“So what’s it like—Ancash stopped. He began again. So what’s it like fucking him now?
Degrading, said Geryon
without pause and saw Ancash recoil from the word.
I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that,
said Geryon but Ancash was gone across the garden. at the door he turned.
There is one thing I want from you.
Want to see you use those wings.” (Carson 144).
This section of chapter 45, titled “Photographs: Like and Not Like”, shows Ancash slapping and then confronting Geryon about his few sexual encounters with Herakles since reuniting in Argentina. Ancash is Herakles’ new boyfriend, and so, he is acting out in jealousy. The defensive, bitter tone that Ancash begins the dialogue with drops once Geryon replies “degrading” to Ancash’s question: So what’s it like fucking him now? (Carson 144). From both their shared and individual experiences with Herakles, Ancash realizes his jealousy is misplaced. Geryon is not the problem, but Herakles is because of his oversexual, immature personality. Herakles does not realize the effects of his actions on others, or he could simply not care. Nevertheless, he does not stop to consider Geryon’s or Ancash’s perspective on sex-whether it is commitive or casual. This is why when Geryon and Herakles start having sex Herakles says “what’s wrong? Jesus I hate it when you cry, What is it?” and, as a result, Geryon does not verbalize his thoughts about falling out of love with Herakles (Carson 141).
Also in this moment, Ancash makes space for Geryon’s monster identity to “soar.” By this, I mean explore his identity, which is set up earlier when Ancash tells Geryon the lore of volcanoes and eyewitnesses, and then reclaim it. When Geryon removed his coat before bed, Ancash physically saw his monstrosity—his wings—but now in this particular section of dialogue he sees Geryon as his own self in a way that Herakles could not. Ancash even goes further to empower and challenge Geryon to reveal a part of himself that he has worked hard to keep hidden. Ancash wants “to see you [Geryon] use those wings.” (Carson 144). This narrative arc of Geryon’s self-realization and Ancash’s friendship to him highlights the ways in which experiences of queer identity and monstrosity are linked and overlapped.
For years in the town of Lantanacamara, Asha and Mala Ramchandin silently suffered sexual abuse from their father. On this colonized island, Christianity is now the main religion and the people embrace its values and principles on this colonized land. In Cereus Blooms at Night, Shani Mootoo describes the feelings and attitudes held by the townspeople toward Chandin Ramchandin and his sinful (but not confessed nor publicly condemned) behavior: “While many shunned him there were those who took pity, for he was once the much respected teacher of the Gospel, and such a man would take to the bottle and to his own child, they reasoned, only if he suffered some madness. And, they further reasoned, what man would not suffer a rage akin to insanity if his own wife, with a devilish mind of her own, left her husband and children” (195). This quote shows that while the town was knowledgeable of the abuse these girls suffered, they not only ignored and suppressed this reality but justified it. Mootoo’s use of the words “reasoned” and “further reasoned” explains how Mr. Ramchandin’s sin is covered up and excused while Sarah’s and Lavinia’s is not (195). Chandin’s Christian upbringing, thanks to the Thoroughly family, allows for his once very high respect to still be somewhat maintained throughout the town. Sarah and Lavinia’s escape positions Chandin as a victim: this was something that happened to him, not something he may have caused. As Mootoo puts it, they took “pity” (195).
The continual rape of Asha and PohPoh is the misdirected punishment meant for their aunt and mother. But, due to their absence, the girls take their place. This can be explained by the Christian doctrine that all sin must be atoned for. According to the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus took humanity’s place on the cross to die for humanity’s sins. Essentially, the idea states that the world’s debt would always be there and had to be paid, so it really was a matter of who would suffer and die in order to fulfill that payment. Jesus is the answer to atonement in Christian myth. This logic/doctrine can be applied to this passage in which the town of Lantanacamara justified Chandin’s abuse. It is Sarah, with her “devilish mind,” that caused this, not Mr. Ramchandin (195). In this way, he is partially absolved from responsibility for his own actions. He is the one that plays god in this trinity of sin, punishment, and atonement. He is only suffering “some madness”—this language implies a space for empathy—while Sarah and Lavinia were committing a sin that has no reasoning for justification as a result of homophobia in the Christian tradition (195).
