Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

DISCLAIMER: I am, in complete honesty, a heterosexual white woman. I did, however, complete my undergraduate thesis in the oppression of the black female body in Afro-American diasporic literature and I received top marks. I am not an authority, but I am a passionate ally. Let’s begin.


Last night, after binging the new Zac Efron/Ted Bundy Bio-Pic, two friends and I turned on Netflix’s new — for lack of a better word — chick-flick Someone Great starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, and DeWanda Wise. On the surface, the core cast was diverse and riveting. Rodriguez played a broken-hearted Latina who had recently landed her dream job at Rolling Stone in San Francisco, ultimately driving her away from New York and her boyfriend of the past nine years. Snow was the uptight WASP who learns to let loose through the course of the film, finding out that not everything has to go according to plan. And finally, Wise is the Black-Lesbian.

I leave that sentence at seven words because there is so much more to unpack there than to sum up in one singular sentence. Through the course of the film, her character Erin has to learn that it’s okay to fall in capital-L Love, even if that means opening herself up to vulnerability of rejection. In a poignant moment with her lover, she reveals that she was in one semi-relationship in college only to be left for a man, leaving her to feel like “an experiment.” But prior to this reveal, Erin is cold romantically, withdrawn when it comes to her romantic partner’s pushes for more intimacy. When pressed by Snow’s character Blair for why she won’t just date someone, Erin tells her to keep her “heteronormative labels in a motherf**king box to the motherf**king left.”

And while it was a laughable line in the way that Wise delivered it, was she right in the fact that Blair was whitewashing the situation? Or was the situation already whitewashed in its very essence?

I couldn’t help but reflect upon the character of Kat Edison on The Bold Type, played by Aisha Dee. While the show actually chronicles her coming out story, it also features her own reluctance to commit to a relationship of any formulation even when heavy romantic feelings are involved. In one altercation between Kat and her love interest Adena, Kat says that she doesn’t “do” relationships — an exact sentiment that could have fallen from the lips of Wise’s character in Someone Great.

And while both romantic scenarios resolve in the happily-ever-after plot, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something incredibly whitewashed and gentrified about the black-lesbian experience in this film and televison show? Are we sterilizing it to make it safe for general audiences? Are we generalizing it to a point that it covers all the bases in order to make it so larger than life that it is no longer gritty and real? What are we supposed to be gaining from these portrayals? One is relatable, and two is celebratory, but if the trend continues in the cookie-cutter format, what cost will it have for our open-heartedness when we face their real-life counterparts, particularly those who don’t fit the mold?

Living Candidly #1: Pinned and Pressured to Change

Living Candidly #1: Pinned and Pressured to Change

I understand the various exceptions made regarding personal space on public transportation during rush hour in major metropolitan areas. But today I found myself pressed against the railing on the edge of the seats of the 2 train, my chest against the bars and a fully grown man’s front knowingly pinning me in place while he was afforded plenty of room. This was not a crowded train; this was a case of one man being too entitled in his actions where he knew he could get away with a little overstepping when it came to touching my body. When I moved further into the corner, crossing my limbs uncomfortably to make myself smaller, he moved in closer — a telltale sign of intent.

I am not a girl who gets catcalled in the street. I don’t get looked at twice at a bar. I’m more likely to get the additional free drink purchased for my friends by the bartender. So while I’ve heard of harassment and its permeability into the lives of women, I rarely experience it on such a physical and unavoidable level. And now, in the wake of that 50 block subway ride, I can assure you: that shit fucking sucks.

When I got to work, I talked with my coworkers (read: friends) about the experience to only hear their own stories about subway harassment. I was informed I was lucky that I didn’t feel an erection the entire time I was subjected to the touch of the stranger, a reality I was honestly only afforded because I was too nervous and subsequently incredibly squirmy the duration of the interaction. But it was a relatable reality for all of them.

At this point, I’ve probably got some readers up in arms with the #NotAllMen. And that’s fine, because I agree. Just last night I was watching¬†The Bold Type¬†(two references in two days, what is this?). Alex, a male journalist on the show, is confronted with the fact that he may have not been as pro-consent in his past as he has always believed himself to be, and this reality shakes him to question what it means when a woman comes forward with an implication that a man has sexually harassed or, worse, assaulted her. And this is what was said:

I talk about this stuff all the time with my guy friends, over dinner, over text, but never in public. And that needs to change because that’s how the behavior changes. However, I’m freaking out. I mean, these are weird times. People are losing their jobs over tweets, not even new ones. And I’ve grown from this, truly, but I’m scared that people are going to come after me for something that I’ve done in my past.

The Bold Type, Freeform

So this is what I propose. An equal playing field to both call those people who overstep personal boundaries like the man who wildly invaded my personal space on the train this morning while still offering absolution to those minor infractions from the past to those men who make intentional strides to prove that there really is some truth to the #NotAllMen trend.
Maybe if the discussion was more normalized, I would have been able to speak up about the discomfort this man was giving me in the moment of the interaction. But instead, I was kept quiet by the fact that I was afraid of offending him and causing an “unreasonable scene.” If you ask me, living in a cycle of accusation and outrage, and outrage and accusation, only means there can be absolutely no progress.

That reality sounds far worse than one that we live in now. At least now we have potential to open the door to progress. 

On daring to engage in the flux

On daring to engage in the flux

I’m on the hunt for who I’ve not yet become, but I’d settle for a little equilibrium.

“Hercules,” Sara Bareilles

Regularity used to be my comfort zone. I depended on the routine — a reliable, steady planning of the days as they rolled past. I relished the ease that came from a well designed agenda. From a very young age, I resisted change. I resented any delay to scheduling, and cancellations altogether sent me into a tailspin.

I delved into and invested in the myth that all goals could be achieved with the simple formula of hard work and effort. And so, my planning expanded past the minutes and hours into the weeks, months, and years. I was quickly derailed. I attended a university that I never wanted to for my undergraduate, finding myself with a 25% acceptance return rate for my application submissions. I delayed my postgraduate career by one year when the university lost my acceptance letter by mere days, making the visa process impossible to facilitate enrollment for that year. And, most recently, I had to submit temporary acquiescence to the fact that I would not be launching a career in the field that I had so prepared for and lusted over fervently since 2010.

In the initial shock of these set backs, I held on to my comfort zone with suffocating white knuckles. I gripped it tightly in my undergraduate career, and the repercussions dismantled mainframes for a successful future — something I felt the aftershocks of for months after graduation. I leaned on expectation to a point where I stopped allowing not only myself grow, but I stopped allowing others to explore their potential in my vicinity. The result was crippling and debilitating, ultimately driving an inward spiraling rather than an outward flourishing recommended in your early twenties.

So I pushed myself. I bought the plane ticket to Ireland. I accepted the deferral from my postgraduate career and decided to step entirely outside of my realm of “known” into a world I had previously spent 56 hours in.

What I learned in that time, what those months in Dublin gave me, was the confidence to push myself to my limits to the possibility of failure. In the years of flux that started in 2016 and followed, I have made friendships for which I would move mountains; I have traveled much of Western Europe on a temp budget, which has led to more self-learn and self-love experiences than I can enumerate; I pursued and attained the Masters degree in a foreign country; and I have fallen in love with a new profession that connects people with their passion, something I had narrowly decided I could only do within the publishing realm previously.

In short, I have had to learn that there is beauty in the adaptation and revelation in relaxing into and engaging with the flow of the journey. Planning too heavily brings about the stagnation with which I used to number my days. Doing that — offering yourself the option to be limited –that simply does not lead to any sort of growth. And I never want to get stuck again.


You won’t be the only one; I am unfinished, I have so much left to learn. I don’t know how this river runs, but I’d love the company through every twist and turn.

“Grow As We Go,” Ben Platt

I initially set out on this blog to reflect on the ways I was consuming this media-enriched world. In light of my new philosophy of active engagement, consuming is entirely too passive. I will be, instead, inputting the very ways in which I am impacting it, the very ways in which I am impacted, and the very ways in which these two spheres interact.

So hello, you. It’s a pleasure to meet. I hope that we can make this world a little better by being true to the journey and engaging in it wholeheartedly.

