Queer Identity in the Postmodern World

ImageAs writing and literature approach the present day, it becomes more frequent and commonplace to see divergences from traditional sexual and gender binaries appear in postmodern texts. As post-modernity seeks to instate new realities to replace old perceptions taught to society as truth, it is only fitting as the literary movement that would begin to explore and seek to “normalize” queer identities that had been smothered and rejected in the past. As the audience of Queer Temporalities in Postmodern Geographies by Judith Halberstan bears witness to, the conduction of authoritative research studies about individuals who subscribe to non-traditional gender roles also became a published topic of interest.

This text discusses new social interactions available in urbanized areas for the homosexual male (i.e. porn theatres). It also notes a lack of a parallel social interaction for women – which suggests to me that though society is gaining some acceptance of alternative sexualities, men are still favored with acceptance while society stays skeptical and afraid of female sexuality as it has done in the past. Demonizing the feminine body is not a new practice: take the fearsome myth of Vagina Dentata, for example. As Gemma Angel of the University College London stated in her recent paper on the topic:

“The mythical theme of the vagina-with-teeth can in most cases be read as an attempt to render the potentially dangerous sexuality of women nonthreatening to patriarchal power, through heroic acts of ‘pulling the teeth.’”

Perhaps these fears are still subliminally engrained in society’s mind, making a shift to the idea that a woman does not need a man too radical a change for those raised by a phallocentric generation to comprehend.

Queer Temporalities also uses the life and death of Brandon Teena as an example of how the new age has inspired acceptance largely thanks to the online world. Aside from cyberbullying, the internet has provided a community space that allows people to express themselves honestly with a sense of security: of the potential millions who read any given article, there are bound to be people who agree and identify with each. It allows people to reach out to each other in ways that were preciously impossible. With the exposure of this queer voice that had been absent, individuals who happen to fit traditional norms began to try to understand hardships that have happened in the past, realize that they are ongoing today, and seek to help put an end to the nonsensical perception that everyone has the same sexual preferences. Knowledge is power, and no tool spreads information faster than the web. It promotes gender flexibility in the sense that it allows people to come together over shared beliefs to create a safe community that was not present before.

Gender and sexuality are topics that have been historically dismissed as easily definable as a set of consistent personalities and behaviors determined by one’s physical sex. However, as time has progressed, the realization that this belief is false has begun. With the emergence of postmodern literature and more recently online communities, people everywhere are more easily able to not only express themselves but also find and communicate with others who share the same values, loves, and lifestyles.

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Works Cited:

Angel, Gemma. “Pulling Teeth: Ovarian Teratomas & the Myth of Vagina Dentata.” UK: University College London, 2013. 30 July 2013. Web. <http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/researchers-in-museums/2013/03/04/pulling-teeth-ovarian-teratomas-vagina-dentata/&gt;

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Getting Cute About Gender by Stan Carey (2011)

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I was pondering the way gender and sexuality affect the use of everyday language and I realized that though English is unlike many other languages in that its words do not have a gender (feminine, masculine, or neural), it is still able to inflect certain implications of traditionally perceived gender roles onto specific words because of connotations. When I was looking for an image to post with this thought, I in fact stumbled across another blog that has delved into an article about how those connotations affect the way people carefully manipulate the language they use based on what are essentially gender binaries in language. Though it is not my own work, I definitely see this article’s relevance to my blog and wanted to share the link! Enjoy!

A Postmodern Example of “Normative” Gender

Taking a break from looking at the ways in which postmodern fiction can play with traditional ideals about gender and sexuality, I now turn to Art Spiegelman’s famed graphic novel series Maus I & II. Imagery of the traditional family construct is repetitive throughout both parts of this novel largely due to the time period the story takes place in. Spiegelman’s representations of family and other relationships fully exemplify the traditional gender roles that have caused generations of repressed individuals. At the time Vladek was born, LGBT individuals did not receive the same acceptance or understanding that society has today, (not to imply that we’ve gained equality) that is to say that it simply wasn’t heard of. It was as the examples the audience sees through Vladek’s memoires – scenes with his family, with Anja and her family, their friends and the people they encounter – they are all examples of heteronormative relationships.

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As his audience can see in these frames, Spiegelman is conscious of the stereotypes he fears his “characters” may come across as in his graphic novel. However, the gender normative tone in his work is not something he could control given his generation. Even the time frame that Art himself occupied, as he chose to illustrate his story through the graphic novel medium, his audience can notice an absence of characters or couples who oppose traditional sexual and gender binaries. The “ideal” life of the time is similar to that which forced Bruce Bechdel to lead the closeted life he did: to find a career, get married, buy a home, have children, and retire to live happily ever after. While this did appear to work for some couples such as Art and his wife or Vladek and Anja while they were together for example, we know now that this model of life could not always have made people happy – humans simply are not all born with a uniform set of easily categorized behaviours and desires. The absence of queer identity in the past can only be explained by countless others having repressed their true identities the same way Bruce did.

