The reading for this week was a welcome breath of fresh air. We’re all at that point in the semester when we need to take a breath and remember that we’re human beings, not machines of academic excellence. After finishing this selection of essays, I’d really like to borrow the book from you, Sean! I already have a book you lent me, however, sitting on my coffee table amidst a sea of texts I’m perusing right now for my courses and my thesis. Ah, there aren’t enough hours in a day.
Glave speaks of “how we name ourselves or are named by those who have the power to do so” (6-7), which speaks to the way in which are feel cornered and made to label or “name” ourselves. In Alice in Wonderland, the doped up caterpillar insistently asks Alice, “Who are you?” She must identify herself so that others, in a land where she has no social contract (much the same way gays and lesbians may feel in the Caribbean, or anywhere for that matter), can reference her and understand her, thus mastering or owning her.
Sexuality frightens people because it is fluid rather than static. Many who recognize this refuse to identify as either “feminine” or “masculine” or to choose one particular orientation to describe their erotic and romantic feelings towards others and themselves. It is difficult to “name” a person who claims to be bisexual or transgendered, and we fear that we may never understand or “own” them. Even just the prefixes “bi” and “trans” (“two” and “across”) incite confusion because they confront and challenge our own understandings of sex and relationships, which undermines our confidence as fully formed adults.
I do appreciate that Glave defines his subject positioning and his situatedness regarding “gay and lesbian” literature. Again, like gender, I tend to find that sexuality is also a social construct, but also far from a static element in our lives. Why do we hear so much about women divorcing and becoming lesbians? Does this imply that sexual orientation is a conscious choice? Yes, sometimes, I feel it is. Glave explains that a particular writer who explores lesbian eroticism did not wish to associate her image or her work with this text, and he is clear that he finds this “sad,” and I wholeheartedly agree. I do have misgivings about identifying with any orientation because I see it as limiting, and more for the use of others wishing to understand or “place” me than for my own satisfaction or identification. Part of my senior thesis at Alvernia focused on lesbian sexuality in poetry, and I would feel immensely proud if my work, at any point, appeared in a “gay and lesbian” anthology.
Early in the semester, we discussed appropriating the word “faggot,” and it was suggested that this can’t be done–but isn’t this just what Faizal Deen accomplishes through his poetry? I mean, the first poem we see is called “Young Faggot.” Deen writes that “Faggotry scatters the love wherever it dances” (line 27), which, I think, paints a positive portrait of “faggotry”: this word which carries such chains is, here, synonymous with love and acceptance, dancing naked with joy–what could be more liberating and metaphorical? While the tone in this poem seems to shift a bit (which leaves me a bit disoriented), Deen has certainly exercised a power over words.
I enjoy this image and feeling of “spilling out / Of your jeans” (lines 2-3). The clubs or “discos” offer freedom, liberation…abandon your inhibitions, laugh at them even, but don’t simply undress; you must spill out of your clothing, shedding those layers like you mean it! Line eight mentions “the coffins of ocean.” Doesn’t this wonderful imagery seem like an example of conflicting ideas? We’ve established by now in this course that the ocean is a place of origins, yet we have coffins of ocean. I’m a big fan of reading poetry to see how it makes me feel, rather than extracting social or political messages from its verses. While I can’t make logical sense of this image, Deen’s ideas definitely affect me bodily.
Glave drops Oya’s name in his beautiful essay on the merging of the oppositional binary of male and female. I think what his piece illustrates fullest is that the masculine and feminine merge, and we’re sometimes unable to differentiate the two. Anyone who’s been reading my blogs consistently will identify my adoration for the Goddess as well as goddess images.
Note the swirling images which resemble miniature storms, making up Oya’s body, her robes, her presence. These shapes represent chaos and change; Oya enters in Glave’s essay because she is here to incite growth and development within the sphere of gender and sexuality. She is somber, looking to the distance and pointing, as if instructing the natural world to bend to her will, because she is the world, after all. Lightning flashes behind her as she stands in command of you, me, and everything.
On page 181, I came across this passage and melted–I’m not sure how else to describe the way I seem to interact with poetry and poetic wording/descriptions such as this one: [I]f your breasts end in red berries and your penis is green and attractive to hummingbirds and your uterus delivers raucous dolphins unto the world twice or even three times per year, or even if you merely wish to hold the hand of the person, a person, whom you love or desire and that person is the same gender as oonu, oonu had best watch yu backside inna Jamaica.
