Storytelling Therapy

Even though the novels/plays we have read in class, at first glance, do not appear to have a lot in common with each other, all of them deal with the importance of telling a story. Telling their story, and how it affected those around them, is the only way Gallimard (M. Butterfly), Tyler and Mala (Cereus Blooms at Night), D. Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), and the unnamed narrator of Written on the body have in order to cope. As Tyler realizes in Cereus Blooms at Night, the other options for “those of us, feeling unsafe and unprotected [are] either […] running far away from everything we know and love, or staying and simply going mad” (Mootoo 90).

Had Jeckyll found a way to share his story before trying to cast off “the doom and burthen of [his] life” (Stevenson 43), maybe he would have found a way to cope with his ‘dark side’, instead of creating Hyde. However, because he was too scared to share his story in order to be “relieved of all that was unbearable” (43) Hyde was created, and Jekyll had to go through the horror of his doom and burthen returning “with more unfamiliar and more awful pressure” (43). In the End, the only way he could cope, could die with a feeling of release, was by sharing his story with Utterson.

In a similar way, Mala might have been able to escape her father’s abuse, had she not kept quiet about it. In the end, Tyler shares her story with the world, as she is not able to, offering her and him, as their stories are intertwined, a chance for release – a chance to cope with their past and present. Tyler realizes the importance for Mala to tell her story, in order to reconnect with her sister. What he does not realize at first however, is the importance for him to tell his own story. In the preface he makes clear that his “own intention, as the relater of this story, is not to bring notice to [himself] or [his] own plight” but then goes on to ask the reader to “forgive the lapses […] and read them with the understanding that to have erased them would have been to do the same to [himself]” (Mootoo 3). He needs to tell his own story in order to cope with his difference, and to explain how Mala played part in his journey to find his own gender identity.

Telling their stories helps both Jekyll and Tyler to come to terms with who they are and that they cannot change that, no matter how hard they try to be something/someone else, something ‘normal’, something ‘better’.




The Desire of Being a Woman

When reading Fun Home there are many ideas that come to mind especially in terms of sexuality and the sexual identities of the main characters. The father likes to dress up in other woman’s clothing and can be viewed through a different lens because of this, as a cross dresser but never as woman. Alison is actual a woman and so she is obviously viewed differently than her father. One scene that shows the lens she is viewed through is when they are at the diner and they see the woman dressed  in a masculine manner, she is not seen as a traditional woman because of this. What this made me think of the entire time was how women are viewed throughout the world and where are they more respected. What lens are they viewed through in different parts? The video below shows some of the best and worst and places to be a woman in the world currently, taking into account things such as maternity leave. In Yemen it is very difficult for a woman to divorce her husband because of their laws, while clearly shows the lack of respect for woman. The lens they are viewed through is not positively. In Fun Home Alison is viewed through a positive lens in the eyes on her parents but how is she seen in the outside world?




What Are The Best & Worst Places To Be A Woman?

You’ve Been Catfished


One of the most difficult questions we are left with after reading M Butterfly is how did Gallimard not notice that Song was a man?  Or, if he did notice and not say anything, what does that say about Gallimard?  As a fan of trashy television shows, I’ve often asked myself similar questions while watching the show “Catfish” on MTV.   The show revolves around the concept of online dating and the eternal question that goes along with it: how do you know that the person you’re “dating” is who they say they are?  “Catfish” follows the stories of individuals who have never met their significant other in person.   The climax of each episode is when the couple finally meets and one of two things happens; either they both are who they say they are and they live happily ever after or one of them is not at all as their online profile displayed them and the other is devastated.

