performative sex & third person tones

I think that the portrayal of sex in Nevada is particularly interesting because the belabored dutiful sex scene between heterosexuals is kind of turned on its head. Instead of the typical stereotype of the woman simply giving into what the man wants and faking her pleasure it seems that in this scene it’s performative on both ends. I think it’s also funny because typically in the seems that we’ve seen in other novels such as in Stone Butch Blues the perspective of the heterosexual woman is dutiful sex that doesn’t culminate in her pleasure but only the mans- this is demonstrated when Annie describes all of her sexual encounters with men as rushed and unsatisfying. Annie is even embarrassed when she says that she wants to come before being fucked. This mentality typically is associated in queer are novels exclusively with heterosexuals. It’s kind of funny how in Nevada, the same mentality is exhibited, but it’s exhibited in a scene she is supposed to be more intense/engaging. I also really enjoyed the way that the novel was written in an almost third-person stream of consciousness, if that’s even possible.

I think that sex as performative is a prominent theme as well. It seems that often the characters either use sex as a means to an end or a way of self expression rather than an inherently valuable thing: “She was like, cool, punk rock, degradation, kinky sex, how queer and great.” Though Maria did not even derive pleasure necessarily, the circumstance of the sex is what she was proud of.

I also really liked the voice of the narrator (probably because the author is so cool). “It’s herself she’s sad about. Mopey ol’ lonely Maria, the little kid with the bags under her eyes, the lonesome romantic bike fucker, the girl who likes books better than people. It’s an easy automatic go-to to characterize things as boring but it is boring to have the same exact things come up whenever anything comes up: poor me. If she were a goth she’d tell you about how broken she is, but since she’s an indie-punk diy book snob, like, here we are.” Another thing I really appreciated was the tone of the writing. I thought it was pretty relatable because again the third person narrative is able to glimpse into Maria’s mind. There’s also an element of humor to the tone.

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The Contextual Coming Out

The scene in which Shirin is speaking to her mother, and finally decides that it’s time to come out was particularly interesting to me. In this scene, her mother is dressing her wound that she got from being burned. After a moment of silence between the two, the main character decides that was the time that was appropriate to tell her mother that she was bisexual. She says “I’m a little bit gay”. Two things were noteworthy to me and both of them have to do with the notion of coming out and what that entails.

First, I think it does a really good job of showing that all coming out moments aren’t the same. There’s a lightness to it, a humor when she calls herself a little gay. And often coming out is perceived as this heavy and solemn thing that teens have to do for their conservative parents but this subverts the common conception of coming out (in my opinion).

I think this scene is also important because it portrays how coming out can be contextual. Earlier on in the movie her ex-girlfriend pushes her to come out on different terms. However, the dynamics and relationships between the main character and her parents are very specific and are admittedly different than those of her ex.

In a way this scene really highlights the intersection between cultural identity and sexual orientation. At first it seemed peculiar to me that the mother simply dismissed her admittance of being gay, but upon further reflection I think that this reaction of her mom is a particularly real one. In some cultures, coming out isn’t perceived or taken the same way that mainstream media portrays the American coming out. And certainly this mother’s reaction isn’t the stereotypical reaction of anger or complete  acceptance. And I think that’s important, because typically in the media we see a polarization of responses to coming out that don’t consider other factors. Often portrayed in the media either a harsh rejection of the person coming out or a complete acceptance; the ambiguity of her mother’s response is a way of breaking down that stereotype that’s presented in the media and also acknowledging the integral part that culture plays in the perception of sexuality. Personally speaking the conversation of coming out in the context of Indian culture would certainly mirror the conversation that occurred within the movie.

It may at first indeed seem that the mother subverts her coming out moment, because when you acknowledge something you do give credence in power to it (which is sometimes the beauty of coming out; it can validate an individual). And I think that the mother knew this and that may be a part of why she reacted the way she did. But I think it’s also necessary to acknowledge that when this conversation was taking place the mother was physically taking care of her daughter, and dressing her wound. Perhaps this is mirroring the conversation that happened, and perhaps this is her way of taking care of her daughter in an emotional sense and bandaging the wounds that were caused by the tumult of her being closeted sexual identity.

