Hamburgers with Aids and the Circular LGBT Identity
Nelsan Ellis is gone from us. That baby-faced, black boy joy smiling, quietly starring in your favorite movie actor has left set for good. He leaves behind his only son, Lafayette Reynolds, of True Blood, Louisiana.
All fathers hope for a lasting legacy to be carried on by their sons. In Ellis’ case, his spiritual son Lafayette, born out of a juicy HBO script and memories of his mother, will propel Ellis’ legacy into vampiric eternity.
Lafayette’s character helped reshape the identity of LGBT characters on TV. Beforehand, gay characters were forced into a box with four distinct corners: flamboyant flower child, unattractive socially repressed nerd, rapey goth, and undercover homo thug. The corners never met, and there was no identity on the straight lines.
But Lafayette took that boring and restrictive box and shaped it into a fluid circle, where one could be all, some, or none of these identities and still be accepted. And unlike other gay TV characters who were caricatures of the LGBT community and elevated background actors in their series, Lafayette for the most part is at the center of much of the action in True Blood.
His character also officiates the marriage of beauty and manhood. Even with a full face of make up, dangling earrings, a leopard mu mu, and a head wrap, his presence still oozed masculinity and force. We haven’t been this afraid of a gay man since Holiday Heart.
And boy! He had hands. And plates. And wasn’t afraid to throw either. Check this burger beat down scene below:
Lafayette also taught the kids how not to be a broke hoe. Cuz that’s a no no. He showed that you could have a 9–5, while trickin and trappin. He hustled hamburgers with aids as a short order cook, sold vampire blood to kids tired of tripping on E, exchanged good times with politicians for the rent money, and made bank off internet videos before All Def Digital cornered the market.
All in all, Ellis took what little road his character had been given and he beat it into a highway that now allows others to drive through at 70 miles per hour. Lafayette is the Mitochondrial Eve of modern gender fluidity on TV. Without him, there would be no lane for Young Thug or Lil Uzi Vert and hundreds of other entertainers who now benefit from the circular LGBT identity, whether they identify as such or not.
That’s Nelsan Ellis’ legacy and that’s how we will remember him. A eulogy.