By now, you’ve probably seen Hannah Gadsby‘s Nanette, or at least heard about it.
The Netflix special has rightfully dominated headlines for weeks, a fitting next chapter for the interrogation of our culture in the wake of the #MeToo movement. It’s billed as Hannah Gadsby’s departure from comedy, firstly a reflection on the ridiculous (and at times hilarious) sexism that is passed to girls from birth, when they will probably wear a pink bow headband before their skull is even fully developed to telegraph their gender to the world.
It’s also an interrogation of the art form itself. You see, Gadsby (who identifies as a lesbian, and has since she was growing up “soaking in shame” in Tasmania) is tired of having to make light of the traumatic moments of her life.
— Netflix Is A Joke (@NetflixIsAJoke) June 11, 2018
Watching Nanette is an undeniably emotional and naked experience in many regards, but – as a lesbian/gay/queer, whatever you want to call it, myself – it was that revolt against her art form that affected me the deepest. For decades, she has created a fictionalised, humorous, palatable version of her trauma and sadness, one for audiences to laugh at for an hour-long show and then leave when they exit the theatre. “I built a career out of self-deprecation, and I don’t want to do that anymore,” she says.
This is something that anyone who is not a white, able-bodied, cisgender straight man would relate to, of course.
As a journalist and writer, occasionally, I tell my own stories. Sometimes they are funny and joyful. However, more often than not, they’re wrenchingly sad, reflecting on some of the hardest points of my life. I may even twist them into having punchlines to hide the gravity of my pain and make it more ‘digestible’ to those reading or watching. But how does that make me feel?
I, like Gadsby, am tired of my negative experiences being purely used as a temporary form of entertainment.
My story – and the same goes for that of my fellow LGBTQIA+ peers – is seen as valuable only in times of learning and hardship, when a first-person viewpoint of an atrocity is required for some emotional gravity and colour to fill a page, that makes readers feel better by reading and briefly enduring them. There’s a small rotation of subjects – coming out, struggle, and rejection – and it seems that people are only interested in these low moments, filtered through half-truths like Gadsby’s self-depreciative retrofitting.
Fictional stories aren’t much better – death and/or depression is still a common ending for queer characters (like the recent film Disobedience, which follows a forbidden relationship between a woman and her childhood friend in the Orthodox Jewish community). Light-hearted romantic comedies are still rare. During the marriage equality plebiscite, personal outpourings of anger and hurt were seen in newspapers and websites around the world. I tried to flip the script on this, writing about finding heroes and uplift in unlikely places, what can be done to advocate for less dire representation, and how freeing it can be to just reject the narratives of the straight world entirely.
But where are the queer stories in mainstream media since then? Where are the ones of joy and triumph, of pure happiness and hell, normality? Does anyone care when we’re not a brief curiosity vulnerably revealing the rawest parts of ourselves for entertainment, left stewing in our pain when the lights come back on?
This doesn’t mean I deny the value of truthful, personal works for both writers and audiences – it’s an extremely freeing and cathartic action I undertake every time I write a piece about myself that can bring a lot of good – but Hannah Gadsby voices and confirms a concern I’ve had for quite some time. There’s an expectation inherent in being a creative that identifies as being from the LGBTQIA+ community, that you must lay your deepest thoughts bare for others to briefly consider in the hope that they may learn when, however, the reality is they’ll forget about it before their first coffee the next morning. Whether writing, acting, or being a comedian like Gadsby, the medium banks on taking the worst moments of someone’s life, allowing the audience to temporarily consume them, and then allowing them to walk away unaffected. They don’t care to do anything with that truth.
I can only hope Nanette, where Gadsby voices her sheer exhaustion at being used, leads to change.
I’m tired of tragedy being the only narrative for people like myself, consumed carelessly in soundbites at important moments in history. If you want to hear about the lives of queer individuals, listen to and understand EVERY part – the true pain of the lowest moments, the elation of the highest, and the normality of day-to-day life.
“Because you do understand what self -deprecation means from somebody who already exists in the margins?” Gadsby says. “It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.”Image: Hannah Gadsby