I think a lot about names! About my name, why I was named that, what it carries for me, how it makes me feel, how I feel when different people say it, what other people think of my name, what feels like the right/wrong way to say my name. Other’s peoples names, how I pronounce them, what I infer from them about others, what they mean for those people. I think names are really, really important. And I think for queer people, names carry really specific meaning.
In The Watermelon Woman, the title is also the name that Cheryl calls Fae Richards. Fae was credited in the movie she was in as “the watermelon woman.” The white director stripped Fae of her name and gave her an identity that upholds racist notions of Black womanhood. Fae didn’t have the basic right to name herself, to claim her name—an experience shared by many people of color and queer people, especially Trans* and GNC people. Does a name hold identity? In the film, Cheryl eventually finds June Walker, Fae’s longtime partner and a queer Black woman. She is angry with Cheryl for even using the name “watermelon woman.” When we name those in history, especially queer people, what do we decide about how they are represented? I want to connect this (mis)naming to Heather Love’s “Feeling Backwards,” and the potential hurt to be uncovered but also created when Cheryl looks backwards for a queer Black woman in film.
In Janelle Monae’s “Q.U.E.E.N”, she starts by asking “I can’t believe all of the things they say about me,” and throughout the song she describes when others name her as “dirty,” “freak,” “weird,” “insane,” “sinner,” “rude,” and more—and she names herself in the title and throughout the song as a queen. All of the names others call her are racialized and queered names, that queer people and Black woman are called to delegitimate, marginalize, and harm. She claims instead that she is a queen!
But she also distances herself in real life from being labelled as gay, so I’m not exactly sure where to go with that… I think that the names we are called, choose to call ourselves, and more are really crucial.