Moments of Queer Joy in 2023
Queer Stories Are Here to Stay
By Hallie Meisler
Growing up, I was only allowed to watch TV on the weekends, so naturally, I became obsessed. I think of myself as an expert binge-watcher, watching all of Friends in the two weeks after I got my wisdom teeth out in high school, and I have been embarrassingly committed to watching every Bachelor season for the last 10 years. I don’t think I realized how much queer representation I was missing and how much it would have meant to me to be able to watch queer love stories growing up. I started realizing I was queer during this Friends/Bachelor-watching era but spent the majority of the next five years wishing those feelings away and convincing myself that I could live my life in the closet and perform heterosexuality forever. Now, as a fully out-and-proud queer adult, I can’t imagine hiding that part of my identity anymore, nor would I want to. And luckily, queer representation has found its way onto my TV screen!
Whether it’s the reality show The Ultimatum: Queer Love which highlights that queer love stories are messy, real, and can generate viral moments just like heterosexual reality TV. Or Keeley on Ted Lasso entering a queer relationship without any mention of her character coming out after a few seasons of her dating men—it was just a normal storyline, not a character-defining plot point. From new shows like The Sex Lives of College Girls and Atypical to shows that have been on the air for 20 years, like Grey’s Anatomy and Survivor, queer stories are here to stay. As so many states try to limit access to LGBTQI+ topics in schools and restrict gender-affirming care, it is even more critical that the LGBTQI+ community knows that they are seen and heard. We can’t take for granted how much representation matters, and I know that if I had seen queer stories on television in my early binge-watching days, I maybe wouldn’t have cried myself to sleep for many years, wishing to be straight. Queer representation on TV is just as profitable as straight stories, and they have brought so much joy to my life this year.
There Is Joy to Be Found
By Olivia Shestopal
On the evening of Friday, May 12, I sent my final slack message of the week, closed my laptop, put on my most lesbian outfit (basically just my daily wardrobe), and hopped into the car to pick up my friend, Sam. Following her directions (a text that read “I’m the one dressed like Harry Styles in space buns”), I picked her up on the corner and we drove down to the wharf in Washington, D.C.
After a quick bite (and one too many $8 mojitos) at Colada Shop with some friends, we took our place in line and snaked our way into the Anthem concert venue for the main event—we were here to see MUNA, a three-member queer band who, in the course of the last year, has changed my relationship with music.
As a closeted lesbian who grew up in the era of pop punk and boy bands, let me tell you that finding music that speaks so fully and singularly to the experience of being a woman who loves another woman, and all the joy and complexity that comes along with that, changed me. And, on walking into the Anthem, I could immediately feel that I was not the only one. I’d seen MUNA once before at 9:30 club last September, but this show at the Anthem was the first time the band had played a venue of this size. And not only that, they sold out the whole damn thing.
The second the stage lights went up and the first chord of “What I Want” played, the theater went absolutely wild. Six thousand people, at least 90% of whom had to be queer, jumped up and down screaming every lyric to an absolute bop about autonomy and owning your desires, whatever they are. And the night went on. From electric bangers like “Runners High” and “Number One Fan” to the tear-jerking, empowering “Kind of Girl,” and culminating in an encore of “I Know a Place,” a song that was written to be an anthem for the queer community, as pink, blue, and white lights covered the venue in solidarity with the trans community.
As energizing a night as it was for the crowd, it was immediately clear that the band was overwhelmed by the turnout. They stopped the show several times to marvel at the venue, the fact that it sold out, and to thank their fans for getting them to this place. Halfway through the set, MUNA played their song “Pink Light.” In it they sing, “There’s a pink light in my apartment / It comes mid-morning as a reminder / That at the right time, in the right surroundings / I will be lovely.” One thing is for certain: MUNA’s show is “the right surroundings”—they come to prove that despite all the pain and twists and turns that can come with the queer experience, there is joy to be found.
As we neared the end of the show, I stopped to look around and take in where I was. Dancing with my friends to queer music, performed by an openly queer band, in a room with so many proud queer people. People of every age, gender, race, and creed. Older lesbian couples sitting down throughout the show nodding their heads with earplugs in, and 16 year olds with underage wristbands on. Women kissing, men holding hands, human beings unabashedly proud of who they are. I don’t know what 15-year-old me would have thought I’d be doing in my 30s, or where I would be, but I can guarantee it would not have been this. Never could I have imagined that I would be so comfortable with myself, comfortable enough to dance and scream to a song like “Silk Chiffon,” a song that Josette Maskin, MUNA’s guitarist, described as “a redemption song for young, queer makeouts.”
I think a lot about this one line in “I Know a Place”: “I see all your bruises, yellow, dark blue, and black / But baby a bruise is, only your body / Tryna keep you intact.” With their music, MUNA encourages us to own all the trials and tribulations of living as an openly queer person and love ourselves for it. And the joy they create with their performance encourages just that: self-love, community, and pride. The night was magic, and I’ll never forget it.
By Gemma Simoes Decarvalho
With a bowed head of humility, I would like to make a formal request for Tik Tok to mine my data. Because then, it might bring me more content like “thebellairs.”
This queer married couple, Alli and Hallyn, are hot, funny, and down horrendous for each other. The escalated version of “down bad.”
You see, I am a Pisces (read: hopeless romantic), and so, watching Alli say, “Get on your knees right now for what you’re about to see,” before showing a stunning photo of Hallyn makes me weak in my virtual knees.
In other words, I am down horrendous for the effusive, genuine relationship that they share. However, I will admit that, despite my love and lust for thebellairs, I almost didn’t write this blog. I am not out to many of my family members, which makes me feel like I don’t deserve to celebrate Pride Month, or queer joy, in any way, but especially on the page.
But with my wonderful friends in Washington, D.C., and with my colleagues here at the Law Center, I am becoming more comfortable being who I am. And though it may sound stupid (or at the very least, incessantly Gen Z), texting my queer friends Tik Toks of thebellairs makes me feel part of a community I have for so long excluded myself from.
Love in Defiance of Hate
By Caitlin Panarella
One of my favorite moments of queer joy this year was Kelsea Ballerini’s performance at the CMT Awards of her best friend anthem, “If You Go Down… (I’m Going Down Too).” During the performance, she danced with drag performers despite Tennessee’s drag ban.
That moment was a joyful celebration and show of public alliance with drag queens. Right-wing politicians have been targeting drag performances with repressive laws this year—and thus made drag performers and trans and queer people their scapegoats. Though several court rulings have deemed these state laws unconstitutional in the last month, these bills caused a great deal of harm by vilifying queer people with their violent rhetoric. Ballerini’s performance was a clear stance of solidarity with the queer and trans people suffering under these laws.
Ballerini using her platform and influence is a teachable moment for all of us. Any possibility of backlash cis people experience is minimal compared to the risk queer people take on just to live their lives. With so much hateful rhetoric out there, this performance was a moment of public solidarity and queer joy. And we need that more than ever.