Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette” might be the most important comedy special…ever. What starts out as a self-deprecating comedy routine turns into an exploration of what it means to be a minority who uses humor as a means to hide while speaking the plain and ugly truth.
The transition between laughter and tears is mesmerizing. I chuckled along with Hannah until it became clear that both of us were laughing so that we didn’t cry. I resonated so strongly with her message that after viewing I felt compelled to share what I’d learned with people so that they too could understand what happens when people’s voices are silenced in order to preserve the status quo.
It’s a relevant topic for today, and for many people. Hannah speaks from her experience as a white lesbian who grew up in a place where it was a crime to be queer, but the struggle to survive, to hope, to find love and acceptance, is a message universally needed.
Watching Hannah process through what she experienced, the decisions she’s considering making regarding herself, her platform, and her career is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. I felt as if my own heart shattered while watching her explore the path she’s taken with her brand of humor:
“Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility, it’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak, and I simply will not do that anymore. Not to myself or anybody who identifies with me.”
Growing up queer means living in silence. It means hiding part of who you are. It means building defense mechanisms so that you can survive in a world that believes you are something to be ashamed of, to be shut inside a closet like a monster. It means being afraid of violence, because the rest of the world has been taught to regard us as illegal, sinful, and disgusting. This is why the shooting at Pulse happened. This is why transgender people are killed. This is why we still don’t have as many rights as straight, white people. This is why so many of us self-harm or commit suicide. As Hannah says, she didn’t report incidences where she was beaten up, because she believed she deserved it. “…that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and you give another permission to hate.”
It is vital that we hear Hannah’s message. While some may not agree with the conclusion she reaches, it is important to hear her and then consider where you are as well as your response to her challenge.
Seeing Hannah articulate what so many of us (whatever our experiences) have felt is incredibly cathartic. It’s like being in space and seeing the entire world for the first time. She has given us all an incredible gift, a way to find the balance between empathy and anger. If you have not yet seen it, you can watch “Nanette” on Netflix, and let it change the way you see your place in the world.