We Met in a Foreign City

“I became the earth, her instrument- smoothened and dug and brought forth- but I wrote her powers into her, and played her every night. The mornings were rushed and secret, bordered on all sides with commerce, but at night I made her stretch across me until we filled most open places I could imagine in this world.” (Stinson)

I find myself going back to this section, it was difficult to choose what quote to write about. If it were possible I would have chosen the whole section to discuss the impact Stinson’s words had on me. Growing up, when I questioned my sexuality, I would immediately push the thought to the back of my mind. I found myself thinking about femme bodies and because I didn’t know queer people in my community, I spent 16 years unaware of a part of my identity. After I began organizing, all of the spaces had queer, trans, and non binary people, I learned about pronouns and the different terms. That is when I began feeling more comfortable in questioning who I was. Fast forward to college, I was in an open relationship with a rising senior who went abroad. It was my first non monogamous relationship and I was in Detroit, MI for a political convention. That’s where I met Nico. I had no idea who this person was but I remember being starstruck by their appearance, the way they carried themselves. Our first interaction was electric, we were like two teenagers teasing each other, horsing around and stepping on each other’s shoes. I fell harder than I had ever fallen. I ended things with my ex, I realized that everything I wanted was offered to me elsewhere and I chose to recognize my value. I indulged myself in another femme body. I relate to the sensation of being intertwined with the body of my lover, the way one is in awe as you watch your lover do anything. The feelings came over me and nearly two years later, I still feel the same way. To admire a body that mirrors mine is to be present. I think Susan Stinson’s strongest description is in the section, the way the details are unfolded and the infatuation is captured allows readers like myself to paint the images and understand just how strong of a hold someone can have on you. It was a gravitational pull and I also relate to the experience of leaving a heterosexual relationship for a queer one. Once you look and see the art that is your partner, it would be blasphemous to try to look back. 

Fun Home connections

For this class-substitute exercise, I simply want us to make some connections across texts.  So follow one of these options:

A) If you were not part of the discussion on Monday that talked about Gloria Anzaldúa’s excerpt, leave a short comment here pointing to something that struck you about her essay.  Then, come to class Thursday ready to make a connection to Fun Home. 

B) If you are not going to attend class Thursday to talk about José Muñoz’s excerpt in class, leave a short comment here pointing to something that struck you about his essay.  Then, make a connection to Fun Home.  How do you see his work about futurity at play in our novel?

C) If you participate in both Monday and Thursday’s classes, no need to leave a comment 🙂

Not Looking for a Shipwreck and Romeo and Juliet

I don’t like the idea of coming out, it just isn’t for me, personally. So, once I realized I am queer, and that narrowing down to a more precise label felt tedious, I simply shrugged my shoulders and continued on. Looking back, I wish that I could say thank you to my younger self for many things, but mostly for that fearless moment of self-acceptance. Since that moment there has been doubt and fear and tears and courage and laughter. But there was a period of time where none of that existed. I just swam along, loving the heat of the sun and the feel of the water sliding around me—the bubble that I lived in, which kept me close to the surface. Now that this is past, I find myself pulled back to this time, and to Diving into the Wreck. If I could show this poem—and my interpretation of the slow, exploratory dive that allows the diver to swim down and face them self, a mirror at the bottom of the ocean—to my younger self, I think she would say, “Well, I haven’t read the book of myths, I’m not really interested in photography right now, and I’m not sure what I would ever do with a knife, much less diving equipment. I’m not prepared, I won’t be going deeper any time soon, and that is fine.”

The thing is, I was already swimming. I was already in the water, I had no boat to decide to climb off of, so I didn’t really notice when I started to drift down. The moment I started to slide was, and it’s almost too cliché, a two week long in-class reading of Romeo and Juliet. I was Juliet and another girl was Romeo and it was beyond embarrassing for reasons I did not understand at the time. I knew that I was queer and yet I did not apply that knowledge to my actual life. Romeo invited Juliet to the opening night of the play she was in, but Juliet was too nervous to go. I certainly wasn’t looking for the wreck, for the unseen truths it would offer me, and therefore I only found the myth. The myth that absolutely nothing had to change about my life because I recognized my queerness. As wonderful this recognition was it was not the same as coming to terms with it, with the freedom of change. This myth was so captivating, but I had swum deep enough to understand that it was only one layer, a color gradient in the water.

