Book Club

“Other times I sat with my book, quietly reading, but secretly waiting and hoping for this special treat. Even if I had already just eaten the same food, or even if it was some dish I did not particularly like, these tastes of my father’s food from his plate in the back room of his office had an enchantment to them that was delicious and magical, and precious. They form the fondest and closest memories I have of warm moments shared with my father. There were not many.”

My relationship with my parents, particularly my father, was always shallow. Reading this section of Zami made me have to look away from the page and breathe. An action that multiple of the texts we have read this year has compelled me to do, but this breath was particularly deep.  It was always the small memories that clung to me the hardest, and especially after his death, it is interesting to examine what remains in my mind.

I feel that every child that has a slightly estranged relationship with their father has a common thread that runs through all of their memories, an immortalized place they travel to where smiles and understanding prevailed over darkness and disconnect. For Audre Lorde, this place was her father’s office at lunch time, and for me, it was Sunday morning, sun streaming in through my mother’s lace curtains, both our feet propped up on the coffee table. My father figured himself to be a blue-collar philosopher and knower of all things important, and unsurprisingly he read voraciously. I, too, read considerably when I was a kid, but this tapered off in high school at the onset of his cancer diagnosis and the increasing severity of my schoolwork, leaving him to always complain on the weekends when I opted to go out with my friends to see a movie or get breakfast, rather than spending the morning with him in contemplative silence. But sometimes, when my plans fell through, or I felt like trying to break through his gnarled and protective exterior, we would sit on the couch and read. He favored historical fiction, Thomas Pynchon or Erik Larson, whether I would usually go for fantasy or poetry. The book itself really didn’t matter, all that did was that we were reading together, a scholar and his protégée. After a certain period of time had passed, he would mark his page, slowly turn to me, and ask, “So Lily, what do ya say?”, with a mischievous grin on his face. Then we would exchange our insights on the morning’s prose, and maybe, if I was lucky and if he was in a good enough mood, some stories. I coveted the times where I managed to squeeze a few details from him about his life before my existence and devoured every word he managed to spit out. I had to harness reading, use it as a bargaining tool in order to get what I wanted, because if he saw me expressing similar interest in the activity, it created a common ground from which to bond.

The term father can be abrasive and impassive, as illustrated by Audre’s relationship with her father and the experiences I’ve had with my own. It prioritizes family power dynamics and superiority, rather than emotional connection. The last time I referred to my father as ‘Dad’ was when I was just leaving childhood, as ‘Dad’ was far too casual for his now adult daughter to call him. Nevertheless, although my negative memories with my father tend to outweigh the positive, when I think of him, it’s always on some sunny Sunday morning as I read my latest literature, the sun pouring in to keep me company.

New York Buyers Club

When I first saw Dallas Buyers Club, I was 12 and utterly unaware. I was plunged headfirst into a foreign crisis, one that had previously been removed from my life, but one I was instantly fascinated, terrified, and empathic towards. When I first read Angels in America, I was 18 and to my own enjoyment and curiosity, equally as clueless. Kushner’s diverse and intimate portrait of the lives affected by AIDS, primarily his cross examination of what it means to identify as a gay man, expanded my awareness of the cruel nature of the epidemic past what Dallas Buyers Club had been able to teach me. Although Angels in America carries significantly more emotional texture, queer POC representation, and sociopolitical depth than the 2013 film, I found myself drawing similarities between the characters Roy Cohn and Ron Woodroof. Both individuals have a seemingly unshakable bond to a traditionally heteronormative presentation of masculinity and have their careers (one as a lawyer and one as a rodeo rider and oil driller) deeply tied to their sense of self. Despite Cohn contracting the disease through unprotected frequent sex with men and Woodroof becoming infected through drug use and interactions with female sex workers, both men express similar disdain for the homosexual community upon their diagnosis with AIDS. Considering this sentiment is painfully ironic for Roy Cohn, let us examine his diagnosis:

