Lena Waithe's "Vanity Fair" photos are the images of Black queer relationships I always needed
Safe, queer, Black relationships exist, but they aren’t always shown or discussed in popular culture. I believe one reason for their absence in media is fear of the truth — if seeing images of tender, queer couples becomes the norm, then maybe the hatred of people who are not heterosexual will dissipate. Bigots will realize how ridiculous they have been for the past thousands of years, and the loathing of queer people will be forced to end.
Perhaps content creators don’t spotlight queer interactions because they are complacent with mainstream portrayals of Black women. They figure, if it’s advantageous to show Black women fighting and to praise only one type of woman, then so be it. But these representations are lazy. They are no way indicative of how Black women exist in every day life.
Thankfully, Vanity Fair‘s new editor-in-chief, Radhika Jones, decided it was time for a change. Jones’ first cover in her new position featured a well-respected, unique, successful individual who is also known for her acclaimed writing and role on Netflix’s Master of None. In 2017, she became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.
She is none other than Lena Waithe.
Lena’s cover was enough to leave anyone bald. I mean, seriously. A tatted, bare faced, renowned Black lesbian smirking on the cover of one of the biggest culture magazines on news stands is, like, wow. But what spoke to me even more than Lena Waithe’s stunning Vanity Fair cover was the love conveyed within the photo spread.
Waithe is engaged to her longterm partner, producer Alana Mayo. The Vanity Fair shoot photographed by Annie Leibovitz included the two of them caring for one another and finding comfort in each other’s arms. These types of images matter because they normalize positive visuals of warmth, purity, and support within lesbian relationships.
There is a shot of Lena preparing eggs while Alana speaks, portraying the couple as they nourish each other through food and thought — two staples in any relationship. My favorite of the two photos, though, is the one in which they are embracing. Their bodies are intertwined. They are completely comfortable with one another. The two of them are one in that moment.
Growing up, I don’t remember seeing Black queer intimacy. In waking life or in media.
I grew up in the Deep South within a deeply religious family, so that may have played a part in my lack of exposure. Heteronormative living was the standard, even though I only saw generally shitty examples of it. I really didn’t see Black LGBTQ love until I moved to New York. As I piece together my own life as a Black queer person, I’m realizing how much I need images like Annie Leibovitz’s shots of Lena and Alana.
I need to see people like me so I know that I’m not as alone as I may feel.
Honestly, I’m not out to my entire family. My family is full of Black church women, and we don’t exactly talk about queerness. I’m also not married and pregnant with my first child, so I don’t even want to lay my sexuality on them right now. One thing at a time I guess. But I can see myself in people like Lena Waithe and find strength. I know there’s true love and infinite success out there for me.
Black visibility that is genuine (meaning unmotivated by profitable stereotypes) is special. The photographs in the latest issue of Vanity Fair are examples of genuine representation. I hope the world sees how much we need that. Congratulations, Lena. Thank you for showing us love, and I wish you all the best.