Over the summer, America’s Lesbian Sweetheart (and comedian/writer), Brittany Ashley, asked me to be part of You Do You, a series she’d written for Buzzfeed. When she sent me the script, I did what every actor does: I took my time and gave it a careful yet thorough read to make sure I showed the piece the respect it deserved. Just kidding, I searched for my character’s name and read all of my parts.
I was pretty surprised at what I found. My character, Parker, was being gazed at and called cute! And Parker was gonna be me! Brittani Nichols! I mean, I call myself cute all time. I even breathed new life into #cutesquad during 2014 when I made my New Year’s Resolution to be cuter in every facet of life. But for that to be something said by human beings in a media production that would be shared with the United States of America? It was downright crazy. I was shocked. I mean, this wasn’t something I auditioned for. This was something I got ASKED to do. The previous time someone I knew cast me in a part because they thought I’d be “right” for it, the role was described as a douchey lesbian that wears short sleeved shirts buttoned all the way to the top. (I do actually dress like that.) Needless to say, this was much more flattering.
I decided not to try and wrap my head around the idea that I would be presented to an audience as a cool crushworthy badass. Honestly, my first thoughts were that people would say, “That’s not a guy?!?” Which, you know, is usually pretty chill for me. Personally, I don’t mind being accidentally misgendered during my daily going ons. I DO mind when people say I look like/am trying to be a guy as if that’s a bad thing or an accident or there’s something wrong with a grown ass woman looking however she damn well pleases. The comments are never really that I’m ugly (because, I mean, who would they be kidding). It’s that I’m doing IT wrong. I’m doing being a woman wrong. And if I’m doing being a woman wrong, I’m certainly not succeeding at being an attractive woman, right?
I didn’t really contend with any of this emotionally (shocker) until after I finished shooting the three episodes I appear in. When I got home that night, I teared up while I sent texts to my friends who had asked how the day of shooting had gone. Women are so oversexualized in the media; yet there I was, crying because it felt like another character might be into Parker, sexually.
An unfortunate amount of how we feel about ourselves comes from external sources. Perhaps more relevant to this story is what we think other people feel about us comes from those same places. Media has been telling me no one could find me attractive by straight up not including me in anything; forget healthy depictions of lust, desire, or attraction. So to read people in the script, especially non-super-open-minded-lesbians, talking about Parker — who happens to look exactly like me — in a way that signified she’s attractive was a lot. I felt wanted and desired because Parker is a fucking heartthrob. And that character was me.
Howeverrrrr, it also made me insecure. It made me question whether that could be true. Could someone that looks like me be a heartthrob? Is that believable to anyone besides Brittany Ashley? Could anyone not in the Lesbian Bubble buy that I’m hot? I mean, I’m a non-skinny “non-gender conforming” black lesbian. I don’t even think I’m hot IN our bubble.
I rarely see anyone that looks like me in movies/web series/TV. To the point that the most glaring examples of people that look like me ARE ACTUALLY ME (please watch Words With Girls and Transparent which drops December 11th thank you). Part of the reason I comment on being cool/attractive all the time is because I don’t really see that shit anywhere else. In order for me to hear it, I have to say it. Now I’m not saying we should constantly seek external validation or depend on other people weighing in on our attractiveness to feel wanted. I am saying we all deserve to see people trying to bone people that look like us on screen. Maybe soon it won’t literally have to be me.
But I’m fine with it being me most of the time.
I have bills to pay.