Through personal and academic study and lived experience I’ve spiraled deeper and deeper, but I wonder if discovering the wreck is something that I will knowingly do. I definitely need to live a lot more before I even consider thinking that I am approaching it. Maybe, like my understanding of the importance of this memory which only came to me now that it is in the past, I will one day remember that I came looking for the wreck only to discover I’m already looking back at it.

The importance of Martha Moody and childhood


In creating Martha Moody, the children’s book icon, the hero who can fight anyone and do anything, Amanda is writing into existence a new mythology that pulls from existing mythology. Amanda, as someone raised to be biblical and god-fearing, knows the stories of the bible as well as anyone; at times they become the rocks she uses to support herself. As she begins her path away from being the Highly Christian Good Wife, she doesn’t stray away from the biblical stories, only the teachings that contradict her desires. The stories remain the rock which gives inspiration to the adventures of Martha Moody.

When I first imagined the stories of Martha Moody I couldn’t help but think back to my own experiences of reading Calvin and Hobbes. At face value, they seem like incredibly different types of stories, and as we only read parts of Martha Moody (whatever Amanda has just written), it’s hard to know exactly how the stories read to the children buying them. If nothing else, Martha Moody is all print, and Calvin and Hobbes is a comic. However, the substance of the stories share similarities.

Martha Moody is a wild and adventurous woman, who’s unapologetically female and fat, and she’s respected as a whole being, not despite her physical appearance. She has Azreal, her angelic cow who protects her and stands by her. Calvin is a young boy and Hobbes is his stuffed tiger who accompanies him on all the trouble and mischief he gets into. Hobbes isn’t godly or all-powerful like Azreal, but he is highly philosophical and often is a voice of logic (if not reason) for Calvin.

The stories are not the same – Calvin “transmogrifying” himself into a tiny dinosaur, or creating an evil twin are less dramatic than the stories Martha Moody gets into. Amanda wrote Martha Moody into whatever situation she was feeling Real Martha deserved at the time, and as such some are far less nice to Martha than anything Calvin goes through.

I think the place where I connect Calvin and Martha is the relatability. When I read Calvin and Hobbes as a young child, I was obsessed because I saw a version of myself. I saw this young child with a huge imagination and a desire to play with his tiger and create his own world, where a cardboard box has a thousand uses. He didn’t want to play with other kids who cared about organized sports and he would rather fight an army of killer mutant snowmen than do his math homework. I felt a similarity between myself and Calvin (and later in life, Hobbes), and I can only imagine the impact it would have if the stories I read included a big girl, with big red hair, instead of a little boy.


Let’s talk about sex (or not)

“All too commonly, people think not only that their own way of living is right, but that it should be everyone else’s moral standard as well.” — Warner, 4

“It seldom occurs to anyone that the dominant culture and its family environment should be held account­able for creating the inequalities of access and recognition that produce this sense of shame in the first place.” — Warner, 8

I have seen myself in a lot of our readings throughout this class (I am sure this is the case for a lot of queer people in a class about identity). This sense that I was reading stories and reflections from people very similar to myself started with our first(?) reading: “The Trouble With Normal.” Warner writes about theories of sexual shame, repression, and heteronormative assumptions/societal expectations. As a queer person who was raised in a Catholic family, I am very familiar with the guilt and shame associated with sex/sexuality, as well as the repression (of identity) that follows. Assigning a level of morality to sexual activity in general, or to certain sexual orientations, is often rooted in religious beliefs that sex is something sacred between a man and a woman– and in my experience, is to be saved for marriage and for the purpose of reproduction. A question I have wondered myself and that is posed in Warner’s writing is “why were they so driven to control something that we now recognize as harmless, and by definition not our business?” (pg 4). This is in reference to masturbation, but is applicable to lots of different things that individuals can be shamed for– i.e. having sex at all, experiencing same-sex attraction, or otherwise acting/presenting outside of the norm. Why is there this need, in so many aspects of society, to control things that don’t affect the person trying to control them? This is also directly applicable to my family: why does it matter to them how I identify my sexuality, choose to dress, tattoo my body, or plan my future? It was expected that I would fit into this box of what my parents envisioned, a box that is firmly heteronormative and socially acceptable. 

