When I was in middle school, I remember reading a comic book series called Lumberjanes. This series was about a group of girls at an all-girls summer camp discovering the often supernatural mysteries of the area. The cast of characters is full of LGBTQ+ individuals and POC, which I had not seen much of up to that point. Reading it back then, I simply enjoyed the story, not thinking critically about some of the choices the author made.

Now, having read The Legend of Auntie Po, it occurs to me how intentionally the setting and title were chosen. Both books take the route of subverting the hypermasculine stereotype of lumberjacks to set the stage for a queer story. It is also worth noting that one of the five main characters is a transgender girl. By placing this story at an all-girls camp, the author immediately shuts down any questions about the validity of her identity. Her presence at the camp confirms that she fits in with all the other girls just fine.

This also leads to an interesting dynamic, as none of the girls are particularly “girly.” They choose to spend their summers at a camp advertised towards “Hardcore Ladytypes,” which is in the actual title of the camp. This means there gets to be a story about a transgender girl who is still allowed to be in touch with the more traditionally “masculine” parts of her identity without it invalidating her girlhood. I did not fully appreciate this kind of representation in middle school, but after reading so much about the intersections of identities in this course, this detail strikes me as remarkably important in literature.

Khor’s point in the Author’s Note about their hopes for publishing in “a vibrant landscape of stories from all kinds of marginalized voices” also guided my thinking here (285). Lumberjanes being published, and the success it found, gave an opportunity for so many queer and POC stories to be told to adolescents. Although the plot of series itself is not centered around being queer or POC, the characters are obviously affected by their identities, bringing casual representation to many more young minds.

Split Stage Scenes

In Angels in America, Tony Kushner uses the device of split stage scenes to equalize and humanize his characters. This ultimately serves to force the audience to care about the AIDS epidemic more viscerally.

Not every audience member will be able to sympathize with every character in this story, but presumably they can with at least a few of them. Even though not every character is universally palatable, the play as a whole still acts as an emotional punch to the viewer, urging action to aid in the fight against AIDS. Part of the reason this is possible is through these split stage moments. The one discussed in class today, between Prior and Harper, is a perfect example.

Both of them unpack their pain in this scene. For Prior, his pain is partly his loneliness and hurt that Louis has left him in this moment of crisis and partly because he is being confronted with his own impending death. In one word, he feels “robbed,” both of his life and his love (31).  Harper’s pain also stems from her loneliness. Her husband leaves her alone frequently and does not make her feel cared for even when he is around. While Prior’s pain is hard for the average person to relate to, Harper’s is much more accessible. Many people have felt the loneliness of incompatibility, even if they are not so fundamentally incompatible as Harper and Joe.

Because these two characters appear in this scene together, a comparison is intentionally drawn. The pain of each is better understood through the other. For a moment they are equalized, and being able to empathize with either character brings about the capacity to empathize with both. However, by the end of the scene, a distinction is drawn.

Harper makes a point to say “I can’t expect someone who’s really sick to entertain me” (33). The word “really” is what jumps out here. Harper’s monologues seem to dominate the latter half of this scene, so her pain becomes especially potent and accessible to the viewer. When she points out that, despite her depth of pain, Prior has far more reason to despair, it allows all her words about depression to relate to Prior’s emotions, giving the audience a means with which to grasp the horrific experience that Prior, and millions of other gay men, went through with AIDS.

I think queer audiences of Angels in America understand the pain quite fine without these scenes, but as a piece of activist literature, the task of convincing straight audiences to care is one to be considered.

Complex, Complicated, Contradictory

“The body as home, but only if it is understood that bodies are never singular, but rather haunted, strengthened, underscored by countless other bodies” (11).

This quote ties in with many other passages in Clare’s writing, working together to build an idea of his view of identity. In particular, it fits with his idea of being unable “to bridge the chasm between my homesickness for a place thousands of miles away in the middle of logging country and [his] urban-created politics” (20). His identity is “complex, complicated, and contradictory,” as he said in his talk.

There is this concept that his body, and by extension his identity, is not singular. It is not made up of simply what is presently there. It is something that has been built by the communities around him and experiences throughout the years. Even as he has grown as a person and become perhaps more authentically himself, it must be acknowledged that who he is now was built on who he has been. His foundation is a child in a rural logging town, and his years spent living as a butch lesbian are a fundamental part of who he is, even though that label does not fit him anymore.

In particular from this quote, the words “haunted, strengthened, underscored” direct my thinking. I am interpreting the “bodies” in this quote to be both other people but also prior versions of himself. With this in mind, the implication is that his relationships with himself and others over the years affect his identity, both positively and negatively. They “haunt” him, giving him trauma to carry with him, but also “strengthen” him, giving him life experience and confidence in himself. Most of all, they “underscore” everything he knows to be true about himself, re-emphasizing that his identity is built on these “bodies.”

Overall, I think that these lines are continuing his idea that he is simultaneously everyone and everywhere he has ever loved and been. Identity is so hard to define because it requires being face to face with parts of yourself you are embarrassed by and communities you would no longer like to claim. This is particularly a shared feeling amongst people with queer identities because, for many people, queerness did not have a place in their lives while they were growing up. The queer identity may feel inherently contradictory, as many other identities directly oppose queerness, but that does not stop them from becoming integral parts of queer people. 

In Those Years

I believe Adrienne Rich’s poem “In Those Years” is a striking acknowledgement of the inherent politicalization of queer identity. It calls attention to the expectation that queer people have a responsibility outside of their own happiness, and that to focus on only finding themselves would be selfish.

Rich states that “people will say, we lost track / of the meaning of we, of you” and that “the whole thing became / silly, ironic, terrible: / we were trying to live a personal life”. I interpret this to mean that she believes there to have been judgement directed towards queer people just being queer for the sake of it being who they are. Although obviously queer people are just as entitled to the experience of self-discovery and contentedness as straight people, “people,” perhaps meaning society, find that to be unacceptable. She also uses the phrase “the great dark bird of history” when referring to those who dissent to the act of self-discovery. This mention of “history” is what makes me think there is a political tone to this poem.

When queer people are putting themselves out there in a way that can be commodified for the sake of progressiveness, it is perhaps more palatable to straight people. They can view queerness as an abstract political concept they can gain moral “points” for supporting. Sedgewick discusses the idea I am trying to get at in the chapter “Queer and Now” when she points out the popularity of her class with straight students.

On the other hand, when queer people engage in self-expression simply to be at peace with themselves, it is “silly, ironic, terrible,” otherwise translated to uncomfortable for society, which I believe to be the crux of this poem.