Roy is attempting to distance himself from the homosexual community, a community that he sees as weak, sickly and marginalized: something that a high powered lawyer can not assimilate into nor take pride in being a part of. Perhaps his most cutting statement is “Homosexuals are men who know nobody, and who nobody knows”, as Cohn’s self worth is both defined and maintained by his domination over others, and his public presence relies on fear mongering to keep those in chains silent. Considering this, his bond to the heterosexual label means he has separated the sex from the sexuality, choosing to subscribe to the outward societal characteristics of a straight man, and the fact that he ‘fucks around with guys’ is irrelevant. Ron both rejects the sex and sexuality of the gay community upon diagnosis. When the term ‘homo’ is brought up by his doctor, Ron gestures to himself, saying “Look at me. Look at me. The godamn rodeo is what you see”, citing his hyper masculine profession to defend his heterosexuality. The grouping of masculinity and heterosexuality is a generalization that Cohn and Woodroof are both guilty of making, a generalization that is fueled primarily by the epidemic’s negative coloring of the gay community via destruction. The news, although disheartening, has seemingly no effect on Woodroof’s mood, as he crudely laughs at his 30 day death sentence. Although it is not explicitly said by Cohn in the play, the two definitely share the same roguish sentiments about having a ‘faggot disease’ be the cause of their deaths. Their lives are simply too bold, too unhinged and powerful to be cut short by AIDS, and although Cohn is a lawyer and Woodroof a rodeo cowboy, he would probably give Woodroof more respect that the millions of gay men that died from the same disease.




Two Shirts, Two Skins: Masculinity and Homosexuality

“It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he’d thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack’s own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one. He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.” (Proulx, 52)

I think perhaps one of the most pertinent struggles in Brokeback Mountain is Jack and Ennis’ unyielding desire to remain ‘masculine’ by their own perception, while simultaneously justifying being in a loving homosexual relationship with each other. Considering their station in life, their rural isolated upbringings, lonely laborious jobs, and the general independent cowboy culture that is deeply woven into Proulx’s prose, Jack and Ennis have mutually agreed to completely ignore the contemplation of their own queerness. Although Jack was more forthcoming and emotional about his and Ennis’ connection, supplying daydreams of the two living together on a ranch of their own, the deep guttural fear of queer discovery and resulting violence kept their lives from developing with one another. The shirts signify so much more than just collected clothing, but rather a small crack in a harshly masculine narrative, tangible proof of Jack’s emotional loyalty to Ennis. Ennis finally allows himself to remember Brokeback Mountain, a place and time so far removed, and the desperate burying of his head into Jack’s shirt is both longing for his lover, and a world in which everything was perfect. The secluded and somber nature of the moment, Ennis standing utterly alone in Jack’s childhood bedroom, also is indicative of Ennis’s lack of ability to express emotions of desire, nostalgia, love, and loss. I also believe this is a moment of regret. Regret at his prior inability to truly tell Jack how much he means to him, and how he should have thrown his anxiety about their relationship to the wind, and at least tried to contemplate his queer identity alongside him.

The concept of ‘two skins’ vaguely gestures at the idea of soulmates, which is yet another truth that Jack’s sudden and violent death has forced him to process. But everything, Jack, the shirts, and all high-altitude fucks considered, leads back to the mountain. The mountain and it’s haunting, inescapable ‘imagined power’. The shirts are a historical relic of an era that is hungrily remembered and insistently chased after, it’s a memory of when their relationship was acceptable, because nobody was watching. Ennis’ belief that homosexual love and masculinity are not mutually exclusive is distilled within the depths of the mountain, as their private, uninterrupted love was what Ennis could handle, and perhaps more importantly, what society could allow.



Shackled by Fear, Amongst Other Things

(Auto)biography of Mad was quite possibly the most intriguing poem I have ever read. I shake my head now, to think I initially scrolled by it thinking it was references for the introduction, or for some reason, creatively placed footnotes. The entirety of the selected poems held me with a feeling of intense interest and strangely captivating sorrow, as if I was mourning heavily the loss of someone I never knew, but what drew my eyes so closely to (Auto)biography of Mad was its manipulation of form. The choice by Driskill to formulate a poem around something so sterile and unforgiving seemed contrary to the very goals of poetics itself, so the ingenuity pleased as much as it confused me. As I began to read the poem, I thought that perhaps it was engineered to be ignored, scrolled past without care, as many of the issues it describes are when they take place in native communities. But it was impossible to look away from a particular section, one about fear-


of being watched, 4, 14,

26, 28;

of bleach, 4, 14, 26-28;

of body, 109;

of fireworks, 1997, 1999;

of flat people who hide under bathtubs, 135;

of hairs on the backs of

hands, 14;

of loud noises, 19-28;

of men, 4, 14,46, 128;

of pencils, ix, 4, 14, 26-28;

of people hiding in

laundry piles, 3-28;

of police, 52, 98;

of snakes, 198;

of spit, 63;

of sudden movements, 19-28;

of unlocked doors, 571

The repetition of ‘of’ at the beginning of each line describing either a feared item, or a moment of fear itself, and how frequent some of the fictitious page numbers occurred for different items illustrated to me that the fear for native people (and perhaps more predominantly two-spirited native people) is ever-present and unchanging. Additionally, the poem on first glance seems akin to the pages found in the back of a textbook, which have possibly been the largest offender concerning the misrepresentation of native issues, cultures, and diversity.

