film / tv / substack / social media / lists / web / celeb / pajiba love / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / substack / web / celeb

IMG_2221.jpeg

'We're Here' Needs To Be Here More Than Ever

By Chris Revelle | TV | May 23, 2024 |

By Chris Revelle | TV | May 23, 2024 |


IMG_2221.jpeg

While watching the new, retooled We’re Here streaming on Max, I thought of a lyric from the Pet Shop Boys song “Flamboyant:” it all takes courage/you know it/just crossing the street/well, it’s almost heroic. The song means to point out that with someone being so flamboyant, it can be brave to be that full self in public life. While there’s a cheeky, sarcastic edge to the song, We’re Here invites a more literal reading: there are places in America, growing unfortunately in number, where being flamboyant, let alone being effeminate or in drag, is a genuine act of bravery that can invite violent responses.

We’re Here as a show isn’t a stranger to ignorance or disgust; in the four seasons the show has been on, the drag queens that visit different small towns across America to fairy-dragmother queer folx and their loved ones through a drag show that unites a small-but-mighty community, have come up against resistance before. When it started in 2020, We’re Here was like Queer Eye, but genuine and without the micro-plastic aftertaste. Bigoted reactions were there, but the stories focused more on self-acceptance and loneliness; the queens were there to bring communities together and help lift people out of the margins. Those things are still present in We’re Here now, but the tenor has shifted and the mood is palpably more dire.

Whatever high tide of support existed that allowed the few meaningful advances the LGBTQ+ community saw in America has noticeably ebbed. There are, as I write this, 515 bills being considered by state legislatures that would meaningfully curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ people in America. The Supreme Court recently weighed in on criminalizing drag, allowing West Texas A&M to keep their unconstitutional drag ban. Recently, on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver covered the nation-wide bad-faith efforts to ban any queer-friendly literature, even from the adult section. The “protect the children” justifications are thin and embarrassing on their faces, and it’s become more clear than ever that bigots will go to ridiculous lengths to shove queer people out of public life. I’ve written about this before and how it can feel extremely difficult to feel fully yourself and safe when America appears to be doing everything it can to evaporate you. Sadly, the regressive crackdown on LGBTQ+ folx is not a new drum being beat and it’s only gotten worse.

With a new cast of four queens, Jaida Essence Hall, Priyanka, Sasha Velour, and Latrice Royale, We’re Here is taking this opportunity to dig deeper. Instead of heading to a new town every episode, the queens visit just two small towns in Tennessee and Oklahoma. The season is set to be 6 episodes long, with three episodes for each town. This gives the show an opportunity to tell deeper stories about queer people and their loved ones without a quick or easy resolution at hand. There’s a new melancholy and new urgency to this season of We’re Here as it grapples with how, in light of all the regression we’ve seen, it’s much harder to be queer in public life.

“I would never have predicted that, four seasons later, it’s actually harder to be out and proud,” says Priyanka in the premiere episode of this season. It stands as a thesis for this season, and the show is unsparing in its portrayals of this. The queens meet a former mayoral candidate whose drag career was demonized by local media as a form of grooming and saw a mysterious bullet shot into their bedroom from outside. They also meet a Black trans woman struggling to feel safe going out in public and who discusses feeling an enormous pressure to “pass” as a woman lest they experience violence. There’s also the family with two queer-identifying kids whose Christian folk musician father is trying to reconcile his faith with his love for his children. There’s a pattern of hostility hovering at the edge of the frame that drives queer communities out of public life. All of this plays out over a background of strangers yelling “faggot” and threats of violence made if the queens go through with their plan to have a drag show.

We’re Here threads this dread throughout its episodes to the point that watching them walk around the cozy downtown feels so uneasy. A scene where the queens meet up with a trans woman in a diner had me literally biting my nails to stubs. The feeling of eyes upon them felt so charged, as if things could tip over into violence at any moment. It made me think of that “Flamboyant” lyric “crossing the street/well it’s almost heroic” and I felt tremendously sad. It shouldn’t feel charged to be queer in public. It shouldn’t feel like a catalyst for violence to perform in drag. And yet it is. We’re Here has shifted its mode so that viewers understand: things are dire. They can’t bend these people’s stories into happy endings, and frankly, they shouldn’t have to. This is the corner America has backed its queer children into. We’re Here has always told the stories of queer people looking for community, but now that community is under more threat than ever.

This isn’t to say that We’re Here is entirely about the violence and repression queer people face more and more in 2024. It finds moments of love when the Christian folk singer takes the stage in drag to sing a beautiful song while playing guitar, their queer children watching with joyful tears in their eyes. The show also looks to the people fighting the good fight. The queens visit state Representative Justin Jones who takes them on a tour of the state legislature and discusses his experience fighting against bigoted legislature.

We’re Here understands that queerness is joyful and beautiful but that the situation America has created around queerness is unspeakably ugly. In holding both the terrible threats queer people live under and the light and joy of queerness at once, viewers are given a balanced and human portrayal of queerness in crisis. As a viewer, I was furious and sad and scared, but I ultimately felt uplifted seeing the queens teach others how to shine their light even in hostile conditions. Queerness is a gift and keeping that energy in the face of bigotry is inspiring. We’re Here is a vital reminder that no matter how it’s treated, no matter how much bravery it takes to walk as yourself down the street, queer life is worth living, and it’s worth fighting for.