A recluctant admission: I can be a little too highbrow. My idea of a relaxing afternoon is watching the newest avant-garde sensation starring an inanimate acorn as the heroine who battles the "other." Atonal jazz beebops in the background as a harlequin clown cries invisible tears and releases a red balloon. Needless to say, I bore my friends. When presented with the opportunity to direct Fawzia Mirza's new Web series, Kam Kardashian, chronicling the day-to-day adventures of the long-lost lesbian Kardashian sister, I was less than thrilled.
In fact, until working on the show, I took pride in the fact that I couldn't recall any Kardashian's name except for Kim's (whom I identified with a viral sex tape and bus-stop ads for Midori). As we shot the first couple of episodes, questions loomed over us: Why a Kardashian? Why is she a lesbian? Why does this matter? It wasn't until we released the episodes and others started asking me those questions that I formulated an answer.
Whether you like it or not, the Kardashians are the new way of the world. (If you don't believe me, check out the Huffington Post news page dedicated to them.) People will gladly spend an hour watching them shop for designer Band-Aids or get a $1,000 massage, but we queer people still have to wear glittery Spanx and sing on Glee, oversimplifying ourselves, for attention. When queer people are introduced to the mainstream media, their publicists equip them either with what amounts to an apology or with ammunition to feed the stereotypes, so we see them waving American flags or donning sensible cardigans and sipping chai tea while dispensing interior design tips. The gay celebrities we know -- Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper and Chely Wright -- still follow a very specific code of conduct that ensures that their "lifestyle" will not hurt their career.
The actors behind the complex gay characters found in the new gay cinema in films like Weekend, Keep the Lights On, Young and Wild or Heartbeats, or even in the Web series The Outs, are not gracing the covers of People, Vanity Fair or TIME. As a nation, we tend to like our gay celebrities packaged as friendly, non-threatening and occasionally asexual.
Perhaps the excitement and necessity of crafting a gay Kardashian sister lies in embracing the fact that we don't have to follow a code of conduct. It presents the opportunity to create a gay celebrity who is human, honest and a bit rough around the edges. Moreover, satire is always a great alternative to a soap box. And guess what, America: Some gay people are alcoholics who are incapable of putting together a matching outfit and enjoy lives of a type not envisioned by Ryan Murphy.
At the end of the day, Kam is just trying to live up to her family's legacy and gain her parents' approval. We can all identify with that. Hers just happens to be the most famous family on the planet. She's flawed and, compared with her family and "proper society" at large, stratospherically an outsider. I know it is an issue that Fawzia herself has struggled with, and that connects her to Kam. As a Muslim lesbian of color and a former attorney from a successful family, she works tirelessly every day to prove that the struggle is "worth it."
A quick Google search for "Kim Kardashian" yields thousands of results. Breaking news from repected media organizations announce, "Pregnant Kim Hits Gym After Baby Announcement," and, an hour later, "Pregnant Kim Leaves the Gym in L.A." It makes you wonder, "Jesus! What could life be like for these people under that kind of spotlight?" Thank goodness you can just turn on the TV.
Although this overblown media storm may seem silly and useless to many, it carries unbelievable power. For queer people, public exposure has brought about a drastic change in the freedoms we are allowed to enjoy in our everyday lives, as well as increasing acceptance from those around us. A diverse representation of queer people of every shape, color and disposition is indispensable. If you're not represented, you don't exist. If you don't exist, no one cares. The popular idea that our plight for equality ends with the right to marriage and transgender recognition rings false. Equal rights under the law are only the beginning. The struggle for visibility is paramount -- just ask the NAACP.
My final response to the questions of why a Kardashian, why a lesbian and why it matters? Because that's entirely the point. Perhaps when we see the headline "Chaz Bono Washes Car," we can give Kam a rest. To be honest, the majority of my friends in the art world have turned a blind eye to this project. Not that I blame them; a year ago I would have done the same thing. But if we are going to edge ever closer to equality in the court of public opinion, we need a gay Kardashian. Despite all this, every time I google "Kim Kardashian" in the name of research, the harlequin clown in my head sheds a silent tear.