Until next time x

In response to International Women’s Day: On nurturing female sexuality

Years later, after I began The Last Romantic blog, I would remember those magazine covers. They suggested something so alluring, so corrupting that they were safe only on the highest shelf, where children and women could not reach. Female sex appeal was dangerous. Sexual desire something expressible exclusively by men. My friends’ fathers, male teachers, older brothers. All of them, reaching for that high shelf. Where, I asked myself then, was my high shelf? And what wonders would I find there?

The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin

On an ordinary weekday in 2002, my mother was hurriedly cleaning out her minivan in the parking lot of the auto-dealer’s mechanic shop with my four year old brother standing watch. As she emptied the various remnants of our everyday life out of the cluttered vehicle, my brother came upon a Victoria’s Secret magazine. My mom was so preoccupied with transferring everything to the interim rental car that she wasn’t aware of Joe flipping through the pages of bras and panties until his small voice pipped up with a confident, “Hey, Mom, can I take this to Doug’s house?”

It has been a solid 17 years since this has occurred and yet this story is told time and time again in my family, always with with my Dad’s final bravado of a fist pump and a proud, “That’s my boy!” My younger brother’s straightforward and non-dubious heterosexuality has been a point of family lore for almost two decades. Now, he has a steady girlfriend of three years and their intimacy is completely understood as par for the course, nothing that needs further inspection or parental involvement although he is twenty years old.

In comparison, when I was six years old and caught imitating dance moves of popular icons of the time Britney Spears or Christina
Aguilera (we’re talking “Oops…I Did It Again!” and “What A Girl Wants” era, nothing extreme) I was hurriedly urged to stop. My youthful and harmless exploration of female allure and sexual freedom did not receive the same laughter as my brother just two years later.

When in high school I started to develop adolescent crushes on my peers, my parents would pry and tease. While this was meant harmlessly, it made me feel as if what I was feeling was wrongful and a point of fault. My involvement in drama productions with romantic plots elicited unwanted investigations into my own romantic exploits — of which, there were honestly none. I was subjected to talks at my Catholic high school that separated the male and female populations only to urge the girls that intercourse would only encourage the man to leave while committing you emotionally further, a terrifying thought for someone who had never been even asked on a date. I became shy, romantically introverted, afraid to talk to men in the instance of inciting rumors. This ultimately led to underdevelopment, my first romantic kiss not occurring until age 21 — a point at which many of my friends were losing their virginity and telling me that I simply “didn’t understand.” At a crucial point when I should have been claiming my sexual identity — in whatever form that was — I found myself apologizing for it time and time again in conversations between my family, my Church, and my friends, all of whom saw my status as some form of potentially problematic or downright reprehensible.

When I finally did become sexually active, I was seen as “changed.” While I expected to be welcomed into the club of non-virgins, there was no banner awaiting me on the other side. And it seemed I had spurned those I left on the abstinence track; one close friend even went so far as to say that our friendship would suffer because I wouldn’t understand her struggles anymore. The relationship that led me to that point ran its course, and I was left with the knowledge that I now had the freedom to choose where I went from here, but also the overwhelming and imminent judgement on my actions if I chose to share them with anyone.


Today, I still hold remnants of these beginnings in my bones when it comes to claiming my sexuality. I do not have a right to the grandiose and more moving stories, I do not think, like those of the LGBTQ+ community. But perhaps there is something quietly relatable in the fact that female sexual freedom is still so underwhelmingly represented and passively repressed. When I do start the conversation, I try to keep it light. Severity is threatening to the house of cards we as a global society have so carefully constructed when it comes to sexual liberation and who can have it.

So today, I’m grateful for the women who challenge me and the world to step outside our comfort zones. I’m grateful for Virginia Johnson of Masters & Johnson. I’m grateful for the sex-positive feminists. I’m grateful for those out there who tell women they don’t have to be sexually active to be worthwhile too. I’m grateful for the female (and male) friendships that pushed me to open up and the friendships that celebrated my milestones.

Thank you, women. And thank you, men, for listening to us. May this world be kinder tomorrow because of your bravery today.