In praise of the queer culture that helped us get through this summer as best we could
From Lady Gaga to Las Culturistas to many a Drag Race, not everything was horrible!
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
What will you remember when you think back to the summer of 2020? The relentless sense of loneliness and dread? The crippling, unpredictable anxiety? Or perhaps just all the anger at how our systems of power failed us so dramatically? But while the past few months will obviously not go down in history as a joyous time for many, there were a few things that came out of it that were not at all horrible. In fact, arts and culture came through for us in ways we might not even yet realize were essential to our summer 2020 survival. And who were among its MVPs? The queers, of course.
Though the stages they perform on were shuttered around the world, never doubt the resilience of drag performers. Not only were they among the quickest to adapt to going virtual (one of my personal faves in that regard was Allysin Chaynes and Champagna's weekly shows on Twitch), they were also omnipresent on TV, offering us some needed fabulousity through these many unfabulous months.
We got not one, not two, but three iterations of the U.S. edition of RuPaul's Drag Race: a celebrity edition, All Stars 5 and the 12th season of the original series. We got the CBC Gem series Queens, a very charming whodunnit following some of Toronto's best drag queens as they try and figure out who stole the crown of the "Miss Church Street" pageant. We got HBO's reality series We're Here, which takes elements of Drag Race and Queer Eye and ascends them to exceptional new heights as Drag Race alums Bob The Drag Queen, Eureka and Shangela travel to conservative towns across America to show folks the transcending power of drag (warning: you will cry). And of course, we finally got a Canadian edition of Drag Race. Sans RuPaul (but did we miss her?), Canada's Drag Race is about to culminate after two months of showing the world just how talented the true north strong and fierce is. Whether it's Priyanka, Rita Baga or Scarlet BoBo who takes the crown, the production team of the first of hopefully many seasons stepped up their game to offer something that felt fresh despite how massive the overall franchise has grown.
Leslie Jordan and Jordan Firstman
From January Jones to Madonna, celebrities mostly failed incredibly hard at trying to use social media to get attention during the pandemic. But the undisputed princes of pandemic Instagram showed us all how it's done: Leslie Jordan and Jordan Firstman. Leslie Jordan, an actor probably best known as Karen's nemesis Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace, charmed his way to 5 million followers with his endlessly delightful posts from his quarantine. Meanwhile, Jordan Firstman — an emerging writer, actor and director who I personally am most in awe of because he wrote this truly perfect musical tribute to Laura Dern — embraced the unhinged mood of society with a series of hysterically ingenious "impressions"...not of celebrities, but of "banana bread's publicist" or "a guy addicted to saying quarantine isn't that different from his normal life." It lead to Vogue calling him "the funniest man on the internet," and save maybe Leslie Jordan, it's hard to disagree.
Las Culturistas' 200th Episode Spectacular
Gay comedians Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang's podcast Las Culturistas was a life-force for me and surely many, many others during the past few months. Every Wednesday morning, I'd wake up with slightly less dread than any other morning of the week because I knew a new episode awaited for me to walk off my anxiety to. But nothing prepared me for the joy — yes, I experienced joy once or twice this summer — that came with the three days they released their three-part, six-hour 200th episode that counted down the 200 greatest moments in culture, according very much to them. I genuinely consider it the greatest achievement in comedic podcasting (I listened to the entire thing twice), and encourage anyone unaware of its existence to stop everything and spend the next six hours coming to understand why.
Kwame in I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You will forever have the distinction of being the most acclaimed and discussed TV series of the summer to potentially literally end all summers. And amidst its brilliantly complex dissection of trauma came a portrait of the realities of life as a young Black queer man that television has really never seen. Kwame — played so elegantly by Paapa Essiedu (please, please give him an Emmy next year) — is reckoning with himself and the society he exists within in the wake of some horrifying circumstances, and there were few things on television this summer quite as heartbreaking to watch.
Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen
As a white cis gay man, I ignorantly didn't quite expect to learn as much from Sam Feder's engrossing Netflix documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen as I ultimately did. The film illuminates the complicated history of transgender lives portrayed on screen, from The Silence of the Lambs to Boys Don't Cry to countless extremely problematic episodes of cop and hospital TV series. In the process, it does an incredible job at educating cis people about exactly why representation matters so much, and how cis gay men in particular have played a role in perpetuating transphobia in the media. It is an absolute must-watch if you didn't find your way to it when it was released in June.
The Old Guard
For years we've been waiting for a mainstream LGBTQ superhero. This summer, we finally got two — and we were too busy witnessing the actual apocalypse to celebrate two gay men fighting alongside one another onscreen. Directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood (becoming one of the first Black women to direct a big-budget action film, which is a big deal in itself), the Netflix-released The Old Guard follows a quintet of immortal mercenaries led by Charlize Theron who are on a revenge mission. Among them are Nicky (Luca Marinelli) and Joe (Marwan Kenzari), who have been lovers for centuries — and the film does not shy away from their declarations as such. Watching them passionately kiss in the middle of kicking so much ass felt like a step in a long-awaited right direction, and hopefully more movies follow suit in such a matter-of-fact manner.
Music From Women With Big Gay Followings
We weren't spoiled with much this summer, but when it came to high quality music from women who largely cater to the gays, did it ever rain on us. Seemingly every Friday, a new (often surprise) gift would be bestowed upon us. Each arguably career-defining albums, there was Fiona Apple's Fetch The Bolt Cutters, Charli XCX's How I'm Feeling Now, Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia, The Chicks' Gaslighter, Carly Rae Jepsen's Dedicated Side B, Taylor Swift's folklore, HAIM's Women in Music Pt. III, and of course, the mother monster of gay-catering, Lady Gaga and her Chromatica. We even got a new disco-inspired Kylie Minogue single and a reworking of Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It," in addition to some great new music from queer men like Troye Sivan, Perfume Genius and Orville Peck (dueting with Shania Twain, no less). It was an endless parade that almost made up for a summer without Pride, and it will forever remain a soundtrack worthy of carrying with us for the rest of our lives — as long as we can get past the memories of isolation it might stir up.