Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

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

Author: Tulane Street

Gender Trouble Butterfly

Within Gender Trouble, written by Judith Butler, Newton gives a powerful message:

At its most complex, [drag] is a double inversion that says, “appearance is an illusion.” Drag says [Newtons curious personification] “my ‘outside’ appearance is feminine, but my essence ‘inside’ [the body] is masculine.” At the same time it symbolizes the opposite inversion; “my appearance ‘outside’ [my body, my gender] is masculine but my essence ‘inside’ [myself] is feminine” (Butler, 137).

From this, a very troubling and complex statement arises from the works of David Henry Wang in his play M. Butterfly, with Song stating that:

Like, I think the reason we fight wars is because we wear clothes (Wang, 55).

The “double inversion” proposed in Butler’s work stings true to the heart when Song gives the ultimate reason for gender/identity mayhem. Newton, through Butler, introduces the idea and separation between appearance and feeling along the lines of respective gender femininity and/or masculinity. The relation between Song’s position in M. Butterfly and the words of Newton within Butler’s work is that Song ‘plays’ the gender role of female, while standing as a biological male. In this situation, Newton would classify her as the first portion of his writing: “[her] ‘outside’ appearance is feminine, but [her] essence ‘inside’ [the body] is masculine.” Song believes that it is this binary between sex and gender that she encompasses as a whole, that creates issues in the world. It is this mere contradiction of appearance and biology that allow for disagreement, argument and ultimately disapproval of ‘differences.’

The very evident similarities between these two works and the gender binaries that exist and are explained within the words of the text suggest important, relevant as well as controversial binaries such as femininity versus masculinity, sex versus gender, male versus female and appearance versus feelings/emotions (‘inside’ versus ‘outside’). These binaries exposed in Gender Trouble allow one to clearly identify the important aspects of sexuality as well as gender identity within M. Butterfly and ultimately relate them to real world issues as a whole.

The suggestive material stating, “appearance is an illusion” in M. Butterfly needs the unambiguous explanation given in Gender TroubleGender Trouble is ultimately used as a lens to better understand the allusions, suggestions and binaries within M. Butterfly. These two texts are linked and intertwined ever so perfectly through meaning, connotation and annotation that they need one to understand the other. Allusion and illusion need definition to make things clear, yet definition needs allusion and illusion to make things interesting.

Scared In The Dark, Yet Safe Because We’re Blind

Shani Mootoo states in her novel Cereus Blooms at Night states that, in the name of sexuality and/or gender identity, there is a “limbo state between existence and nonexistence” (Mootoo, 77). I see this as a safety blanket, yet at the same time an unbelievable, undefinable danger zone. This is safe, as priorly stated, yet also scary and shameful, especially in the name of sexuality and/or gender identity.

One being neither “properly man nor woman but some in-between, unnamed thing” allows for different interpretations of the “truth,” but in the end, left to be defined by the “victim” (Mootoo, 71). I say victim because this uncertainty is not a choice. It is this “definition” of one’s personal sexuality and gender identity, and the comfort of not associating one way or the other that acts as a safety blanket. It is safe to not know. Although it is safe to be in the dark, it is oh so scary. He/She cannot see what is ahead of him/her, what is awaiting him/her after his/her “definition” is solidified, which can, in turn, result in a shameful personal and social regression.

In these two quotes I see a very important connection between the words “unnamed” and “nonexistence.” Remaining “unnamed” can be viewed as “nonexistence” by the said “victim” of sexuality and instills a sense of fear and shame into him/her. It is this fear and shame that drives one to attempt to “define” the undefined: his/her sexuality and/or gender identity. It is interesting that when you put the two quotes together, it suggests that “existence” is associated with defining as a man or a woman, and “nonexistence” is associated with the “limbo state,” being “unnamed” and somewhere in between.

How is one “properly” one or the other? This is the word that suggests shame. Sexuality, gender and gender identity are choices; choices with social repercussions that can instill a sense of fear or shame into one if they even slightly deviate from the “norm.” Who is to say that there is a “proper” definition of sexuality? NO ONE. To put these two ideas together, the “limbo state” of being “unnamed” creates a drive to define the sexuality and/or gender identity that is not defined, but is linked with the shame of defining a sexuality or gender identity that deviates from the norm. This limbo is such a safe place of blindness, but such a scary place of darkness.

 

sHE…

I had a boyfriend once, his name was Bruno…he found Jesus under a wardrobe… rescued by the fire brigade…Jesus had come out of the closet to save him. ‘Out of the closet and up into your heart,’ raved the Pastor (152)

The word “boyfriend” captured my attention immediately. I have been so caught up in finding the narrators gender and the gender he/she prefers, and this passage may have solidified my opinion.