Terms and definitions for various genders and sexualities are important to non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people and queer theorists. Every letter in the acronym LGBTQ+ represents a different word with a different definition, but it’s not just a definition. These words give language to describe the identities of real people. Since LGBTQ+ is a bit of a mouthful to say and does not necessarily encompass every non-cishet identity even with the expanded LGBTQQIAAP acronym, the term “queer” has been used as a broad substitute in order to include all people who fall outside of heteronomativiy.
In Queer Time and Place by Judith Halberstam, he suggests that “if we try to think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic pratices, we detach queerness from sexual identity and come closer to understanding Foucault’s comment in ‘Friendship as a Way of Life’ that ‘homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex’” (1). As the definition of the word queer becomes more inclusive of time, space, and economy instead of gender and sexuality, it expands the definition and experience of being queer in a heternormative world. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition of queer as an adjective means “strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric,” and another definition describes it as slang for one who is “conspiculously or flamboyantly homosexual.” These two definitions of queer as an adjective are being used in both ways in Halberstam’s argument.
While he says to “detach queerness from sexual identity,” the multiple meanings of this word, and these two provided in particular, cannot be separated (1). Halberstam’s queer definition is expansive, not exclusionary of the basis for why the queer community is called such in the first place. In contrast to this statement, the use of the word queer when referring only to gender and sexuality can reduce the other nonconforming aspects of a queer person’s life experience. This is why Halberstam cites Michel Foucault: “‘homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex’” (1). There are aspects of queer life in regards to gender and sexuality that affect other aspects of life such as time, space, and economy that are not experienced in the same way from a cisgender, heterosexual person to a queer person. For example, the heteronormative time of life as Halberstam notes progresses as such: “birth, marriage, reproduction, and death” (2). The duration it takes to reach these life milestones or the absence of their achievement may be ways in which queer temporalities are created. Additionally, these life moments fuel capitalism. Jobs hire you expecting you to work until retirement which is about 40 years. A queer life cut short by disease cannot be afforded in a system dependent on human labor. Furthermore, the fact that same-sex couples cannot naturally reproduce or do not utilize scientific advancements to have their own children also do not follow this expected life schedule that has served heterosexual couples forever.
Halberstam allows the reader to consider and rethink the definitions and connotations of the word queer and what that does for aspects of life not immediately related to sexuality and gender.
The focus and title of this novel is centered around the body. Jeanette Winterson uses the word “body” four times in the first paragraph of page 178. The first three uses seem to address Louise’s body, her dying and eventually dead body. The second to last sentence is about the proximity of bodies–Louise and the narrator’s. The last line in the paragraph says “This is the body where your name is written” (Winterson 178). The word “written”, like the word “body”, is also included in the title. This prompts the question of what Winterson means by “written” or the act of writing on a “body.” I think that this action of writing isn’t literal but a literary way of symbolizing the marks people leave on eachother. For the narrator of Written on the Body, Louise is the one who has left a mark on the narrator and their life. And if writing is just a symbol, then so is the body, or rather, the body is a physical extension of the soul/consciousness in each human being. Winterson wants readers to focus on the body because this passage says that this “written on the body” is “passing into the hands of strangers.” Because Louise is dying/dead, one can understand that those involved in the cleaning, embalming, and dressing up this body are “the hands of strangers,” but what can also be noted is the ambiguity of this sentence. “This body where your name is written” could also be the narrator’s, and so the hands of these strangers may also be the narrator’s other lovers. “You [Louise] were intimate with every muscle, privy to the eyelids moving in sleep” (Winterson 178). Here, there is an understanding of two bodies that are in close and intimate, almost sacred, proximity, that makes the hands of these strangers possibly a violation of that intimacy between two bodies. These two sentences evoke emotions of possession and jealousy, but also grief as the state of the body being discussed is a decaying one. In the larger context of the novel, this is just one example of the language related to writing/reading and its relationship to the focus of the physical, bodily, corporeal, carnal, and mortal description and reality of Louise and the narrator’s affair.