Though I have a hard time critiquing this graphic novel over something so seemingly trivial when it spectacularly communicates something so grave as Hitler’s wartime Europe (especially since Spiegelman cannot really be held at fault for it), I did have a small issue with these panels:

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Although this scene was probably just included for a bit of lighthearted comic relief, Art’s wife is really the butt of the joke here. We see how soft-spoken the feminine character in this relationship is, consoling her husband only to be met with a snide remark about how she talks too much, even implying that he (having the power as the author of this novel) may have cut anything else she had said out of the recorded conversation entirely. As an audience, we cannot truly know her voice – we are forced to rely on Art to tell us the truth… but he holds a certain degree of bias himself. Her reaction to his jibe is submissive, another traditionally feminine quality.

Spiegelman’s Maus series was not written with the intention to comment on the gender and sexuality norms of the time, however it succeeds in doing so regardless simply by the manner in which they are represented: with the absence of deviation.

Works Cited:

Spiegelman, Art. Maus II. United States: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1993. Print.

The Dysphoric Bruce Bechdel

Bruce Bechdel as he is represented in his daughter Alison’s autobiography Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is an obviously gender dysphoric man who feels incapable of expressing himself in a feminine manner due to the societal constraints of gender binary. Born physically a man in a generation where LGBT rights were literally nonexistent, he ignored his identification with the female gender role and forced himself to lead a traditionally “male” life. He went to university, met his wife, bought a home for themselves and their children and planned to live “happily ever after.” Except that could not be possible for Bruce. Instead, he felt forced to lie to not only everyone around him but more harmfully to himself about his identity. The post-modernity of this graphic novel is clear through the way in which it convinces its audience of the absurdity of the gender binaries that had been previously considered fact rather than perception – for that is exactly what made Bruce lead his life the way he did. Alison believes his inability to express his femininity even led him to suicide, and her novel demands re-definition of past “realities.”

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Alison shares with her audience an image she found of her father when he was young, dressed to express the gender he identified with most in a feminine bathing suit. She draws attention to the pain she knows he felt throughout his life rejecting his true sentiment by sharing this image of Bruce next to the words: “What’s lost in translation is the complexity of loss itself,” (120). In context she is speaking about a misnomered novel her father had read before his death; but by pairing these words with the only honest image of her father she has, it resonates with the reader how very different Bruce’s life may have been if he had not felt trapped by gender binary. What’s lost in the translation of the simple photograph of her young father is the complex loss he would feel for the rest of his life by losing the ability to express his own gender.

This is exemplified further through his relationship with Alison and the interactions between them. Bruce resisted at first when he began recognizing familiar behavioral patterns to his own youthful experiments with gender in Alison but of the opposite nature. Several times Bechdel recounts her father having scolded her for her appearance if she was not primed to his perception of a lady, for example the horror mismatched necklines struck into him. Alison suggests even that he was projecting his own desires onto her by calling him a sissy, but understanding why he could not realize his desires in himself and bearing it while he fussed over her with hair clips (97):ImageAs she got older, however, he was more understanding of her situation and allowed her the freedom to act how she pleased without his judgment. Bruce was happy that his daughter found inclusion, but it seemed too much for him to have had to live his whole life falsely and he still chose to take his own life in the end, so Alison believes.

Alison Bechdel’s autobiography Fun Home calls for change in the general societal ignorance surrounding gender issues. These topics need further activism to become the new norm: so that no one else should need to live the same forcefully closeted and obviously depressed life exposed in this graphic novel.

Works Cited:

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. United States: Mariner Books, 2007. Print.

Gender Binary and the Bechdel Family

In Alison Bechdel’s autobiographic graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) her audience is invited to follow her throughout the development of her young life, particularly focusing on the life of and her relationship with her late father, Bruce Bechdel. This is the first of a two-part entry wherein I will study how gender binaries affected the lives of both Alison and Bruce Bechdel respectively. Firstly, I will discuss the way in which binaries affected the author and narrator of Fun Home, Alison. She is clearly aware of these facts herself, having published her own story with an astonishingly levelheaded honesty that exemplifies her understanding of the topic. Her visual narrative succeeds by its conclusion to point out the absurdity of the notions projected by gender binaries.