I also admittedly don’t know that much about the specific culture, but in cultures that exist within the United States, a lot of times the community itself it’s easier to be open and honest with close family members, but that does not mean that the community itself is accepting in every situation. For example, if I were to come out to my parents, I know that they would still except who I am as a person, but they do recognize that things would be more inconvenient for me in my community if that element of my identity was not only recognized but was vocalized.

And insofar as this is the case I don’t think that the mother was rejecting her identity rather she was trying to shield her or protect her from the perception that other people would have of her: it would be more of a kind of personal level of acceptance rather than a complete embrace of her daughters identity. I do think that it’s particularly noteworthy that the mother did not respond in a negative way in terms of her disposition. Perhaps she had suspected something from the beginning, and whether or not she was expecting this conversation, the lack of judgment is in and of itself a form of validation.

 

Questions:

Do you think that Shirin’s mother undermines her daughter’s coming out? Does she accept it? Was she inoculating the confession for a specific purpose (like protecting Shirin from backlash)? What do you make of this particular scene?

To what extent does culture intersect with sexual orientation, and how do the two function in constituting individual identity?

Do you believe that coming out necessarily entails being public with one’s identity?

This may be a kind of weird question, but… is coming out always a good idea? Do we think it can ever be a “wrong” decision?

So What I’m a Bastard

One of the important scenes within the first part of the novel is the one in which Molly’s adoptive mother reveals that Molly is an illegitimate child: a bastard.

I decided to look up the word and its origins in the Oxford English Dictionary, and found that the roots of the word (in the context of one born out of wedlock) extends back to 1297, and the quotation provided from R. Cloucester’s Chron was written in old English. Further, there were predominantly reference to religion: “of a woman… are adulterous and bastard officers before God (J. Knox First Blast against Monstruous Regiment Women f. 51)”, and “spiritual law” (T. Fuller Worthies (1662))

I find this interesting because the word’s roots in religiosity are in stark contrast with Molly’s apparent disregard for religious rule: “she gave him that crap about God and how we don’t know what his pans are because we are only people and people are morons compared to God almighty” (p. 24) and “[marriage] is a a piece of paper… it ain’t religion” (p. 32).

Despite its implications being mostly societal and religious, the word bastard manages to prompt an intensely personal and evaluative reaction from Molly.

I think the style of writing is especially important in this scene as well, because most of the novel so far has been written in the past tense recounting certain instances of her childhood; when told about being a bastard however, Molly launches into a sort of rant about her feelings. There seems to be a shift in the tense as well; after recounting the interaction with her adoptive mother in the past tense, the emotional, almost stream-of-conscious prose becomes present tense. To me, it seems almost as if the narrator is STILL affected by the words spoken so long ago, that she is still reliving those feelings and thoughts. The fact that the prose continues to be written in somewhat of a child-like voice (“worms, yuk, I’m not eating worms!” (p.8)) is indicative of a past that bleeds into the present.

Another thing I noticed was the repetition of the words, “I don’t care”. In the span of one paragraph, the phrase is repeated six times. It seems like the author is trying to dismiss the negative connotation, as well as the identity prescribed to her by her adoptive mother. In this context, it seems she is trying to reassure herself, but with every repetition it seems she is unable to satisfactorily appease the impact that the thought of being a bastard has on her. It seems, to some extent, she has internalized the negativity associated with being a bastard, and that is what makes her so uncomfortable. I think this is consolidated by the fact that after having repeatedly claimed she remains unaffected, she asks herself the question: “My mother couldn’t have cared about me very much…why would she leave me like that?” This highlights the insecurity provoked by learning she was an illegitimate child; even though she claims not to care at all, she feels insecure in her own identity.

Discussion questions

  1. How does institution (whether societal, religious, political, etc.) affect identity? Do you think that an individual can maintain an identity completely outside of institution?
  2. Do you think it is possible to completely and cleanly reject a label that society places on you? Or is impossible to get rid of internalized feelings? Can you recall a particular instance in which although rationally you were able to reassure yourself of something, there was still internalized self-doubt?