There has been interesting hype in the blogosphere and media world for a new documentary to air this summer on PBS, “OUT in America,” by director Andrew Goldberg. The documentary will explore LGBT history over the past 50 years. While the documentary does not seem to be particularly groundbreaking as far as its subject – quite a few documentaries have been made about LGBT/queer history – it does seem to be different in a few ways. One of these ways is that it is being broadcast on a fairly mainstream network (ie. not Logo), which, though tending to be liberal, does not have a predominantly queer audience. As such, it is interesting how the documentary is being described right now in the cyber world and what that means. The blog/media hype also touches on Latin@ issues within the queer world. Speaking about the documentary, one blog says:
“From a gay rancher to a Latino rapper, Puerto Rico’s first openly gay and HIV positive political candidate to a Muslim lesbian, these individual tales of discovery are united in their collective truth.” http://blogout.justout.com/?page_id=27677
It seems to me that the documentary wants to try and force people to rethink and broaden their notions of what is acceptable in the queer community, and I think that they do this with good intent. But when the film, or at least those writing about it, puts emphasis on certain more “unusual” queer subjects, those who a non-queer audience might be more surprised to find out are not in fact straight, how does that affect the queer person being highlighted? For example, in calling attention to a rapper who is Latin@ and also queer (oh my!), what is the documentary saying? It seems to me that to a certain extent, they are assuming that their audience should be surprised with such a scenario. Likewise, is the film’s audience to be that surprised that a Muslim woman might also be a lesbian?
Perhaps in a broader context, this issue brings to light what it means to be acceptable as an “out” individual. Fifty years ago, being out as queer would have been controversial for nearly anyone who came out. Being out in your professional life was almost unheard of. A queer professor I had last semester at Wesleyan said that when he applied to be a professor here 40 years ago it was controversial for him to be Jewish, and being openly queer was completely out of the question. Obviously today, that has changed. It is common to find openly queer professors at a liberal arts university. Our notions of what it means to be a “normal” queer person have been modified, but there continues to be a more “surprising” type of queer person (such as the queer Latin@ rapper), certainly outside of the queer community but at times within it as well.
In the readings we have done so far, the authors seem to struggle with and at times to try and reform what it means to be “acceptably” queer. As they try to construct their identities as both Latin@ and queer, Anzaldúa and Rodriguez are aware of how their identities are or are not acceptable in mainstream queer culture and in mainstream heterosexual culture. They realize that there are certain “acceptable” queer identity formations, and as Latin@ and queer they seek to challenge our notions of what is acceptable and not surprising. If this film is attempting to show how far we have come in the past 50 years on our collective acceptance of the queer community, it also brings to light how far we have to go until this country is not surprised at the notion of a queer Latin@ rapper or a Muslim lesbian.