(Ed. note: See also previous LaTierra Shauntel Piphus article below)
By LaTierra Shauntel Piphus
The first time I saw women of color having sex in a film was in 2001 and I was the ripe age of 11. I walked in on that particular scene playing on cable while visiting family for the summer. The movie was called “Stranger Inside” by Cheryl Dunye, a Black lesbian independent filmmaker well-known for her significant contributions to LGBTQ characters of color in her work with other films like “Watermelon Woman” and “The Owls.”
“Stranger Inside” proved to be a beautiful work of art as I came to learn after re-watching it for more clarity, context and pure curiosity years later. The story unfolds as a Black woman, Treasure, is transferred from a juvenile detention center to a women’s prison where her mother had been serving time since Treasure was a child. Chaos ensues when “prison politics” and secrets are revealed leaving Treasure to make a life or death decision. The first time I had seen pieces of that scene, I was so embarrassed and worried that if my family members caught me staring at the TV too long then I’d be “outted” and everyone would know that I liked girls, so I pretended to look away and eventually left the room. It was very awkward, but also very important as being one of the earliest memories I have of experiencing W.E.B. Dubois’s double consciousness* as it relates to being gay and seeing oneself through the eyes of heterosexuals/heteronormative culture.
At 11, I was still a few years away from coming out to myself with a brand-new term I had learned, then researched on the internet: Lesbian. Among all the definitions I had found that one fit the most, but it would still take months later for me to gain the courage to tell my friends who were closest to me at the time. Somewhere in between that film and me starting to navigate my way on this everlasting coming out journey (because coming out is not just a onetime deal, especially for women who are feminine in appearance like myself), I began looking to the media for depictions of what “my type of love” could look like. Since there were loving couples like Claire & Cliff on The Cosby Show, Gina & Martin on Martin and Jay & Michael on My Wife & Kids, then where were the loving couples that looked like me? For heterosexual, cisgender people, there is no shortage of points of reference when it comes to love, relationships or sexuality. For heterosexual, cisgender people of color, those odds become lower, but not non-existent. For me and others in queer women of color communities, the likelihood of seeing us in love, in relationships, or unapologetic in our sexuality and sexual orientation…well let’s just say the chances are even slimmer.