AfterEllen’s Trish Bendix On Queer Identity And The Evolution Of Queer Representation

By Emelina Minero

Trish Bendix - hssmall_500

Trish Bendix

AfterEllen’s Managing Editor, Trish Bendix, is a professional consumer, curator and commentator on queer media. Before AfterEllen, Bendix co-founded her own queer magazine and blog, hosted a queer music festival and put on the first LGBT Panel at SXSW. Bendix has spoken on many panels about queer media and will be speaking at San Diego Comic Con this July on the LGBT Geek Year in Review panel. We got tap into the brain of a queer media connoisseur and chat with Bendix about the diversity within the queer community, how media informs queer identity and the evolution of queer representation.

In a past interview, you said that being queer and a feminist are the two most important parts of yourself. Why? And how do they inform your identity and your work?

It’s hard to separate the feminist and queer parts of me because they are so intertwined, but it becomes clear to me that they aren’t always mutually exclusive when I meet those that are queer but not necessarily feminist-identified. I think that’s completely possible, but really tragic because we should all want the same love, respect and liberation for every human being, no matter their gender or sexual identity.

AfterEllen was founded with a feminist-lean so that has always been a part of my work on the site. And that extends outside of AE because I cannot turn off my feminism, like I can’t turn off my queerness and my queer experiences. My writing is likely never truly objective because of these things, but these perspectives are necessary.

What intrigues you about how queer women see themselves, and do you find a clash between how we see ourselves and how we’re positioned by the media and pop culture?

I think it’s so telling how we, as queer women, see ourselves because there are so many things that inform our identities. Some of that is from pop culture: The TV we watch, the films we see, the books we read. Other parts are from society at large: Politics, our schools, our families. So when we take those things, plus our life experiences, and move through the world, we’re dictating how queer people “are.” Which is to say, a lot of things, and not so different from straight people, except when we are. Ha! It’s a big question, what it is to be queer.

The problem comes when pop culture perpetuates stereotypes and tropes that reinforce themselves over and over again. That’s when queer characters become token, one-dimensional and unrealistic. Those kinds of stories serve no one.

You spoke before about a divide you’ve noticed among queer communities. In what way, if any, does queer representation and media influence that divide?

The divide comes when we reinforce set standards for ourselves as a community. Like when we tell the dykes on bikes or drag queens that they are hurting our image as family people, or when we condemn those seeking marriage equality as wanting to assimilate and live boring straight lives. We have different wants, and the media should reflect that. That’s why it’s important to me to balance Glee recaps with interviews with an author of a Lesbian Avengers memoir or a personal essay about what it means when an actress makes anti-gay statements based on her internal homophobia.

How do you hope to see queer representation evolve, and what part do you want to play in that evolution?

I think it’s twofold. First, we need to recognize that we are not going to find ourselves in one single character or storyline. LGBT people are just as multifaceted as those that are straight-identifying. The L Word is not representing [all] lesbians; Mitch and Cam are not the only kinds of gay couple you can be. The more different kinds of queer characters that are in our consciousness, the better. That includes butch lesbians, femme lesbians, sexually fluid androgynous types, women of color, gender-variants, transgender people, disabled queers, lower and middle class dykes, etc.

The second part of it is finding a way to realize that we do not have to normalize completely. There many of us who want the things that we are currently denied, which is legal equality. But there are just as many of us who are not interested in aligning ourselves with what straight people have and are more interested in leading lives outside of the zeitgeist. And that is OK. In fact, that is amazing. We can all co-exist without having to align ourselves in one specific way. We are a complicated but eclectic community. What we all want is liberation and the freedom to live the way we feel complete. Whether that’s a piece of paper recognized by the government or creating art that challenges social norms, there’s room for all of us in these identities.

As a writer, I hope to help expand upon the ideas people (queer or non-queer) have of our community. I come from my own experiences as a Midwestern middle class cisgender white femme lesbian, but my goal is to tell the stories of those both like me and radically different. I like to find the commonalities while also highlighting our differences. Again, it’s what makes us so goddamn interesting (trishbendix.com).

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