Let me start by saying that if you haven’t watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette on Netflix, do what you can to fix that as soon as possible. It is one of the most powerful, life-changing pieces of art I’ve ever seen. Honestly, she has done something spectacular with this show, and I believe all of us can learn something from it. I will also say that if you haven’t watched it, I will be talking about it in this post, so there are some minor spoilers ahead.
The show is largely about Gadsby’s decision to quit comedy. I’m unclear about how long-term that decision is, but it does appear to be an actual choice that she’s making. One of the reasons she gives for making this decision is that she feels like she is arrested in the way that she has told her coming out story. She came out as a lesbian in a country where being gay was a crime until 1997, and didn’t have a great experience. She made a name for herself telling that and other stories where her identity as a gender non-conforming and gay woman were the punchlines.
She goes on to say that she now has a great relationship with her mom, but that doesn’t make for good comedy. Her mom responding in a negative way allows for better tension and release in laughter. But telling only that part of the story has left her with residual self-hatred, because in telling that story over and over, she has crystalized that moment of shame. She is arrested because she has told the bad part of of her story so many time.
As a writer, it’s so easy for me to want to write about the parts of my story that might draw more interest and more clicks. Write about the shame that surrounded me when I committed adultery. Write about the loneliness of being kicked out of a church. Write about the fears of raising a bunch of LGBTQ kids. Write about the grief of losing my son.
Sometimes I wonder if I have been having trouble writing because I’ve written a lot about those things and I’m getting stuck. Stuck in shame, stuck in fear, stuck in grief. Not necessarily in my life, but here, on the page. Feeling like I still need to tell every possible bad feeling I have experienced until I have atoned enough to move on.
Those are all true things. They are all part of my story, and I will revisit them from time to time, no doubt. But I want to explore now as well. I want to tell stories about being in a church that accepts me. I want to tell stories about my husband picking up all of the slack when I was sick with bronchitis for three weeks. I want to tell the stories about reminding my trans kids to put their busted breast form into the trash instead of leaving a boob sitting on the dog’s crate. There is humor and acceptance and love in my life and when I just write about the hurts in my past, I don’t allow myself to fully participate in the present.
Plus, the story of finding random body parts in your living room really is worth reading about.
P.S. The title is my nod to being a Gen X’er who loves The Cure. Congrats to those of you who got it.