Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Call Me By Nanette's Name

On Sunday morning of Pride Weekend, when all the rest of the gays were brunching, I watched Hannah Gadsby’s new Netflix comedy special “Nanette” with some friends in their living room. And, apologies to the brunch set, but it was the absolute gayest shit I could have done at that particular moment in time. More gay than watching a parade and much more gay than marching behind a corporate sponsor in a parade. Now, let’s back track and bit and see how we got here.

Last week a bunch of you posted or commented or replied to me that I had to watch this “Nanette” business. I had no idea what this “Nanette” business was, but The Internet told me to do it and I’ve never been burned by The Internet before. Wait, hold up, strike that and reverse it.

Still, I swallowed my trepidation and watched it on Pride Sunday no less. And, wow. Like, I could not feel that “wow” any more deeply. I believe “Nanette” is what mainstream critics call a “tour de force.” Or, you know, it would be if mainstream critics generally called the things that out lesbian, gender-nonconforming comics who aren’t wafer-thin and wear specs do a “tour de force.”

But that is exactly what her special is. It’s more than just an hour and nine minutes of comedy. It’s an hour and nine minutes of deconstructing why one of the most popular forms of comedy (self-deprecating humor, specifically) actually hurts the people who exist in the margins. You know us – the people of color, the queer people, the trans people, the gender nonconforming people, the women people. Really, the margins are anyone who isn’t our society’s stubborn and inaccurate default of “straight white male.”

“Nanette,” like Cameron Esposito’s also excellent “Rape Jokes” (which actually I had us watch after “Nanette” Sunday morning as an comedy enlightenment double feature), dares its audience to do more than laugh. It dares us to think. To think about ourselves. To think about the world. To step outside of the bubble we put ourselves in every day just to make it through or to make it easier or to reaffirm whatever we already believe to be the unshakeable truth and just marinate in someone else’s life and struggle.

I wasn’t familiar with Hannah Gadsby before I watched “Nanette.” So I cannot thank those of you enough who brought her to my attention. To quote Cameron from my double-header, “The internet is good?” Because what Hannah did was a lot more than just make me laugh that Sunday morning. She reaffirmed to me that to be an out queer woman in this world – or anyone else who exists in the margins – means we have to assert our agency with every last fiber of our bodies. And to do that we have to claim and tell our stories in a way that is honest and inclusive. Because if we don’t, if we fall into the same easy narrative traps, we are simply making the lives of those who already have it the easiest easier.

The world needs to marinate in the tension it has unleashed in our current, untenable political climate. To ban an entire ethnicity and/or religion of people from seeking refuge on our shores – that’s uncivilized and the people who do such a thing should feel tense. To forcibly rip people’s children away and put them in cages for seeking a better life here – that’s uncivilized and the people who do such a thing should feel tense.

Laughter (and penicillin) may be the best medicine, but the truth will set you free. Stop letting bad people off the hook. Also stop letting good people who just don’t like to think about the inherent institutional advantages they’ve been given because of the color of their skin or because of their socioeconomic status not think about those inherent institutional advantages.

The world is a tense place right now, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. We can laugh at that together, sure, but also acknowledge that for so many of us just feeling “tense” is a luxury. If we could only feel a little tense and not supremely terrified and profoundly furious at everything that is unfolding before our eyes.

The only way to make us less afraid of each other, less inclined to hate everything that is different is to really think about someone else’s life. Or, just as important, really think about yours and how you got where you are today. Yeah, “Nanette” is intense. But the world is intense. And to pretend otherwise is an easy laugh in a world that has already had far too many easy laugh at the expense those who can afford it the least.


Helena said...

Thank you for introducing me to this and sharing your insightful thoughts. I need your writing in my life :)

Star said...

I seriously think this should be required viewing! She says things that many of us have not had the courage to say and I am so inspired!

Anonymous said...

I too watched on Sunday. I haven't stopped thinking about her words. Brilliant. Brave. Revolutionary. Thanks for summing it up so well as you always do.

Anonymous said...

Ditto. Her words still haunt me and my heart aches for everything she has gone through. Along with everyone who has to deal with this kind of trauma in their lives.

I was sobbing after watching it.

Heidi said...

Thank you Dorothy, that was beautifully written. And thanks for telling your truth and your story day after day. So important ❤