December 6, 2023
Review: 'We Live Here: The Midwest' Documents LGBTQ+ Families in the Heartland
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 4 MIN.
Hulu's documentary "We Live Here: The Midwest," by filmmaker Melinda Maerker, pays visits to LGBTQ+ families in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Minnesota, hearing stories – and perspectives – from people who, simply by being themselves, resist being silenced, erased, and pushed to the margins of society.
Nia and Katie, best friends since the second grade and then high school sweethearts, have remained together through thick, thin, and Mia's transition. The parents of five children – one of them adopted – the couple are a case study in how kids don't need to be shielded from the reality of transgender people or same-sex parents. They are also a living testament to the cruelty visited on people of faith by religious institutions that place dogma over compassion and reject the reality of some of their own adherents. "I desperately miss the church," Katie, who was once a preacher in an Evangelical church, tells the camera. But in her unbreakable bond with her wife, she's found a new and stronger faith: "This is my church," she explains, "this bond of love." The greater downside: "We think about leaving the Midwest all the time... We're not seen as humans, as people who have kids, as people who have lives." And yet, that's exactly who they are: "We're people. We're not issues."
That's a message that resonates loud and clear throughout all the stories we hear in this doc. Mario and Monte, a same-sex couple who met in church and live in Nebraska, talk about themselves in ways that surpass easy labels like "gay" or "people of color." The proud parents of an infant daughter, they tell the camera, "We're just who we are." When Mario joined the Air Force, and they were stationed in Nebraska, "I was pissed," Monte admits. But, to their surprise – and perhaps to ours – they have formed friendships and community, even with their Trump-supporting neighbors.
The film also pays a visit to a longtime lesbian couple who farm goats in Kansas and who felt compelled to take their son out of public schools due to bullying. ("What do you expect?" they recall the school's staff callously telling them. "It's just gonna get worse.") "There's nothing different about who we are," the two mothers say. "We're two parents and a child growing up in the Midwest."
In Ohio, a gay teacher and his longtime husband face the way that progress for families seemingly came to a screeching halt in 2016 and has been being rolled back more and more swiftly ever since. But they also see all too clearly the toll that rising anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry takes on young people, with bullying exploding in frequency and intensity. "When kids' lives are on the line," the teacher, Russ, declares, "you have to make the change" in how the narrative is allowed to play out.
In Minnesota, state lawmaker Heather Keeler has to brave death threats on the daily. Rep. Keeler cuts to the quick of the matter, noting just how personal and vicious the hatred is: "They're not mad at me because of the bills that I'm presenting," she notes. "They're mad at me because I'm an Indigenous queer woman sitting at the table." She's also one of a trio of LGBTQ+ state lawmakers who decided to step up not, as Keeler tells us, for the sheer sake of power but for the importance of representation. "I'm not in this world for politics," Keeler declares, "I'm in this for people."
The title suggests there could be a series of such films. It would be illuminating, to say the least, to see how families with same-sex parents, as well as transgender, queer, and nonbinary children, deal with the animus directed at them from lawmakers and others in their communities in Southern states like Florida, Arkansas, and Georgia, or even in presumably "safe" states like California or Massachusetts. This film paints a vivid and necessary picture; a few sequels could expand and fill in an even broader portrait of what it's now become to be LGBTQ+ in America.
"We Live Here: The Midwest" streams on Hulu starting Dec. 6.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.