The transition between English and a Jamaican dialect is smooth (not to mention fun to read!) This imagery is startling, spiritual, and intense. Blue breasts which contain fruit, and a fruitful uterus which produces dolphins in record time are both indicative of a world whose creatures are all interconnected, brothers and sisters in every respect. This animal is also appropriate here because the dolphins is one of the only known species, besides humans, to have sex purely for pleasure rather than for reproductive purposes (which also connects to the reproductive argument surrounding homosexual sex, sexuality, and relationships). Not only this, but researchers have also recognized gay and lesbian dolphins! A green penis (part of the natural world?) which is so sweet that it attracts hummingbirds also exemplifies this concept. The point is this: hold someone’s hand. Pretty simple and innocent. Love is not about gender, but rather about holding the hand of the one you desire or adore. The dolphin, a creature of the feminized sea, enters the scene to tell us that s/he is our sibling, and this is unmistakable if we simply listen to our mother: the waters in which the dolphin lives.
Glave writes it is “clear to you how they [Jamaicans in this context, but really, people everywhere] would prefer that your son become a thief rather than a faggot” (183-184). We’ve read a few similar sentiments in Dr. Bleach’s “Intro to English Studies” course this semester. It seems that we don’t want sons who read (or paint or dance or laugh for that matter) because the study of English and literature are considered so feminized. You have to be gay if you’re a man who likes to read and then reflect upon it, no? I can recall a former friend of mine telling me years ago, as she held her infant son in her arms, that she’d rather he turn out to be gay than bring home a black girl, as a heterosexual man. Obviously, in her small world, both possibilities seemed quite bleak. What about hoping that he’s happy while holding someone’s hand? I wish now that I could have offered to her, “Maybe he’ll have blue breasts and a green penis used to nourish hummingbirds!” Maybe he will be she, or both.
Glave mentions on page 184 “the people who are not even really people” in reference to gays, lesbians, really anyone identifying as queer (which would include me, as a tattooed feminist who doesn’t own a razor). Unfortunately, this is the most accurate way to phrase the situation. Gays, lesbians, those who align themselves with the term “queer,” transsexuals, the confused, the questioning, the bitter and the outraged: you are considered by many to be less that fully formed human beings. Those who may fall or fit into any of these categories are reduced to animals, beasts, creatures which have been mutated or deformed so that recognition is rendered impossible. What we need to recognize, however, is that we’re all the dolphin, born out of masculine and feminine energies. Duh!
Glave writes, “And so the child longs to move unscathed through open public space with his/her red-berried blue breasts but must eventually do battle to be permitted full and unmolested possession of them, at least in this world in which we live” (185). This touches on the personal with me because I do believe there’s a disconnect between the self and the body, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We “other” ourselves every day due to commercialism, consumerism, and capitalism, and we have no clue this is even taking place! Outside of poco theory, this battle Glave speaks of has much to do with reclaiming our origins, our most primitive desires, and refusing to issue an apology. But how is this done? Within the realm of this course, I would argue that to truly possess what rightfully and undeniably belongs to us, we must make visible our red-berried breasts, examine them, touch them, and reconcile ourselves to the fact that we’re all children, in a sense, learning as we pass through.
Glave also discusses the “occupying” of our own bodies (185); I don’t believe we do this, at least not in America. Rather, our bodies possess us, and they have become projects. This is what’s so sad in a sort of comical way, about death; our unfinished projects must be put on hold indefinitely when death so rudely interrupts. We adorn ourselves with symbols of status without truly wearing these garments or other objects. We respect and idolize others because they are beautiful, while dismissing or outright rejecting the inconvenient fact that they may be destructive, deceitful, ignorant, and in fact ugly. I’m sure Jordan can attest to this in the way that we consume food and drink mindlessly, uncaringly, welcoming toxins and processed materials into our systems. There is a myriad of ways in which we have abandoned our bodies: sexually, nutritionally, emotionally…and for what? Convenience, “attractiveness” (people in general, I think, have a fucked up idea of what this word means), and self-confidence (the product of self-delusion). Consider how difficult this endeavor is when we throw homosexuality into the mix.
I’m in love with this guy’s prose!: “[G]reat lavender-furred lions have begun to crawl up out of the sea in search of the coconuts that alone will slake their yawning thirst” (187). What can we say about this? Is this unlikely image utilized to portray the idea of the “other” arriving from the waters of birth? Yes, I think so.
In his endnotes, Glave points out that even the transsexual woman, recognized fully as a woman (because how else can we recognize people? partially?), suffers the burden of femaleness (holler to Tambu!). I’ve found that some gay men playfully (or seriously?) express the wish to be women. This is good; it’s healthy to be curious about the entity that is gender and body. What I’d like to point out, though, is that homosexual men still maintain male privilege. As heteronormative as I’d like to be (hypothetically), I will always be considered (or not considered at all?) inferior to man.
I’m glad we explored a unit on queer literature; although it’s part of my chosen discipline, I haven’t been exposed to much of it in an academic setting. These essays are touching and beautifully written, especially Saint’s narrative of self-discovery. He tells us that he was very young when he realized that he was attracted to men. The concept of the gay child is debatable, and I read an article about it in Bust not long ago. The fact is that we do have gay children, and we must nurture their happiness rather than queering or othering them further at such a vulnerable stage as childhood.