The fears themselves, “of sudden movements, of flat people who hide under bathtubs, of people hiding in laundry piles, of unlocked doors, of loud noises” portray someone living in a constant state of hiding, fearing discovery more than anything else. The impossible nature of “flat people who hide under bathtubs/of people hiding in laundry piles” is crushing to contemplate, as two-spirited people and native people in general are not only living in fear during their public daily life, but cannot escape this paranoia in their private and most intimate spaces. Considering that fear is the most elaborated entry in the poem, it suggests that is it’s the most chronic and withstanding issue to the native community, an issue only heightened to native people who are gender fluid or defy heteronormative expression in any way. Whether this fear of being watched relates to the eyes of the government, the eyes of the ethnic majority, the eyes of their own people, or even the eyes of their partner, we will never truly know, but by placing fear alongside chronic mental illnesses and events of historical trauma, Driskill begs us to elevate fear to being an equally destructive force.

The Queer Persons Burden

Manipulating, limiting, and structuring language in everyday writing is in itself a difficult task, and somehow Adrienne Rich manages to coerce language so effortlessly in Diving into the Wreck, that I felt the responsibility to examine her work further. I first read this poem in my junior year of high school and enjoyed it then as much as I do now, but I realized, reading it again in the context of this course, that I had barred my self with unintentional ignorance regarding its depth. I have decided to frame my analysis by using both feminist and new historicist criticism, the former for obvious reasons, and the latter because I feel that queer history in the time period of the poem’s release provides an overwhelming amount of context and meaning to the sparse stanzas. Although every stanza in the poem contains fascinating prose, the last stanza really connected with me, and with the central paradox of queer history that we have noted upon as a class: How can one honor a painful past, while simultaneously push forward towards brighter horizons?

We find ourselves at the end of the poem looking upon the wreck, beautifully decrepit, our view being framed by the ambiguous identities of the diver and merfolk. Perhaps the key phrases in this stanza, in my opinion, is Rich’s use of the singular form of ‘one’ in line three, and ‘back’ in line four. The singular form of one grammatically contradicts the previous usage of ‘we’ in the first line, but I think that in ignoring this, it further bolsters the theme of collective identity of the wreck’s visitors that was previously established. There need not be any labels for those who make the dive to the wreck, nor are there stipulations to be followed for one to admire it. I connected this to the toxic tendency that exists in the queer community to marginalize its members unnecessarily for not expressing their gender/sexual identity in a way that is ‘gay enough’ or manifesting their gender expression in ways that aren’t definable or able to be organized. Additionally, this poem came out in 1972, an era in which governmental demonization of same-sex marriage, discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation, and the criminalization of ‘homosexual acts’ were coming under fire by LGBTQ activists in gay liberation of the early 70s. This erasure of stereotypes and rules for the queer community was unprecedented, and Rich deciding to manipulate individuality with use gender unspecific pronouns and juxtaposing ‘we’ and ‘one’ emulate the transitory nature of this period. Returning focus to the word ‘back’, this sparked equal interest for me because it insinuates that those mentioned in the poem have been to the wreck before. This being a return journey to the wreck, a symbol for the history of queer struggle, reinforces the difficulty of the imposed personal obligation queer people feel to acknowledge and overcome their own history. The dichotomy between ‘cowardice’ and ‘courage’ serve to illustrate societal feelings (feelings Rich herself has probably been forced to grapple with) about this paradox. One is only courageous if they survive descending the ladder, the ensuing perilous dive of self-discovery, and unblinkingly understands and honors the painfully contradictory nature of queer history; because it is not simply queer history in a broad sense, but their own history. This is the queer persons burden, according to Rich. An eternal, invisible struggle, emulated in the last lines of the poem-

“a book of myths

in which

our names do not appear.”