Please Go Watch “The L Word Mississippi: Hate The Sin”

I expect Ilene Chaiken’s work to be a voyeuristic playdate that transports me from my poorly lit bedroom into a magical lesbian environ. Without question, The L Word was about fantasy. The Real L Word was also about fantasy, albeit a fantasy where severely eyebrowed orange toddlers cried and threw things at each other in the wilds of Los Angeles. I have to come to expect that kind of technicolor Sapphic unreality in all of my Chaiken programming, which is exactly why I did not expect The L Word Mississippi: Hate The Sin. And I’m glad I didn’t, because this is a documentary worth seeing on its own terms. It’s excellent, and I want everyone in the community to see it, because it’s important and it moved me and I think it’ll move a lot of other people, too.

Hate The Sin is not about fantasy. On the contrary, it’s a very grounding, humbling experience. Reality in this documentary is bleak, at times heart-breaking. It’s self-aware of its place in the Chaiken omnibus: Hate The Sin opens on the documentary subjects reflecting on The L Word and its reality component, and the extreme contrast between the lifestyles of those shows and the way the Mississippi lesbians have been forced into a more closeted and fearful existence. From there, though, the film takes us to a much darker and ultimately deeper place than its predecessors.

L WORD MISSISSIPPI: HATE THE SIN

The subjects of this documentary are all women who have been irrevocably shaped by their geography. Some are estranged from their families while others are maintaining struggling relationships with parents and cousins. Their sexuality has cost them their businesses, their reputations, and even their senses of self-worth. One woman continues to pray to God that she will be changed into a heterosexual for the better, even while she loves her wife and raises their children. It’s strange and frightening to see so many layers of self-hatred and internalized homophobia even among the very active love and happiness of their lives, lives that involve their spouses, girlfriends, children, and families, lives that are worth celebrating even if they’re viewed as sinful.

There are so many important stories of love being told: BB and Susan’s endless support for each other even after BB has lost her family, her congregation, and her place in the community; Dannika’s attempts to share her life with her homophobic mother, and the love and trust she shares with her girlfriend Jana; Cam and Amber’s beautiful family, both at home and with their Per2yon family; LB and Sara awaiting the birth of their son while navigating LB’s transition. In the face of so much hatred and ignorance, it’s beautiful to see these relationships flourish regardless.

L WORD MISSISSIPPI: HATE THE SIN

I do want to talk about Rene, though. From the bottom of my butch and gender non-conforming heart, her story absolutely destroyed me. Rene is the butchiest country butch to butch, but she is a reformed homosexual who looks back on her past as something placed in her by the Devil. Her family is happy to help her dress in more feminine clothing, as her cousin says that “it is a sin for a woman to look like a man.” Rene believes that her inner struggle to give up her identity and orientation is justified by her release from Satan and her heavenly salvation. Rene’s son is gay, and her confidence in her identity and presentation was what gave him so much pride and confidence growing up. To see her rejecting her homosexuality and simultaneously trying to cure him is just as hard for him to accept as it is for us to watch.

L WORD MISSISSIPPI: HATE THE SIN

I think what ended up being the most difficult for me was watching people build their own self-satisfaction off of encouraging others to hate themselves, to consider themselves broken, weak, and unworthy of love. At one point, Rene’s constant audience of cousins and friends who support her rejection of her homosexuality sound like they are so enthusiastic about her life changes only because they were uncomfortable with her before, and this is an easy relief to them. They’ll feel better about themselves by making her feel as though she has been wrong and sinful all this time, and it won’t take much effort on their part. It was impossible not to be disgusted at these so-called moral people.

This documentary may bear the same name as the show that brought us those uncomfortably long sex scenes and Romi’s Vegas wedding, but there’s nothing shallow about Hate The Sin. It killed me to see people suffering over something we take for granted in so many of her metropolitan communities. It reminded me of the rural queers where I grew up, especially the ones who never want to make the exodus to the city because they believe that if they leave, who’ll stay behind for the next generation? There’s a scene in this documentary where BB is organizing for her new outreach program, and there’s a discussion about why none of them have moved out of Mississippi. “If we just leave, it’ll never change,” someone says, and they all agree. This is a documentary about people who choose to stay, not because they don’t know better, but because they’re brave. It’s a reminder that wanting to exist in your home shouldn’t have to be the brave choice.

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Hard-lovin' butch made of tears, sweat, and spit, in that order. Professional lonesome polecat. Kate is living proof that you can take the hillperson out of the mountains, but she's still probably going to run back to the mountains anyway. Kate prefers the trashy to the classy, and the tender to everything else. Full-time writer, part-time lover. Heart got so big and soggy that she had to cut off all her sleeves.

Kate has written 124 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. Thumb up 3

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    This hits too close to home because it is home. It will always be home. And eventually, I’ll live there again, at least part of the time.

    It’s so easy for me to forget that even though New Orleans is less than two hours from the places featured in this documentary, I might as well be living on another planet. But then again, when I’m up there with someone I’m seeing, I adjust my behavior without even thinking about it.

    I was terrified to watch it because, Ilene. I still can’t believe she had anything to do with something this good.

    I’m not going to link it because the content violates every comment policy ever and is deeply disturbing. But after the documentary came one of them received a hellishly threatening phone call, which they videotaped and put on youtube. The bravery of the humans involved in this project is amazing.

    But y’all know you laughed when Rene said, “I even got panties!”

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      I have family near Gulfport, and while I’ve gone to visit them a couple times, I’m always very careful about what I say to people outside the family, and I’ve never brought my wife (and likely never will)…

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      When watching this all we thought was wow how lucky my partner and I are to have such supported family. I guess I will never understand why the hate or non acceptance of your own family members. I commend what the women are doing in Mississippi to teach tolerance. I hope one day it will be accepted all over the world and our next generations to come will not have to deal with ignorance.