In Surya Monro’s 2007 study on the transformation of gender binaries, she discussed how ineffective they had been previously: “People whose sex/gender[1] identity is fluid, or other than male and female, challenge the ontological assumption that sex/gender fall into binary categories.” Bechdel herself exemplifies this fact with her refusal to identify with any one specific gender classification considered “normative.” She is both masculine and feminine at the same time, embracing all aspects of the beauty in herself. She is herself proof of Monro’s theory that binaries are ineffective and nonsensical since she adheres to neither extreme yet remains an empowered person. Through the narration of her father’s story, Bechdel’s audience can truly feel her rejection of these binaries and demands of her audience to be more aware of the harm they can force people to project onto themselves. She demands that her audience reject the old manner of thinking that she strongly believes led her father to his suicide and early grave.

I believe the graphic novel medium that Bechdel chose to present her story with was the most effective for her style of narration. She presents her audience with effective imagery of her family in everyday life that forces one to acknowledge the painful and difficult topics she addresses and then combines them; for example she overlays text over some of her images to bring focus to a particular point, not to mention that an image itself is said to hold the value of a thousand words. By exposing her story and that of her late father, Bruce, into the published world for anyone to see, she attempts to break the boundaries of gender binaries and to bring about awareness of their absurdity. She always envied the associations given to the “male” gender binary as a child, which her father resisted at first due to his own lifelong struggle to hide his own discomfort with the binary he felt forced to because of his physical sex.

Through the sharing of her own personal experiences in this postmodern novel, Alison inspires a rejection of typical gender binaries in her audience that is irrefutable. She truly succeeds, at least in my opinion, in pointing out the folly and potential harm gender binaries can continue to cause if society does not reform its closed way of thinking.

Works Cited:

Munro, Surya. “Transmuting Gender Binaries: the Theoretical Challenge.” Sociological Research Online. 12.1 (2007) Web. 23 July 2013. <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/12/1/monro.html>

“Good Gatz!” Here’s a Thought…

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Of the countless things about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby I had heard before reading it myself, one idea that did not surface until seminar discussion on July 11th is a theory that the narrator, Nick Carraway, might hold a romantic interest in Gatsby. However, after completing the novel, I do not find this thought so far fetched at all.

Close reading of chapter eight in particular is what made me suspect Mr. Carraway’s romantic interest in Gatsby. The way he discusses Gatsby’s past relationship with Daisy is presumptuous: “It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy – it increased her value in his eyes,” (Fitzgerald 149). This does more than to suggest Nick’s unreliable nature as a narrator (speaking about Gatsby’s romantic feelings in an omniscient manner, drawing conclusions he cannot know to be truth) it shows that he has enough interest in Gatsby to romanticize his past, projecting assumptions onto him that could very well be just Nick’s opinion.

Gender binaries as defined by Wikipedia are “… the classification of sex and gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine or feminine.” Binaries influence the way a character is perceived by the audience since they have been raised by a society that teaches these binaries as fact rather than the fiction that they truly are. It is only when we apply our bias expectations of a 1920s male that Nick’s interest in Gatsby is perhaps overlooked. If we disregard gender binaries and consider Nick’s statements from a female voice – might we not then consider his interest obvious?

When a person is in loving adoration of another, regardless of gender, there are certain behaviors that cannot help but to surface. Nervousness is one of these, much like how Nick seems to be whenever he is invited to spend a day with Gatsby – he dressed in his symbolically pure “white flannels,” (Fitzgerald 42) to attend Gatsby’s parties. At first glance this may be dismissed as Nick simply wanting to make a good first impression, but it continued past their first night together. He continued to worry about what Gatsby thought of him in a similar fashion to how a person might fret over what the one they admire thinks of them throughout their entire brief relationship.

Mr. Carraway’s most notable behavior that made it seem as though he was secretly doting on Gatsby himself was his general obsession with him: it was as though he had Gatsby placed up on some pedestal. This obsession is undeniable, though it is not always argued as being a romantic affair. Gatsby’s life seems almost to have become fantasy to Nick, who recalls and records this whole story in a way that seems factual while in actuality, is just his perception and recollection of the events. Not very often is a man inspired to write a story about his neighbor, yet here this account reads an entire documentation of Jay Gatsby’s life as Carraway saw fit to record it after his unmerited murder.

It could be that Nick was simply touched by the heartache in the great Gatsby’s life, therefore motivating this narrative; but setting aside gender binary, it seems more likely that Carraway had a crush with no way to properly express himself and no one he could speak to honestly living in an age when binaries were still undisputed “fact.”

Works Cited:
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. England: Penguin Books, 2012. Print.