The Same Difference Film Review
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences” – Audre Lorde.
The Same Difference is a documentary by Nneka Onuorah that portrays the discrimination based on gender roles done by lesbians against other lesbians within the African American lesbian and bisexual community. In fact, different set of rules define how the members of the community should be and act like. Every person that will not stick to those principles will lack of support and be discriminated by the rest of community. Lesbians are expected to stick to the “lesbian” role, butch or femme, they decided to take as a lifestyle. Changes or mixes are not allowed.
The different set of rules are the following:
- You must be a stud or a femme
- No stud on stud
- Studs don’t have long hair or wear makeup
- No bisexuals!
- No pregnant studs
Each rule is illustrated and explained in the documentary. Some of the women portrayed suffer discrimination from these rules while others embrace them and wish to see those principles live forever. Some queer celebrities such as the actress Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from the successful HBO’s The Wire, Empire’s AzMarie Livingston and Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black actress, Lea DeLaria also give their opinions on these rules and how gender identity should be portrayed.
You take on a role and you stick to it, that is how it works. Studs are masculine lesbians and that includes gender non-conforming girls, trans women, tomboys and AGs who are more aggressive lesbians. Femmes are lesbians that dress in a more feminine way with heels and make-up for instance. It is an etiquette that defines your place in the community. There is nothing in-between that can be accepted, a stud cannot compromise her identity for feminine elements or she will be discriminated against and get shunned from the community. While the lesbian book states that studs do not have long hair, only short hair, we meet with King Kellz a stud exotic dancer that is constantly mocked by her peers because of her signature weave that is considered to be too feminine for a stud. She does not to hesitate to call out her haters because her identity and physical appearance is a personal matter and not about pleasing others.
Lesbians relationships must be a stud with a femme and can never, ever, be with another stud. Like in heterosexual households, there is a masculine role considered dominant and a feminine role considered to be submissive. There is a strong judgment upon stud and stud relationships by the community who often treats them as “faggots” due to the fact that it is considered that they are a male couple. Studs can relate and shop with each other but not date because they are both dominant. It seems like femme with femme relationships slightly more accepted by the community. The documentary presents us a stud/stud couple that suffers from discrimination and face judgmental opinions caused by internalized homophobia, in the way that they try to be as heterosexual as possible in their lifestyle. It is considered to be unacceptable by lesbians who are already seen as unacceptable in the heteronormative society. While they exist in the white lesbian community, gender roles do not seem to be as strict in it.
Biphobia also exists in the black lesbian community. Lesbians interviewed by Onuorah’s explained that no one has time for them and the fact that they could possibly leave them for a man creates insecurity. According to them, bisexuals need to make up their mind about which gender they want to date. We get to meet a black bisexual that explains that most people think that being bisexual is linked to being confused when it reality to her, who she choses to date is linked to the person and not their gender. It’s incredibly hard to integrate and fit into the community because the women she dates are always afraid that she is going to leave them for a man which according to them gives a bad image of lesbians because it perpetuates the idea that lesbianism is a phase.
The pressure to conform to these strict rules create a toxic and negative environment in the community focused around discrimination in which even family and happiness can be hated upon. We get to meet a stud who went against these rules, Jordan Diaz-Cross. Jordan and her partner are trying to create a family and due to her partner’s infertility, she decided to carry the child for them. Ever since, she has been facing discrimination both in person and online for being seen as different and a freak show. While it is completely okay for feminine women to get pregnant, there is an ignorance within the community when it comes to studs pregnancies.
Onuorah’s film debut exposes the impact that internalized hetero-normative gender roles has on the queer female African-American community. Having herself been a victim of this form of hypocrisy not portrayed in the media, Onuorah considers herself to be in a mission to “make the invisible visible”. She is aware that if she does not do it, no one probably will. She stated even though she has not received negative feedback yet, the main issue she has faced with the movie is that people want to understand “why this issue is important”. You might like or not like the documentary but it is essential seeing because it exposes a community that still remains neglected by the media while raising awareness about the issues it is facing. The message the director aims to send at her community is pretty much clear: be less judgmental, it is the same difference. It should be about love and not hate.
About the author: Mel is an intern at the Fairy Tales Presentation Society.