Same difference documentary LGBT

YouTube

Nuanced, full, expository Black stories matter, maybe more today than ever.  As a renewed fire breathes lives into the ongoing Black struggle for human rights, we can begin to right the wrongs committed yesteryear.  When we champion Black lives, we must include Black woman lives and Black queer lives.  We must.  And we cannot begin to champion those lives completely until we come to know them.  Through this learning process, we should realize that our struggles—male, female, queer, straight—are not that different at all.  It’s the same difference, actually, which is the title of producer and documentary filmmaker Nneka Onuorah’s newest work. The provocative piece was recently screened earlier this week at the Atlanta Black Pride Festival. View the trailer HERE.

Onuorah’s film, The Same Difference, begins with sage advice from Black lesbian poet and activist Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us.  It’s our inability to accept and celebrate those differences,” and discusses the layers of isolation and otherness many Black lesbians experience when refusing to conform to the tiny set of boxes made available to them in their communities.  The film is divided into various segments, or acts maybe, that debate various taboos associated with being Black queer and woman, and was created by Onuorah because she came of age witnessing and dealing with various kinds of discrimination within the Black lesbian community, and because she wanted to create content that “liberated and changed lives.”

The rules argued in The Same Difference begin with the very rigid gendered ideas regarding appropriate presentation.  According to commentary made in the film, Black lesbians can identify as either masculine or feminine- with no combined presentations and no in-betweens.  Studs, dykes and AGs (or aggressives) must always carry themselves with a hard edge, and can never behave “femininely” or adopt an overly feminine look.  AGs can’t wear makeup or hair extensions; this point is made very clear.  But just as Onuorah’s cast establishes and clarifies rules like these, she astutely presents a character that obliterates them.  For instance, when discussing what kind of behavior and look is allowed for masculine presenting, stud lesbians, we meet Kellz, a stunning and sexy exotic dancer and drag king, who causes much confusion because she identifies and lives as an AG but also wears a weave.

From an outsider’s view, one may not understand how a Black stud lesbian wearing hair extensions could instigate such debate and even abuse (both physically and emotionally), but we must remember that many sub, and often oppressed, communities seek to emulate what is celebrated in dominant cultures—even while trying to escape the tyranny those cultures impose on them .  For this reason, even in relationships where men are not present, dominant culture makes a purely masculine (and often patriarchal) model necessary.  To many of the lesbians interviewed, an AG like Kellz wearing a weave is akin to a man wearing one.  It’s something that is simply not allowed—ever.



It’s complicated.  And this complication represents both Onuorah’s brilliance and burden in the film.  How does one tenderly present the painful layers of misogynoir present in her community while celebrating that community and also demanding that it break away from its monolithic and limiting rulebook?  The Same Difference repeats this storytelling pattern present in its first act throughout the rest of the film.  The film asks: why can’t two AG women be in a love relationship that is open and free of judgment?  And why does the Black lesbian community shun women who identify as bisexual altogether?  Why does a community who has worked so diligently to release themselves from the chains of heteronormality seek to reclaim those chains in its newly imagined and constructed free space? Maybe the answer to all of these questions is that we never quite escape our chains—even when our minds and hearts want us to.

Admittedly, King Kellz’s story, that also centers on the pain of attempting to mother a Black girl while living freely as an AG, touched me the most in the film.  But a narrative that is equally intriguing and revelatory is Jordan’s story, which turns Black lesbian rule #4 on its side.  She is an AG who is pregnant, and who chose to become pregnant because her partner was not able to conceive.  If there was any rule that seemed to hold no wiggle room in the rulebook, it’s the clear understanding that masculine presenting lesbians cannot show any signs of femininity, and there is nothing more innately and anciently feminine than pregnancy and childbirth.  Jordan is mocked, ridiculed and even threatened by other members of her supposed lesbian tribe, all because of her choice to support her wife and carry a child.  In conversation with someone from the community that opposes her decision to become pregnant, Jordan clarifies something that I think many folks, both straight and gay, get wrong—just because a woman is more comfortable presenting masculinity doesn’t mean that she necessarily wants to be a man.

Jordan proclaimed that, despite what people believe she should be, she is a woman.  And this may be Onuorah’s thesis, that each person speaking in the film is a woman who loves women.  In a world that seems intent on showing Black women the opposite of love, we should all be working to let the love that is available to us run wild and free.

Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter at @jonubian.



You may also like

Comments