When I saw that the fiercely famous actor, model, and activist Ruby Rose was cast an out lesbian Batwoman for the CW TV series, “Arrowverse” I was elated and — truthfully a little bit… emotional. When I was growing up networks like the CW only ever had super straight, Hollywood darlings with long, silky, caramel colored hair cascading down their spray-tanned backs, starring in their television shows. There was zero gay, lesbian or queer representation in not just the casting, but in the characters gracing the screens in popular TV and movie culture.
The complete lack of lesbian representation on TV really hit home to me, because my dream, from the moment I first learned to speak, was to be an actress. Not an edgy theatre actress or an indie movie actress but a leading lady who starred in massive, coveted roles in blockbuster movies. I wanted to be super famous. On the cover of US Weekly famous — like Mischa Barton, and the rest of the blazingly heterosexual cast of “The O.C.” I was so downright determined to make my movie-star dreams come true that I moved to Hollywood, alone, when I was just seventeen. I pursued my ambition with everything I had stewing inside of me. (Turns out everything wasn’t enough, but we’ll circle back to that later.)
After I scored my first agent I never told a single casting director or anyone in the industry that I was gay. I didn’t put up pictures of the girls I dated on my Facebook or Myspace profile pages. I didn’t tell anyone in any of my acting classes about my sexual orientation. No queer woman who craved mainstream industry success spoke openly about her sexuality. If you were out, you rarely ever got cast in anything and when you did, it was only in “gay roles” which really limited your options as there were very few gay movies, most of which were non-union and non-paying. I was a proud card-carrying member of the Screen Actor’s Guild and wanted to make money off my craft. If making money and longing for fame made me an asshole, consider me a giant asshole. I wanted it bad.
But eventually, despite my acute thirst to “make it” all the hiding became too much for me. I’m one of those creatures that was born to scream and flaunt my sexuality into the stratosphere, and I feared I couldn’t compete in the mainstream game as an out lesbian in Hollywood. It was bad enough that my chin was peppered in cystic acne. Add gayness to my résumé, and I was setting myself up for a lifetime of endless rejection. When you’re an out lesbian, men realize that they don’t have a chance at having sex with you, and since Hollywood was fundamentally founded on the concept of the male gaze, you didn’t stand a chance at being cast if the promise of sex was quelled.
I left Hollywood, moved to New York, and became a writer. My acne cleared up and I started posting pictures of the girls I dated on my social media handles. I even scored a high-paying job writing about lesbian dating. While I missed acting with the same great sensitivity in which you miss your first love, I was far happier living truthfully and having control over my career.
When the short-haired, out, tattooed, mega-babe Ruby Rose broke into the mainstream scene a few years ago, the aspiring actress still living inside of me, the girl who felt so defeated and on the outside of the straight gates of Hollywood, felt sort of seen. At the time I worked at the mainstream media outlet Elite Daily, and every time I wrote an essay about Ruby Rose, the piece would get tens of thousands of page views and tens of thousands of comments. Which was huge. The fact that a short-haired, tattooed, queer entity could garner an impressive number of clicks on a mainstream publication, blew my mind. It blew all of our minds. It really blew the minds of the queer teenagers who followed our publication. LGBTQ Teenagers, who didn’t perhaps read or have access to sophisticated publications like The Atlantic, but were only privy to the more digestible Elite Daily’s of the world, were amazed that finally someone they could *identify with* was featured in a publication their peers read. I would get letters incessantly about it. “So excited to see an article in your publication about Ruby Rose. It really made me feel like I actually belonged. It got me through my horrible day.” They would write me, daily. It truly made me understand how deeply and utterly important it is to have LGBTQ people represented through all facets of mainstream media. The kids who don’t know about queer publications like GO, or The Advocate, or have safe havens like The Stonewall Inn to seek refuge in, feel so incredibly validated to be featured in something that their friends at school also consume.
Yet, despite how life-saving and empowering queer mainstream success is to our youth — it seems that every time an LGBTQ actor, writer, reality TV star or singer garners a modicum of mainstream success, they are terrorized by members of their own community. And even though I’ve seen it happen time and time again, I was still overcome with shock to see it happen to Ruby Rose last week. For those of you who have perhaps been avoiding the noise, allow me to fill you in:
Rose took to Instagram shortly after it was announced in the Hollywood Reporter that she would be playing Batwoman on the CW, and that a show was in development as it’s own stand-alone series.
The actor who has a whopping 12.8 million followers on her Instagram wrote beneath a headshot of her next to a portrait of cat woman:
The Bat is out of the bag and I am beyond thrilled and honored. I’m also an emotional wreck.. because this is a childhood dream. This is something I would have died to have seen on TV when I was a young member of the LGBT community who never felt represented on tv and felt alone and different. Thank you everyone. Thank you god.
“The Bat is out of the bag and I am beyond thrilled and honored. I’m also an emotional wreck..because this is a childhood dream. This is something I would have died to have seen on TV when I was a young member of the LGBT community who never felt represented on tv and felt alone and different. Thank you everyone. Thank you god.”
