Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

Understanding Geryon’s Lived Experiences Through Delegitimizing Law

In Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Geryon, the main character, is a boy growing up in a world in which he does not see representations of himself in the people and spaces around him. The novel takes the reader through Geryon’s life through his perspective.  When Geryon went to Buenos Aires, he met a man who was visiting for a conference. When this acquaintance was talking about his education he said, “I was looking at the sociology of ancient law codes. [Geryon responded] You are interested in justice? [and the man responded] I’m interested in how people decide what sounds like a law” (Carson 1999, 88). The word choice in this interaction is very significant. Using the words “how people decide,” brings about the idea that laws are initially decided by people. I believe that oftentimes people forget that at some point in time laws didn’t exist. This language allows the reader to take a step back and acknowledge that society has been created by people, and this can make the reader question the legitimacy of these laws when thinking about how people have different viewpoints and ideas. Additionally, by using the words “what sounds like a law,” Carson is invoking the idea that laws in themselves can be illegitimate. While society defines laws to be something in which people have to follow, the speaker questions this. Autobiography of Red is inventive because the novel slips radical and thought provoking ideas into casual conversations such as the one above. This serves great purpose for the rest of the novel because by normalizing difference and questioning societal norms, the reader is able to think about how these norms have an effect on Geryon, and is able to better identify how he questions the norms in his life within his existence and through his life experience.


Carson, Anne. 1999. Autobiography of Red. New York: Vintage Contemporaries – Random House. 


  1. paintstarsincolor

    November 7, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    Your interpretation of how Autobiography of Red is inventive is very fascinating! If you choose to develop this further, I would be interested to see your connections between laws and queer culture. Personally, I think that throughout history, laws have been created to prevent the deviation of the norm, setting societal norms and, therefore, criminalizing queer narratives. For instance, the legalization of gay marriage – what on earth made it be something that had to be legalized? The explicit and implicit laws of heteronormativity (i.e. Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve).

  2. I totally agree that this is a significant moment in the novel. I love that Carson shows that nothing is set in stone and virtually everything has been socially constructed, but we often do not even notice this or feel that some things are just “natural”. Although this is never spelled out in the novel, I believe Geryon may be trans. Of everyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, trans people probably face some of the strongest discrimination based on ideas of “nature” and “the rules of biology”. We know that gender is completely socially constructed, but most people accept it as if it is law. However, even the oldest laws are changeable and can be understood in new ways- including ideas of gender and sex.

  3. I’m interested in the ways in which people decide not only the laws that govern human behavior, but also the laws that govern the use of human language. In my post I talked about tradition (and changing/exploding tradition) when it comes to the usage of poetic language, and I think these traditions are like laws. They’re unspoken (unless you consider the rules of grammar, which are *literally* acknowledged as rules), but they still govern how we speak, and in playing with tradition Carson plays with the unspoken rules of how people write poetry.

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