American Horror Story: Cult doesn’t give justice to the American horror story that is being a QTPOC.
By Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins
American Horror Story is in its seventh season and like many television shows, the writers have opted to use elements of art to make a social statement about the political mess that we are currently experiencing in the U.S..
This season, the show decided to focus on a middle American family with two white queer women named Ally (Sara Paulson) and Ivy (Alison Pill), a married couple with a young son name Oz (Cooper Dodson). Ally suffers from several phobias and her world begins to crumble after learning that Trump was elected as President. This begins to cause strain on her relationship with her partner as several of Ally’s phobias begin to take over day-to-day life, specifically her fear of clowns as Ally begins to believe that clowns are not only stalking her and her family, but killing several of her friends and neighbors on their street.
Just four episodes in, the show has addressed several issues connected to the culture that Trump’s presidency has exacerbated or inspired: including racism, homophobia and advocacy. The show has addressed several topics related to the fear that many marginalized people face. By validating Ally’s fears, this season’s theme opens up a great conversation about how her phobias were heightened after the the announcement of Trump’s presidency. Meanwhile, queer/trans people of color have faced these fears for decades.
Since the late 1960s, QTPOC have lived in fear. From the attacks on Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera during Stonewall riots, to the attacks on Bayard Rustin during the civil rights movement, QTPOC have lived in a world knowing that almost everyone hates or fears them. The statistics only prove this to be true, specifically with trans women of color. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), the majority of hate violence happened to transgender women. 2016 marked the deadliest year for trans women of color, with 27 deaths being reported and that did not include deaths that were not reported or cases where the person was misgendered. 2017 is proving to be no different, as there have been 22 reported death of trans individuals, with one already being reported in the last month.
In addition, there are countless reports of police brutality being reported by QTPOC, specifically from trans women who are often victims of violence by police officers because of their heightened vulnerability within a transmisogynistic society.
While it would be easy to liken the fears that the character Ally has of clowns to the fear that women of color and QTPOC have of the police and their attackers, the issue is much deeper than a simple phobia for QTPOC. Yes, this season sheds a great light on the importance of mental health and the need for mental health services that are essential for those who struggle with phobias and fears, this season hasn’t yet addressed the deeper issues at hand.
The deeper issue is that for many QTPOC is that we live in constant fear of systematic violence and that is not something we have the privilege to simply go see a therapist for, get a pill for and make the anxiety go away. We live with the anxiety that several of our marginalized identities will be violated. We live in a society that tells us that our fears are not real or justified, but a figment of our imaginations. We are surrounded by white queer men and women who often center their fears in the loss of their privilege and access, while QTPOC are worried about living to see another day.
For people like Ally and Ivy, being fearful of Trump’s America only means being afraid that you may lose rights. For QTPOC, Trump’s America is only a symptom of what the community has had to face for decades, and what we are up against for the next three years. From immigration to higher levels of xenophobia and racism, QTPOC people have much to fear than just clowns.
Yes, the writers and producers of this season deserve to be applauded for taking on the topic this season, there still needs to be a greater conversation around how white queer people center themselves during times like these. Further, we should also challenge and push back on who gets to talk about these issues, specifically knowing that the fear that has been created by Trump and his candidacy directly affects Black/Brown marginalized people.
Though the show is timely and offers great commentary on what many American’s are going through in this current more, but American Horror Story: Cult doesn’t give justice to the American horror story that is being a QTPOC.
Author Bio: Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins is a speaker, writer and activist. His work focuses on the intersections of Black and queer identity and ways to eradicate systematic oppression. Follow him on Twitter: @DoctorJonPaul.