In the headshot Rose posted she looks absolutely stunning, yet still defies the typical Hollywood standard of beauty. She has visible tattoos. She attains a tough, “un-lady like” energy that cuts through her eyes. Her hair is short and shaved at the side. Let’s get real: She queers the f*ck out of the typical trope of a Hollywood leading actress.
The mere fact that an out and proud lesbian, like Rose, boasts a whopping 12.8 million followers on Instagram makes me want to cry tears of joy. The fact that an out and proud lesbian will be starring as batwoman on a mainstream network? Well, that makes me sob rainbow tears of unabashed joy.
What makes me want to weep rainbow tears of sadness is the backlash Ruby Rose is receiving, specifically from the lesbian community. Instead of being happy that one of our kind has smashed through that stifling glass ceiling and will be authentically representing queer women on a mainstream network, many a lesbian is instead, pissed off. Pissed of that she’s not “lesbian” enough to play Batwoman who came out as a lesbian more than a decade ago. Their argument is that because she identifies as “gender fluid” it’s impossible for her to be a lesbian, or to play one (literally) on TV.
— Abby (@hpgirlonfire16) August 7, 2018
In a 2015 interview with Elle Magazine, Rose (who uses she/her/hers pronouns) described what being gender-fluid means to her,
“Gender fluidity is not really feeling like you’re at one end of the spectrum or the other. For the most part, I definitely don’t identify as any gender. I’m not a guy; I don’t really feel like a woman, but obviously, I was born one. So, I’m somewhere in the middle, which – in my perfect imagination – is like having the best of both sexes. I have a lot of characteristics that would normally be present in a guy and then less that would be present in a woman. But then sometimes I’ll put on a skirt – like today.”
I think Rose owning how she happens to feel about gender is empowering, beautiful, and relatable. It doesn’t make her any less queer, or any less lesbian, frankly, than you or I. You don’t have to identify the same way Rose does, but that doesn’t make her identity invalid.
Rose, who has definitely had more roadblocks in her career than most straight, femme-presenting actress/models, was definitely crushed by the backlash coming from her own community.
“Where on earth did ‘Ruby is not a lesbian therefore she can’t be batwoman’ come from—has to be the funniest most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read,” Rose tweeted moments for deleting her twitter entirely. “I came out at 12? And have for the past 5 years had to deal with ‘she’s too gay’ how do y’all flip it like that? I didn’t change. I wish we would all support each other and our journeys,” Rose tweeted moments before deleting her twitter entirely.
What I want to know is when did some members of my beloved lesbian community become so territorial over the word “lesbian?” Since when did a community that is united on the fundamental belief that “love is love” and that sexual orientation and identity is not something one can control, all of a sudden become obsessed with micro-managing the identities of other queer people?
You know what I think? I think Ruby Rose can identify as gender-fluid and be a lesbian, if it makes sense to her. I think kids in rural America who aren’t besotted with the academic definitions of sexual and gender identities, are going to feel wildly empowered to see someone like Rose play a character that is so iconic in our culture. At the end of the day, the ones who are truly at risk — the disenfranchised youth, LGBTQ folks living outside the safety of big, liberal cities — aren’t sitting around arguing semantics on the internet. They’re fighting to be seen. Rose helps them feel seen.
Also, it’s come to my attention that people are bullying Rose for not being a talented enough actress to play Batwoman. I don’t think we’ve seen enough of Rose to make that judgment call. I also know from a decade of industry experience, that it takes some pretty decent chops to be cast on network television, and I’m excited to see what she brings to the table. I mean — did you see her audition tape? I doubt it. (I find it important to note that I haven’t seen anyone with any background in acting call her out for being a terrible actress, it’s truly only been people with zero experience in the entertainment industry.)
Others are saying because she’s not Jewish she shouldn’t play the part of a Jewish woman (Batwoman is Jewish). As a Jewish woman, I’m not remotely offended that she’s been given the part. First of all, Judaism is a religion. It’s not a race or a gender. But mostly, part of the gift of the actor is attaining the ability to transform, to learn about other cultures and religions, to study them immensely and in turn, embody them authentically. The entire craft is meaningless, it’s a dead art, if we won’t let actor’s stretch themselves into roles that go outside of their personal experiences.
Mainly I believe in the deepest pit of my heart that anyone who falls anywhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, who scores a major part on television series should be applauded by our community, rather than crucified. It feels sort of cannibalistic to direct hatred toward Rose, a member of our community who has endured heaps of homophobia throughout her life, yet has still fought to be heard in this cut-throat industry and never gave up when faced with tremendous adversity. At the end of the day, Rose knows what it feels like to be seen as a woman who loves other women, so who cares if her definition of lesbian doesn’t match yours exactly? Why care at all? You don’t own the definition of “lesbian” and at the end of the day, we’re all one LGBTQ community. Why can’t we all just goddamn respect each other’s differences and be happy when a member of our community finally catches a break?
A win for Rose, is a win for us all.