My Fear of Standing in Line

Growing up fat, I connected a lot with what Susan Stinson wrote in Belly Songs. A lot of things she experienced, especially in her youth, were things I also experienced. While I was able to relate to quite a few of the stories she wrote about, what struck a chord with me the most was the poem “The Line.” Reading this poem really brought back painful memories from my childhood of standing in line dreading upcoming activities.

In elementary school, at the end of each year we had field day where all the students in the school went outside to do fun games and team building exercises. Being one of the fatter girls in my grade, I was always terrified of doing an activity where I had to fit through a tight space within an obstacle course or fall back on one of my classmates during one of those trust fall exercises. The events changed each year so I never knew what to expect, but when the time came for field day, I was always petrified of having to do some activity that would make my larger size more obvious to the rest of my classmates. However, these daunting activities didn’t end when I left elementary school.

In middle school we also had a version of field day. Once again, we all had to participate in events that I sometimes couldn’t do as well as my skinnier classmates because of the size of my body. I had pretty bad anxiety in middle school and having to endure the embarrassment of my peers seeing me struggle at seemingly easy activities for them was too much for me. The week leading up to field day when I was in 7th grade was a week full of anxiety. I didn’t want to go, and I found myself dreading every second leading up to the day everyone else at my school seemed so excited about. When the day was finally upon us, I knew I just couldn’t go through with it. The thought of having to go outside and flail my fat body, panting as I tried to run alongside my skinnier classmates was mortifying, so instead, I pretended I was sick. Thankfully, my parents let me stay home and for once I didn’t have to endure the terrifying sporting events for the day.

I thought my fear would be left behind once I got to high school because the “field day” was now optional and I wouldn’t be participating. Instead, I found myself faced with the same anxieties on my first day freshmen year. We were put in small groups and had to do teambuilding exercises, the first of which being trust falls. To say I was scared would be an understatement. I knew none of my classmates would be able to catch me and that I would face the embarrassment of being too fat to participate in the activity. In Stinson’s poem “The Line,” she writes, “The air fit me/ like my jeans./ The line moved up./ I slipped/ with grace/ out the back (Lines 50-55). In my moment of standing in line to do trust falls, I wished for nothing more than run out of the room. When I read that part of the poem, it remined me so much of my own fear and I wished I too were able to escape from the line.

Angels in America vs. Falsettos

While I was reading Angels in America, I was struck by how similar it is to one of my favorite Broadway musicals. The musical being Falsettos which showcases a man named Marvin who leaves his wife and child in order to pursue a relationship with another man named Whizzer who has AIDS. Initially I found similarities between the two because of the subject matter, but the more I thought about it, the more similarities I found. Falsettos, like Angels in America mixes humor and camp with heavy topics like the AIDS epidemic, death, and religion.

To understand the humor this show blends within the discussion of heavy topics, look no further than the first song which is titled “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.” This opens the show in a very light way, but it also portrays to the audience that the rest of the show will have many arguments and heavy topics. While many of the songs in the musical are filled with humor and camp, the one song that sticks out to me the most is “March of the Falsettos.” In it, we see Marvin, Whizzer, Marvin’s psychiatrist Mendel, and Marvin’s son Jason dressed in bright white and neon orange outfits that stand out in the blacklight above.Falsettos: What Does It Mean? | Live From Lincoln Center | THIRTEEN - New  York Public MediaThe four males start singing in a shrill falsetto while doing a really silly dance routine, showing the overtop hilarity of the musical. The scene is sandwiched between two meaningful solos by Trina, Marvin’s ex-wife in which she reveals her insecurities about life before ultimately deciding to stand up for herself and take what she deserves. She reminds me a lot of Harper who initially feels like the world is ending when her husband wants to leave her before deciding that she doesn’t need a man to get what she wants out of life.

One of the other topics portrayed in both productions is the AIDS crisis and in Falsettos we see Whizzer, like Roy and Prior, struggle with illness while Marvin, like Louis, struggles with whether or not to stay with his dying lover.  Throughout the show, Marvin makes many mistakes, much like Louis and Whizzer doesn’t want to forgive him for the pain he caused him. However, unlike Prior, Whizzer does end up getting back with Marvin.

In my mind, the most important similarity between the two productions is how they both directly address the audience and call them to action in the fight against AIDS. Similar to Prior’s final monologue in Angles in America, Mendel, in the final scene of Falsettos breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience singing, “Homosexuals, women with children, short insomniacs, we’re a teeny tiny band. Lovers come and lovers go. Lovers live and die fortissimo. This is where we take a stand. Welcome to Falsettoland.” By ending with those words, he is calling all Americans, especially the gay community to stand up and fight, to wake up and realize that this is the country we live in and we must protect each other.


The Impact of Acceptance

In Eli Clare’s Exile & Pride, he discussed many deep and emotional topics. In between all of the heaviness, there was also happiness. One of the moments he discussed at the end of the book was his experience with gender. He describes getting a caricature done by a woman at a carnival and then his mom having a conversation with the artist a few days later. Speaking about their conversation and his reaction to it he writes, “Finally after much confusion, she asked, ‘Didn’t I draw your son?’ I remember the complete joy I felt when my mother came home with this story. I looked again at the portrait, thinking, ‘right here, right now, I am a boy.’ It made me smile secretly for weeks, reach down into my pockets to squeeze a stone tight in each fist. I felt as if I were looking in a mirror and finally seeing myself, rather than some distorted fun-house image” (Clare 146). Even after finishing this book, I couldn’t stop thinking about this quote. It is such an important scene because it’s one of the first times Clare felt seen for who he truly is.

