move beyond simple representation, and I hope our reimagining of “Queer as Folk” does that somewhat. But as much as I think that is where we should be going as an industry, I can’t sit here in the face of the political backslide we are experiencing and its very real-life consequences for actual queer and trans people (not to mention anyone with a uterus) and act like “representation matters” is trite. Telling our stories is an act of defense against the narratives being pushed that seek to harm us. Our humanity should be beyond debate, but unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where that’s true.
Jaclyn Moore is an executive producer and writer on Peacock’s “Queer as Folk.”
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