“Thank you, Sir”

In a typical workday, I interact with eighty to one hundred and twenty people. When I ring up their total, most will say nothing, about forty of them will call me “sir,” four call my by name, and one calls me “faggot.” They will say, “Thank you.” When I had them their change, I will tell them, “Have a nice day!” I am paid to do this. It’s all part of the job.

One summer day, a man came in while I was stocking the shelves, and I recognized him. He had white, stringy hair to pair with his pale, old skin, and a dark green jacket to contrast his blue eyes. I thought him something of a rebel-character. The first time I saw him, it was three years ago. He wore black, fingerless gloves and bought seventy-two pairs of women’s pantyhose for a grand total of $74.88. He talked relentlessly of the eighties, saying, “We needed another decade like the eighties,” and how, “People needed to learn how to love again, there’s too much hate right now.” Years later, he wore the same outfit, the same jacket, the same hair, and the same gloves. The difference being the pandemic.

He had burst into the store. Immediately I saw his face. My co-worker did too, and she quickly told him about the store mask policy. He remained unfixed and began telling her off. I noticed this and rejoined my co-worker in reiterating the mask policy. He turned from her and responded to me in a shout, finishing with “I’ll see you in court! But that’s only if I don’t rip your head off and shove it up your faggot ass first!” At this, a crowd began to gather. The man probably didn’t enjoy the attention, because he looked around and ran out of the store. As I checked out the remaining customers, they started saying, “Thank you, Sir” and “Nobody should have to deal with that.”

But I’m not a “Sir,” and so I’d reply, “It’s all part of the job.”

This memory brings me to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” where he states, ““Do I contradict myself? / Very well then…. I contradict myself; / I am large…. I contain multitudes” (53). Yet, while Whitman makes this statement in celebration, I contend that the ways in which we “contain multitudes” is more nuanced. Imbedded within these multitudes are forces of both privilege and oppression.

In the rural town where I work, heteronormativity is heavily enforced. As a lower-income, queer individual, this means being called “Sir” as compensation for being called “faggot.” “Sir” is supposedly a sign of high-status, nobility, and class, whereas my preferred labels and pronouns are viewed with contempt. This paradoxically positions “Sir” and my preferred labels both as a form of special treatment. The customers use “Sir” to indicate respect yet insisting that they use anything else would come off as disrespectful to them. I endanger their sense of heteronormativity, and so at work, I bite my tongue. For eight hours, I am their “Sir.” And it’s all part of the job.

Doubtless, the silencing of identity constitutes a form of oppression. Getting yelled at about ripping heads off and shoving them wherever certainly constitutes violence. Yet, being able to pass as heteronormative, and maintain a job which demands I act as such, is a privilege which not every queer person has. Thus, I’m able to contain both hostility and opportunity. And as I’m called “Sir,” I’m able to sneer behind my mask and think how I’m able to be their Sir and my Queer.

LBGTQ Visibility in Kushner’s “Angels in America”

In his Introduction, Kushner states that “Angels is a hopeful work” (x), and in many ways Angels in America lives up to this promise. While dealing with themes of love, mental health, and justice, the play also offers a hopeful insight about the family as an institution. One on hand, Kushner displays the family as a self-reinforcing structure; family members develop expectations that they then impose on their relatives. It is for this reason that Hannah and Joe diverge over Joe’s sexuality. However, the following interactions between Hannah and Prior reveal that this bigotry isn’t essential to Hannah’s character. She grows to withhold judgement. Ironically, Kushner then unites the two characters in an equal state of understanding, and in the end offers a hopeful commentary on the nature of ‘coming out.’

