On the resonance of representation

I saw Wonder Woman a few nights ago, and, as countless others have already noted, it’s a watershed film. Amidst the recent glut of superhero movies that mostly indulge, amplifying as they do our traditional expectations of and experiences with masculinity, it resonates. Why? As a man, I can’t completely understand, but I can testify that it moved me. And moved me into a space where I might better empathize with women who have been left without (i.e. deliberately denied) this type of powerful media representation. In every way, Diana (Gal Gadot) is superior, gracefully overshadowing Steve (Chris Pine) and the refreshingly softened masculinity he embodies. Of course, the film doesn’t go out of its way to create any sort of comparison between the two characters; instead, it shows how man and woman are complimentary, equal forces. They each take on their own missions, bound and elevated by love. They merge and move together, but just as importantly separate and flourish apart, taking responsibility for themselves; taking care of their personal journey with an awareness of interbeing; seeing, understanding, and adapting to their calls to adventure; and above all, loving. There’s nothing new in Diana’s revelation about the supremacy of love, but somehow, through her particular reclamation of it, it takes on a new power; it breaks through the mold we’ve built around it, which fossilized it, and breathes new life into it. Fundamentally, Diana learns how to love herself, accepting her origin and her purpose as complete and perfect and then radiating that positive energy into the world.

As I said, I can’t completely understand what a self-identified woman experiences in seeing Diana’s strength, intelligence, and spiritual fortitude (to name just a few of her virtues). Indeed, despite teaching the idea, I never fully felt the importance of representation in media. Since I sat at the peak of intersectional privilege, allowing me to intellectualize and then check out, I took for granted how infinitely possible I was, how my options and opportunities were boundless. Whatever I might imagine about who I wanted to become, chances are there was a story out there about it to support my dream, and because that story existed, the reality with me becoming that person had a shot; my dream was real.

Recently, with the still very fresh and very disorienting revelation that I’m gay coursing through me, I finally felt the power of representation. I used to take for granted how normalized heterosexuality is in our prevailing narratives; I didn’t realize how much I would crave stories that spoke to this new (in its emergence, at least) sense of self. Until, of course, I got a taste of possibility.

And so, a few shout outs to episodes that made me weep (literally):

  • Master of None Season 2, Episode 8, where we go through Denise’s journey of coming out to her family and their eventual acceptance of her over the course of decades of Thanksgiving dinners. Even without the particular resonance this held for me, it’s a beautifully constructed piece of art; with the particular resonance, it’s sublime. Necessary. Cathartic.
  • Sense8 Season 2, Episode 6, where Lito comes out in public for the first time at the pride parade in Sao Paolo and openly kisses his love, Hernando. Haven’t cried that hard in a long time.

I feel silly that I was stuck intellectualizing this topic before; I feel even sillier that I ended up feeling so strongly about it, so late. And then I wonder, “late? According to whom? To what end?” Better to ask, “so what now? So what are you going to do about it, knowing what you know?”

At the very least, I can live inclusively, teach inclusively, write inclusive stories, consume inclusive stories. In other words, I can fight for everyone’s birthright: the joy of being who they are.

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