Hannah Gadsby, a suit-rocking lesbian, just put out a Netflix stand-up special, and you MUST go watch it now. As a matter of fact, anyone who cares at all about a lesbian, needs to watch it now. I’d go so far as to say, it should be mandatory. It’s groundbreaking. Unprecedented. Monumental. Certainly one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I laughed (a lot) & cried. And I don’t cry easily. I’m a tough nut to crack—been shot at, seen b*mbs, and my tears are typically relegated to the privacy of a locked bathroom—So lesbians, when I say something powerful went down, I mean something powerful went down. Plus, added bonus, she uses the word lesbian about 100 times.
Gadsby is beautiful, brave, fidgety, and utterly charming, as she stumbles nervously and makes us laugh. She jokes about the challenges of growing up in Tasmania and dealing with homophobia. And then, something powerful happens. Somewhere around the halfway point of her show, she takes a turn and hits a pivotal moment… She’s DONE humiliating herself.
“Do you know what self-deprecation means coming from somebody who exists on the margins?” she asks. “It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak. In order to seek permission to speak. And I simply will not do that anymore. Not to myself or anyone who identifies as me. And if that means that my comedy career is over, then so be it.” She works her way back into stand-up, by making light of something a lot of ‘butch’ lesbians are experiencing right now–a push from their ‘own community’ to ‘come out’ as men. She says, “I got a letter on Facebook recently. You know, I say letter, cause I’m very bold. Controversial. But I’ll call it a letter, because it said, ‘Dear Hannah.’ Comma. New line. Bit of feedback. And it said ‘You owe it to your community, to come out as transgender.’ Now all jokes aside, I really want to do my best by my community, I really do, but that was new information to me.” Her proper accent makes everything she says all the funnier... But her jokes, as she later explains, are all rooted in painful moments. And the homophobic ‘admit you’re really a man,’ trope, which every ‘butch’ lesbian is painfully familiar with, isn’t just a sexist misconception that comes from the straight community… More and more, it’s coming from the inside. Gadsby works toward her punchline– “I’m not. I don’t identify as transgender. I don’t. And I’m clearly ‘gender not normal,’” she laughs. “But I don’t even think lesbian is the right identity fit for me, I really don’t,” she jokes coyly. “I may as well come out right now. I identify as tired. Just tired.” She pauses to a hall of laughter. “There is too much hysteria around gender…”
Gadsby makes jokes about everything from bald babies wearing headbands, to why the only necessary color in life is blue. And just when you think the stand-up is back on the laugh-track (and it’ll be all giggles to the end) something extraordinary happens. She drops the act. Another pivotal moment… Only this time she stays with the realness. And you can’t even imagine the unstoppable force of power that’s about to hit you.
She says the things that every lesbian, every ‘butch’ lesbian, and every lesbian that loves a dapper lesbian, has ever wanted and needed so desperately for someone like her to say on mainstream TV. She tells the truth. In a way that’s completely unprecedented on mainstream television. Her pain is your pain. And she DOESN’T. HOLD. BACK. “When you soak a child in shame, they cannot develop the neurological pathways that carry thoughts of self-worth. Self-hatred is only ever a seed planted from the outside in. But when you do that to a child, the child doesn’t know any different. It becomes as natural as gravity.”
Gadsby uses her airtime–an opportunity not afforded to lesbians who break the ‘dress code’, unless they’re willing to be the punchline–to finally give a voice to the ‘non conforming’ component of lesbian. A voice that’s been systematically silenced, censored, bullied and turned into a punchline by the mainstream media for as long as it’s been in existence. And it’s not just the mainstream, but the male-dominated “LGBTQ” mainstream— After all the “LGBTQ” is a patriarchy, and like all patriarchal structures, it’s grown into a profitable superpower.
In just the last several years, Advocate has called it a “white men’s club” (and the line-up still reflects that’s true) and Mic has had to ask, “Has the LGBT movement been kidnapped by power elites advocating for their own interests?” As lesbians are pushed to the side more and more, you do have to wonder… Especially, when even Vice says that women are skipping out on Pride (but, of course, they won’t actually use the word “lesbian” once in the entire article). Gadsby, WE NEEDED YOU. As I watched one solo lesbian jump the barracks and fight for us, I finally felt a sense of hope, something I haven’t felt in some time.
Gadsby’s fury is the fury of a million silenced, denigrated, lesbians… A group that faces more censorship than any other group in the alphabet soup. Echoing the experiences of other suit-wearing and/or ‘butch’ lesbians, Gadsby describes the anguish of being assaulted while no one around does anything to help. “He beat the shit out of me and nobody stopped him! He beat the shit out of me AND NOBODY stopped him! And I didn’t report that to the police… I thought that was all I was worth. And that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate… I am ‘incorrect’ and that is a punishable offense.”
Gadsby wants her audience to feel the tension because they should know, if only briefly, the tension that women like her feel “all the time.” Because of this dangerous attitude—‘If you want to look like a man, I’ll beat you like a man’—has been upheld, while the world carries on around us. In 2018, while rule-breaking lesbians are still relegated to a punchline, the mainstream will currently feature— with dignity and style—anyone, whether L, G, B, or T, so long as they adhere to the ‘rules’ of ‘gender’. Gadsby poignantly says, “If I’d been ‘feminine’, that would not have happened. I am ‘incorrectly’ female.” And that’s what the media tells us every single day of our lives… we are “‘incorrectly’ female.”
But despite her anger, depression and #metoo stories, she doesn’t want to be seen as a victim. “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself,” she says valiantly. And I agree. Gadsby is now added to a proud history of suit-wearing lesbian warriors—And those warriors are often the best that womanhood has to offer.
WE ARE NOT A PUNCHLINE. Thanks to Gadsby, our voice FINALLY broke into the mainstream. And IT’S ABOUT. F*CKING. TIME.
جوليا ديانا —Julia Diana Robertson is an award-winning author and journalist. You can find her at www.juliadianarobertson.com
My suit-wearing warrior-wife and I… lesbian-ing all day, every day. ©PSPhotography