Want to find out all the juicy details about what really went down on The Real L Word?! Then this interview is not for you. ELIXHER recently sat down with Sajdah Golde, star of the Showtime hit reality series and field organizer with the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center’s Vote for Equality campaign. Whether you loved this season or made a point not to watch it, you’ll want to find out why the 24-year-old North Carolina native is passionate about her job (canvassing neighborhoods that voted for Prop 8), and her thoughts on the media’s portrayal of Black lesbians. Her girlfriend, Chanel Brown, weighs in!
ELIXHER: How did you end up on The Real L Word?
SAJ: I signed up. Actually, I had just moved out here and this girl I used to talk was a fan of the show. She saw it first on Facebook and was like, oh, they’re casting, you should apply. I liked her, so I did it. [Laughs.]
ELIXHER: You did it to impress a girl? [Laughs.]
SAJ: I did. [Laughs.] It was like Slumdog Millionaire. I knew she watched the show. I was like, let me get on this. I haven’t told many people that story.
ELIXHER: [Laughs.] Was that the only reason you signed up?
SAJ: I definitely didn’t want to take the role of representing all things Black because Black people are so multifaceted it’s insane to even expect me to. I really just felt like it was another story to tell. I knew my story was different from the ones I saw. I wanted to offer a different perspective, not just because I was Black. There are a lot of different pieces of my character that are very different from the other castmates.
Also, I work in LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] policies. My favorite episodes are the ones where they show me working because people are able to see what’s going on around the world thirty years from now. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s kids get to see him doing the March on Washington. My kids will get to see this is what my mom was doing 20 – 30 years ago so that I’m not being bullied in school. I appreciate that part of [the show] more than anything else.
ELIXHER: Seeing our own struggles and how we lived is going to strengthen future generations. So thank you for contributing to that.
SAJ: Thank you. There’s a lot of stuff that the show does that I’m not 100 percent comfortable with. I don’t want to re-watch me fussing and screaming with my girlfriend. But I do like being able to see those parts of it, so it’s like a give and take.
ELIXHER: You talked earlier about not wanting to represent all things Black. What was it like being casted as the first Black lesbian on the series?
SAJ: You can see in the first three episodes, I always look ashy in my interviews. I remember when they were putting this powder on me, I’m like, yo, I look ashy. And they’re like, it’s translucent. I remember watching the first few episodes being like, see I told y’all.
If anything, I taught them how to do the makeup, how to do lighting. When we did hair and makeup, they had to fly somebody else in just to do my hair. When we’re doing photo shoots, there’s a picture of us on the bed. Of course I’m in the corner because they had to keep changing the lighting over my head.
I’m not a stranger to being the only Black [person]. I’ve been a pioneer in that sense for most of my life. I’m not offended that you don’t know how to do the makeup…initially. I’m glad that ultimately you’ll know how because the next person is not going to be ashy in the first three episodes. They’re going to be good all the way through. Someone’s gonna be there to do their hair. The first photo shoot, they just didn’t do my hair because they were like, what are we gonna do? It’s nothing against me being Black. It was just uncharted territory.
ELIXHER: Do you think you’ve paved the way?
SAJ: I wouldn’t say I paved the way. That’s dangerous to say. Things are better now than when I got there. I’m sure of it.
ELIXHER: How would you describe the state of media when it comes to the representation of Black lesbians?
SAJ: Are there Black lesbians in media? [Laughs.] I’m sorry. I remember as I was waiting to hear back from the show, I sat there and I thought about it. I was like, ok, who is Black and gay? And I found Wanda Sykes who came out after Prop 8 and is married to a White woman. But I ain’t mad at ‘cha. Do what you do. It doesn’t exist.
CHANEL: It’s pretty much nonexistent. It’s something you hear about in the distant shadows of the LGBT community, but without an in-depth search you may not come across the 2 – 3 interesting movies or shows that feature a lead Black lesbian as a character or a Black lesbian playing a role. I don’t know of any Black lesbians who are out and marking territory like Ellen, for example.
ELIXHER: Why do you think that is and what can we do to change that?