Relatedly, the quotes above suggest not only that “people think not only that their own way of living is right, but that it should be everyone else’s moral standard as well,” (pg 4), but that this belief creates and further enforces shame surrounding sexual variance. The “dominant culture and its family environment” (pg 8) can be what ultimately feeds queer children in particular this notion that they aren’t “normal,” or that their desires should be hidden. This can continue into adulthood as well, and isn’t limited to queer folks– the notion that any sex at all is shameful can be a very harmful narrative. My Catholic family taught me (either directly or by implication) that sex was not to be done or talked about unless it was in the context of marriage (between a man and woman) and reproduction, which left me to learn sex education from my public school (not a great set-up either) because my family simply ignored its existence. I was never given space to explore nor did I ever think to question my sexuality until I attended college. 

“The term “repression” is often applied retrospectively in this way. There is a catch-22 of sexual shame; you don’t think of yourself as repressed until after you’ve made a break with repression.” — Warner, 8

I feel like this quote accurately represents my experience with learning about sex and sexuality. I wasn’t aware of feeling repressed (or even being closeted) until years after leaving the repressive environment and learning about my bisexual identity from peers, college courses, social media, and through therapy (which is where a lot of these so-called “break[s] with repression” happened). Ultimately, the assumption by my family that I would be straight and not sexually active only served to create an idealized version of me which only ever existed before I learned to question social norms and repressive religious beliefs. This has had lasting effects on my sense of self, and on what parts of my identity I feel comfortable sharing with my family (or not, out of the fear of not being understood or fully accepted).

Booooooo to Unrealistic Expectations

Societal expectations are often contradicting; especially in the sense of expressing individuality, yet being expected to conform to a societal standard of ‘normality.’ In Susan Stinson’s novel, “Martha Moody,” there is a specific moment that articulates this contradiction when Amanda is harshly criticized for her appearance.

““Have you lost all Christian decency?” I shrugged and kept walking, but my face burned… She turned her horse to look after me. “We pray for you.” I stopped and breathed the dust I’d kicked up, then turned to face her. I thought I was going to thank her with quiet sarcasm, I thought I was just tucking the long tail of John’s shirt, but my hands had grown bolder since I had been on my own, and they pulled the shirt tails out of my waistband and lifted them to show Theda my white belly where in the public of the road. Theda looked at me impassively, as if she were made of salt… “You’re a lunatic,” then (Theda) headed into town. I didn’t bother to tuck in my shirt, but let if flap the whole way home” (126-127).

         In this passage, Theda is acting out the role of society by criticizing Amanda for expressing herself simply because the way of expression is not ‘decent’ or ladylike. Not to mention the subtle stab at Amanda’s large body. This is problematic because when people are told to be true to themselves, it appears to only be acceptable when a person’s true self is suitable to unrealistic expectations; in this case, having a skinny body. A parallel example is the expectation of being a heterosexual individual. The contradiction is found when a non-heterosexual individual is told (by society, family, friends, etc.) to be themselves, yet since society is so heteronormative, anybody outside of that box is at a disadvantage.

I felt very connected to this theme because I’ve been struggling with figuring out how I’m supposed to express myself freely, while also feeling like I have to fit into the heteronormative stereotype. I identify as queer, and when I first told my mom, she seemed accepting and nonjudgmental. However, in a later conversation that I had with her, she said, “you probably shouldn’t be telling everyone” and “you’ll have to decide at some point how you want to be perceived” and “you’ll have to choose what you want your family to look like and who you want to marry.” These comments made me feel like I should hide my true self, and instead conform to an expectation that is not meant for me. She had always taught me that it doesn’t matter what other people think and that I should always be true myself, yet when my true self was different from her expectation (and society’s for that matter), that message disappeared in an instant. She claimed that she was saying these things because she didn’t want me to get hurt, possibly similar to how Theda said that she prays for Amanda; in a way that indirectly suggests that I change and conform. However, I have absolutely no need to change myself in order to cater to an expectation that I will never fit into. I will continue to express my true self throughout my life. And like Amanda, I will flaunt my authentic self in front of those who discourage me and carry on holding my head up high.

