Clair Huxtable wasn’t a lesbian, and neither was Aunt Viv. (And let me be clear: Janet Hubert is the only Aunt Viv I acknowledge.)
But in my alternate universe they were a loving married couple on a television show called The Gay-Browns or Mrs. and Mrs. (I know the titles are a bit sketchy, but bear with me.)
The show is a sitcom about two Black, professional, queer women raising their three to five kids. They laugh, they love, they cry, but more importantly we all learn valuable lessons within the standard 22-minute sitcom frame.
Audiences are able to peek into the lives of a Black queer family, and while their lives are not a representation of all queer families of color, it’s a starting point. The show is a hit, it gets syndicated and years later I’m able to watch reruns of the show on Netflix with my daughters who get to see their family reflected in this amazing show that I grew up watching.
I never imagined a sitcom like this as a child because I never knew I needed it. I grew up watching The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and A Different World, and I was able to establish and understand my Blackness through these shows. I could see aspects of myself in Freddie and Denise, but there was always a piece missing. It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I began to realize that my idolization of Cree Summer and Lisa Bonet came from a place of desire rather than racial identity. I knew I had feelings that were difficult to explain and determine, but beyond that I was lost, partially because I had no reference point. I had no visual aid for what I was feeling; there weren’t any representations of Black queer womanhood being mirrored back to me to give me some much-needed answers to my never-ending questions.
I had no visual aid for what I was feeling…
Black people talk about the importance of representation in the media, but that representation means heterosexual, cis-gender, binary, able-bodied people. We get angry and frustrated when we are subjected to a certain stereotype that fetishizes or caricatures only one facet of our entire community, yet we support those same stereotypical restrictions that are placed upon queer people of color.
Queer representation in the Black community is often caricatured by way of the sassy gay Black man who snaps his fingers and swishes his hips, or the overtly masculine woman with tattoos, snapbacks, and white tank tops. We can accept awkward Blackness, blerds (Black nerds), and the like but dismiss any depiction of a trans or genderqueer person of color that is not hamming it up for everyone’s viewing pleasure.
While I fully believe that there is space for a queer television show with a full Black cast these days, I’m not sure how long the show would last. There has always been a deep and painful rift between the Black churches and LGBTQ people as if the two were mutually exclusive within our much larger community.
Time and again Black people have tried to deal with these two parts of our community separately, not understanding that ignoring one over the other doesn’t dissolve the underlying issues. If anything, we are doing a severe disservice to our queer brothers and sisters by allowing outsiders to be our voices. The same way that we recognize that Black history IS American history, we need to recognize that queer history IS Black history. Without this appreciation we ignore the Baynad Rustins, Audre Lordes and James Baldwins of our past, present, and future.
So what does one do when you feel as though your voice is not heard and your story is not being told? Well, as the saying goes, “be the change you want to see.” Over a year and a half ago my wife and I started our YouTube channel. Our channel is called KESSE Vision and we vlog our lives as two queer Black women navigating married life and motherhood with our two daughters.
Admittedly the channel was meant to be a beacon to find other queer families of color for us to meet and interact with. We wanted to see ourselves reflected back to us and hoped that other queer people would feel the same by watching us. We were also hoping to find more queer Black couples who live close to us so that we could develop a family friendship. Though that hasn’t happened we’ve found something far much greater than we ever imagined.
On a daily basis we receive comments and emails from people all across the world that found our channel and tell us how much they appreciate us sharing our lives. They either live in a homophobic community or deal with a less-than-loving family to say the least. Our videos provide hope that they too can find their partner, start a family, and navigate the day-to-day stings of marginalization and micro-aggressions and still make it work.
Will there be a Gay-Browns or Mrs. and Mrs. sitcom coming out in the next couple of years? I’m not sure and I’m not holding my breath. The LGBTQ hierarchy always tends to leave Black women and Black trans women at the bottom of the barrell, subjecting us to nothing more than fantasy. One would assume that a win for queer Black men (i.e., Moonlight) is a win for us as well, but this has never been the case. But I’m very hopeful that with platforms like YouTube,Tumblr, Vimeo, and Patreon, more queer Black women and trans women are giving their middle finger to the entertainment industry and creating their own content. We aren’t waiting around for other people to give us validation—we’re staking our claim and validating our own damn selves.