Television Review: “We Live Here: The Midwest” — Family Matters
By Sarah Osman
By focusing on just a few households, rather than surveying all the available examples, this documentary succeeds at its essential (and valuable) goal — to humanize its subjects.
Progress is often like a wave: we move forward, then pull back. We inch forward a little more, then pull back again. America has yo-yoed throughout its history, and since 2016 the country has been experiencing the “pull back” of the wave. In certain parts of the nation the backwash has been stronger. Documentarians Melinda Maerker and David Clayton Miller were particularly curious about what was happening in the American Midwest. In a place supposedly guided by Christian, heartland values, LGBTQIA+ families were facing more strife than they had in years. Why did they stay? And who are these families? Maerker and Miller supply the answers to these questions in We Live Here: The Midwest
The relatively short documentary (it’s less than an hour) bounces between different LGBTQIA+ families spread across the Midwest. We meet Nia and Katie, a trans/queer family with five kids living in Iowa (and props to these ladies for raising five kids). They have been kicked out of their church. A gay Black couple are raising their young daughter in Nebraska, where their neighbors are surprisingly supportive. Denise and Courtney are farmers in Kansas who had to pull their son out of school due to the sheer amount of bullying he faced on a daily basis. Russell is an adored gay choir teacher in Ohio who concentrates on creating safe spaces for his students. And there is Deb and Jenn, both of whom have transitioned, but are struggling with their families’ at-times uncomprehending reactions.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the documentary is why the subjects decided to stay in the Midwest, especially given that they are being kicked out of churches, undergoing bullying, and having their rights undercut, if not eradicated. Nia and Katie see Iowa as their home. Katie puts it this way: “Do we stay and fight, or do we go? But where do you go where there’s stability and safety?” Katie makes a salient point. Their family of seven could move to a larger city, but their roots are in Iowa and the area they live in is generally safe. Families must also take their personal finances into consideration. Denise points out that “land is very cheap and we can afford 20 acres here.” It’s not feasible to own land in a major city, or even that much land in certain states like California. Keep in mind that Denise and Courtney are farmers — their livelihoods are connected to the Midwest.
A strategic strength of the documentary is its focus on families. Yes, these people may have a setup that is a little different from that of the traditional nuclear family — but they’re still families. Members argue, have game nights, and eat dinner together. By focusing on just a few households, rather than surveying all the available examples, Maerker and Miller succeed at their essential (and valuable) goal — to humanize their subjects. Stories are a way to make people empathize with others who may seem unusual. The message in this doc is unsurprising but gently radical: LGBTQIA+ families are made up of normal, everyday folks — who in this case just happen to live in America’s heartland.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman