Art by and for queer people has always existed; however, its acceptance into mainstream culture has often come at the cost of authenticity. The creation of queer content for queer people brings into question who is creating this content. Some would argue that queer content created by straight people is not queer content at all, but a misguided attempt to showcase an (unclear) understanding of the LGBTQ experience. To really examine who this content caters to, we must take into account a multitude of factors, including the way it affects how the LGBTQ community is viewed by the rest of society. When content such as “Love, Simon” or “Brokeback Mountain” is thrust into the spotlight, it can be more harmful than helpful, because while the intention may be to be inclusive, this type of representation can often provide inauthentic representation of the queer experience and/or reinforce negative stereotypes about the queer community.
When content created by and for queer people is brought into the mainstream, it provides representation that hasn’t historically been seen by the masses, adding fresh perspective and breaking down old stereotypes. This brings to light the question: “What’s the point of creating queer content for straight people at all?” You might have heard of the term to “queer” something, i.e. “queering Shakespeare.” It’s more than just turning “Romeo and Juliet” into “Romeo and Julio.” This dichotomy of “queering” traditionally hetero content adds a whole new layer of history and intersectionality to the issue of who this content is for. These issues aren’t black and white; they’re extremely nuanced.
In this day and age as more Black, Indigenous, and other minority creators are being given the representation they should have already had, we’re seeing a new generation of creators striving to bring more inclusivity to the art we consume through a lens of intersectionality. While intersectionality is not a new concept by any means, the changes that we see the world and, more specifically, the United States going through right now are slowly being reflected in the art that is being brought into mainstream culture. This raises the question of how we are to engage more authentically with this type of art without tokenizing and culturally appropriating. How can we bring queer content into the mainstream without tokenizing the queer experience for capitalist consumption? More importantly, can we? When examining these types of questions, we must take into account cultural trends and capitalist practices in order to get a clearer picture.
Engaging more authentically with art starts when we ask ourselves to reexamine what’s missing from the art we currently consume. What do we as queer people want to see more or less of? Are we looking beyond the parameters of what is considered mainstream? Do we engage with content that isn’t created in our country, and if we choose to, in what ways can we decentralize Westernized content from our current circulation and understanding of what queer content is available to us? How are we supporting queer artists who create art for queer people?
Due to the oppression that queer people have experienced throughout time, representation can often feel like straight people finally “letting us” tell our own stories. Of course, representation is important, but if non-LGBTQ people want to provide us with said representation, we can tell our own stories instead of turning our experience into something more easily digestible for those who are not queer. Lil Nas X is an artist I believe has mastered this, as his content is unapologetically queer while still being in the mainstream. And just because a queer artist is in the mainstream, that does not necessarily mean their art is for straight people, or even just for queer people. Art is an expression of ourselves and our lived experiences, and the beauty of art being subjective means it can fit into multiple categories at once.
Emma X. O’Loughlin is a new regular Georgia Voice columnist. Raised in the queer community, she is a performing artist and recent graduate of Boston Conservatory at Berklee, where she received a degree in musical theater.