Both M Butterfly and “Catfish” question the idea of love and what it is about someone that we fall in love with.  Whereas M Butterfly focuses mostly on gender (is Gallimard gay because he fell in love with a man?) “Catfish” gives us perspective on race, age, economic status, and whatever else makes up a person’s identity.  In each of these cases, both with M Butterfly and in every episode of “Catfish,” before the truth of the beloved is found out, the person that the story follows believes him/herself to be madly in love.  However, when they find out that the person they love isn’t who they thought he/she was, more often than not they return home, heartbroken and empty handed.  So if these people are falling in love with personalities on the internet but the personalities don’t match the bodies imagined to go with them, are these people really falling in love?  We like to imagine that we fall in love with a soul, not a body, but if difference between a 22-yr old Caucasian body and a 25-year old African American body is what makes or breaks the relationship, can we claim that love is blind?  It is interesting to question M Butterfly through this lens.  If Gallimard claims to be in love with Song, when looking at it through this lens, we have to assume he is also in love with Song’s body.  Assuming at some point he would have run into some indication that Song is a man, perhaps we can assume that Gallimard is gay, or at least bi-curious.  An interesting twist on this is in the movie when Song strips down in front of Gallimard and begs Gallimard to love him.  However, in the movie, Gallimard seems disgusted by Song’s male body, much like the participants of “Catfish.”  Using the lens of “Catfish,” we are able to see what sorts of characteristics (gender, race, etc.) influence love and can even take priority over pure chemistry.

The How-To Guide for Choosing a Gender: DIY!

“How to become a real man, a real woman, the real you, or something else entirely.” (Bornstein, cover page)

This fabulously ironic subtitle on Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook is suggestive of a naïve societal notion.  The notion that: if one does not conform to society’s expectations of their gender role, then they are not a “real” male/female.  Bornstein presents this assumption, alluding to the fact that her workbook is going to help people fit the “norm,” when in reality it completely goes against this norm.

In the case of Tyler from Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night, Bornstein’s Workbook acts as a lens to see more deeply into his situation.  According to the synopsis found on the back of Mootoo’s novel, Tyler is a “vivacious male nurse.”  Bornstein would say that the assumption of his gender is an unfair one.  The synopsis is often one of the first things that a reader reads to get a sense of the plot and content of a novel.  In this case, the reader is told that Tyler is a male, perhaps before they even start reading the book, eliminating the ability for said reader to form their own gender for Tyler.

“I held up the dress and slowly stepped in to it, savouring every action, noting every feeling,” (Mootoo, 77).

 Perhaps (s)he could be a vivacious male who likes to dress in women’s clothing from time to time, or, Tyler could be a woman who does not usually wear dresses.  But, because of the synopsis, we automatically assume that Tyler is gay, feminine, flamboyant, and maybe transgender.  Bornstein would say that all of these assumptions are wrong.  It shouldn’t matter that Tyler is supposedly a male, because what decides that?  The fact that he has a penis?  The gender binary that exists and has existed forever, is a very limiting one and an outdated one at that.  As a society, we are collectively getting better about prejudices and preconceived assumptions about others, but one issue remains: we still notice.  We have been trained, since birth, to think:

                                                                                             penis=boy=strong/athletic/masculine=likes girls, and                                                                         vulva=girl=emotional/caring/feminine=likes boys

So, when a person with “male” anatomy puts on a feminine article of clothing, we notice that something is different.  Even if we are completely accepting of these “differences,” the fact that we acknowledge the difference shows that it still matters.

So, to draw back on Bornstein’s subtitle, is Tyler trying to become a real man, a real woman, or something else? And why should he have to choose?

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.

When asked to link a text to Fun Home I immediately thought of Cereus Blooms at Night. I did not realize how many themes the two books shared until I thought about the different reading and text we have accumulated over the semester, and realized that those two shared a great deal of things in common.

In both Cereus Blooms at Night and Fun Home the main characters fathers are emotionally disconnected in their lives. In Cereus Blooms at Night  Asha and Mala’s mother abandons them to be with another woman, a woman who they considered to be their aunt. Due to their mothers sudden leave of absence their father takes out his anger and sexual frustration on the two girls. In Fun Home Bruce Bechdel is emotionally unattached from his family. He is very distant from his family, which he expresses in silence, coldness, and occasional abusive tempers. Alison’s father was also a closeted homosexual, keeping up relations with some of his high school students. Alison’s father and Mala and Asha’s father remind a lot of each other, they are both absorbed in their own lives, misery, and insecurities that they neglect and take their problems out on their children.

