I’ve been watching a lot of Dynasty. If Donald Trump and the rest of the GOP want to plunge America into Reagan-era policies and continue to line the pockets of the one percent, then I told myself I can at least watch the best part of his presidency. The glitzy primetime soap Dynasty debuted on January 12, 1981, just eight days before Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration. After Reagan left office in 1989, the series was canceled months later. It no longer had place in the American zeitgeist. But revisiting the series and bingeing it like it’s House of Cards has given me an entirely new understanding of what it means for me to be a queer person under Trump’s presidency and why the phrase “Make America Great Again” rings so hollow.
Even if you’ve never seen Dynasty, you still know what it’s about—mansions, beautiful gowns, catfights and sexual escapades. But despite the series boasting a gay man as a main character from the pilot, Steven Carrington was muted due to the television standards and practices of the day. We never saw him kiss his lovers (when he had any); the only intimacy he was allowed were surreptitious glances and manly embraces. (Oddly, standards and practices never had a problem with characters hurling the word fag at Steven). The first season literally ends with Steven’s father killing his son’s lover in a furious rage and being put on trial for it. Subsequent seasons saw Steven sleeping with a woman, producing a child and then marrying another woman to prove to a court that he wouldn’t expose his child to a “homosexual lifestyle.”
Steven eventually ended up in a committed relationship with a man in the 1991 reunion, but his queerness was always swept under the rug. It’s a situation all too familiar in a time when our current president refuses to acknowledge June as LGBT Pride Month and his daughter Ivanka tweets a vacant show of “support” for “LGBTQ Americans who have made immense contributions to our society and economy.”
Well, I’m glad that as long as we buy her shit, at whatever Etsy store it’s in, Ivanka will half-heartedly support us, but less than five months into Trump’s presidency, and after he signed an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill, queer people have no allies in the White House.
As our country attempts to slide back into an era that hid us from the public discourse, it’s time to be loud and visible.
Never mind that the 1980s was the AIDS crisis, which Reagan ignored even as his own friend, actor Rock Hudson, died of the disease. Ironically, Hudson guest-starred on Dynasty, which also ignored the AIDS crisis, and caused an industry panic when his status was revealed. In 2017, our community’s crises now include at least 11 trans women being murdered so far this year and the brutal murders of gay men in countries like Chechnya. But in the interest of toasting to America’s alleged past greatness, these are the things that our country chooses to ignore. Sure, we can toast to a black, queer love story like Moonlight finally winning Best Picture at the Oscars, but that hasn’t changed the national conversation around black, queer men in politics—or in Hollywood. (Good luck seeing a flurry of Moonlight-esque films greenlighted by any studios this year).
Not that it was just Dynasty. One of America’s top-rated shows of the 1980s was The Cosby Show, a show that depicted a pristine image of a black family in Brooklyn Heights but somehow managed to ignore the plights of the black community that occurred just beyond the Huxtables’ stoop. Being black in America, you’re used to accepting the facades as victories. You accept Moonlight winning, you accept The Cosby Show as a positive role model for black children and you pray that the people who often deny your humanity will catch a glimpse of those images.
There can be beauty in facades. It helps us be resilient in times when we should have otherwise collapsed from grief and exhaustion. It’s how I could go from a child watching my own gay uncle die in his bed in the early 1990s, to being fearful of coming out as a teenager in Milwaukee, where Jeffrey Dahmer preyed on young queer men of color while the police did nothing, to surviving a sexual assault in San Francisco in my late 20s, to sharing my voice on Twitter and inspiring other young black, queer people to tell their stories and call out slights and bullshit wherever they see it. When I was asked to write this, I laughed at one of the prompts of possibly writing about how much power 140 characters have to someone who’s a Twitter “influencer.” But when I sat down to write, I thought about how being my unrelenting self helped me become an unemployed aspiring writer living in New York to a someone who now has a career writing about themselves in Los Angeles, in only a span of 10 years.
To me, what being gay looks like in 2017 is realizing that my body is a political act. Black people, queer people and black queer people have died under oppressive presidencies in this country. We might have been lulled into a false sense of security for eight years where we had a black president who spoke openly about the humanity of the queer community, but as our country attempts to slide back into an era that swept us under the rug and hid us from the public discourse, it’s time to be loud and visible. If I’ve learned one thing from watching Dynasty and leading lady Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan, it’s that power isn’t earned. You have to take it—with a glass of champagne in one hand, of course. That’s a once-great American tradition I can get behind.
Ira Madison III is an entertainment reporter at the Daily Beast. He’s previously written for MTV News and BuzzFeed. Follow him on Twitter at @ira.
Read more essays from Playboy’s Pride series here.