No narration without representation

Queerly Political

As I watched the two women scissor each other on my television, I thought to myself, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

I was infuriated, not only because of its inaccuracy in depiction, but the fact that this occurred moments after a painstaking 12 minutes of another exploitative sex scene.

This is the utter bullshit known as “Blue Is the Warmest Color.”

The film follows a 15-year-old girl exploring her sexuality and falling in love with another girl. The problem is that whenever the two share an intimate moment, it goes from sensual to exploitative and hypersexualized in less than three seconds. Rather than celebrating queer intimacy between women, the movie feels like lesbian erotica made for the male gaze — also known as lesbian porn.

Unsurprisingly, the film was directed by a heterosexual man who had turned my sexuality into a fetish — an image for other men to enjoy and consume. On top of that, the girls’ relationship and narrative tragically ends by a man coming in between them.

When I openly criticized the movie, my friends replied with, “But it’s so real, raw and reflective of life; not all relationships end positively.” It wasn’t until I took a film and literature class that I realized the importance of narrative structure and theories.

Stories and their characters reflect and shape our society’s view of people. So when you have centuries of established hetero narratives where the man and woman end up happily ever after, that creates a societal norm.

Learning this and reflecting on “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” I realized that my friends were right. The narrative was real, but only real in the sense that it reflected the reality of pop culture queer narratives that all end in punishment, disappearance or conforming to heteronormativity.

One random night while scrolling through Netflix, I decided to watch “San Junipero,” an episode of “Black Mirror” that my friends had been telling me about. Going into the episode, I thought it would be like every “Black Mirror” narrative — a depressing yet satirical reflection on technology and humanity.

The narrative takes places within a simulated reality, a town called San Junipero, where people’s consciousnesses are uploaded when they die, allowing friends to visit them. This is where the two young women Kelly and Yorkie meet for the first time.

Instantly, I was sucked into their connection and the plot. So much so that I didn’t even realize 30 minutes had passed. Nearly half of the episode is dedicated to establishing their relationship — showing them talk, connect, dance, laugh and converse.

It’s so strange how something as simple as this can make someone feel humanized. I felt validated, affirmed and acknowledged in my existence. Unlike previous representations, the climax of this narrative isn’t the sex but the genuine emotional connection they share.

And yet I was thinking to myself, “This is too good to be true.” Although I felt validated, I also felt on edge, waiting for the narrative to end. I was anticipating the inevitable destruction of their relationship because that’s what normally happens to queer folks in pop culture.

In the next moment, Yorkie reveals that she’s getting married to a man. I thought to myself, “Here we go again with another queer story that ends in assimilation.” But then the narrative reveals that they both are visiting this simulation and that Yorkie’s marriage is simply a means to allow her to be euthanized.

Just when it seems that the story will conform to a heterosexual narrative, the opposite happens. The narrative itself bends to accommodate their love, as the two live together in San Junipero, riding off into the sunset for eternity.

By the end of the story, I found myself in tears of joy.

Of course, this ending may seem cliche by heteronormative standards, but maybe it’s cliche to you because it happens all the fucking time in your narratives.

I’ve periodically watched this episode more than 15 times — not only because I love it, but also because my options are few and far between. Can you imagine watching your favorite romance film 15 times because there’s nothing else of the same production quality that ends positively? (Maybe you have watched your favorite that many times, but that’s beside the point.)

So when talking about the importance of representation, we can’t just demand any type of representation. We need representation that isn’t toxically defined through the eyes of our cisgender, heteronormative culture. I want to see diverse, intersectional representation that shows the vast experiences and lives of LGBTQ people. Representation can shift the flow of cultural knowledge by making queer images and relationships seem normal on a pop-cultural level.

Watching queer love stories between women shouldn’t feel like an episode of “Scream.”

Kaitlyn Hodge writes the Thursday blog on queer issues. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kaitlynhodge.