"You can't be what you can't see."
I do not mind seeing you in hair salons or in chic shopping malls. Laughing louder than the rest with exaggerated hand gestures and a language all your own. Occasionally addressing your closest friends by the word used to describe a female dog even though they are neither female or canine. Hips swinging just a little more than usual, eyebrows telling the world that you don't conform to any gender. Or you do but you want to define what that looks like. No. I don't mind that at all.
I do mind that this--even if it is authentically you--gets amplified into this larger-than-life caricature that elbows all of the other facets of those like you to the shadows. That I do mind.
When I was sixteen, I lived in Inglewood, California. I was what rapper L.L. Cool J would have referred to as an "around the way" girl with two pairs of bamboo earrings in my ears, easy subject verb disagreement, and neck rolling to get my point across often times than not. I remember standing behind the counter at my job as a cashier at Foot Locker in the now extinct Hawthorne Mall chewing a gigantic wad of Hubba Bubba, poking the register with my elaborately decorated acrylic nails and greeting each customer with the same three words: "How you doing?"
No. Not "how ARE you doing" or "how're you doing" but exactly what I just said. And this wasn't because I was trying to be something or create some version of me. This was just who I was at that time. And that was fine.
But I was also a lot of other things. And so were my friends. Some were nothing like me, voices with the singsongy twang of the Valley due to their lives on opposite sides of town. Others were far more unabashedly urban than me, the varsity cheerleader Foot Locker cashier, and that was cool, too. My best friend was studious, outgoing and neither of these things. And all of us represented what young, coming-of-age black girls looked like.
So I found myself reflecting on this after going to see a movie the other day. This independent film that had gotten a lot of critical acclaim but that, for the most part, has ridden slightly below the radar of the mainstream. A friend had seen it and loved it and thought I would, too. I had a few hours off on Monday, so we met up to see it together. Even though we saw a daytime matinee, this movie "Moonlight" left my soul mixed with the same melancholy one feels when standing under a gleaming full moon.
And let me be clear: There was so, so much to take in from this movie. But I guess the thing that keeps floating to the surface of my thoughts is how beautifully you were portrayed.
No one was snapping in a Z formation. Not one individual called another friend "bitch" in jest or pronounced the word "yes" with a soft A followed by a loud cackle. And no, there is nothing wrong with that, you know? I mean, if that is you. But this movie, this sublime piece of work, put the other pieces of the dream that makes up who you are on a gigantic screen for all to see. For me to see.
And seeing stuff makes you less afraid and confused, you know? Yes. That.
The friend I saw the movie with is like you. A same-gender loving black man with thoughts and feelings and a life time of experiences that has shaped him into who he is. And seeing it with him, perhaps, made my breath hitch even more. I realized that I thought I saw him for all these years. But I hadn't fully. And am still working to see him.
This? This movie helped me with that. It showed the complexities of growing up in a world that isn't always filled with love. Navigating a shitty environment while also struggling to find and own who you are. And no. It wasn't a "gay movie." It wasn't. It was an exquisite portrayal of a sliver of life. A piece that has been there all along but that we don't get to see. Even those of us that call ourselves looking hard with eyes wide open.
My Wet 'n' Wild .99 cent lipstick, door-knocker earrings and biker shorts probably did fit some cartoonish idea of the 1980's black girl back then. Spike Lee put us on mainstream screens with all of that, just like (some of us) were in real life and that felt good. But right next to lolly pop licking neighborhood girls were the Ruby Dees and the other grown ass black women splashed upon those movie screens. All the different versions of us. We were also on small screens as Claire Huxtable or collegiates like Lisa Bonet and her friends on "A Different World." Not only did we get to see them, so did the world.
So did the world.
At first, I was sort of speechless when "Moonlight" ended. My soul was stirring but I didn't know how to feel. I walked to the restroom afterward and came out still drying my hands on a paper towel. My friend David M. was standing there chatting with the movie theater manager, Chuckie, who also happened to be a same-gender loving black man. I smiled at them both.
"Well? What did you think of the movie?" Chuckie asked.
I parted my lips to speak and suddenly felt like I'd been punched in my chest. My eyes welled up with tears and I started full on crying. Hard. It was actually rather embarrassing.
"Why are you crying, hon?" Chuckie's tone was gentle. He really wanted to know. All I could do was shrug.
David knows me so just sort of watched and waited. I then saw a tear trickle down his cheek but never asked why it was there. I tried to express myself but knew I wasn't making much sense. I just knew that my heart was feeling overwhelmed with emotion and . . I don't know. . .awareness, maybe? I don't know.
But not because it was a "gay movie" and that I'm so damn renaissance that now--oh yes, NOW--I'm all open-minded and down with the cause. Because that would reduce this to something akin to someone staring on the outside looking through the glass of a piece of art in the Louvre. Looking and staring but not touching or being a part of the painting.
See, David and Chuckie are just two people. Two very different people. And just like the protagonist, Chiron, in the movie "Moonlight" was one person, like them he had a story--his own story--and feelings, too. And not just like them--like me, too.
Sigh. I bet none of this is making sense. But what I am trying to unpack here is that Barry Jenkins, the man who brought this to the screen, unfolded an aspect of life that doesn't get shown like this. Joy, pain, sunshine and rain--the same kind we all feel and try hard as hell to sort out when we are young and confused about any and everything. And beautifully turns a mirror on all of us, you know?
I think that's what made me cry. It dawned on me that we all want the same things--as children and as adults. To matter and to be cherished. That looks different ways to different people. But it is as necessary as air and water. Regardless of who you are.
Seeing that movie in a bona fide theater was a step in the direction of cherishing the narrative that so many live. More than the wise-cracking hair stylist talking shit with the marcel curling irons in his hand or the kid strutting down the street to jeers at a parade.
Kind of like how on "A Different World" I could identify with spunky Jada Pinkett's braid-wearing, lip-curling, shit-talking character right along with all of those cocoa-complexioned college girls on the same show trying to navigate young adulthood. I was all of them. And sometimes none of them. But it gave me value to see them all. But little did others know that it helped them to value me, too. Because it helped those other people to not be afraid of me and my essence when coming into my presence. Or feel disappointed or confused when I don't fit the singular idea of what the media portrays me to be.
And see, that's what this movie did so bravely and beautifully. For me, that's what it did.
Does this make sense? I hope so.
And so. Today, I'm still basking in the afterglow of seeing "Moonlight." And today, I am reflecting on just this one teeny-tiny aspect of the many, many things I've been left to think about after seeing it.
Here's what I know for sure: I am better for seeing it. Because seeing it helped me see more of myself. Which ultimately helps me see more of you.
Happy Hump Day. And thanks, David, for trusting me to see it with you.
Now playing on my mental iPod. . .this was me. . .but not all of me. Then or now.