Nannette and Unmasking Queer Stories

Nanette is a comedy special in which the comedian, Hannah Gadsby, tells her story as a lesbian and gender-non-conforming person from Tasmania—a place where until 1997, it was still illegal to be gay and same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized until 2017. The premise of the comedy special is that performing comedy has left her feeling that she has not been telling the full truth of her story—a story that she has long kept silent with her shame. She points out that while she has turned to self-deprecating humor to cope with the trauma she has faced, telling jokes only adds to the hatred that she has internalized since she was a child. While she begins the special on a light-hearted note through joke-telling, the tone dramatically shifts part-way through when she describes her reasoning for needing to quit comedy. She draws in the audience, telling them a heartbreakingly real story about her own shame and self-hatred, the homophobia she has faced from her own family and strangers, and the violence that she has faced from men. The audience for this special is stated explicitly. She says that men, especially cis het while men have a responsibility to change the narrative surrounding what they have been taught about their own gender and to understand their privilege in society. 

This comedy special connects to many of the ideas we have talked about in class. In connection to the theme of mythmaking, it is clear that Nannette attempts to retell a story that has so often been silenced. Gadsby recognizes the ways that these stories have been silenced and glossed over and in response, tells her story completely straightforward to the audience with all of the real tension and discomfort that comes with it—no jokes masking the truth to make it easier for the audience to take in. She states at the end of her special “Laughter is not our medicine, stories hold our cure. Laughter is just the honey that sweetens the bitter medicine. I do not want to unite you with laughter or anger, I just needed my story heard, my story felt and understood…” In this statement, Gadsby states a theme that is repeated time and time again in queer media—a desire for queer people’s raw and unaltered stories to be heard. Adrianne Rich’s “Study of History” conveys a similar feeling of frustration and anguish around the silencing of queer stories. She states “all we have never entirely known what was done to you upstream, what powers trepanned which of your channels diverted what rockface leaned to stare in your defenseless face.” Here Rich uses the river as a metaphor to describe the history of violence that queer people have faced. By saying that we will never know “what was done to you upstream,” she is pointing to the history of queer stories being erased, altered, and misunderstood. Both Rich and Gadsby aim to bring attention to this fact and to share their stories no matter how uncomfortable.

One thought on “Nannette and Unmasking Queer Stories”

  1. I’ve never seen Nannette (though now I’m really intrigued!!!), but I really like how you synthesized its themes with “Study of History.” The parallels between the Tazmanian history with queer liberation that you mentioned and that in the United States is incredibly interesting. I feel like we are on a similar timeline — though we didn’t have one official motion to decriminalize homosexual activity in the US, a quick Google just revealed to me that the last of the laws incriminating homosexuality were repealed in 2004. Though we legalized gay marriage a couple years before Tazmania, it really seems like we are living in relatively parallel queer timelines. I’m really curious about the political systems in these two countries differ, for they appear to share similar rhetoric around queerness despite being on opposite sides of the globe. How does this general discomfort with queerness, though gradually changing through the sharing of queer stories (as you said), show up in so many different cultures in such similar ways?

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