SAJ: The thing with sexuality, not just for Black people, is that you can hide your sexuality. The feminist movement had the momentum it had because you couldn’t hide being a woman. The civil rights movement had the momentum it had because you couldn’t hide being Black. Somebody was going to be able to tell. Unfortunately, [gay people] can hide. And as long as you don’t have to deal with it, why would anyone else have to deal with it?
ELXHER: Have people gotten too complacent? Do we need to be more proactive about our visibility?
SAJ: Absolutely. I’m such an advocate for coming out. I’m actually starting a marriage equality movement. The acronym is ME – marriage equality starts with me. If you’re afraid to come out yourself then no one has to respect you because you don’t exist. What I’m learning in the work we do is that it’s the personal stories, it’s when people interact with LGBT people that they’re far more open-minded.
ELIXHER: Why do you think there’s such a lack of diversity on shows geared towards the lesbian community?
CHANEL: To begin with we are in a minority just as women and it’s been a struggle with small achievements to be as influential as our male counterparts. Within the lesbian community a lot of programs, shows, and movies cater to include a male audience and limit perceptions of how diverse our community actually is. There is a serious bias of “how a lesbian should look” and a lack of unity among lesbians all together to support each other. We’re not standing as a unit to redefine an image or images of ourselves. I see a show like Lovers and Friends and wonder why it can’t be revamped and aired like The Real L Word.
SAJ: I get backlash from people because I don’t represent them. It’s difficult. You don’t want to tell people support it because it’s gay, but at the same time, support it because it’s gay. I’m not going to represent every Black lesbian. I can’t. It’s impossible. But if you don’t support what you’re getting initially, there’s no way we’re going to be able to expand. Since we’re not supporting it on our own, we have to depend on other audiences. So there may be a little more sex scenes so straight men will have fun.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in how Black lesbians are depicted on screen?
SAJ: To get to the point where it’s not just “lesbian TV.” It’s just a lesbian on this show. There was a time where people were shocked to see a Black person on a show. We were trying to figure out how soon they were going to die. Some of that still happens but for the most part it doesn’t shock people that there’s a Black [cast] member on the show. I want it to get to the point where gay isn’t taboo. Maybe what Modern Family attempts to do. It’s just there. It’ll help people realize [that being gay] is natural.
CHANEL: I really want to see Black lesbian characters portraying roles that really tackle everyday issues and life struggles that we face in our community. In my life there is drama, comedy, suspense, and horror all in one week. I would want to see films that fit each genre, allow a Black lesbian to develop, and does not limit her individuality by over-displaying sex scenes or being secondary to a male story line.
ELIXHER: By sharing your relationship on camera, how have you impacted the media landscape?
CHANEL: I believe it has left people feeling hungry. Sajdah and I are just a spoonful of what the Black lesbian community embodies. We received a lot of ridicule, but more importantly we have received support from those who can relate to us. As a couple, we stood out not just culturally, but by our physical appearance; Sajdah is very masculine compared to my more feminine style and behavior. The perk of reality TV is that it isn’t scripted and so it was much easier to just be ourselves and let the edits fall where they may. [Laughs.] It’s time to make big moves and we’re just doing our part to push open that heavy door blocking our community from proper media recognition.
ELIXHER: How can we get people to be more willing to share their stories?
SAJ: That’s tough. I was lucky because I’ve never cared about what anyone had to say or think. When I’m recruiting volunteers there’s not even a formula. It’s case by case. At my job we ask people to go to someone’s door, come out to them as LGBT and tell them to accept it. I couldn’t pay people to do this. It’s just uncomfortable. The best way that I’m able to recruit people to do this work is when they’re feeling like they’re moving into a community of support. And they’re able to believe in something larger than themselves.
I know for me, my commitment to doing it is because of my dream: My kids are playing softball. My wife is sitting up there in the bleachers and I’m just leaving the firm. I’m coming with my briefcase. I put my jacket down. I reach over, I give my wife a kiss and we watch my son play softball. So, I go out and I talk to people that absolutely hate me. I don’t want my kids to get picked on, so I will sit in uncomfortable conversations so my kids won’t be uncomfortable.
I believe that people will change. They’ll change and more people will be willing to come out. You just have to fight like everyone else did. Women burned their bras. Black people marched. We go door to door and convince people otherwise.