Originally published on visualcultureweekly.wordpress.com on January 26, 2020.
For this week I have chosen the latest cover of Elle Québec. For their January issue, they have featured Franco-Ontarienne comedian Katherine Levac and her partner actrice Karelle Tremblay. After her recent coming out, Katherine Levac gracing the cover of a major publication as an out gay woman adds to the historically laking LGBTQ2 representation in Québécois visual culture. In a province where the representation of the LGBTQ2 community often falls within two camps —either the stereotypical feminine man or, the semi-closeted gay person that just “simply doesn’t want their sexual orientation to be what defines them”— this Elle magazine spotlight interestingly fits somewhere in the middle.
Although it should always be celebrated when someone is open about who they are on such a large platform, we should, as a community, strive for even further visibility in mainstream media. When looking at both the photographs and the interview that form the magazine’s feature, we see two themes that highlight the way Levac and Tremblay’s image is portrayed, those being respectability and excellence.
Firstly, a certain distance exists between the two women in the images. Their gaze never cross but rather look straight at the lens. The intimacy is minimal, almost forcibly so. The focus is drawn away from them as a couple, but as two individuals who happen to be together. A tactic some would deem appropriate to obtain a larger acceptance from mainstream society. But is this protecting them from something they would rather not see? Affection, perhaps? There definitely is no room for any possible fetishization à la T.A.T.U here.
Secondly, the interview hints at their relationship being based on mutual admiration with a strong emphasis on how successful and talented the other one is. This is the construction of a power couple. An aspirational beauty and social standard which falls into the professional gay trope we see too much of in media.
Of course, these two elements I describe are not solely stemming from how Levac and Tremblay want to be perceived, but also fit into what Québécois media expects from promement LGBTQ2 figures. As often happens, queer folk have to watch their public persona quite carefully to avoid any comparison to clichés which in turn encourages overcompensation and we find ourselves with sterile, safe, rich, white, cisgendered representations. The safest.
At this point, it is fitting to return to our first post of the year on the Bye Bye 2019 and hope this year will not be a year of playing it safe.