People who date members of the same sex are often faced with questions like, “Who’s the man and who’s the woman?” Even within the LGBT community, though, those heteronormative gender roles can be just as strictly enforced—if not to a harsher extent. In “The Same Difference,” first time director, Nneka Onuorah, explores those gender roles and how they are enforced among African-American lesbians.

 

SameDifference1The film displays how harsh and rigid the roles of masculine and feminine are, or in this case, the roles of stud and fem. The Stud, also referred to as the Aggressor or AG, plays the masculine role, being more aggressive and dressing masculine. The Fem, on the other hand, is the more reserved, feminine role, dressing like more of a lady. These roles are depicted through members of the community and a set of rules that are clearly and strictly followed.


There is no change, or “flip-flopping” allowed either. Studs cannot dress feminine. Fems cannot dress masculine. No exceptions. There is no flip-flopping allowed with dating either, specifically with gender. If someone in the community dates more than one gender, they face myriad judgments from those around them.


The film also argues that African-American lesbians are subjected to these rules significantly more than other racial groups in the lesbian community. This is discussed through both individuals being interviewed and with discussion panels, one made up of African-Americans, another made up of Caucasians.


This documentary is applied Gender Theory. It is the kind of exposé that theorists like Audre Lorde, a quote from whom prefaces the film, would be thrilled to see made. The cinematography does a great job at portraying the huge variety of people that do exist, despite the stereotypes they are forced into. There is background audio from poets or musicians that reinforce the same ideas as the film.


Onuorah offers up an issue that I, as a cis white gay man, was previously not familiar with. I know about the gender roles within my own circle, but had no idea about the discrimination faced by lesbians of color. I would have to agree that the opposition that this group faces, does appear to be much worse than within Caucasian or other queer circles.


The film starts a conversation that clearly needs to be had. Those who don’t understand the differences within their community are lacking the education and exposure to them. The conversation is started and the topic is introduced, but there is so much more I would like to see.

SameDifference3
I think the audience would benefit from being shown more of an understanding behind the motivations for enforcing these gender roles. What has led to this perception of masculine and feminine? Why are African-American communities disproportionally enforcing these roles more than any other group? Why are they seeming to base so much off of the appearance of another? We have barely scratched the surface of this issue.


Aside from the few scenes that seemed to go on longer than I felt necessary, the film does an amazing job of getting its message across. “The Same Difference” is thought provoking and provides insight into an issue within this culture that needs to be talked about. Those interviewed for the documentary seemed eager to get their message out there, as if it is a problem that has been weighing on everyone within their community for a long time. I would love to see more from this director, perhaps diving a little deeper into the content, in the future. To that end, I would suggest this film to anybody looking for an insight on gender, gender roles, and the African-American LGBT community.


Sponsored by #Boom Magazine, "The Same Difference" will screen at QFest - St. Louis' LGBT film festival - on Wednesday, April 27 at 5:00 p.m. at the Hi-Pointe Backlot Theatre. Click here for a full schedule of films and ticket information.


 

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