Folding laundry is more than a chore — it's an act of queer joy
In Master of None, home is a sanctuary
In this edition of Scene & Heard, a weekly newsletter where a guest writer reflects on just one scene from a recent Netflix release, broadcaster and writer Faustina Agolley reflects on how home becomes a safe space away from a hostile world in Master of None, streaming now on Netflix.
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It’s already etched into my memory in a way that only Black women can do for me: Denise and Naomi, the queer couple at the heart of Master of None’s latest season, folding laundry while dancing to Black Box’s 90s track ‘Everybody Everybody’ for a whole-ass minute-thirty. I revelled in their joy. And this vignette of Denise and Naomi, the epitome of #strongblackleads, is part of an early distinct set of meditative scenes that shows us that Master of None has grown up.
In this new season, Denise (Lena Waithe) lives with her Black British wife, Alicia (Naomi Ackie) — former chemist, now budding interior stylist — in upstate New York. Denise is struggling with life on the other side of success, having written a New York Times Best seller and, now, at the mountain top, sees that there are other mountains to scale — the daunting task of writing a successful follow up book, the financial pressure of maintaining the bougie lifestyle she’s achieved with Alicia in their perfect cottage and reconnecting with family and friends that she drastically neglected during her success. Alicia hasn’t yet arrived at the kind of success she dreams about — to forge a career in interior design with her own shop — and while she compromises parts of her life to fit in with Denise’s, she also wants to have kids. Both Denise and Alicia are sobered by the endurance of adult life.
Master of None makes us feel we’re eavesdropping on the intimacy of home life with Denise and Alicia, though — being a queer Black and Asian woman in her 30s myself — this season feels a lot more personal. Seeing Denise and Alicia dancing while folding laundry means way more to me than simply watching women partake in a common chore. It also harks back to the kernel of truth behind the lesbian U-Haul jokes: that domestic queer life is our sanctuary amongst a world that was never consciously designed for us. For us, home is a world where our lives can be made easier.
I’m reminded of Hannah Gadsby’s commentary on queer representation in Nanette. “Where are the quiet gays supposed to go?” she asks, preferring the sound of a tea cup hitting a saucer instead of the loud (but necessary) colourful displays of Mardi Gras, Pride and the rainbow flag: “one loud colour stacked on top of another.” Likewise, Master of None’s small but powerful moments between Denise and Alicia feel more true to life than the tired and tokenistic portrayals we usually see of queer and POC characters on screen.
Rona (or Pando, as I like to call it) made my trans-Tasman relationship with my Kiwi babe a stay-put-in-Aotearoa one. In a house dotted on a hinterland overlooking Auckland city, directed by frequent national addresses from Jacinda Ardern and shifting in and out of lockdowns, our lives have been a combination of Gadsby’s desire for quietness and tea, as well as those moments of self-created joy, like Denise and Alicia’s dancing. A few months in, I realised what was once a lofty idea of how a lesbian relationship could be was becoming a living reality. We didn’t intend for things to be this way; we just rolled with it. Then a few months turned into a year.
Much like Denise and Alicia, my partner and I are surrounded by art and books that represent us. We have the same ways of communicating, from silly pillow talk to conversations that expand who we are and allow us to know each other more deeply. I make space for her neurodiversity and she gets my full non-code-switching self.
Our anger is just as welcome as our need for joy, often in the simple things. We share the same feeling of satisfaction after cleaning the home, or gardening for an afternoon
We chat…a lot. Sharing points of view without the intense labour that’s often required to explain our perspective outside of the home. Our home is a space to quite literally go ballistic about that very world outside the home that isn’t designed for us. The first 30 minutes upon entering the door becomes a space to ‘go off’, unpacking the outside hostility while therapeutically and most importantly stripping ourselves of the gaslighting we — and people like us — are subjected to. Really, home is the only safe space to do so.
Our anger is just as welcome as our need for joy, often in the simple things. We share the same feeling of satisfaction after cleaning the home, or gardening for an afternoon while listening to podcasts from the queen of long-form political reporting and fellow lesbian, Rachel Maddow. Or while we’re naming all of our houseplants, cuddling by the fireplace while the rain pours outside or giving anthropomorphising commentary of her golden retriever and Burmese cat.
Our dance sessions set the desired tone for the household: a bop between us and the fur children. Then, I twerk for my girlfriend imagining I’m giving joint Beyonce and Serena energy and every time she’ll aptly respond, “that’s not twerking babe.” We’re both spectators to each other’s video gaming, we hang onto every word of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talks, and from Friday night through the weekend, we watch Super Rugby Aotearoa over roast dinners, sometimes followed by a card game. This is peak lesbian nesting.
I checked in on a straight friend back in Oz recently, who said how many straight couples she knows that have gotten divorced since lockdown. Lockdown has done the opposite for me. I finally get to live a life that I’ve spent a lifetime longing for, even if I never really knew what it looked or felt like until a year ago. And it’s bliss, just like the best parts of Denise and Alicia, in a world to call our own — a world we want to expand with hopes for our future.
Frequently I give myself moments to take it all in, grateful that I got here — despite the world’s hostility that made it so damn hard to come out. And if the realities of adulthood mean that I have to scale mountains for a nesting lesbian life that is warm, safe and deeply gratifying, then the endurance is worth it.