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Authenticity in Lesbian Representation,”The Wire”

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HBO’s The Wire was a pioneer in showing diverse Black queer women on television. In characters like “Detective Shakima “Kima” Greggs” and the Stanfield crew underling, “Snoop”, we saw a range of gender expression, lesbian representation, and good and bad personal decisions. The Wire made its lesbian characters unrestrained by their sexual identities, and more interesting as a result. That doesn’t mean they sidestepped the issue.

 

Early in season one, folks let Lieutenant James McNulty – Baltimore’s thot cop – know that if he intended to count Detective Greggs among his conquests, it wasn’t happening. Just like that, Kima’s sexuality became a non issue at her job. At Snoop’s job on the streets, nobody ever asked Snoop if she was gay. She was crew, like Detective Greggs was crew, and that was the identity that mattered.

 

Kima Greggs, played by veteran actress Sonja Sohn, was arguably a moral guidepost for the Major Crimes unit. Yeah, the bar was low, but she managed to do the rightish thing more often than most of her colleagues. Kima’s loyalty was to policing, and she embodied the best and worst aspects of it. In season one, Kima identifies Little Man as one of the men who shot her, but rebuffs Bunk’s urging to implicate Wee Bey as the second shooter. Bunk lays out the circumstantial evidence pretty convincingly, and “an ID of both your shooters will play a whole lot easier come trial,” he tells her. Kima shoots back, “sometimes things just gotta play hard.” The end.

 

Kima Greggs, played Sonja Sohn.

 

But, before we reward Greggs with a certificate from the Ned Stark School of Righteousness, remember that she along with fellow officers, beat Bodie for running from them. She looked out for Bubbles, her confidential informant, but she knew that he smoked up in heroine every dollar she gave him. And then there was her relationship with Cheryl that crashed and burned exactly like you knew it would. Nothing about Kima’s disconnectedness when shopping for her forthcoming baby was a surprise. Neither was the disappointed police wives conversation she had with McNulty.

 

Neither was the final straw, when Kima fell into some new new, and put ole girl’s nipples in her mouth, and started ignoring her woman’s calls. But she wasn’t “Kima the cop” or “Kima the co-parent” in that moment. It was the personally irresponsible side of her we hadn’t seen. I remain here for it.

 

In full disclosure, I don’t keep up with all the terms the community has for the masculine of center Black lesbian. What I know is that, at the very end of that spectrum is The Wire’s “Snoop.” Portrayed by Baltimore native, Felicia Pearson, Snoop typified Baltimore’s “dom” culture. Her Gortex Timbs, the accent, the braids. It was too perfect.

 

Snoop, played by Felicia Pearson.

 

I’ve heard that when you’re from Baltimore, or if you live in Baltimore, people inevitably ask: “is it really like ‘The Wire’?” The right answer is “Baltimore is a lovely city,” and then you list some of what’s nice about it – the Inner Harbor, Fell’s Point, this cute French spot my wife and I found, the parties at Grand Central that I’ll never forget. Baltimore is a dope city. Full stop.

 

And also, yes. At a time, and sometimes still, Baltimore is like The Wire.

 

In 2009, Pearson published her first book, titled Grace After Midnight: A Memoir. In it, she reveals that she was born prematurely to parents who eventually lost their battles with drug addiction. By age 12, Pearson had already been initiated into the drug game. And by 15, she was serving six and a half years in prison for second-degree murder.

 

The authenticity of Pearson’s character isn’t an acting skill that can be learned. This opening scene of Season 4 is so luscious. Watch how Snoop struts into the hardware store, tools hoisted over her shoulder. She holds her own in the conversation with the sales associate. Pays the dude in cash, alludes to nefarious activity, and dips.

 

Unfazed.

 

Charming, even. We know somebody bout to die behind this nail gun, but Snoop is so…likable. These emotions conflict, but I’m invested in Snoop!

 

I love it when a character and quality story come together. I think authenticity is the glue that makes it all work. Kima and Snoop are iconic lesbian television characters because they were fascinating without needing to be exoticized. Because The Wire didn’t blink on showing the underbelly that’s in every big city, and portraying the range of emotion that’s in every human being, we got lesbian characters that stuck with us, least of all, because they were lesbians. That’s progress.

Monique Gamble

Dr. Monique A. Gamble is a Professor, photographer, and writer. Her academic specialties include American Government, International Relations, and Black Politics. Dr. Gamble’s photography was recently featured in the 2017 “Songs of My People: 25 Years Later” art exhibit. Currently, she is teaching courses on Black Politics and American Government in Washington, DC. Follow her on Instagram: @crownixxvi and Twitter: @thomasinacrown

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