This quote and the feeling of being seen for the first time reminded me of another book I read. In the book Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, the main character Yadriel is a trans boy trying to prove to his magical Latinx family that he is a real boy. Throughout the book Yadriel gets misgendered many times by his family members who don’t understand him and his gender. This causes Yadriel a great deal of sadness because all he wants is to be accepted by his family. However, by the end of the book he is able to prove himself to his father and Yadriel experiences a moment of being seen for the first time just like Clare did. In this scene in Cemetery Boys, Yadriel’s dad is giving a speech and tells him “You will be a great brujo, and a great man, and we honor the sacrifice you made…You are here because you have already proven you are exactly what you were meant to be” (Thomas 340). Just like the part in Eli Clare’s book, this scene made me tear up. The amount of pain both Clare and Yadriel had to go through in their lives, not only for their transness but for other things as well, is heartbreaking, but having moments of acceptance like these make it just a little bit better.

To be seen for who you truly are is a wonderful thing and it’s so important for people like Eli Clare to share their positive experiences along with the negative because that way others in the trans community can have a beacon of hope. This is why it’s also important for books featuring trans main characters like Yadriel to be published and become part of mainstream media. Representation, now more than ever, is vital so that people in the trans community can see characters similar to them and so that non-trans or people can become more accepting so that there is less hatred and discrimination in the world.

Here’s a link for more info about Cemetery Boys and the author:

Native American Resilience

In the poem “Savage Eloquence,” Chrystos writes about the importance of land to Native Americans. Chrystos begins and ends the poem directly speaking to a mountain by saying “Big mountain/ you big story you big/ thing” (1-3). By starting the poem off like this, speaking to a landmass as if it is a living being, she is establishing the Native American belief that spirits inhabit everything around us. This sets the groundwork for the poem being all about Native American beliefs and customs and how white America views Indigenous peoples.

Chrystos writes, “walls more walls jails more jails agencies thieves rapists &/ drunken refuge/ from lives with nothing left” (18-20). This is succinctly saying that non-natives in America view the Native Americans as walled in drunken convicts that have nothing to live for. However, Chrystos doesn’t care that this is how white people view Natives because at the end of the day, the Native Americans are holding onto their culture as tightly as possible and will not let it go just because a bunch of white people try to take it from them. Instead, she says, “Everything we have left is in our hearts/ deeply hidden No photograph or tape recorder or drawing can/ touch/ the mountain of our spirits” (29-33). She is saying that Native Americans remember their history and will not succumb to white people in power trying to erase their culture and customs. She writes, “Vanishing is no metaphor Big mountain you are no news our/ savage/ eloquence is dust between their walls their thousand deaths” (25-27). This is saying that Indigenous voices are meaningless in the eyes of white people. They don’t care what Natives have to say because whites believe Native Americans are inferior to them and not worth listening to. But Chrystos doesn’t care because by writing “Big mountain you are too big you are too small you are such an/ old/ old story” (57-59), she proves that Native American stories and culture will not be forgotten as long as they remember it.

The Gender Script in “Diving into the Wreck”

The poem “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich is an extended metaphor for the long-standing oppression of women throughout history. In the beginning and end of the poem a “book of myths” (1, 92) is mentioned. This book is where the speaker learned a lot about the history of the wreck she is exploring. The wreck in this poem isn’t a literal shipwreck, but a metaphor for the oppression of women and the damage it has caused. Thinking of the wreck in this context, the book of myths seems to be a script that women are supposed to follow. This script lays out gender norms such as the clothes women should wear and the way they should act.

In the final stanza of the poem Rich writes, “a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear” (92-94). Clearly this book does not mention the speaker or anyone else she is lumping in with her by saying “our names” (94). These people the book fails to mention are women throughout history. This can be deduced by analyzing the way in which Rich describes what was found in the wreck. Not only was there damage down there, but also treasure that was left to rot. Rich writes, “the evidence of damage / worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty / the ribs of the disaster / curving their assertion / among the tentative hunters” (66-70). Clearly there is damage within this wreck, but there is also the shadow of beauty. This beauty is the stories of women that have been stamped down by men and “left to rot” (82). Not only are these beautiful stories forgotten about, but the women’s names are also left out of a book that is supposed to guide them in adhering to societies standards. By saying “our names do not appear” (94), Rich is commenting on how the accomplishments of women are seldom talked about and their names are not mentioned when they should be. This instills in women the belief that they are less important than men and shouldn’t aim too high because they won’t be remembered for anything either way.

Because Rich is discussing how women’s names are often forgotten, it draws my attention to the only name mentioned in the poem. She writes, “not like Cousteau with his / assiduous team / aboard the sun-flooded schooner” (9-12). Jacques Cousteau was a French naval officer and explorer who studied the sea. I think it’s important to note that the only name Rich mentions in this poem is his name, further emphasizing her point that women and their accomplishments are often forgotten about while men and their accomplishments are always remembered.