As a queer black woman with a creative gender presentation, putting myself and my words out into the ether of the Internet has always made me weary, though I've learned to police myself less and less since I found that I could hold my own against critics. Still, I can't help but wonder whether those of us in gay media have learned to police our own voices before anyone else gets the chance. Gradually I've stopped worrying about what people might find problematic and have started to say what I think, without self-censorship. YouTube has presented me with the opportunity to carve a space for myself and people like me in ways that traditional media have not, through a comedic Web series I began in March 2012.
When I decided to create Words With Girls, I was determined not to cater to one demographic. I didn't want a Web series about exploring the Los Angeles gay scene or a coming-out story or a rocky but loving lesbian relationship. I just wanted the show to be funny. The series is meant to subvert the premise of acceptable dialogue for women by having queer ladies talk about their lives in a way that everyone finds relatable. The world in the series is populated by outsiders, including me, and still I strived to make everyone feel included. Unfortunately, this effort at inclusiveness is a courtesy that the mainstream rarely engages in.
When people ask me what the show is about, my answer is usually, "Umm.... nothing?" I've taken to describing it as lesbian Seinfield, partly because it's true and partly because I like to see the look on people's faces when I compare a show by a black lesbian to the storied sitcom. It seems that funny shows about straight white guys are considered "comedies" while everything else is considered "niche," so a lot of folks feel that I should describe it as Girls with black people, or as a gay Awkward Black Girl, or as The L Word but funnier.
In a world where every aspect of my identity is itself a defining factor, I chose to embrace them all. It's clear from the title that I don't take issue with the series being known for its female leads, yet others will always define it by its queerness. And still, the fact that the show is written by me, created by me, and stars me isn't enough to make it a black comedy. For some shows it's the subject matter, and for others it's the cast, but at the end of the day, they will never be just a comedy. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that there aren't times when appealing to these communities isn't a bad thing. It's just unfortunate that sometimes it prevents you from being taken seriously by people outside them.
While Web series like Broad City are accused of sneak-attack feminism, it'd be pretty hard to pull off sneak-attack lesbianism (or people-of-color-ism?). Part of the reason the Words With Girls characters are presented as fictionalized versions of the actresses who play them is that we are what's lacking in (and sometimes altogether missing from) the fray of online and traditional media. These aspects of their identities are merely the vessel through which the same insecurities we all have make themselves evident.
The token black/queer/female character stops being a token character when she gets to have a voice that isn't focused on her own identity. I'm not saying that the problems that accompany being a person of color or a woman or queer should be ignored, but shouldn't we get to have a few white-girl problems every now and then? I'm not one of those people who think that characters that happen to belong to marginalized groups should only be written by people of the corresponding demographic in the real world. I just wish that people would do a better job in portraying characters from marginalized groups, and that people form marginalized groups would also get a chance to tell their stories themselves. It's not that only we feel comfortable telling our own stories or that we think we should be the only ones to do it. It's just that the stories that currently populate television's landscape tend not to confront stereotypes or dismantle them. I try to do both.
I'm not a comedy writer because we need more queer black female comedy writers. I'm a comedy writer because that's what I want to do with my life. I'm a comedy writer because who's going to tell me not to? I'm a comedy writer because I'm hilarious. If I've learned anything from writers, it's that if you want people to think you're a writer, keep writing. And if I've learned anything from straight white male comedians, it's that if you want people to think you're a comedian, just keep saying it. In their case, eventually people will believe them even when they're not funny. So. My show is on Youtube. It's black, and it's female-centric, and it's queer. But hopefully the first thing you notice is that it's funny.
Watch the first episode of Words With Girls: