Where Am I? An Ongoing Conversation on Representation

There is nothing more impossible, even now in 2018, than asking to see myself on the television screen. As an asexual woman loving Afro-Caribbean Latinx woman, the chances of me seeing myself for a accumulation of those pieces in one person alone on a television series or in film is like asking for the sun, moon, and stars as well as a billion dollars. It’s totally possible! The probability of it is definitely there, but I shouldn’t hold my breath either. So I break those pieces down, and find comfort in characters that sort of resemble who I am. I look for Afro-Latinx, Black, or brown characters, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. I look for queer folks, regardless of racial/ethnic identity or gender identity. I find empowerment with any characters who could be genderqueer or androgynous because I can identify with them as well as female identified people. I cast a broad net and find a bit of myself with everyone because it’s the only way I’ll be able to see something of myself on screen. It’s been that way my whole life.

As a kid, I found myself in little black and brown skinned girls: Suzie on the Rugrats, Numbah 5 in Kids Next Door, Raven Symone before she tried to erase her own blackness, Ashley and Hilary on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Angela on Boy Meets World, and the ever immortal Bianca Lawson (that woman does NOT age!).

As a teen, it was Clea DuVall in But I’m A Cheerleader, and every lesbian/bisexual who wasn’t Shane on The L Word because really, who leaves Carmen at the damn alter? Gina Torres was my goddess in every show she touched (shout out to Cleopatra 2525) and Lucy Lawless as Xena was secretly my best friend. Rosario Dawson gave me life in Rent, as did all the women really. I love me some Tracie Thoms!

Now in my early twenties, I found myself in a way I dreamed would happen but didn’t think would truly be possible. Combing YouTube for funny videos and Broadway shows, I stumbled upon Spamalot with Tim Curry while binging on every Monty Python video I could find. While watching the Broadway hit, I belatedly discover Sara Ramirez playing the Lady of the Lake. Seriously, y’all, if you haven’t seen Sara Ramirez sing and act her life away on Spamalot, please do so now. The videos are grainy, but still up on YouTube and as hilarious as ever. Anyway! When I share the video with all my ridiculous fangirl enthusiasm, my best friend informs me Sara is also on her favorite show Grey’s Anatomy. Queue me falling in total crush/fangirl mode 6 years late for the show, but that actually worked in my favor! I tried to get away with skipping the first season because what did I care about Grey’s except for my Latinx representation? I was feeling all kinds of Latinx TV deprivation but I wasn’t desperate enough to turn to telenovelas. So just give me Callie Torres and give her to me now, right? Sadly, the bestie wouldn’t let me and instead dragged me down the Grey’s Anatomy rabbit hole, but really #NoRegrets. It was worth it if only because I got to witness every season of the glorious Sandra Oh. Then comes season 2, and Sara Ramirez finally graces my screen as a proud, emotional, totally in your face Latina and I was hooked! Most Latinx actors, in my history with television and film, were either in stereotypical roles of domestic workers or white-passing and therefore white on whatever show or film they were on (see J. Lo. in practically almost everything, although she tried). And yet, here comes Callie Torres in all her brown glory: an orthopedic surgeon who lets no white girl get her down, lets no white man think he can just cheat on her (seriously, George, what were you thinking). Who wouldn’t fall for her? Oh and, by the way, she’s also bisexual, you’re welcome. I was praising Shonda, Sara, and God all at once because here was the queer brown Spanish-speaking girl I needed in my life. I can’t tell you how seen I felt for the first time. I existed.

Any television show or film I watched from then on was held to a very high standard, and I was constantly getting disappointed. Grey’s included, because the later seasons and all the craziness the writers put Callie and Arizona through was just ridiculous.

I cannot and will not say it’s all bad though, and I am very hopeful for where Hollywood will go with the consistent push from diversity not just from fans but also actors, writers, producers, and more. Just the last few years have given my hope something to feed on. There was Shay Mitchell as Emily on Pretty Little Liars, Yvette Monreal as white Latinx Reagan on Faking It (R.I.P. to the show, and fuck you, MTV). We’ve got The Fosters still, and thank all that is good and holy for The Bold Type! Main lead queer black girl, Kat Edison, AND her lesbian Muslim girlfriend, Adena El-Amin, ameen! One Day At A Time, blanca o no, Elena Alvarez is totally me. Thor: Ragnarok gave us Valkyrie, Pariah gave us Alike. Oh, how Alike made me cry proud and painful tears.

There are a lot of characters missing from my list of folks but really there weren’t a lot of women/girls I truly found relatable. It’s telling that the list is as small as it is, more so when you consider that I have to break myself into pieces to find myself in any of them on top of ignoring my asexuality. Like I did while writing this. Ignoring my asexuality and ignoring the lack of good representation of asexuals in the media has been a constant in my life. Because when was the last time you saw an ace person on screen that was not broken, a robot person, a psychopath, or any other negative stereotypes for anyone on the asexual spectrum? I can’t think of a single prominent asexual identified female character, and I mean officially declared asexual because Google swears Rose from the Golden Girls is ace which is fine but not what I meant.

Maybe my standards are too high, and I’m ignoring how storytelling can make people relate to each other in ways that seem impossible. But I don’t think I’m asking for a lot. I’m not saying every character has to be a Dominican/Puertorican asexual woman loving woman with religion issues, trust issues, a crazy ass huge family based in Washington, D.C. Although, that would make for an interesting character if I do say so myself. I am saying, it would be nice if, like with Callie Torres, Kat Edison, and a few of the women listed, I didn’t have to tear myself apart just to feel seen. To feel like I exist and other women like me exist. That’s why representation matters.


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