“Acceptable” and Fat Phobia

“I’m a part-time fatso – Fat one minute and just a big boy the next. Jerked dizzyingly between genders, between ways of difference, I’m never sure whether I’m going to be acceptable or not. Even while I am working like crazy to make a world in which we’re all acceptable no matter what size we are, I am sometimes, even still, reduced to asking for a Coke just to see for sure what gender someone thinks I am” Bergman 142).

The above passage is from S. Bear Bergman’s article Part-Time Fatso in which they discuss how their “fatness” changes based on which gender they are perceived to be. When Bergman is perceived to be a woman, then they are fat, however, when they are believed to be a man they are simply a “big boy” despite their actual weight never changing. It is through this example from their own life and experiences that Bergmen discusses the ways in which gender norms affect perceived fatness. Women, confined but certain standards of beauty (which often means thinness) therefore are held to stricter expectations of weight, and less allowances for “deviant” weight (i.e. not thinness) are made. However, for men, it is an unstated expectation of society that they are supposed to take up space. Men are supposed to be big, muscular, and tall while women are supposed to be petit, caring, and take up as little space as possible. Due to this base expectation, it is more normal for a man to take up more physical space which pushes the line of “deviant” weight or fatness to a further extreme than with women. As someone who then oscillates from being perceived as a man and as a woman, Bergman oscillates between being fat and not being fat. 

The expectation that women are supposed to take up less space and be thin leads to much regulation of their bodies and body shaming, such as is prevalent in diet culture. This is what Bergman is referring to when they say they are, “even still, reduced to asking for a Coke just to see for sure what gender someone thinks” they are. This is because when a waiter reads Bergman as female, and they ask for a coke, the assumption the waiter makes is that Bergman is fat and therefore as a fat woman must be on a diet and actually have asked for a diet coke, or that they should be drinking a diet coke instead in an attempt to lose weight. This does not happen when a waiter reads Bergman as a man because as a man, Bergman is not fat. 

These behaviors are based on incredibly ingrained fatphobia within our society, which takes a heavy toll on everyone, fat or not. In Bergman’s case, though they discuss a lot of their experiences explicitly in the article it is the phrase in the above excerpt that reads, “I’m never sure whether I’m going to be acceptable or not” that sheds the most light on how fatphobia affects them. Bergman uses the word “acceptable” not accepted. This is a small difference, simply the difference of an end suffix but the implications are different. The word accepted would make the sentence mean that Bergman does not know if they will be accepted by the people they encounter- this is a judgment made by the other people and does not question Bergman’s innate value. However “acceptable” implies the ability to be accepted and questions whether it is possible for them to be accepted, which questions an innate aspect of Bergman themself. By not knowing if they will be acceptable, there is an implication that one’s level of worth is dependent upon if one is perceived as fat or not. While this is not true it is a rhetoric that society perpetuates and that many of us, myself included, have unwillingly taken to heart and are working to undo. 

Re-Visioning the Bible in Martha Moody

“Re-vision – the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction – is for women more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival.” (Adrienne Rich, “‘When We Dead Awaken’: Writing as Re-Vision,” 11)

Martha Moody is rich with reimagined Bible stories, both within the story proper and Amanda’s own writing. As Amanda writes her own stories, she combines, alters, and revises biblical stories to give them a new meaning. Between pages 121-124, Amanda presents a story about Martha Moody, Azreal the winged cow, and a group of men outside Martha’s store; this story contains biblical references to the golden calf (Exodus 32), to Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22), and it even presents Martha as a Christ figure at the end. The way Amanda reimagines the golden calf story is especially interesting to me, and it fits well with Adrienne Rich’s claim that the act of “re-vision… is an act of survival,” as Amanda takes a violent story and rewrites its ending to ensure everyone survives.

