In our reading of Butler’s “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” we confronted whether homosexuality can truly be considered a copy, when without the oppositional homosexuality there would be no need for the rigidly controlled heterosexual ideal. The texts we’ve worked with this quarter treat queer identities in two distinct ways; queerness is either presented as an inversion of heterosexuality or as its own distinct culture.
Early sexologists largely created the narrative of homosexuality (inversion) as a defective person unable to live as a heterosexual. Their stances exert a noticeable influence on early queer texts including Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. In The Well of Loneliness Stephen’s inversion is inseparable from her possession of her natural maleness. Her characteristically male traits allows her inversion to be better understood, Stephen can only pursue these queer relationships with the understanding that she’s able to fulfill the ‘male’ role in heterosexual relationships. Even so Stephen is unable to remain in a relationship with Mary and defer her queer love to create a heterosexual relationship.
The father in Bechdel’s Fun Home similarly supports the idea that homosexuality must take a back seat to the heterosexual. On the surface he would read as a heterosexual man married with kids, yet even his personal life has been carefully created to portray a certain image. His queer desire can only be expressed through tightly controlled sexual affairs with young men. The homosexual can only exist when it’s able to fit into his heterosexual narrative. Whether they’re babysitters, gardeners, or students they all serve to affirm his constructed image.
Other works we’ve studied have represented thriving queer communities in numerous ways. Paris is Burning, All about My Mother, and Girls in Uniform each showcased a number of queer friendships, families, and loving relationships. But Chu T-ien-Wen’s “Bodhisattva Incarnate” and Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” provide images of gay male sexual desire. Furthermore their sex isn’t judged in terms of heterosexuality rather it stands on its own merit.
In “Brokeback Mountain” Ennis and Jack’s relationship starts out purely sexual. It doesn’t matter that they’re “not no queer” (pg.7), the sexual attraction is strong enough to pull them together again and again throughout their first summer. Yet what separates Ennis and Jack from the father in Fun Home is the strong emotional connection they develop. Ennis and Jack love with an intent and force unseen in the story’s heterosexual relationships. Whereas those relationships are kept out of familial obligation and financial security their love is shown as the purest.
Little Tong in “Bodhisattva Incarnate” is a thirty year old gay man. His queerness is prevalent, and it is never defined as oppositional to heterosexual love. The only mentions of heterosexual relationships come from his sister’s implicitly odd relationship and Zhong Lin’s girlfriend. Little Tong’s sexuality is with Zhong Lin in the present as well as in his flashbacks. His first encounter with Jabbar is heavy with “narcotic scent[s] pine resin” (pg. 31), throughout his life sex is connected to his sense of smell and connected to the formation of his queer identity. In another previous encounter he befriends two young gay men and what follows is a extended stretch of feeding and eating before Little Tong eventually hooks up with the boys. The extensive use of smell and taste affirm the natural ease of Little Tong’s homosexuality, he never needed to explore and find an alternative to heterosexual love rather his instincts guided him.