Yesterday I saw/heard two interviews with Lena Waithe. For those of you who don’t know who she is, she recently was the first black woman to win a comedy writing Emmy for co-writing the Thanksgiving episode in season 2 of Mater of None. Her new series, The Chi, just debuted on Showtime so she’s been doing the interview circuit.
I am 37 years old and I came out almost 21 years ago. I have seen things change drastically in that time, including myself. Coming out before the age of the internet meant that I had to find all of my gay stuff in bookstores and video stores. Seeing women who looked like me in media was a rare treat, and it only ever really happened in movies I rented. Growing up my film and TV role models were Vada Sultenfuss from My Girl, Jo on the Facts of Life, Valerie Bertinelli’s character on One Day At A Time and, Alex Mack on The Secret World of Alex Mack. The thing is, as each of these characters grow up, they also grow out of their tomboyish-ness.
That was the message I got. As you get older, you’re supposed to be into dresses and make-up and hair. I tried being into dresses though, my style was more weird than anything else. I tried being into make-up (it was bad. There were no YouTube tutorials in the 90’s!) I didn’t really pretend to be into hair, I was super into my undercut an no one could change that. But, the thing is, none of this was working. I wasn’t growing out of who I was like TV and movies told me I should and, because I didn’t have a comfortable way to dress that really expressed who I was, I just wore weird ass shit.
Luckily, shortly after my first girlfriend and I started dating, we found out we weren’t the only gay teens in town. There was actually a big group of us and every Tuesday night we’d pile into cars and head to the next city over to attend an LGBTQ+ youth support group called Manchester Outright. It was there that I was able to see people who looked like me. It was there that I was able to meet friends for life. It was there that I knew I didn’t have to grow out of who I was, that it was okay for me to continue to be me and grow into a full adult lesbian.
What does any of this have to do with Lena Waithe, you ask!?!? As I was watching her yesterday, talking about her sexual orientation and her gender expression, I started tearing up. I was FINALLY seeing a woman on TV and hearing her on the radio talking about shopping in the men’s section. Talking about having to come up with her own style because there wasn’t anything pre-determined that she fit in to. Talking about figuring out she was queer when she was young but, not really having the words or concepts to know what that was other than her just being different. And, finally, she was talking about her vision, goals and hard work. She was talking about her success being linked to being true to herself. I alternately clapped and cried throughout both interviews. THIS is the woman I needed when I was a kid and I’m so happy that the queer kids of today have her. Who am I kidding? This is the woman I need now, at 37. I am never going to stop needing to see myself represented in pop culture. I am always going to appreciate queer, masculine of center women who fucking own it.
Watch her extended interview with Desus and Mero here
Listen to her interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air here