Nevada’s Open Ending

So… James ditches Maria, and that’s it? THAT’S IT?

While Nevada’s open-ended ending is frustrating to readers, I think it serves to facilitate and address the novel’s larger theme of solutions giving rise to other challenges. Let’s try to remove ourselves from our frustration and try to think about why our story ended without a resolution from Maria. The narrative of our story illustrates the challenges, insecurities, and frustrations experienced by Maria post-transition. Many trans narratives take place during the character’s discovery of the desire to become another sex or another gender, and concludes on the philosophical internalizations of making this change and how it is to effect the rest of their life. With Maria, we see are invited into the post-transition life. Sure, things have resolved for Maria. Ultimately, however, as a woman, she still describes having a disconnected relationship with her body, and goes as far as to fake an orgasm with her partner. In addition, we follow her through the consequences of her self destructive decisions only to finalize: a trip to Nevada and a bunch of drugs will fix everything. We see that it doesn’t. I think this anti-climactic ending supports the over arching theme that one solution gives rise to other challenges that need a solution. Maria made the transition from man-to-woman. That didn’t solve everything for her. If it had, there wouldn’t be a book to write about in the first place. The ending poses to suggest that her journey to Nevada poses as a temporary solution to the larger issues she must address within herself. Just as her transition into a woman didn’t solve all of her problems, but granted temporary relief and self satisfaction for the time begin until those deep rooted insecurities surfaced, once again, to sabotage her relationships, her job, and her self-perceptions.

How do you think Maria’s narrative pre-tansition would compare to her post-transition narrative? Do you think she would have similar struggles, or would they be much more intense?

How does the third-person narrative dictate your assessment of Maria’s characterization. Did it change how you felt about her? Could you analyze her more closely? Or did the third-person narrative draw you further from her as a character?

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lesbian: a female homosexual

Lesbian: a female homosexual

In Allison Bechdel’s memoir known as Fun Home, the reader is invited to accompany Allison throughout her coming-of-age that is punctuated with the compendious noun: “Lesbian”.

“I’d been having qualms since I was thirteen… when I first learned to the word due to its alarming prominence in my dictionary.”

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Fun Home illustrates the exciting, and sometimes intimidating experience of self discovery. When Allison first comes across the word “Lesbian” in her Webster’s dictionary, something resonates within her that will later manifest itself into a new identity. Allison’s process of self discovery is interesting enough to note in regards to its similarities and variations from other homosexual characters we have analyzed within the context of this course.

Unlike Allison, Jess in Stone Butch Blues does not find any sort of inspiration, or attachment to the word “Lesbian”. She admits, in a conversation with her most intimate partner, that she has never used the word “Lesbian”.

Although she has sexual relations with women, perhaps she feels as though the label does not do justice to her sense of self. Maybe, given the differences in social standings centered on homosexual labels, Jess just feels more like a “he-she” and this label entitles her more to her equalized masculinity and femininity. Given the time period, as well as the dynamic of the gay community, maybe the reader is thoroughly associated with “Femme” and “Butch” in Stone Butch Blues for historical or educational reasons. I happen to feel that it the repugnance of “Butch” and “Femme” has historical importance, while also giving insight to Jess’s internalization of these labels, and a lack of the internalization of “Lesbian”

 

“One day it occurred to be that I could actually look up homosexuality in the card catalogue. I found a four-foot trove in the stacks which I quickly ravished. And soon I was trolling even the public library, heedless of the risks.” Bechdel describes her fascination with Lesbianism in literature as she projects her own relations to these stories and people she is reading about. She is absorbed into the library- consumed in her research that is testing her hypothesis: is she a lesbian? The importance of literature in Allison’s self discovery reminded me of Audre Lorde in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.

Similar to Bechdel, Lorde illustrates her fascination with women through a projection of her investment and captivation in books addressing menstruation and female anatomy. Just as Bechdel has a slight obsession with lesbian literature that will later lead to a confirmation in her sexual orientation, Lorde begins answering her own questions through an obsession with books. Perhaps sparking significant sexual curiosity for the female body,  she educates herself using books describing menstruation and pregnancy with illustrations of vaginas. This content resonates with her in a way that the reader can argue is sexually oriented.

