I had already decided that I wasn’t going to watch the Emmys. Mostly because I’m not caught up on any of the shows. I’m going to be honest though, I’ve exclusively only seen all the gay things, everything else is frankly low in my priority hierarchy. But then I turned it on and the opening musical number was funny and poignant and way over-rehearsed, but enjoyable.
Then there was that brief stint when Stephen Colbert and everyone who put that show together tried to make us laugh with Sean Spicer. I’d say I was surprised but evil white men always fail up. All that being said, the whole ceremony was pretty freaking gay. From San Junipero to Kate McKinnon to Handmaid’s Tale, lesbians were thriving. And it felt good. It felt amazing.
But something entirely different happened when Lena Waithe won for best writing in a comedy series alongside her co-writer Aziz Ansari, for the Master Of None episode called “Thanksgiving.” The episode is a fictionalized version of Waithe’s real coming out process. She made history by being the first African American woman to win in that category, which felt beautifully self-affirming.
Beyond breaking that seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling, it felt like something shifted. Because she won for that episode, and she was wearing a full face of makeup with a tailored suit and her dreads tied up, it felt like the landscape moved beneath me. It was almost like a wake up call. We don’t have to chose femininity or masculinity. We don’t have to choose race or gender or sexuality. We don’t have to chose which of our identities we want to fight for. We can be complex and eternal and normal. We can just exist.
I mean I understand that television is supposed to be embedded with esoteric depictions of distant versions of reality. And women of color in the LGBTQ community don’t often exist in these imagined worlds. So that episode of Master Of None felt abruptly real. I saw myself exactly. I saw my family. I saw my experience. Coming out to my parents was one of the worst things I’ve ever gone through. It was harrowing and ignominious and I felt dirty for such a long time. And up until recently it still felt like my life didn’t belong to me. It still felt like my words and my feelings and goddamn livelihood were null and void. And then Lena Waithe got on the Emmy stage and looking at her made me feel seen.
There’s nothing quite as dehumanizing as asking someone to justify her humanity. And that’s what it feels like being a gay black woman in the world every day. What Lena Waithe did wasn’t just unprecedented; it was impossible.
We were never meant to thrive. We were never even meant to survive. That Emmy isn’t going change much in the world as a whole. The structures that be are still intact. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it’s saving lives. Because I know for a fact, that it’s saving mine.
Andrea Lorde is an LA based writer and comic trying really hard to be okay with the fact that the chorus and the verses in Because You Loved Me by Celine Dion aren’t at all melodically discernible but it’s still such a good song. She also has thoughts about things that matter, which she avidly shares on Twitter @andrea_lorde.