English is really gay.

Seriously, why is English so gay? Even our queer author Rita Mae Brown talks about her love of the language and her desire to live “in a cathedral of English,” in the introduction to her lesbian coming-of-age novel Rubyfruit Jungle.

Throughout this novel, Molly encounters several queer characters, and in them I noticed a peculiar trend that several of these queer characters greatly enjoy the English language. These bibliophiles include Joel Center, the stereotypically-gay classmate of Leroy who “likes English class best of all,” Dix, the lesbian English student whom Molly and Faye meet at a gay bar, and Miss Stile, the English professor whom Molly accuses of being in a homosexual relationship with Miss Marne. So I ask, why do queers love language, but hate words?

Besides the literary sense of English, the language plays another important role in the way of labels. A trend in Rita’s queer characters is their tendency to stereotype their fellow queers. From Leroy’s first accusation of Molly, “’You know, I think you’re a queer,’” to Carolyn’s attempt at discrediting their sexual acts as homosexual by saying “’Lesbians look like men and are ugly. We’re not like that,’” the queers of Rubyfruit Jungle are constantly trying to either associate or disassociate themselves with these labels of being queer.

While the queers seem to love English, they really hate these labels (i.e. queer and lesbian), which ironically are just words in the language they love.

Discussion Questions:

  • What other roles does language play in this novel? (Either in a literary sense, or in specific cases like labels)
  • Is it just coincidence that a quarter of the queers introduced in parts 1 & 2 love English, or is there a greater connection that queers have to language that Brown is trying to show through these characters (Joel Centers, Dix, and Miss Stile)?
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One thought on “English is really gay.

  1. Looking back through all the literature we have read, labelling and sub-labelling has become incredibly repetitive: lesbians have femmes and dykes and butches, gays have femmes and mascs and twinks and bears, transgender peoples have pre-ops and post-ops–apparently queers just really like labelling each other. Despite breaking out of the box in the first place, we just absolutely love placing people into boxes. Every so often culture cycles where we, as a society, attempt to ditch labels or on the other hand, hypercatagorize ourselves. Currently and in the 1970s of Rubyfruit Jungle it seems we were in a rut of nebulous categorization. In ten years we’ll all probably go all hippy again or something and ditch labels.

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