Rainbow Rant: Do our queer role models know we think they’re beautiful?

Older queer women are ‘sexy A.F.’ and someday we will be too.

Joy Ellison
Tig Notaro at her downtown L.A. loft in October 2012.

Queer people everywhere owe Tig Notaro and other queer women her age a heartfelt apology because they do not seem to know that they are hot.

After the release of the trailer for Zack Snyder’s movie “Army of the Dead,” in which Notaro plays an action hero for the first time, Notaro trended for being “sexy A.F.” The comedian claimed she didn’t know what “A.F.” meant, but she also seemed baffled by the whole thing. Her wife, of course, was delighted, but I was filled with a grave concern.

I am forced to conclude that Notaro may not have known that queer people have long thought she was sexy A.F.

I couldn’t help but regard this as a kind of queer natural disaster and I scrambled to assess the damage. If no one has told Notaro that she is sexy A.F., then what about Margaret Cho? Does Angela Davis know we discreetly and respectfully swoon over her? Has anyone complimented Lily Tomlin lately? 

There is a chance, I realize now, that at this very moment K.D. Lang is sitting in her home crooning “Constant Craving” and wondering, in some small recess of her mind, if we think she is hot. If she doesn’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we do, then we as a people have failed. 

We speak so rarely of the queer people older than us who have been our possibility models. Instead, we tell wistful stories about the first girls kind enough to kiss us. We hold forth about our friends who came out just before we did, holding the closet door open behind them and beckoning us to follow. But we rarely speak of our community members just a decade or two older than us, even though they showed us not just who we could be, but who we could become. 

When we do speak of queer women older than us, we talk about their bravery, not their beauty. We thank them for their resistance and their survival, but usually in terms too general to have any meaning. We call them “elders” when they are still far from aged, in part because we are as youth obsessed as any Americans, but also because it is still difficult for us to believe that old age is promised to us. We hold them at a distance, because we long to be like them almost as much as we fear losing whatever piddly advantage youth affords us.

We’d ourselves a favor if we told them they are sexy A.F. more often.

Our failure to acknowledge that queer people older than us are desirable cuts us off from an important source of power. Audre Lorde wrote of the erotic as a source of power for women, a force that had the potential to change lives and topple systems of oppression. “When I speak of the erotic, then,” she wrote, “I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.” I hope that Lorde would understand when I say that I, as a nonbinary person, finally understood the truth she was describing late one night at the Wexner, midway through a Meshell Ndegeocello concert. 

Standing at the feet of a queer musician at the height of her power, I found myself awash in an energy I didn’t fully understand. In the curves of Ndegeocello’s cheeks and hips, I saw a vision of my own future. Realizing that I found that future desirable was one of the sexiest and most empowering experiences I have ever had. 

There is power and healing in the erotic. Tig Notaro is sexy A.F. And someday we will be, too.