The Color of Sex:
Queer People of Color on Film
Despite the quantum leap that Queer film making has taken over the last decade, there are still some subjects which have proven difficult, if not impossible, for Queer filmmakers to address adequately. Chief among these is the complicated and taboo laden convergence of race and sexuality in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities.
By Karl Bruce Knapper
To be either a person of color or Queer in this society forces one to exist (and participate) in a societal belief/value system that at best considers one slightly less than standard or normal, and more usually quite inferior or flawed.
To be both, burdens one with a whole lot of societal baggage that's not easy to carry.
There's no way to really evade this burden. Escape from it is impossible. Naivete won't help, though it can make the burden easier to manage.
After all, ignorance can be bliss. And regardless of one's strength of will, removing oneself from society is simply not a realistic option.
Lesbian and Gay people of color are perpetually engaged in a never-ending struggle to dispute the unsolicited and unwelcome identities foisted upon them by an oppressive mainstream culture.
Despite the inherently combative nature of this struggle, it is one that must be engaged in to survive, for how else will Queer people of color create the identities and communities that enable them to cope with a racially and sexually polarized world.
The vast majority of White Queer filmmakers either ignore the experiences of people of color altogether in their work, or get those experiences incredibly and sometimes horribly wrong.
Conversely, too many Queer filmmakers of color get bogged down trying to tackle too many issues in a single film or video, when even one of the multitude of concerns complicating their lives would be more than enough to try to deal with effectively.
Whether it's finding their own identities/communities, coping with and/or distancing themselves from the poisonous atmospheres of racism and homophobia they must contend with daily, or weathering the trials and tribulations of interracial relationships (both platonic and sexual) - to name merely a few - there are myriad things particular to being a Queer person of color that might be explored through film/video.
More often than not, though, Queer filmmakers of color are tempted to make the most of what might presumably be their only opportunity to broach these subjects, and wind up grappling with an unwieldy hodgepodge.
This is generally way too much stuff for one film to handle simultaneously, let alone well, and the final result often ends up disappointing because it's unable to give anything more than cursory scrutiny.
In the new millennium, one hopes that maybe the point has finally been reached where Lesbian and Gay filmmakers can begin cutting through the confusion, distrust, misunderstanding and ignorance that often cloud attempts to deal with these topics and begin developing new and different ways of discussing and eventually dealing with the subjects of race and sexuality in the Queer community.
Admittedly, in some ways it may be as impossible to totally abandon old ways of conceiving of and discussing race and sexuality as it would be to dispense with coming out stories because coping with race and sexuality is as intrinsic to the experiences of many Lesbians and Gays as coming out stories are.
There will always be new generations of Queer filmmakers trying to come to grips with these issues - each in their own inimitable fashion, and often as if they were the first to do so.
Hopefully, though, the future may bring films/videos that approach the subject of race and sexuality from more alternative standpoints than those most often and traditionally seen.
Rather than rehashing tried and true territory, like what it means to be a Lesbian and/or Gay person of color in a hostile White world, the many ways in which Queer people of color struggle with racism and homophobia, or the debatable conflicts and ambivalence of engaging in interracial relationships, it would be interesting to see the discourse around race and sexuality taken to levels that don't simply reinforce the concept of Whiteness as the primary bane of people of color's existence.
There are an endless number of issues revolving around race and sexuality that are also begging to be addressed. What about interracial relationships (both platonic and sexual) between non-White Lesbians and Gays? Or the impact racism and homophobia have had on intra-racial relationships within various Queer communities of color?
Or the effect that class/socio-economic status has on the dynamics of Lesbian and Gay interracial and intra-racial relationships? What about a frank and no-holds-barred discussion of the dynamics of racial fetishism? Or the impossibility of politically correcting sexual desire?
These are just a few of the diverse range of intriguing areas of investigation/exploration just waiting to be embarked upon by Queer filmmakers.
Though it's probably both impossible -- and undesirable -- to have a discussion of race and sexuality in the Queer community without engaging the subject of Whiteness, it doesn't always have or need to be the central focus of these discussions.
Making it so prevents the discussion from going where it might if so much time wasn't spent railing against the "evils" of Whiteness, which often obscures other very real and pressing problems facing Lesbians and Gays of color that don't merely revolve around Whiteness.
Issues of familial status/relationships, community, health care, economic viability and others that can't and won't be easily resolved by merely rehashing stereotypical arguments about racism and prejudice.
The candid discussion of race and sexuality in the Queer community will not necessarily be easy, or free of danger. It's a venture fraught with much peril.
The trust and understanding necessary for such a discussion is not readily apparent in the Lesbian and Gay community, and the potential for the discussion to get off-track, become sidelined in tangential triviality, or get bogged down by residual ignorance, fear and/or hostility is certainly all too present and possible.
It will take remarkable courage and fortitude to embark upon these discussions, but the alternative is even more daunting as it will doom the Queer community to a seemingly endless re-run of the current discourse on race and sexuality.
Karl Bruce Knapper is a noted Bay Area film therorist.