At first glance, I think David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy and Julie Anne Peters’ Luna are two very different texts. Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy is a utopian young adult novel. We see the idealistic world in which Levithan’s characters live through the eyes of our protagonist Paul, an exceptionally self-assured gay teenager, growing up in a town where, as Paul recalls in a memory of his coming out to his parents, coming out as gay is equivalent to just adding a word to your vocabulary. In Paul’s world, there is no coming out narrative, at least not like what we’ve come to expect, where coming out is preceded and followed by years of self-doubt and internal as well as external struggle. However, despite this utopian setting, through Paul’s words and thoughts we are still able to catch glimpses of the struggles caracters in young adult novels typically face—Tony struggles to gain acceptance from his strict religious parents, who find it abhorrent to have a son interested in the same sex. Joni struggles through navigating the landscape of the adolescent world of dating. Julie Anne Peters’ Luna brings these archetypal struggles to the forefront. The book’s namesake, Luna, is a transgender woman (biologically male, with the given name Liam), whose parents—particularly the father—would not accepting of Luna’s eschewing of gender roles or the gender binary. Luna must hide her true identity and is limited in freedom of expression to literally one small area of her house. In this way there are clear discrepancies between Luna and Boy Meets Boy.
However, like Boy Meets Boy, we again see the struggle faced by those in the LGBTQ community not through the eyes of those experiencing it, but through the eyes of our main character, Regan. In Luna, we are witnessing a coming out story from a third person observer, as we see with Tony in Boy Meets Boy. This tactic allows the reader to analyze these character’s struggles from a more objective (although not impartial) perspective. The reader witnesses the coming out narrative from the outside-looking-in. I think both novels thus offer an important alternative perspective from which we can analyze the role of environment and society on the personal experiences of members of the LGBTQ community during the incredibly formative period of adolescence.
Both Adrienne Rich and Tony Kushner address the importance of recognizing the complexity of life in its totality, of recognizing not just the end, but the means—life is, in chemical terms, a not a state function but a path function. On page 44 of Kushner’s “Angels in America,” Louis explains to Prior his philosophy on judgement and justice. Louis says “…It’s not the verdict that counts, it’s the act of judgement…it should be the questions and shape of a life, its total complexity gathered, arranged and considered, which matters in the end, not some stamp of salvation or damnation which disperses all the complexity in some unsatisfying little decision.” One’s morality should be viewed in the context of their entire lived experience before judgement is bestowed. If life is a math problem, it should not be multiple choice. There should not simply be “correct” or “incorrect.” We should be graded on the work we show, and we deserve the opportunity to be awarded partial credit—the estimation of our success or failure should not weigh solely upon our final answer. As Louis described it, relying on the verdict without regard to the judgement process “disperses all complexity,” minimizing the validity of what we have overcome to get to where we are. In other words, the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts.
In Rich’s poem “Fox,” she similarly emphasizes the process by which a life is shaped or formed, the importance of recognizing in others the circumstances or “briars” that lacerate the skin over the course of our individual histories. However, in Kushner’s play, Louis is addressing this topic to make a comment about justice and judgement, and how it is more complicated than simply giving someone a “stamp of salvation or damnation.” Alternatively, Rich is primarily concerned with how recognizing the path or shape of one’s entire life can help validate her own existence and her own life. I think this difference highlights Tony Kushner’s purpose in writing this play. The entire book serves as a commentary on society at a specific point in time. It is a period piece on 80’s and 90’s. Rich’s poem is much more focused on the individual, on internal struggle. Louis’s words highlight Kushner’s intention to make broader comments on society, and how the LGBTQ community fit into society leading up to the turn of the century.
“In the spring, the ground still had spaces of snow…It wasn’t fair that the whole street should be filled with beasts.” (p. 71- 73)
In the beginning of the passage, which serves as the opener for the “Numbers” section of Jeanette Winters novel, Jeannette describes a reoccurring dream—perhaps more accurately described as a nightmare—in which she is walking down the aisle to marry a man. As she progresses down the aisle, her observations begin to become more and more fantastical and peculiar, such that the priest gets increasingly fat while her groom remains anything but husband material, presenting himself in various forms: as blind, or her mother, or as not even human. She also feels progressively more “weighed down” as she walks down the aisle, to the point where it becomes unbearable. I think this dream foreshadows Winterson’s ultimate coming out as it indicates her developing sense of misalignment with the future her mother (and society) has imagined and prepared her for. Jeanette is expressing her fear of being blindly forced into a narrative for which she is not inclined; one she does not feel is truly her own.
Further in the passage, Winterson’s reflection upon her dream leads to certain self-realizations and causes her to question the society she lives in, as if she has gained some new perspective that everyone else seems blind to. She questions the norms she has been socialized to, as “everyone always said you found the right man…but there was the problem of the woman married to the pig, and the spotty boy who took girls down backs, and [her] dream” (p. 72). She expresses a level of incredulity at the fact that, either everyone around her knew men were pigs and beasts, and simply chose to ignore that fact while keeping Winterson in the dark, or they were all simply unaware of the horrible paradigm in which women marry beasts and hope that, with enough kisses, they’ll turn into a prince. She calls it a “conspiracy” that, perhaps, “…all over the globe, in all innocence, women were marrying beasts” (p. 73). She comes to this conclusion after reading “The Beauty and the Beast,” and it is at this point she begins forming her opinion that this conspiracy is a narrative she does not long to be a part of.
I believe this passage represents the prerequisite internal conflict many individuals undergo prior to and throughout the process of forming their own understanding of their sexual identity prior to coming out. It is similar in theme to what was described in many of the videos from the “It Gets Better Project,” in which the individual begins to recognize the misalignment of their own narrative with that of society—spurred by the knowledge that they always had felt different, until they eventually worked out what that difference was.
“Her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power” (page 135)
In the poem “Power” Adrienne Rich describes Madame Curie’s power and the concomitant suffering she further endures with that power. Importantly, Rich states that Madame Curie’s power came not just at the same time as her suffering, but “from the same source.” I think this alludes to a theme common to many of Rich’s poems, that suffering is often the price of power. Rich indicates that the issue of suffering being inextricable from power is a problem particularly faced by woman, as she references Madame Curie’s (female) body: “she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness / her body bombarded for years by the element / she had purified.” Her body was bombarded for years by that which gave her power. I think this warrants an important comparison to Audre Lorde’s treatment of the erotic in her essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” In Lorde’s essay, she describes the way in which the Erotic is a source of power that has long been looked down upon and suppressed in women. In order to take ownership of the Erotic and become powerful, they must subject themselves to the scrutiny of a misogynistic society, and they must suffer for it. Furthermore, as Rich points out, women must deny that they suffer at all: “She died a famous woman denying / her wounds / denying / her wounds came from the same sources as her power.” Rich’s repeats “denying her wounds” to suggest that in order to maintain one’s power, or maybe to avoid the possibility of being stripped of it, women must deny their suffering, deny their wounds. Had Madame Curie, or any woman with power, recognized and brought attention to her plight and her wounds, her weaknesses would be emphasized and would overshadow her accomplishments.