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    Just finished watching this. I can’t believe IFC was behind this project… My heart breaks for all of these women, especially for Rene (ironically-fitting name) and Cam. It’d be interesting to see a follow-up to these people as a result of their stories being broadcast.

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    Just finished watching it. I guess the most surprising thing is that people still make the “pedophilia” and “beastiality” comparisons (in 2014!) to justify their reasonings for treating LGBTQ people this way. It blows my mind. It was frustrating at times, but this type of documentary is important and needs to be seen.

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    I haven’t watched the documentary yet, but I feel like these stories are ones that really needed to be told.

    At the same time, as a person born and raised in Mississippi, I wish that they hadn’t made the documentary in a place that’s already so stigmatized and shit on by both people who’ve lived here and people who’ve never stepped foot south of Tennessee. I feel like issues of Christian conservative homophobia in small rural communities are issues that other regions of the country face – it’s not just an issue of the South. They probably could have made a very similar piece set in any of the countless rural communities NOT in the South, yet they chose to contribute further to the disproportionate amounts of stigma that this region gets because of course.

    I’m glad that these people’s stories were told. But, I wish that this documentary didn’t serve as yet another reason for the general American population to despise Mississippi and the South.

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    I just finished watching the documentary. I felt like my heart was physically hurting for these women, all these beautiful women who either experience a lot of self-hatred, or receive a substantial amount of hatred from everyone in their community. Having just relocated to the South from SoCal, I am just in awe at how archaic and unaccepting the majority of people tend to be.

    I have never valued freedom of self-expression as much as I do now.

    And I’m surprised that no one has addressed the very root of the problem that we see in the film: to anyone who feels like they have to put other (usually weaker and more fragile) people down in order to feel a shred of self-respect, fuck you. You will never know how it feels to be a decent human being, and for that, I pity you. Take your twisted “love” of homosexuals and shove it.

    P.S. I didn’t know how angry I was about the movie until just now :) excuse the foul language.

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    Watched it yesterday. Really powerful, and wow what a far cry from previous L Word offerings. For some reason I really loved the scene of Jana and her brother playing football and their silly banter. And the other interracial couple (forgot their names) with the two kids were so sweet.

    One question I have, and I apologize if this sounds super ignorant (straight lady here!), is whether anyone else thinks that Rene could be transgendered? She talked a lot about “feeling” like a man, and wanting to be a man from childhood. Her “friend” Anita told her that she’d always considered her a guy, and Rene seemed totally fine and comfortable with that. From my understanding, butch women don’t “want” to “be men”, but feel more comfortable expressing their gender in ways that are traditionally considered masculine. Can anyone enlighten me?

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      You don’t sound super ignorant at all, Nina! At one point, we all asked the same questions :)

      I think that to me, gender is so fluid and mysterious that it doesn’t always fit into either being “butch” or being “transgendered.” I do believe that Rene had transgendered feelings at times, but she did say that she identified as a lesbian for over forty years of her life. I think, ultimately, that there are varying degrees of the transgendered experience. This is just my opinion, of course. I don’t claim to know everything about the experience, and I’m sure no one can!

      I hope that was somewhat helpful. Usually these things are terribly vague and there are no yes/no answers.

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      That thought crossed my mind too, but in a sense that Rene probably doesn’t even know that being trans is an option, and thus lesbian was the closest vocabulary to expressing her feelings.

      It’d be interesting to have LB and Rene have a conversation.

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      While Rene certainly could be transgendered, I think it’s also a possibility that she feels “like a man” because that’s what she has been told: that her gender presentation and attraction to women is “for men”, and that must mean she is a man, right?

      I think each person’s journey is different. Some folks who feel that way are genuinely transgendered and their journey will lead them to transitioning, while some feel that they are genderqueer or even just queer with “masculine” traits and no need for transitioning.

      Hard to know where she falls in the spectrum because there are layers and layers of socialization and religious fuckery clouding the perspective, which makes it so much harder to find one’s own path.

  7. Thumb up 1

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    Very fascinating documentary. I admittedly struggle with being open minded towards religious people, but some of these ladies really seem like they feel need it.

    The “per2yon” family situation was such a strange thing to me. I was so confused/amused by what I was seeing!

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    I thought this documentary was a much more accurate picture of what it is like to be Gay in cities or communities that don’t readily accept anything outside of the “norm”. It was really well done! I’m really happy their putting out something like this, which forces people to see whats outside of lesbian drama, and that non – sense.

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    To me this was kind of the norm? I guess. It was so truthful and honest and what life in the south really is. To me autostraddle is this great utopia where I can read and discuss things that are happening in the community but it’s not real life. I’m 31 and shit is still really hard here. I was with a woman for 6 years and had domestic partner insurance through her company (Verizon is rad) and my father and half my family only referred to her as my room mate. This is a woman I was with for 6 years and my family loved her and treated her well but could only say she was my roomie (exact words roomie yea) so this was very real for me and I can remember being 18 and with my first girlfriend and walking so far away from her in a grocery store because I was terrified people would realize I was gay because she looked gay and I was really scared. That shit is real, now I couldn’t give a fuck less but it’s very scary when you’re young/just coming out. It’s not just the south I know but it just brought me back

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    Seems to me like religion is the problem here. Knowing that religion hates gays was enough for me to become atheist so I struggle to understand why those women want so bad to fit in this racist, homophobiac, old fashioned way of life that is christianism (or any religion for that matter) that hate them so much.
    This was really sad to watch them feel so bad about themself just because they are different from all those brainwashed religious people but at the same time following their fight to try to be accepted among them..

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