In September 2017, I watched the Primetime Emmy Awards, like I did almost every year before that. Jim Parsons and Iain Armitage performed the obligatory joke before announcing the winners for Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series: Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe for Master of None’s “Thanksgiving” episode, which was partially based on Waithe’s own personal experience coming out to her mother.
They came up to the stage and Aziz gave the mic, deservedly, to Lena. Her viral speech touched on the importance of representation, and gratitude for her LGBTQIA family, and this: “To my girlfriend Alana, I love you more than life itself.” I froze. Did this Black woman just nonchalantly say she was gay and thank her girlfriend on the biggest stage in television? I’m pretty sure the whole world already knew she was queer, but this was news to my gay Black self. This was the first time I had seen such proud, queer Black love, and I immediately became invested in this relationship. So, I did what most millennials do — I Googled Lena Waithe.
Lena recalled in an appearance on The Breakfast Club that she and Alana met at a business meeting. Although they were both in entertainment — Lena a writer, actor, and producer, and Alana, a creative executive — there were no flashing lights or cosmic connections when they first met. But a seed was planted. During an appearance on the Wendy Williams show, while discussing sexual fluidity, Waithe said that Mayo had never been with a woman before her, and their relationship was more spontaneous than not. “There was no nothing going on there at that point. I was very professional,” Waithe told the Breakfast Club. “We just kept bumping into each other and all that kind of stuff. One day, we went to have drinks and something just clicked. It was different. We’ve been together ever since.”
In true cliché lesbian fashion, Lena told Alana she was madly in love with her on their fourth date. She knew they were soul mates — so why wait? I instantly felt vindicated for the times I have leapt into a relationship because of that feeling. The certainty of that connection … granted, it often fizzled in my case, but I am always willing to pursue it. Lena and Alana reminded me that time doesn’t create a stronger bond, but feelings do. They showed me the complexities of attraction and how love sometimes surprises you. Soulmates come in many forms — you can't be afraid to try things out.
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I held Lena’s speech, and particularly her declaration of love for Alana, close even as I went through my own breakup, thinking that one day I’d be able to live such a loud and proud life. But my moment wouldn’t make the news because Black, queer love wouldn’t be headline, my work would.
Then, in 2019 I was on a YouTube spiral and came across Lena being interviewed by John Legend. He said to her, “I’m going to call you wife now because you secretly just got married.” My heart skipped a beat. So, not only is Black, queer love possible, it dawned on me that it can lead to marriage. Marriage, that end-all, be-all, that had been unattainable to most of the LGBTQ community for so long. Lena was glowing after her secret wedding in San Francisco, which took place right in front of Harvey Milk’s bust. The significance of getting married in San Francisco City Hall and in front of Milk’s monument seemed like a full-circle moment for LGBTQ rights. This is what Harvey Milk fought for and it was the first time I thought it could be a reality for me. Flash forward a few months, I came across a headline, where I get all my news … Twitter. “Lena Waithe and Wife Alana Mayo Split after 2 Months of Marriage.” I was gutted because of what their marriage represented for me, and for what I felt I had lost.
Their breakup broke my heart. It made me wonder if queer, Black love truly does exist. But more importantly, it showed me the danger of putting gay relationships on a pedestal, it showed me that maybe we were susceptible to the same thing heterosexuals couples fall victim to — cheating, lies, plain old “irreconcilable differences,” and even divorce. Their relationship showed me that queer couples can really, truly have it all. The good, and even the bad.
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