20 years of kissingfingertips!
For twenty years I’ve been writing this site. Twenty years. It’s extraordinary what changes have occurred in that time. The past two decades have seen a fundamental shift in queer culture, and its acceptance by the mainstream. There’s also been a changing of the guard - younger people coming in and making the queer landscape their own, expanding and evolving it to include gender diversity in a way that was simply not an accepted part of our landscape when I started this adventure when I was 27 years old. Yes, my generation (the oft forgotten X’ers sitting between the boomers and the millennials) fought for the rights of all queer people, but while we were fighting we had no idea what the next generation would do with that freedom. Now that I see what’s happened and how LGBTQIA+ rights and art has evolved, I couldn’t be more proud.
I’ve had my own (r)evolution in many respects. My own journey from female to non-binary took some time, and my education into all things Trans is still a work in progress. I realised that part of what prevented me from making that leap in my own mind was that I consider myself a lesbian - that’s my sexuality. I found it difficult to leave that identity behind to reach towards my non-binary truth, and then came the realisation that I didn’t have to choose. The line between sexuality and gender identity does blur, and being gender non-conforming doesn’t mean giving up your queer sexual identity.
I’ve noticed that this journey changed the way I write. I started out - when I was still wrapped up in my cinema studies education - on a film theory path. Gradually I became more interested in gender and cultural studies theory. I also started writing only about film, and expanded this first into TV, and then into documentary. I’m still playing catch up, and I’m still obsessed with the message and how these messages impact our collective image of ourselves as queer people. I’m also fascinated by the different ways queer culture has evolved all around the world. So much of what we consider as “popular culture” is American, and how the rest of the world challenges this hegemony and dominance is important.
When I first started writing this film review site (I hesitate to call it a blog), queer representation was so rare that I would classify almost anything that vaguely included a lesbian character as a lesbian film. Now, with so much content to choose from, I’m more discerning about what actually classifies as the kind of content I want to write about. I’m also now not at all afraid of expressing my anger towards content that seems to regress our cause.
Once upon a time we watched pretty much everything that was out there because even if it was horrible or negative, it was all we had. Any kind of representation was better than none. Thankfully, we are no longer in this position. We can pick and choose what we want to watch, we can be discerning about what we praise and what we criticise, and simply the inclusion of a lesbian or trans person in something doesn’t make it good.
What’s become really apparent, in the visual world of film and TV as well as in our popular culture discourse, is that the language around defining ourselves continues to be fraught with difficulty. The pushback against “political correctness” is real, and exists even in our own community. While we struggle towards an inclusive future that lets us all be what we want to be on our own terms and at our own speed, we also look to structures and support systems that ensure the best outcomes for society at large. Freedom of expression and non-conformity with a “do no harm” mentality. It is no easier to reconcile these two positions today than it has been at any other time in our history.
When I look at how things have changed over the past 20 years, I can marvel at the one constant that has not changed. We still expect queer creators to be all things to all people. Making a story about one group can lead to criticism that the story is not inclusive of all.
It’s so often not good enough to present a single idea, to explore a single concept. We often expect too much from a single film or TV show. We cannot expect queer people to speak for every other person in our community, but we must be better at representing the experiences of all genders, colours, sexualities in our film discourse as a whole. I do believe that the balance is somewhat correcting itself, but only because people with different viewpoints are stepping up, and audiences are embracing stories about people who have a different experience to our own.
Again, it’s a difficult line to walk. Artists are showing what they themselves are seeing or experiencing in our community, and delving into specific aspects of it. Yes we can critique this viewpoint, but we cannot expect individuals to speak for us all, and really, how boring would that be if they tried?
What I want to see is the mainstream making efforts to not hide the parts of it that it doesn’t like or doesn’t know how to represent. To embrace creators who have these different viewpoints and who can authentically tell their stories. We know that trans, queer, and people of colour have always been part of the narrative, it’s just been hidden away for so long. The pushback is justified.
It’s totally OK to tell a story about white, cis-gendered people, you just can’t have every story on every channel and in every cinema be about white cis-gendered people. It’s OK for us to tell stories about lesbians, those lesbians just can’t ALL be carbon copies of white, cis-gendered people, indistinguishable from the straight community and ignoring butch, non-binary or other gender non-conforming people. Geez, even the writers of The L Word figured that out eventually, so miracles do happen.
What’s important is that yes, creators must evolve and yes, the people funding art must seek out and support efforts by diverse creators. What’s truly important though is that we as audiences and critics must demand that content. We must vote with our dollars and our feet, we must support what we want to see.
My passion for the world of queer cinema is as strong today as it ever was. I’m thrilled to keep evolving my own thinking about what being queer and gender non-conforming means, both for myself and in our culture, and witnessing the changing ways this is presented on screen. In the next five years I’m expecting us to break down more Trans barriers and create more Trans stories by Trans people starring Trans actors. The final barrier really is allowing a Trans man or woman to play a straight man or woman without fear or comment. There’s no reason why Jamie Clayton couldn’t fulfill her dream of playing a spy who has thrilling affairs with handsome men with no mention of her being Trans. It would just take someone brave to make it, and yeah it’d probably happen on HBO or Netflix.
I’m expecting more visibility for queer characters in more mainstream narratives, though I suspect the Bury Your Gays trope is not entirely dead, and keeps rearing its ugly head in weird places and in different guises.
I’m expecting more change, and that’s entirely a good thing.