For some reason I am seeing Jesus as the narrator himself/herself, slyly talking in first-person. He/she is seemingly stuck under a wardrobe and even hidden in the “closet.” Then, there is a “rescue.” A rescue from himself/herself. A rescue from his/her own sexuality. 

Sexuality is something that can either set you free or suck you in. This passage is the moment of freedom for the Narrator. I find it ever so intriguing that there is two terms that suggest suppression of the Narrator’s true self, and that is the use of the words “[rescue]” and “save.” The imagery used to capture the meaning, feeling and reality of ‘coming out of the closet’ is magnificent, while answering a very frustrating, reoccurring question: what is the gender of the narrator?

Though, the use of Jesus in this passage is so cliché, it ties the fact that ‘God knows everything you do and you do not’ into the plot of the novel. I proposed earlier that the Narrator is using Jesus as a double of himself/herself; he/she “had a boyfriend once” and he/she seemingly came “out of the closet.” I believe he/she is, in fact, a he.

Suppression is prevalent in this passage. Suppression of the gay community. In this instance, he needs to be saved from his sexuality and rescued from his own mind just to find himself?? Ridiculous. He found refuge once the pastor “raved” the truth, “raved” reality and “raved” sanity, that there is nothing more real than what is within your heart and nothing more genuine than love. Once it is found, all bets are off, the “wardrobe” is off and the “closet” is gone. I believe that his passage has made him, himself all the way to the core of his heart, where Jesus is ringing bells of true identity.

Have We Already Fallen?

“I had lately learned that another way of writing ‘FALL IN LOVE’ was ‘WALK THE PLANK.’ I was tired of balancing blind-fold on a slender beam, one slip and into the unplumbed sea” (26).

“Lately learned” implies prior ignorance. It is so interesting that a feeling, a sense of happiness, a supposed ‘euphoric’ feeling can be so scary. The unstated connection made between the narrators heart and an “unplumbed sea” demonstrates the depth of the universal language of love.

I see freight in the words plank, balancing, blind-fold, slip and even sea; but why are these words associated with the oh so beautiful LOVE? Well, this fear was just learned. ‘Ignorance is bliss,’ or, was.

Why is love a “slender plank?” Is it the fear of the unknown? Fear of getting hurt? Fear of shame? Or fear of slipping off the slender plank and into the unplumbed sea? The Author suggests that his/her new learning of the dangers of love is strictly a game of ‘survival of the fittest.’ If we have already ‘fallen’ in love… then how are we still on the plank? There’s a connection there. The only difference is that it is an emotional fall, not a physical fall.

“Balancing blind-fold on a slender beam” would instill fear in us, it would give us an almost animalistic instinct to fight, to prevail and to survive. Who did The Narrator ‘learn’ that you need to ‘survive’ love from? Is he/she crazy? Or did we teach ourselves? Are we dying to survive something that would never kill us in the first place?

In Sedgwick’s Tendencies, she states that,

“The survival of each one is a miracle. Everyone who survived has stories about how it was done” (1).

Maybe this is the “newly learned” case in Winterson’s Written on the Body? Should we fear love? or love the fear? I am going to go out on a limb and say that it is the fear of the unknown within the unplumbed sea that makes us fear surviving, but LOVE survival.

 

 

–In the Eyes of the Beholder–

“He had his death-warrant written legibly upon his face. The rosy man had grown pale; his flesh had fallen away; he was visibly balder and older; and yet it was not so much these tokens of a swift physical decay that arrested the lawyers notice, as a look in the eye and quality of manner that seemed to testify to some deep-seated terror of the mind” (23).

Poole is going to see Dr. Lanyon in his office and he notices physical differences that lead him somewhere deeper in recognition. He eyes up Dr. Lanyon and looks past what is obvious to him and begins to find things arbitrary to even Dr. Lanyon’s knowledge on the basis of identity and being. It is this power of ‘soul searching’ that allows Poole to derive such a heartfelt, detailed conclusion from a mere look past physical attributes, into Dr. Lanyon’s eyes and ultimately into his personal sensory systems.

There is an interesting theme of identity in this passage, derived through atypical methodology using personal detective skills, where one looks past the being and into the human. This “deep seated terror of the mind” was not found through a personal endeavor of searching, instead it as found through the use of an outsider: Poole. This idea is fascinating; where personal feeling and identity is sometimes beyond the eyes of the beholder.

Dr. Lanyon’s identity, surfaced and solidified by the searching of Poole demonstrates the overall idea that sometimes one cannot see what his/her surrounding human beings can. At the end of the novel, this epiphany arises, where one discovers that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, and this quote is important to this epiphany of identity. Jekyll and Hyde are more than less understood as one, yet clearly encompass two separate identities. This is a help or hinder question: could the uniqueness of an identity crisis such as this be a tragedy or a blessing to the quality of life or the scale of shame? AND what is it about the “quality of manner” that requires so much searching?

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