I Demand to Be Sexualized

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.

Brittani Nichols is a Los Angeles based comedy person. When she's not tweeting about white people or watching television, she's probably eating pizza. Actually, she's probably doing all three of those things concurrently and when she's not doing THAT, she's sleeping. Brittani also went to Yale and feels weird about mentioning it but wants you to know.

Brittani has written 330 articles for us.

43 Comments

  1. i smiled and laughed and nodded my head all through this post and completely got over my feelings regarding the buzzfeed series being called “you do you” and replaced them with feelings of joy and excitement regarding watching this entire series and everybody knowing what we’ve known all along w/r/t Brittani Nichols Heartthrob.

  2. “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 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…”

    1. How do I say this in the right way…gender fuckery is hot. It’s about as attractive as it gets, for me.

    2. Thank you for doing this work and inhabiting our screens and playing these characters and also opening up your vulnerabilities about those characters here. Hopefully soon, you won’t have to BE the superhero you deserve for that person to exist on screen, but until then, jeez, talk about #professional/lifegoals.

    3. I hope that it’s not inappropriate to say that, um, you’re adorable. And by that I mean attractive. And by that I mean, holy moly.

    Okay goodbye

  3. “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?”

    In a much more white-preteen-boy way, this is also my life.

  4. This makes me so happy. I will sexualize you all day, girl.

    (As a slightly fatter, non-racist Amy Schumer/Melissa McCarthy type, I was in tears watching Trainwreck, because there was a woman looking like me and acting like me IN A REAL MOVIE and everyone was so cool with it and it didn’t involve Rebel Wilson falling over!)

    • Actresses with body fat over, I dunno, 20%, follow the Visibility Progression List for Minority Characters, which I just made up:

      1. You can’t be in it ->
      2. You can be in it but you’re the butt of the joke ->
      3. You can be in it and we’re laughing at you, but you’re in on the joke ->
      4. Okay, fine, you can just BE in it.

  5. I really was pissed at Buzzfeed for essentially “stealing” the You do You TITLE & BRANDING (purple triangle background?!?!?) from the hard working people at AutoStraddle!

    These video streams, at the very least, should somehow roll up into AutoStraddle’s comscore / engagement metrics.

    Now, I will watch the series (embedded on AS) happily!

  6. Okay, so while I read this article I related so much.

    But all of that has been taken from my brain, because that video sums up pretty much every conversation I ever had at ACamp. About almost every person I met, including Brittani.

  7. i am excited for you as a friend and person who is a big fan of you because this show is great and you are great and this article is great and i am excited as an editor to coordinate breathless tiger-beat-style coverage of Brittani Nichols Heartthrob

  8. dude the only reason I don’t have you taped up above my bed and smooch it every night tiger beat teenage girl style is because they don’t make those posters and I don’t think you have a system yet where people write you fan letters and you send them signed headshots, but I bet if you did people would pay five bucks for them.

  9. I am trying to think of something insightful to say here, but I’m coming up short…Britanni is a heartthrob…something something, er, something else.

    I am so excited for this series. This article resonates and B is a babe, obvs.

  10. “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.”

    *standing ovation* I can get really uncomfortable describing my own appearance. My go to phrase is “moderately attractive” because I don’t look, like, wretched, but I don’t see any people that look like me referred to as “hot”. I get called adorable, but that makes me feel like a child. I’m a grown ass woman. Check out my ass, IT’S GROWN, alright?!

    From now on I’m referring to myself as “bona fide sexpot”. Or something. That kind of sounds weird. What is a sexpot? A pot that sex is kept in, or a sexy pot? I’ll workshop it. But thanks for the inspiration to start owning my own, weird brand of hotness.

  11. i was about to comment that you’re super cute and hot but then i saw that everyone else had beat me to it :/

    btw, i know a few straights (weird right? what am i doing around straight people?? dangerous) who think being gender non conforming is pretty hot – and not in a weird queer-people-are-a-zoo fetishy way- so it’s definitely not just in our bubble. we don’t see ourselves as attractive because there’s no popular image of us being attractive but LOTS of people think we are. even those darn straights.
    🙂

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