 

“My realization at nineteen that I was a lesbian came about in a manner consistent with my bookish upbringing. A revelation not of the flesh, but of the mind.”Bechdel narrates.

This cognizant discovery of sexuality, one could argue, is significantly different from our characters Molly in Rubyfruit Jungle and David in Giovanni’s Room. The reader shares Molly’s first homosexual discovery with her neighbor during a sleepover. While there has not been much thought from Molly regarding her lesbianism before this particular experience, we are introduced to her preference for women at this milestone. From this point on in Molly’s narrative, her sexual experiences are primarily with women, and thus, one can say that this physical “of the flesh” intimacy between Molly and another girl is the determining factor in which she begins to understand her sexuality.

Similarly to Molly, and unlike Allison, David has an “of the flesh” experience with a childhood friend that is deeply aligned with a physical homoesexual interaction rather than an emotional or cognizant synergy. Throughout the rest of David’s narrative, the thematic concept of the novel depicting the consequences of repressed love are a central point to David’s struggle to invest in his emotional ties to another man over his physical desires.

Ultimately, Fun Home exemplifies the conclusive embrace of homosexuality in a way that is interesting to note how it aligns and diverges from the other characters- Molly, Audre, David, and Jess.

 

Discussion:

Does Allison allude to her sexual orientation before this explicit declaration of lesbianism in Chapter 3?

How can the reader understand the significance of the symbolism found in the depictions of flora in Chapter 4: The Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that connect both Allison’s sexuality and her Father’s?

Stone Butch Cry My Eyes Out

Leslie Feinberg uses the characterization of Jess to illustrate and exemplify the complexity of gender identity in Stone Butch Blues. Feinberg incorporates Native American spirituality and culture to suggest a validation and appreciation towards Jess’s true self. Her Indian family also foreshadow Jess’s future which will be full of tremendous hardship and violence that make this novel graphic and unsettling to the extreme . Jess’s interactions with the painful rejections and realities she encounters when embodying her identity as a stone butch/transgender lead to a profound construction of character development that denotes Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues as a powerful force in the fight for civil rights.

Is it a boy or a girl? Hell if Jess knows. She does understand, however, that she is different from everyone around her. Feinberg foreshadows the detrimental feelings of fear and self loathing our character will grow familiar with in an instance  when Jess potentially identifies with another person for the first time. It is a brief moment when she is driving with her family and notices a ‘he-she’- an individual who’s sex she cannot determine from their outward appearances. “Suddenly a wave of foreboding swept over me. I felt nauseous and dizzy. But whatever it was that triggered the fear, it was too scary to think about.” Jess describes her feelings toward understanding that the world thinks of “he-shes” as perverse from her parents reaction to this gender ambiguous individual.

One of my very favorite angles of this novel is how Feinberg constructs the beginning of Jess’s journey as she is taken into care by a Native American family. They love Jess, nurture her, and even share their language with her. She is a part of their family, which is soon broken when her parents decide that they are too involved in Jess’s development-a notion potentially stemming from fear, racism, or their own insecurities towards their own daughter. When Jess’s parents come to retrieve her from her Native American family, Jess describes, “I’ve only heard bits and pieces about that evening, so I don’t know everything that went on.􏰑􏰏􏰋􏰄􏰚􏰌􏰋􏰏􏰑􏰏􏰅􏰆􏰄􏰍􏰁􏰃􏰑􏰄􏰑􏰏􏰋􏰄􏰙􏰂􏰊􏰏􏰋􏰃􏰁􏰒􏰈􏰛􏰄􏰅􏰂􏰆􏰄􏰈􏰅􏰖􏰛􏰄􏰠􏰜􏰄􏰈􏰏􏰏􏰄􏰅􏰄 􏰆􏰁􏰚􏰙􏰓􏰗􏰉􏰃􏰄􏰉􏰁􏰚􏰏􏰄􏰚􏰌􏰋􏰄􏰃􏰑􏰁􏰈􏰄􏰓􏰑􏰁􏰉􏰆I wish I did. But this part I’ve heard over and over again: one of the women told my parents I was going to walk a difficult path in life”

