Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

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

Author: devs

Bloomed Cereus

Tyler in Cereus Blooms at Nightis conspicuously lost. He craves the female nurse’s uniform given to him by Miss Ramchandin, “I was certainly excited by the possibilities trembling inside me”, yet after he put the dress on, he felt “horribly silly” (MooToo 76). Miss Ramchandin did not react to Tyler’s transformation and this causes him to feel out of touch with his identity, “not a man and not ever able to be a woman, suspended nameless in the limbo state between existence and nonexistence” (77). Tyler becomes unsure of his identity because of the lack of response given by Miss Ramchandin. His unsureness shows that peer validation is necessary to feel confident in one’s own identity. Tyler expected Miss Ramchandin to fawn over him when she saw him in the dress, and therefore validate his desire to be the woman he dresses up to be. When she did not respond to his transformation, he lost what he thought was the answer to his identity. It was not until Tyler realized the reason why Miss Ramchandin paid no attention to him in the dress that he felt sure of his identity and confident in his transformation, “to her mind, the outfit was not something to congratulate or scorn-it simply was” (77). People understand themselves through community acknowledgement, and this is exemplified through Tyler.

Foucault says, “a guarantee of the status, identity, and value granted to one person by another, it came to signify someone’s acknowledgment of his own actions and thoughts” (Foucault 58). Looking through lens of Foucault, a person “granting” you an identity shapes the thoughts and feelings of yourself and makes you more self-assured in that identity. In Cereus Blooms at Night, Tyler feels lost when he does not receive a remark from Miss Ramchandin (MooToo 78). Without physical or verbal affirmation from Miss Ramchandin, Tyler completely questions his identity; he does not feel his true identity is male, nor female without the reassurance from Miss Ramchandin. However, after his realization of why Miss Ramchandin did not react, Tyler reflecting on the evening said “I had never felt so extremely ordinary, and I quite loved it” (78). He felt comfortable and confident in his identity as a woman because he felt assured by Miss Ramchandin, and felt as though she granted him freedom in this particular identity.

Tyler’s struggle with his identity connects to the novel in a larger way: the title. During his transformation of wearing the female nurse’s uniform, Tyler is the bloomed cereus. The cereus plant in the novel is ugly when not bloomed and it only blooms at night for a brief amount time, but when it does it is beautiful. The cereus plant parallels Tyler when he puts on the dress. He not only feels beautiful in a physical sense, but discovering his true identity is beautiful to him as well. He only blooms, or puts on the dress, briefly at night for fear of being caught, but when he does he finally feels ordinary instead of different. He feels a sense of belonging.

Photographs

Ann Carson is inventive in Autobiography of Red through Geryon’s visual art. The photographs Geryon takes and the focus placed on them in the chapter titles are examples of excess of language. The photographs are innovative because they describe Geryon in a way language cannot. Throughout Autobiography of Red Geryon has trouble communicating, so his photographs are a way for him to express what he is unable to express verbally. For example, the photograph of the guinea pig lying on her right side on a plate (139). This photograph illustrates Geryon feeling like the guinea pig, on display and the little “beast” everyone is waiting to take advantage of (or in the guinea pig’s case, waiting to be eaten). This is not something Geryon can describe in words, it’s a feeling he has and captures when a fitting moment presents itself.

Geryon’s photographs exemplify his feelings, and the pictures altogether help make up his identity, which he continually searches for, “who am I” (57). The photographs give the reader insight towards aspects of Geryon’s identity beyond his appearance. The photos allow us to see beyond his monstrous looks and see his emotions and self-perception. Herakles’ grandmother said “people think it’s a black-and-white photograph of course nobody knows / how to look at a photograph nowadays” (66). This statement reiterates the purpose of the photographs by saying that people see things as black and white, no one looks beyond the picture for the hidden meaning, or looks beneath perceived appearances of people. Identity is often assumed from appearance, but identity is not one thing or another, it is not black or white, it is complex. The statement from Herakles’ grandmother verbally indicates the purpose of Geryon’s photos, hinting for the reader to look at them for more information about Geryon’s identity by looking deeper than the surface, past his appearance and past the initial photo. The photos Geryon takes are a part of his autobiography and should be paid attention to in order to follow his self-discovery of his identity.

Enough

“Her lips parting for me every time- / a deep-throated “hey” or “hello” / was enough, the way a weekly token / of bread or wine can be enough” (Dordal, 26).

This passage from “Clues” shifts from sexual references to casual conversation to religious ritual. These lines are suggesting that sexuality and faith are both internal human needs. Repetition of the word “enough” is significant. It is emphasizing the way these two desirable things intertwine, i.e. they both provide a rooted place of support and connection. These casual, habitual actions tying back to sexuality and religion are subtle reminders of the desires every person craves; they provide a temporary sense of fulfillment for the narrator. A passage from Written on the Body exemplified this deep yearn for human connection as well, “I didn’t only want Louise’s flesh, I wanted her bones, her blood, her tissues, the sinews that bound her together” (Winterson, 51). This passage describes the need for sexual connection, the raw need for body-body interaction that the narrator of “Clues” is longing for.

This passage relates to the rest of the poems in Mosaic of the Dark because religion is a repetitive theme. The religious references are used periodically throughout the volume as a guideline for life, to show the evolution of a person by outlining important religious ceremonies. However, these references are also used to mimic how the narrator is presenting herself and her feelings. These lines shed light on the use of Christian references as a metaphorical expression of the narrator because they emphasize the way the narrator’s sexual desires have to be satisfied by small conversation, the way bread and wine must signify Jesus’s sacrifice. The narrator has not come out as a lesbian, so she needs to get her fix by moments like this because she has not yet claimed her new identity, one challenging heteronormative views. Her body has come to terms with her sexual orientation before her mind has, so for now these small interactions are “enough” to gratify her desires. Mention of religion to mimic the narrators thoughts and feelings appears in many other passages as well, including “until the last day, when I came out- / one part Christian, one part Jew, all queer (41)” used to show what it felt like for her to honestly voice her sexual orientation.

What You Risk Reveals What You Value

The passage is about the effect love has on people, more specifically the effect Louise has on the narrator. This passage is also about risk, “who leaves the hearth for the open sea?” (81). Their love shouldn’t make sense, it started as an affair and turned into something beautiful despite being against all odds: “especially without a compass, especially in the winter, especially alone”(81).

The repetition of home and hearth is significant. The narrator finally found a love that feels like home, a place where they belong. This feeling served as an anchor in their life, “love it was that drove them forth. Love that brought them home again” (81). It allows exploration of each other and the world, and returns them to a place that feels familiar and comfortable. Love healed them. It made them feel invincible, “love hardened their hands against the oar”(81).

“What you risk reveals what you value”(81) is an anomaly. It seems contradicting because wouldn’t you want to protect what you value? This is about courage though, not protection. Have the courage to put it all on the line. Risk to discover something beautiful, something consuming. “In the presence of love, hearth and quest become one” (81) indicates this love is exciting and unknown but it’s also easy and natural. Hearth and quest are opposing words, but being in love wraps them into one.

In this passage, repetition of the sea is seen as it is throughout the novel. The sea mimics the phenomenon of love. It is strange, unknown, and breeds curiosity. The cluster of exploration words such as journey, quest, the open sea, and compass is significant in this passage and the novel in general. The narrator has “explored” many lovers with a wide variety of personalities to find this particular feeling expressed in the passage.

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