T.J. Parsell Documents Lesbians in Country Music
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Published in: May-June 2020 issue.


T.J. PARSELL’S NEW FILM Invisible: Gay Women in Southern Music opened unofficially with a private screening in Nashville in February, cosponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, Nashville Pride, and WMOT Roots Radio (the largest Americana station in the U.S.). Well before the actual world premiere (and official selection at Frameline), the film project had created so much buzz that a one-night Nashville showing sold out weeks ahead of time.

            When I spoke with T.J. the week before this first event, he was delighted that Invisible had generated ticket sales from as far away as Boston and L.A. Emmylou Harris, he said, had just called, looking for a few more tickets. “We were blown away that we sold out weeks in advance. Women are clamoring for this,” T.J. asserted. “But we also want to get beyond preaching to our choir, and appeal to audiences more generally. To do that, we need to be in the mainstream film festivals.”

            Invisible’s fresh look at lesbian artists in the music industry is an important addition to what we know about homophobia and sexism in good-old-boy American culture. The documentary reveals the faces and struggles of both known and unfamiliar women who, we learn, are the real singer-songwriters behind mainstream country music hits. The idea for the film came from Bill Brimm, whose friendship with many of the women gave writer-director Parsell access to their time and trust. From Jess Leary and Kye Fleming to Pamela Rose, Maryann Kennedy, and Bonnie Baker—these are the women who kept their lesbian identities and relationships a secret until now in order to gain steady work in red-state Nashville.

T. J. Parsell with camera operator filming Invisible.

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Bonnie J. Morris’ 17 books includeGirl Reel andThe Disappearing L. She teaches women’s history at UC-Berkeley.