While it’s easy to dismiss Hannah’s first reaction to Joe’s sexuality as homophobic (and it kinda is), it’s also important to note her tone. She comes from, admittedly a position of ignorance, but there’s still evidence of compassion. In answering the 4am call, two of her first three questions were “What’s happened?” (77). Until Joe ‘comes out,’ her focus remains isolated on his safety. She comments how “It’s dangerous” and how he should “go home right now” (78). In fact, Joe was first to frame his sexuality as something that would hurt her, “well, it[, the call,] gets worse from here on” (78). However, Joe through hesitating reveals several of the expectations underlying his family dynamics, the most notable being that his role as Hannah’s child is endangered through his sexuality. He calls her first “Mom” (79), and then “Mamma” (79), the latter being an attempt to imitate his childhood self. This highlights the expectation for Joe to be the same person he has presented as, yet also implies that he has felt a sense of difference since childhood. The scene therefore unfolds into a paradox where Joe simultaneously tries to convey his difference while still needing to fill the same role. Hannah, by contrast is put into an impossible situation, somehow needing to acknowledge the change without acknowledging that it is a change. From this lens, her silence on the issue, while on one hand, is avoidance, on the other, serves to protect Joe. Even in denial, Hannah tries to fulfill her motherly expectation in not chastising her son.

Expectations plague Hannah and Joe’s relationship. In contrast, neither Hannah nor Prior have expectations for one another. When they meet, it’s as though they come from two different worlds, with Hannah volunteering, having just met with Joe, and Prior showing up “wet, in his prophet garb, [and] dark glasses on, despite the dark day outside” (234). Yet, this strangeness is what allows them to freely interact, and they quickly exchange intimacies, Prior about his illness and Hannah about her curiosities. The two symbolically bridge the divide as Prior asks “Do I have a fever?” where Hannah, “hesitates, then puts her hand on his forehead” (235). Unlike Joe, Prior allows Hannah to react to him, his beliefs, and his worries, and in the process, they can form a subtle understanding. Hannah laments, “You don’t make assumptions about me, mister; I won’t make them about you” (240).

Returning to the idea of ‘coming out,’ Angels in America seems to suggest that familial expectations are damning. However, Hannah’s development, in getting close to Prior, offers hope for the visibility movement. One may even argue that Hannah stopped to help Prior because of her recent interactions with Joe. In such a case, the play offers yet more hope to closeted individuals who hesitate in opening up to their family. Either, the visible presence of Prior led Hannah to empathize with Joe, or Joe’s coming out proved successful in changing Hannah’s outlook enough to empathize with Prior.

Queer Identity and Silence in “Brokeback Mountain”

Often, contemporary conceptions of the word “queer” connote an intersectional identity without a clear definition. In fact, “queer” is unique in that it seemingly resists definition. However, in the essay Queer Theory Revisited Michael Hames-Garcia highlights one of the problems with this understanding, “if my heterosexual friend begins to call herself queer, many people… will have many questions for her about what she means by that… the kind of identities that she [as a heterosexual woman] and I [as a gay man] already have determined differently the possibilities for our inhabiting a socially intelligible queer identity” (35). In short, established ideas of ‘queerness’ affect what we come to expect from queer identified people, specifically in that queer connotes a type of gay, white man. Yet, in Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist desperately avoid labels. In turn, this develops into a theme of silence which ironically comments on this problem in “queer.”

Proulx remarks how early in their relationship, “[t]hey never talked about the sex, let it happen… but not saying a goddamn word except once Ennis said ‘I’m not no queer,’ and Jack jumped in with ‘Me neither” (15). The use of double negatives, while common in southern and rural dialects, becomes a positive statement in formal English. Thus, in masking their affection, Ennis inadvertently declares himself “queer” with Jack also sharing in the declaration. And yet, neither party would likely identify openly as “queer.”

Whether their secrecy is entirely due to the hostile culture around them or arising from internalized homophobia, neither situation really gives room for readers to see Ennis nor Jack as queer individuals. Somehow, they evade the label, while still alluding back to queer culture and identity. Paradoxically, this exemplifies both everything we expect and what Hames-Garcia finds problematic with “queer”—gay men who simply aren’t gay men.

Indexing Our Lives: An Investigation of Structure in Qwo-Li Driskill’s “(Auto)biography of Mad”

Throughout the poem, “(Auto)biography of Mad,” Qwo-Li Driskill juxtaposes our conventional notions of historical narrative through their unconventional use of structure. Rather than the typical verse-style poetry (or the atypical, but commonly accepted free-verse style), Driskill mimics the format of an index. Instead of alliteration, there’s alphabetization. Numbers replace words, and the overall effect raises the question ‘Who’s writing our story?’ Perhaps graver, the poem goes further to ask, ‘What will be written once we’re gone?’

