“‘I will leave them a note, partially explaining, and then I will write them in detail once we’re there. But they will never accept any of this, and if they learn of it beforehand, they will separate us at once… Look, Sarah, either we do it now or we will never be able to. There would be no point for me in living if i was unable to see you every single day of my life.’”
–Mootoo pg 59
“‘And what about your friends, / Don’t you love them enough to stay?’ / And I say, ‘If I don’t leave now, / Then I will never get away.’ / Let me be a blue raft on the blue sea, I’ll blend right in”
–The Front Bottoms “Maps”
The conceptualisation of identity and understanding of the self has been a recurring theme throughout all of our texts thus far. The quote above from page 59 of “Cereus Blooms at Night” draws attention to a moment where Pohpoh is eavesdropping on her mother as she is making plans to leave with Lavinia. It is insinuated that Pohpoh’s mother (Sarah) is romantically/sexually involved with Lavinia at this point, and that adds to the urgency with which they are trying to leave town. Besides the obstacle of being married to a man, Pohpoh’s mother faces judgment and social ostracization if she chooses to stay and pursue these desires with another woman. On the other hand, she risks denying an important part of her identity if she chooses to stay and continue her relationship with Pohpoh’s father.
We don’t get much of Pohpoh’s mother in the story (at least comparatively to other characters), but this moment on page 59 – “either we do it now or we will never be able to” – immediately reminded me of a song by my favorite band, The Front Bottoms. In their song “Maps,” they say, “‘…what about your friends, / Don’t you love them enough to stay?’ / And I say, ‘If I don’t leave now, / Then I will never never get away.’” This question, “what about your friends, don’t you love them enough to stay?” points to a similar dilemma in Sarah and Lavinia’s quest to run away together. In the moment on pg 59 where they are making the plan to leave, they also spend time questioning the logistics of bringing the children along and whether it is worth it to go. Ultimately it comes down to the importance of staying true to the self– Sarah and Lavinia, regardless of the fact that they are forced to leave the kids (Pohpoh and Asha) behind because of the father, decide that they must leave in order to live their truth together and fully embrace their queerness. It is a difficult question that gets raised here about the kind of sacrifices that have to be made sometimes in order to live authentically, especially in a world that encourages conformity.
The Front Bottoms have been a huge part of my life for years, particularly in relation to the journey of self-discovery; their songs are very raw with emotion (which is evident both in the writing and in the way the words are sung) and feel very authentic, which I think is one of the biggest goals when it comes to determining a sense of self. This sense of urgency is evident both in this part of the song and in Sarah and Lavinia’s decision to embrace their queerness despite societal expectations of heteronormativity and the threat of rumors, etc. Both of these passages highlight what I think could be a common thread within queer identity, which is the weighing of authenticity over expectations. Is it more important to embrace the parts of you that are not accepted by others/do not fit with social expectations and live authentically? Or should you live your life trying to fit into what others expect of you? The answer seems more often to be the former, but in my experience seems to happen after a long period of being forced to deny parts of yourself in favor of keeping to social norms. Eventually there comes a point where you have to shed these pressures and live for yourself, because “either [you] do it now or [you] will never be able to.”