Tyler and Alison share a similar struggle with their sexual identity. In fun home I feel like Alison struggles with coming to terms with who she is along with Tyler who was a lost soul up until the end of the book. In both books Tyler and Alison also look to others to help complete and figure out the story of who they are. Alison who shares more in common with her dad than she thinks and Tyler who looks to Miss Ramchandin’s story in search for his own.

Heshe? Shehe? He? She? WE? #genderprobz

Throughout the semester our class has discussed (to great lengths) the idea of gender, and gender stereotypes. Although our readings have been varied they all have had one constant idea: society sets expectations of how a male or female should act. As Kate Bornstein explains in “My Gender Workbook,” “What the doctor says you are at birth, usually determined by the presence (male) or absence (female) of a penis. Most cultures assign some permanent, immutable gender at birth” (28). This assignment can cause huge issues down the line, which is present in the novel “Cereus Blooms at Night.”

Here we are presented with Tyler, a person that identifies “neither properly man nor woman but some in-between, unnamed thing (71). However due to his presence of a penis, he is considered to and referred to as a male. This is a huge issue for Tyler, because he has grown up in a society that tells him he must be one or the other, yet he feels like he is neither. As Bornstein understands, “identity is personal; it’s what we feel our gender to be at any given moment (28).” Unfortunately Tyler is aware that his society must force him to chose one or the other, so in public he presents as male. If it was up to him, he would express himself the way he felt. Instead of just acting as he pleases, he has to actively conform to society by presenting as male, even though he feels he is not one. Bornstein would disagree with Tyler’s society on their view of gender, and find it extremely limiting and misused.

Bornstein further explains gender in relation to the gender identity by saying “the socially acceptable easy way to define one’s sexual preference or orientation (who we want to be sexual with) depends on the gender identity of our sexual partners” (28). This makes for an extremely interesting case regarding Tyler and his significant other, Otoh. Otoh, by birth, would be gender classified as a woman. He made the transition without anyone noticing to a man. He is accepted by society as a man, because he outwardly appears to be a male. Now we have Tyler- man nor woman-, and Otoh- man and woman. Although society would not accept either of their “non confining gender identities,” only accepting male or female gender representations, Bornstein would once again disagree, believing that you can be ” man or a woman or something else entirely” (28).  Although Tyler’s society is not completely accepting of gays, it is proven at the end of the novel that they are more accepting of a man dating a man, than if they had presented themselves as something completely “out of the ordinary.” This is shown through Tyler and Otoh showing public displays of affection to each other without shame. Society easily defines these two apparent men in a queer relationship, when really their gender identities and sexual preferences are way more complex than what meets the eye.

Fun Home and the Real World

Only four months earlier, I had made an announcement to my parents. I am a lesbian….Then a phone call in which dealt a staggering blow. Your father has had affairs with other men. I’d been upstaged, demoted from protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parents tragedy. (58). “

This statement comes from the main character in Fun Home, the daughter, who is trying to find herself and accept who she is. This sentiment is important in life, because we are able to see in the text, and in our own lives, these efforts being made to reveal ourselves to others, and having a challenging time doing so.  Everyone experiences this moment at some point, regardless of your age, gender, identity etc. The graphic novel portrays this character as struggling, and then liberated in discovering her sexual identity and herself.

In life, we all have moments where it comes time to reveal something personal and private, or to make a significant decision, but then some moment blocks you from doing so. This moment is when you discover that you are stronger than you think, and can handle staying quiet for the time being, or being louder than anyone in the room, depending on what you are sharing entails. This isn’t a tangible concept that we face, but it is a mentality that we go through, to become who we  are.

The reason I thought this would make a good comparison to something that each one of faces in our daily lives is because it was a secret yet to be revealed. In our lives we all have secrets that no one, or a small few know about. These type of secrets tend to change some part of who you are, for better or for worse. I was reminded about our journal entry we had to write for the previous class, and how some of us were talking about significant moments we didn’t realize were significant until we reflected on them. However, for characters like the daughter in Fun Home, her secret does change her, but in the change, she seems to be happier to announce to the world that she is a lesbian, that she has finally figured herself out for her own sake. This is why I think her self discovery relates to our every day lives, regardless of your sexual orientation, age, gender, or whatever category  in which you place yourself.