In this passage, Feinberg foreshadows the tremendous pain Jess must experience before she will embrace herself for who she is- taking on the entire world before she lives a life that is a lie. What is interesting about this fraction of the novel is the superstitious and spiritual elements that are incorporated through the characterizations of the Native American women. An important element of most Native American cultures and tribes is the powers and wisdom held by a transgender tribe member. In many instances, an individual born as transgender is regarded as encompassing, exerting, and manifesting the wisdom of both energies-male, and female. They are known as “Two-Spirit”. Often times, the transgender person is denoted the role as a powerful religious leader or teacher. They are respected and highly regarded not only from a religious standpoint, but also in a sense that the transgender individual is important to the survival of the tribe because they can participate in both male and female work. They are considered to be hard working and artistically gifted.

We can relate this to our character Jess who exemplifies both male and female perspectives and initiatives. Although most of the world is full of hatred and fear surrounding Jess’s ambiguous gender, the Native American family serves as foreshadowing to the reader, but also as a reminder that people like Jess are nothing new to this world, and are certainly no one to hate. In fact, they should be looked to for strength and guidance as people who understand the hardships of this world from their own experiences, and from their ability to invest in both a female and male sense of self. Feinberg’s incorporation of the Native American family as the first individuals to guide Jess is a powerful suggestion to the reader of the difficulties she will experience, but also the value of true self and the wisdom acquired from a taking the path less traveled.

DQ: How does Feinberg address intersectionality using the characterization of Jess?

DQ: What does the ring, given to Jess by the Native American family, symbolize throughout the novel?

DQ: What effect does the letter to Theresa in the introduction have on the reader and on the novel as a whole?

american-transgendertwo-spirits

No, we just love each other, that’s all.

As our beloved heroine Molly begins to grow into adulthood, the reader witnesses the disparity between the character’s internalization of what it means to identify as a homosexual, and how the world around her digests a “queer”.  Her teenage years encompass this pivotal conflict as it manifests itself in a confrontation held with nearly every relationship she has established at this time in her life. Brown exemplifies the external forces attempting to define, as well as simplify homosexuality as being distinctly a sexual act or an emotional state. In addition, the author illustrates the thematic concept of a desire to participate in homosexuality while simultaneously removing oneself from the homosexual identity and stigmas through the characterization of Leroy, and Carolyn.

“Sometimes when I hear songs on the radio, I think that’s how I feel about Craig. That scares me a lot more than getting sucked off. What if I’m in love with him for Chris’ sake?” Leroy expresses his concern regarding the emotional investment in his homosexual experience with Craig. This quotation exhibits how Leroy, and many other people coming to understand homosexuality, attempt to compartmentalize and differentiate sex from emotion. Leroy suggests that while he had sex with Craig, if he doesn’t love him, he isn’t queer. This is reinforced when immediately afterwards, Molly says she loved Loeta, and Leroy calls her a queer. In her it-is-what-it-is-attitude, Molly reestablishes the irrelevance of Leroy’s conclusions in regards to his internalization by telling him not to label anything. While Leroy does seem to love Craig, he cannot get passed his fear of judgement and harassment that would be experienced after admitting that he loves another man.

Carolyn reinforces the thematic concept of a desire to participate in homosexuality while rejecting the idea of being a queer when she explains, “No, we just love each other, that’s all. Lesbians look like men and are ugly. We’re not like that.” Carolyn wants to continue being intimate with Molly, however, within the context of believing that she is not a lesbian because she would be placed in the stereotypes of brutish or masculine. She is characterized as being truly interested in women, but too afraid to allow herself to be known as a homosexual.

Brown continues to address questions of identity throughout the continuation of Molly’s life. In particular, this section of the novel highlights how the world attempts to define homosexuality using stereotypes, and the simplification between love and lust. In addition, Brown makes the point to illustrate Molly’s conflict of becoming comfortable with her lesbianism while surrounded by many others who have a homosexual desires but are overcome by a fear of what it means to be labeled as queer.

1.) At what moment does Brown exemplify that Molly has become comfortable with her sexuality?

2.) What do you think the conversation held between Molly and her Father previous to his death signifies?

 

boom.

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Rita Mae Brown and Beth Hodges