L Word Mississippi: Hate the Sin, a Great Documentary With a Terrible Title

Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Aug. 8 2014 9:00 AM

L Word Mississippi: Hate the Sin, a Great Documentary With a Terrible Title

lword_hts_294.r
Dannika and Jana unwind.

Photo courtesy of Showtime

On Friday night, Showtime is airing a fantastic documentary with a terrible title. It’s too bad that a powerful film about the pernicious, damaging influence of organized religion on the lives of some strong, likable, down-to-earth lesbians from the American South should be saddled with the name L Word Mississippi: Hate the Sin. But try to look past it. The women in the movie have almost nothing in common with the glamorous L.A. lesbians of The L Word or the spoiled, rage-prone coastal lesbians of The Real L Word. Forget those pre-existing franchises and focus on these women, because they are delightful, inspirational, and in at least one case, heartbreakingly messed-up.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

Even before the credits roll, it’s clear we’re not in La La Land anymore. Mississippi is different from Los Angeles, apparently: In the Magnolia State, making out in public is out of the question. “It’s not cool to go out and be gay,” declares Jana, a young woman who seems more mature than the entire cast of The Real L Word combined. “A big problem is the churches,” says Sara, a pregnant lesbian who admits to struggling with pronouns as her physician wife transitions into her husband. Judging from this film, Sara’s assessment is quite an understatement.

Advertisement

Over the course of 90 minutes, preachers, parents, and random guys on the street tell these women they’re deranged, depraved, and Hell-bound. It is not, to say the least, a supportive environment. These meddling churchgoers clearly believe they’re fighting for the lesbians’ souls—why else would a mother tell her daughter she is praying for the best relationship of her life to come to an end? But from the outside, at least, all they seem to be doing is messing with their loved ones’ heads. Indeed, many of the lesbians—smart women in loving, stable relationships—try to pray their own gay away. “I don’t want to die a lesbian,” says one.

At times, the small-town atmosphere of southern Mississippi seems chokingly claustrophobic. It’s impossible to avoid running into angry ex-husbands, or, indeed, for anyone to mind their own business. And it’s all the more disappointing when the woman who denies your request for a marriage license is a longtime neighbor. That makes the few sources of support all the more precious, whether they’re regular get-togethers with other lesbians or the alternative “gay families” like the Per2yons that Cameron and Amber (the second white Per2yon in family history) belong to. (Hey, lesbian filmmakers, won’t one of you please make an entire movie about the Per2yons, Hiltons, Armanis, and the other lesbian families of Mississippi?)

Although at least half of the lesbians in the movie are under 30, the rest are in the older demographic that simply wasn’t present in The Real L Word. Among these are BB, a former pastor now banished from her church, whose attempts to set up an LGBTQ support group in rural Mississippi will now pop into my mind every time I consider the phrase Sisyphean task. (This is inevitably a rather somber film, but I laughed out loud when BB angrily tells a former friend who has trashed her new project on Facebook that the work is important because so many young LGBTQ people attempt suicide. “Dentists, their suicide rates are outrageously high, too,” the woman replies, erroneously. “Nobody says, ‘Go and minister to the dentists.’ ”)

The most heartbreaking of the bunch, though, is Rene, an old-school butch who now thinks that her former cross-dressing, woman-loving ways were the work of Satan. Her determination to give up her flannel and boots for more feminine attire and to resist the temptations of the flesh when she’s on a boat ride with her comely friend Anita seems ill-advised but basically harmless. But when Rene’s new friends from the congregation strategize about how she can lead her son, Devin, away from his gay ways, things seem genuinely tragic. Devin is glad to be gay, even after his visit to his mom’s new church—and he sees how much happier and self-assured she was before she decided to go straight. At the end of the movie, when Rene threatens to kill herself if she ever goes back “to that lifestyle,” her misery and anguish are the worst possible advertisement for being “saved.”

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.