Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Butches in Hollywood

Terri Polo & Sherri Saum as lesbian moms in The Fosters
"Do you have any celebrity crushes?" my friend Natalie inquired one evening.

"Of course!" I said reflexively...but then could only list one woman, Jordana Brewster from the film D.E.B.S. After that, I could only think of rougeish and/or prettyboy male actors. Natalie also could not name any female celebrity crushes and we agreed was a sad state of affairs when avowed lesbians like us couldn't think of any celebrity women that were really crush-worthy.

The problem for us, and no doubt many many other queer women, is that we like butchy-ish beautiful women. But to Hollywood filmmakers and TV producers, this group of women does not really exist. When lesbians or bisexual women are portrayed, they must be traditionally feminine with long hair, tight clothes, hourglass figures and make-up.

Anna Silk and Zoie Palmer in a scene from Lost Girl
Heather Morris & Naya Rivera on Glee
Even some of the most contemporary films and tv shows and those that are actually written by lesbians, bisexual women and gay men don't show us anywhere near to the full range of queer women. Cases in point The Fosters, Glee, Lost Girl, and The L-Word, which all have LGBTQ writers and/or creators.

The central cast of The L Word

Adepero Oduye as Alike in the film
Independent films like "Pariah" are able to take the risk of a multi-dimensional butchy protagonist because they're seen as fringe--by queer people for queer people--unlike the shows that feature queer women but are required to have mass appeal and therefore must hyper-feminize its queer women. The closest we've gotten in the TV world is Tasha and Shane on the L Word (first from left second from the right in the L Word cast photo, respectively), Ellen Degeneres and Rachel Maddow, but I wouldn't go so far as to call any of them full-out butch--they're just not traditionally or hyper-feminine.

Photographer Meg Allen's recent portrait project shows us starkly what we are missing by excluding butch women from mass media. Her photos profiling butches in the Bay Area show us confident, quirky and sexy butch women. As Meg Allen writes on her website, there are costs for these women being themselves:
"These portraits are of butches who are used to being heckled for the way they look; they are used to the lack of acceptance and disapproving gazes from everyday onlookers; they are used to hiding themselves and avoiding too much attention-- attention that has sometimes warranted violence. But it’s 2014. I am proud of who I am and who they are. It’s time we are given room to look the way we look. We aren’t dangerous. We don’t want to rip down the fabric of the natural world. We just want to be the way we are."
Meg Allen's portrait of Keiko, http://megallenstudio.com/#/butch/
We may think of TV shows as trivial, candy for consumption, but the shows and films that Hollywood produces certainly have an impact on what forms of dress and gender expression our society sees as appropriate or worthy. Lipstick lesbians rock, and should absolutely be featured in our media, but we shouldn't be okay with how masculine or butch women are conveniently edited out of the vast majority of our TV shows and films.

Vive la butch!

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