The theme of afterthought and identity ring doubly throughout “(Auto)biography of a Mad.” Often it is the case that a person’s biography is written after they have either died or it is deemed that they have already made their major life contribution to society. There are some notable exceptions when it comes to billionaires and politicians, but this is beside the point. This notion of ‘end’ ironically appears in the first line, “Subject Index” (107). Indexes appear commonly in the back of books, but also serve as maps for navigating whole works. Following this book motif, in the case of an autobiography, the author serves as the primary subject. Thus, Driskill draws connections between the poem as a map of their life, and a series of events which have seemingly concluded.

However, the poem does not become academic and dry. While the use of the word “Subject” adds to create a removed and absent tone, through the lack of a definitive noun, the use of numbers in the phrases, “Age 14” (107) and “Age 4″ (107) reintroduce the author into the work. Yet other number, such as “1492” (109) and “1540” (108) have the duel effect of alluding to historically traumatic events that negatively affected Indigenous Americans and building the central irony of the poem. Cross generational trauma affects people in the present just as much as it brings historical events to the forefront.

Blog #1 – Exploring “Myth” in Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck”

In her poem, “Diving into the Wreck,” Adrienne Rich explores a common narrative and fear from the LGBTQ community over the consequence of being different. While for many LGBTQ people, acknowledging their identity and ‘coming out’ has a liberating effect, other people may face rejection or violence in their lifetime. On the extreme end, this may lead to suicide. But Rich’s poetry shows how these outcomes are a “myth” (63). ‘Myth’ may refer to either a traditional story which seeks to explain or justification for something, or a commonly held misconception. Rich plays off this pun to push and show how there’s more fluidity and uncertainty within the LGBTQ community’s tragic history and what it might mean for its future.

The theme of uncertainty carries into the beginning of the poem, where a diver prepares to explore a shipwreck, “First having read the book of myths” (1). Building off the pun, the dive into the water begins to resemble an investigation. The double meaning of “myth,” a falsehood or origin story carries several implications for the diver, who later comes to identify with the shipwreck, “we are the half-destroyed instruments / that once held to a course” (83-84). In comparing herself to the shipwreck, Rich establishes a metaphor between the ‘myth’ of the wreck and her own personal narrative. The ‘dive’ therefore, becomes a symbol for introspection. However, her use of the pronoun, “we” (83) highlights that this myth goes beyond a single narrative. The ‘wreck’ and the ‘myth’ of the wreck belong to and are, in fact, echoed by a community.

In order to evaluate the metaphor, it is therefore worth exploring the ‘myth’ of the shipwreck. For this, Rich leaves several clues. Harking back to the line, “we are the half-destroyed instruments / that once held to a course” (83-84), it’s implied that the ship sunk, because it changed directions or went off “course” (84). This is further evidenced by the imagery on line 86, “the fouled compass.” Thus, the ‘myth’ of the wreck could be read as a fear over what happens when someone dares to be different. Given that LGBTQ people have existed on the margins of society (and historically faced violence because of their differences), this would make them especially vulnerable to this narrative.

The final appearance of the word, “myth” cycles back to the first line with some important distinctions, “a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear” (92-94). Notably, “the book” (1) becomes “a book” (92), indicating that the myth of the shipwreck no longer has the same definiteness. While breaking off and daring to be unique are key characteristics in the LGBTQ community, this uniqueness doesn’t have to lead to a ‘wreck.’ Rich escapes that fate, declaring “our names do not appear” (94). Rather than a celebration, this conclusion has a melancholy tone, as we are reminded how many LGBTQ people suffered in the past. The narrative is therefore a myth in the same way that the poem’s wreck is “evidence of [the] damage” (66). Both serve as reminders of what many had to go through. But more optimistically, the poem also dispels the deterministic aspects of the narrative, showing that LGBTQ people are free from reliving the tragedies of history.