In the biblical account, Moses, leader of the Israelite nation, has gone up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, leaving his brother, the head priest Aaron, in charge of the people. As they wait for Moses to return, the people grow impatient and uncertain as to what has happened to Moses, and finally ask Aaron to make them a new god. Aaron commands them to give him all their gold jewelry and proceeds to melt it down and form it into an idol in the shape of a calf. Upon returning to the camp, Moses sees the calf and the people worshipping it; Exodus 32:20 describes his reaction: “And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.” Though harsh, this is not the Israelites’ only punishment. Moses stands at the outskirts of the camp and calls, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me” (Ex. 32:26). He commands everyone who follows him to “go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor” (Ex. 32:27). Three thousand people die as a result. However, this still isn’t enough: “the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Ex. 32:35).

Amanda uses elements from this story in her own writing, but her re-vision of it replaces Aaron with Martha Moody. The Israelites’ demand “Come, make us gods who will go before us” (Ex. 32:1) becomes the men of the town asking Martha, “Could you give us an image of God we could care about?” (Stinson 122). This request is, itself, a desire for re-vision – for a new image of God in a form that suits the people’s wants and needs. Azreal (in Islam theology, the angel of death; in Amanda’s stories, a winged cow) joins Martha and tells her, echoing Exodus, “Tell them to take off their golden earrings and bring them to you” (122). In a move that reminds the reader of modern heteronormative gender standards, the sheriff hears this and responds, “Um, Ma’am. None of us wear earrings. If you could wait for us to go home and talk to our wives, we could come up with a pile of gold, I’d guarantee” (122). It is at this point that the two stories diverge in a drastic way. Where the Exodus account shows a horrific massacre and a plague, Amanda’s story diminishes the violence; though the men are still ‘punished’ for their request in a way, there is no plague, no massacre, no death. Instead, watches, guns, spurs, coins, and belt buckles rise up in the air as if by magnetic force and pull the men into “a squirming pile… stuck together by the metal on their persons” (123). As they lie stuck together on the ground, the men witness another reimagined Old Testament story, as Martha and Azreal wrestle each other and evoke the image of Jacob wrestling with God. The wrestling match concludes with Martha flying away on Azreal’s back. As the two of them disappear, “the men found that they could untangle themselves, and they went home with whatever guns and watches they found stuck in their pockets” (124).

Returning to Adrienne Rich’s idea of re-vision as an act of survival, I think it is significant that Amanda references the story of the golden calf in her own writing. She takes a story set in a patriarchy and replaces the primary male figure with a woman shopkeeper; furthermore, she takes a violent, death-filled story and changes the ending to ensure everyone survives. While Rich’s arguments center around the survival of real women writers in a patriarchal society, her idea can be re-visioned to address the way Amanda’s stories are a reimagining of biblical accounts.

Safety and Normalcy

I came out at 14, and I wasn’t scared. I’m fortunate enough to have parents who treated the announcement of my queerness like the announcement of my favorite color. It was a part of me and that was that. Years later, I had a conversation with my mother about when I came out, and about queerness in general. She told me that while she would never change me or my identity when I came out to her, she had a moment of fear. She said, “For a moment my heart sank because I knew that your life just became less safe.” I was less safe because I had admitted that I wasn’t normal. That unfortunate equivalency stems directly from the stigmas that result in microaggressions and violence. Warner, in The Trouble with Normal, calls this stigmatization a sense of pseudo-morality where “people think not only that their own way of living is right, but that it should be everyone else’s moral standard as well” (Warner, 4.) This sense of correctness and self-righteousness is easy for individuals to defend, cherry-picking passages of religious text or warping secular arguments to provide a sense of evidence. This perceived moral high ground provides the precipice where people outside the bounds of normal stand. If I stray from heteronormativity in public, I risk verbal or physical abuse. Even an act as simple as holding my partner’s hand on public transportation could incite a violent reaction from someone who perceives my existence as immoral. And, perhaps even worse, if I were to experience violence based on my sexuality and expression of it, in some places my attacker might never face repercussions. They could plead a case of panic, say that the shock of my queerness led them to their actions and that they cannot be held accountable for that abuse. And some judges and juries that would allow that because to them it is not unreasonable that my perceived lack of morality should incite violence. In a way, I become the criminal, although my “crime might be harmless difference” (Warner, 5) and I am shamed and deprived of dignity. However, that shame and fear also deprive me of my identity. My life is less safe because I maintain my identity, but my life would not be mine if I did not.