Alison in Drag

What Alison Bechdel and her father have in common goes beyond genetics. They share a common sexuality and confusion over their gender expression. Alison explains this confusion over her gender expression several times in the novel, once even begging her brothers to call her Albert instead of Alison in the cab of a tractor, “As the man showed us around, it seemed imperative that he not know I was a girl.” (113). Alison is acutely aware from a young age that this man objectifies women and that perhaps it was not safe to identify as one in his presence. Likewise, her father tells her he wanted to be a girl, recalling not only the time he dressed in a woman’s bathing suit in college (120) but also how he dressed in girl’s clothes as a child. (221). This scene is where both of them admit to having done drag and made love to people of the same gender is the closest to a mutual coming-out that they share. Face to face, this interaction is awkward, with Alison constantly looking wide-eyed and straight-ahead, communicating that she was uncomfortable during this conversation, yet intrigued by its openness.

When Alison first finds the photo of her father in the woman’s bathing suit, she assumes it is a fraternity prank as the singer from The Magnetic Fields bemoans, “I’ll never see that girl again, he did it as a gag, I’ll pine away forevermore for Andrew in drag.” in the song “Andrew in drag”. The lead singer of The Magnetic Fields, Stephin Merritt, sings about how he’ll only love Andrew in drag and how he is not attracted to other men or women, just Andrew in drag. Alison and her father never discuss being attracted to someone in drag or how much their sexualities have in common, but both reveal they have dressed in drag and wanted to be another gender, hypothetically so their sexual desires would feel more “normal”. Stephin Merritt identifies himself as male in the song but unlike Alison’s father, he is proud of his sexuality and this gives him the confidence to sing about it so openly.


Video for “Andrew in Drag” by The Magnetic Fields. Warning: video contains brief nudity and homophobic slurs.

Fun Blooms at Night

The characters in both Cereus Blooms at Night and Fun Home have bonds with others who also keeps their own truths within. For example, Tyler, the Nurses Aid at the Paradise Alms Home, is drawn to Miss Ramchandin because they both hold truths that are unknown to anyone but themselves. It is eluded throughout the entire story of Cereus Blooms at Night that Tyler is gay and this is his truth. Miss Ramchandin’s truth is held within her life story, the story of her father’s sexual abuse. In fact, Tyler uses the exploration of Mala’s story to relate and analyze his own sexuality and desires. “Miss Ramchandin and I, too, had a camaraderie: we had found our own ways and fortified ourselves against the rest of the world” (48). From the beginning of Cereus Blooms at Night, Tyler explains that he is the only person who knows the truth about Mala’s life. The whole truth. In a sense, the relationship between Mala and Tyler help each character grow and reveal their own truths. Tyler’s story becomes interwoven with Mala’s. “For there were two: one, a shared queerness with Miss Ramchandin, which gave rise to the other, my proximity to the very Ramchandin Nana herself had known of” (48). 

In Fun Home, we are presented with a bond between the author, Alison Bechdel, and her father, both of whom can identify as gay. Alison’s father grew up during a time where being homosexual was not at all accepted as a societal norm. He too, is still unsure of his sexuality and tries to hide its presence. Even when Alison shares the fact that she is a lesbian with her parents, her Dad’s only response is, “Everyone should experiment. It’s healthy” (77), and “At least you’re human. Everyone should experiment” (210). His remarks to the reveling of her truth, was insufficient to Alison. These two quotes actually come from almost paralleled events within the story. Since Fun Home is a graphic novel, we can use the pictures as well as the text to understand the feelings of Alison from this reaction from her father. The drawings on both page 77 and 201, are identical. Alison’s eyes are staring straight down diagonally, almost blank, and she is anxiously playing with the phone cord. The reader can gather that Alison is dissatisfied with her father’s reaction. This dissatisfaction, along with other clues to her father’s own homosexuality, may relate to her father’s own feelings about homosexuality, and conclude that his same sex relationships are too, just experiments.