Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

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

Author: Elentyia

Failure is Indeed an Option

The author Sarah McBride, is an American transgender rights activist. In her memoir, Tomorrow Will Be Different, she tells her story of entering the LGBTQ+ community, fighting for equal rights and what it means to be an openly transgender person. The first chapter titled “I’m transgender.” describes her coming-out story. The particular passage describes her time at college as a student body president. McBride explains that she enjoyed the position nevertheless, she also felt more miserable with every day that she had to spend pretending to be someone she wasn’t. So, she gave up on politics, which meant so much to her, because she felt lost. However, she points out that “… in a twisted way, giving up allowed me to begin to come to terms with my identity” (McBride 23). This statement stood out to me because she describes a moment of failure, of giving up, and while she might have felt defeated, she realizes that giving up was exactly what she needed.

McBride describes it as “twisted”, that by giving up on her greatest passion and life-long goals she probably achieved more than what she would have accomplished otherwise. She says giving up “allowed” her to pursue her search for identity, and in this context “allowed” gives the sentence a positive turn after using the negatively connotated “twisted”. Sarah McBride needed time to find herself, which is exactly what “giving up” granted her.

Normally, “giving up” is something we understand as negative. Giving up means surrendering, losing control, abandoning or declaring something insoluble (“give up”, merriam-webster.com). Yet, in this case, “giving up” gave Sarah McBride something she needed even more than succeeding in her goals. People around her might have judged her or thought she was giving up important opportunities still, for Sarah McBride this wasn’t a negative thing at all.

The passage reminded me of a quote from Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure in which he states: “[t]he queer art of failure turns on the impossible, the improbable, the unlikely, and the remarkable. It quietly loses, and in losing it imagines other goals for life, for love, for art, and for being” (Halberstam 88). Halberstam claims that “the queer art of failure” makes room for things that are unimaginable or unacceptable in non-queer circumstances. By “failing”, “losing” or “giving up” new space is created and new doors are opened. I feel like this is precisely what McBride is implying. A queer way of being and living is possible for anyone not adhering to society’s standards. What I am trying to say is, not succeeding or giving up on something society expects you to do, or what you expect yourself to do, does not make you, or your life, a failure. Especially when your life or your identity exists outside of the cultural monolith not succeeding at certain things could be exactly what you need.

Failure doesn’t have to be a negative thing at all.

Language (or Distance)

The verse novel “Autobiography of Red” by Anne Carson I was especially struck by the way in which she uses different languages or rather how she lets Geryon use and understand different languages. There are interferences of German, Quechua, and Spanish during the time of Geryon’s travels.

As Geryon travels to Argentina and later to Peru it makes sense for the people around him to speak Spanish, as it is their native language. Ancash and his mother often use it to communicate with each other and Herakles also uses Spanish sporadically, often disrupting a previous conversation.

Quechua is only referred to once and Geryon inquires the meaning of Ancash’s name, which we never get to know. Spoiler alert: it means “blue” and thus introduces another color, but that is a whole other conversation.

The third language is German, which Geryon refers to when writing postcards back home. It is a language that is far away from the Spanish language and he feels alienated and insecure while using it, wondering if it was illegal to write in German and not Spanish. He mentions that he studied German philosophy in college which explains the highly stylized and old wording of the German sentences but it doesn’t explain why it feels so wrong to him to use it. I believe that he uses the language to express himself to people that mean a lot to him (his mother and professor) and that it makes him feel vulnerable, which is why he doesn’t want it to be discovered. When people use a language that you don’t understand it distances you and makes you a stranger to the conversation. I think the novel is very inventive in using different languages to portray (emotional) distance.

Believe us.

“The women feed him, bathe his feet / with tears, bring spices, find the empty tomb, / burst out to tell the men, are not believed. …“ (Kenyon, 42)

These three lines belong to Jane Kenyon’s poem “Depression”. The lines describe the biblical story of the discovery of Christ’s resurrection. The first part “The women feed him, bathe his feet […]” refers to two stories in which Christ was still alive.  The women welcomed him into their home and cared for him and washed his feet with perfume. The second part “[…] with tears, bring spices […]” refers to the biblical story in which the women come to visit Christ’s tomb, to care for him, even in his death. However, they find the tomb empty and when they report to the men waiting outside, they are not believed until one of the men goes into the tomb to see for himself. The verbs ‘feed’, ‘bathe’, ‘bring’, ‘find’ and ‘burst’ are all active on the women’s side, they do this on their own account. Still, the last verb ‘believed’ is put in a passive voice, indicating that the women’s sincerity is only validated by someone else, or rather by a man. Their voice is only heard and acknowledged through someone else – they do not have this advocacy on their own.

In these few lines, a lot of history can be found. Women have a long history of not being believed in all areas of life, but health is a very important one. Often, women talking about issues of health are not taken seriously because people believe them to be weak or whiny. Consequently, a huge number of women has been suffering from medical conditions, often mental health issues, which are not being treated or they have to diagnose themselves. Additionally, relating this to the title of the poem, “Depressions”, people with depression are often not believed concerning their condition and some doctors still refuse to treat it as a serious mental illness. Women and people with depression alike are an important part of society, but as soon as they don’t align completely with the monolithic expectations of society anymore their opinions are dismissed. Furthermore, both are, to a certain extent, subject to the patriarchy, as women, like in the story, need a man’s validation to be heard and similarly the health industry is, like so many others, still strongly influenced by the patriarchy.

What I am trying to say is, that society still lacks a lot in terms of equality and understanding. The women in the biblical story should have been believed and their words should have been accepted to be the truth. Exactly like people who suffer from depression should be believed when they talk about their illness and their opinion should not be questioned by people who don’t believe in it just because they have never experienced it themselves.

The inside of your body is innocent

“Will you let me crawl inside you, stand guard over you, trap them as they come at you? Why can’t I dam their blind tide that filthies your blood? Why are there no lock gates on the portal vein? The inside of your body is innocent, nothing has taught it fear. Your artery canals trust their cargo, they don’t check the shipment in the blood.” (115)

The narrator is asking themselves multiple rhetoric questions about the human body, and how the sickness that is affecting Louise’s body manages to take hold. The questions are filled with naïve and hopeful imagery, of “gates” that could be closed to keep cancer out of the body. The narrator is using the questions to cope with the facts they have just learned about the sickness that will cause their lover to die.

The passage is lined with a theme of ships and the sea. The narrator uses words like “tide”, “canals”, “cargo” and “shipment” to describe the ways in which the sickness is transported through the body. They also describe the trust the body has in the “shipment” that is being transported. The body does not expect a deathly attack of cancer cells and is consequently not prepared to defend it.

Parallel to that, one could compare the narrator to Louise’s body. They have never lost a lover to a deadly sickness, or death at all for that matter. They are innocent, no one has taught them this specific kind of fear. The narrator didn’t check the “cargo”, the “shipment”, that Louise is carrying with her because they never had to before. Maybe they would have wished for a “lock gate” themselves, to protect their heart from hurt and pain. However, it is already too late. They have fallen in love with Louise and Louise is going to die. There is no changing nature. They can try to prolong Louise’s life, fight cancer as long and hard as possible – only at a terribly painful prize.

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