Her name is Special Agent Diana Barrigan. She is honey-brown with the kind of long, flowing, presumably processed hair that is sometimes valued by women of color (including Asians like me) in the professional world. She is a near-perfect shot with a gun. She is lithe and lean. She is small-chested (like me), but her legs are muscular and toned. She is tough and independent, but she still calls her superior at the FBI “Boss,” genuflecting annoyingly at every turn. She exudes confidence. She sparks with an easy, powerful intellect. She is beyond efficient. And yes: Special Agent Diana Barrigan is also one of the few (if any) openly lesbian characters-of-color in a currently running scripted, hour-long, fictional television American drama.
(Remember: The L Word went off the air in 2009 and The Real L Word and related shows are “reality TV.”)
The drama is called White Collar. It's a mildly diverting contrivance about an expert con artist and art forger who works as a consultant for the FBI's NYC White Collar Crime Division. I don't own a TV. But I have a computer. I download TV shows from amazon.com. I don't know how I discovered Diana. Perhaps I have a nose for these things. Suffice to say that the only reason why I watch White Collar is to catch a glimpse of Diana.
Diana is played by Marsha Thomason, a 34 year old, presumably heterosexual (because she's married to a man named Craig Sykes) British-Jamaican actress who had (for me) the misfortune of playing Eddie Murphy's wife in an otherwise forgettable Disney film called The Haunted Mansion. (Of course, when I think of Eddie Murphy I can't help but remember his homophobic comedy act from the 1980s, an act that made his dalliance with a transgender woman of Samoan descent named Atisone “Shalomar” Seiuli (1976-1998) all the more hypocritical and vicious. Google it.)
It has not been easy to catch a glimpse of Diana. She appeared in the initial pilot for the series. Her lesbianism was played up in one of those eagads moments where the hero is told that the strong, hot women before him is just not into him. But after the pilot she predictably disappeared. I had to download and screen every episode of Season 1 before the final episode when the FBI Detective calls Diana for help. Then, in a cliffhanger, she reappears as a kind of sidekick. For the current season, Diana is a regular lesbian character on Season 2; and by “regular lesbian character” I mean that she's trotted out for torrid subplots–like the time when she goes undercover as a prostitute (surprise) who must negotiate the ignobility of sleeping with men because, if scriptwriters hadn't told you already, she's a lesbian and she doesn't like men.
Yet, curiously, for all her lack of attraction to men, Diana (as played by Marsha Tomason) is quite relaxed and even subservient to her male superiors at the FBI. Moreover, her chemistry with the Con Man who is hired as a consultant (the main hero) is quite strong. There is a buttery, silky, relaxed quality to Marsha Tomason's performances. And you'd never know she was British. Her flat American accent is a marvel of impersonation.
But like so many LGBT characters before her on dramatic and comedic television, Diana is caught in a netherworld shot through with stereotype, sensationalism, fleeting bits of heartfelt authenticity, and exploitation. Like some animal who only gets leftover steak on a holiday, I gobble up even the rancid bits as if Diana's fleeting scenes are the only food I'll have for weeks.
I've often reflected on this longing within me to see LGBTs of color represented on TV and in films. Why do I care so much? Why do I long for LGBT people of color to be subjects and not just objects–characters with as much depth, diversity, and dynamism as the habitually white male hero and anti-heroes that populate TV? Why couldn't Diana be the lead FBI Agent? And why, for the love of the Goddesses, do I still rush to watch the latest episode, pining for Diana, the solitary (to my knowledge) lesbian character-of-color on American TV?
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