*Name has been changed to ensure privacy
A few weeks ago I came across the movie Pariah. It was one of those vague, but poignant IFC network films that I’m always waking up on the end of in the middle of the night. Before the credits begin to roll there’s a dark-skinned girl staring out of a bus window with a vacant look of relief which had me like, “Wonder what the hell that was about?” So I did a search and set for it to record the next day. The movie begins in a seedy strip club. Our main character stands a bit behind the crowd shy, but in awe of this mocha-colored beauty doing some kind of butterfly thigh move on the pole. And soon it hits me that this person in a fitted cap looking confused, amazed and about a “Drake” on a comfort level of saint to sinner in the strip club is wait…a girl. Pariah is the story of a young African-American woman dealing with discovering her own blossoming sexuality and self-expression while confronting the expectations of her traditional church-going parents who have skeletons of their own. Even more so, it’s a story of a butch African-American lesbian teenage girl.
Over the past twenty-years and so, America has hesitantly swallowed the shock value of gay America and in the past decade or so even slowly infused it into our popular culture in a social understanding that LGBTQ is American culture too whether we like it or not. But as familiar as some of us have become with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and LOGO TV, we’ve forgotten that lesbians are about that life too. And not the lesbians that Lil’ Wayne glorifies and America likes to see. I’m talking about the lesbians that we don’t completely understand, so we think if we don’t discuss them, they’ll go away: the butch lesbians.
Because I honestly must say, I don’t get it. When I watched Pariah I had the same question I’m sure everyone else does when they see a beautiful woman holding hands with someone at first glance you think is a guy, until something that would otherwise go unnoticed gives it away only because you ARE staring so hard, “Why is she with her when she could just get a real man?”
“That’s not a question that’s easy to answer,” I was told Friday evening. See because the fact that I didn’t “get it,”bothered me. So instead of making assumptions I wanted to talk to someone who could give me a glimpse into what life is like for the “lesbians straight people don’t understand.” I decided to call up Jazz*, a friend I hadn’t talked to since high school. In fact she was someone I had liked a lot, my best friend since grade school. So of course I felt like a complete jerk that my first phone call to her in over ten years was to interrogate her about her sexual status. It was nothing personal, just one of those situations where life stuff makes you lose touch. Luckily the whole conversation wasn’t just about who she was sleeping with, and she was still the great friend I had from all of those years ago.
For as long as I knew, Jazz and I never had much in common. In fact I’m pretty sure our friendship blossomed from always being grouped together for some kind of seating arrangement or project in grade school because our names were close together in the alphabet. We always enjoyed each other’s company and even when I’d come over she’d be playing basketball in the back of the house and I’d be upstairs playing Barbies with her younger sisters. But it was further proof that friendship is more than just all of the activities you have in common; it’s about inside jokes, common enemies and the fact that someone who is not obligated to love you, does for whatever reason that may be.
When I vaguely learned that Jazz was dating women through a random Facebook update, I can’t say I was super surprised, but apparently it wasn’t anything she ever really entertained when we were younger. Here I was marching around with my LGBTQ ally flag singing, Baby I was Born This Way when Jazz quickly corrected, she really doesn’t think she was, “Some people say they’re born gay and I don’t know if I agree with that. I’m not even going to say I wasn’t ever attracted to men. Even you know when me and you were younger we talked about boys we thought were cute.” It made me think of the notes we’d pass in eight grade bickering over who Batman from Immature (or was it IMX by then) belonged to. It wasn’t a front or her fighting any feelings she was ashamed of. She was just blindly navigating her sexuality like the rest of us adolescents. It just further confirmed to me how sexuality isn’t as black and white as we’d like it to be, whether you’re gay or straight. We may not be all pushing any boundaries on gender representation and who were attracted to, but sexuality and emotions are confusing for everyone.