David Levithan’s Boy meets boy and Julie Anne Peters’ Luna are two novels that are just as different as they are similar. While there is certainly plenty of overlap between the novels with connections between character roles and situational occurrences, the differences between these two stories presented a greater interest to me. This semester we have spent a significant amount of time exploring the concept of the coming out novel as it has emerged as a theme in nearly every piece of literature that we’ve read this semester. To me, a coming out novel is something resembling an underdog story, where a character is able to succeed despite all odds. This is not the case in Boy meets boy. Though there are plethora of examples to demonstrate the differences with this overarching theme, I found the role of the adults in each novel to be particularly telling.
Boy meets boy paints the setting of a society where the idea of heteronormativity is a minority opinion. In this utopian world, people are free to be open about their sexual orientation without any fear of persecution. This reality is perfectly exemplified early in the novel when Paul reveals is sexual identity to his parents who are open and accepting to whatever makes him happy. This instance, however, is not where I saw the greatest difference with the situation detailed in Luna. Rather, the story of the supporting character Tony presented the greatest contrast. Tony’s parents are very religious and represent the sect of people most opposed to the widespread views of sexuality in the utopia. Throughout the novel, Tony’s parents find it difficult to accept their son for who he truly is due to the precepts of their religion. Despite this, they don’t express much hostility or disdain for him, as some similarly situated parents in contemporary society unfortunately do. I would thus call their stance more apprehensive than unsympathetic. This becomes more evident as the story comes to a close, as they appear more and more willing to make an attempt at understanding. Although it would be wrong to say that Tony’s parents are fully accepting of him in the end, their willingness, despite the relatively extreme opposition they represent, to try and be more understanding leaves a strong message.
Quite the contrast the world portrayed in Luna is one of more regrettably realistic societal opinions. Unlike Boy meets boy, the theme of near universal acceptance is non existent. In fact, the concept of parental acceptance is not even present. Though loving towards their children, the parents of Reagan and Luna are far from accepting when it comes to the sexual orientation of Luna. Unlike, Tony’s parents, the father in Luna doesn’t even represent the most extreme opposition of those found in our society (perhaps the grandfather is a more accurate representation). When Luna finally reveals her true self there is no attempt at understanding. Luna’s father essentially persecutes her and makes the home unwelcome for her. Realizing that this acceptance will never come, Luna is forced to take her happiness into her own hands and leaves for good.
This vast difference in parental behavior and the groups of people they represent says a lot about the role of environment in the coming out story. Despite the level of relative opposition that Tony’s parents represent, the precedent set forth by the society eventually minimizes the struggle felt by Tony in coming out to his parents. With the help of alternative support systems, Tony is able to not only live with but make progress with his parents. In this way, I wouldn’t really classify Tony as an underdog. A stark contrast, the viewpoint of Luna and Reagan’s father is not seen as uncommon by societal norms, causing Luna to struggle tremendously in an effort to be herself. Reagan represents the only alternate support Luna has and thus Luna often finds her situation unbearable. Because of the necessary perseverance and endurance of Luna, Levithan’s piece is much more resembling of a coming out narrative.
“Well you’re wasting your time! I’m scarier than you any day of the week! So beat it, Ethel! BOOO! BETTER DEAD THAN RED! Somebody trying to shake me up? HAH HAH! From the throne of God in heaven to the belly of hell, you can all fuck yourselves and then go jump in the lake because I’M NOT AFRAID OF YOU OR DEATH OR HELL OR ANYTHING!”
One passage that has struck me while reading this book occurs in the encounter between Roy and Ethel while the former is in the hospital. Unlike many of the other characters in the novel, Roy has a particularly tough time coming to terms with himself, particularly his sexual orientation. We’ve seen, through several incidents, how he copes with this internal insecurity through frequent expressions of hypermasculinity. This personal attribute is perfectly identified in the passage above. In the brief but meaningful meeting Ethel makes no comments that are particularly patronizing to Roy. Despite this, it takes only the slightest provocation for Roy to lose his temper. This demonstration of anger towards Ethel is an expression of the internal guilt that has developed in Roy as a result of his role in the execution of Ethel. This internal guilt is similarly present and expressed as a result of the uncertainty and doubt Roy has towards his own sexual identity.
Though this correlation is clearly demonstrated in this passage, the concept of Roy’s personal struggle speaks to a wider application of personal acceptance. Roy is a distinguished outlier in his inability to garner any level of acceptance for himself. A stark contrast, other non-heteronormative characters such as Joe, Louis, and Prior are able to come to terms with themselves. Although certainly suffering from other personal problems, these men are able to utilize this acceptance in order to project a sense of relative happiness and positivity that eludes Roy entirely. I feel that this personal acceptance is, for the most part, symbolized by physical condition. Despite the personal issues that may arise, most of the men are able to persevere, a resultant mirrored by their respective health. Even Prior, who, like Roy, suffers from aids, is able to overcome his illness in a sense at the books closing. Roy’s gradual deterioration, and eventual death, however, shadows his lasting incapability of personal acceptance.
“Once upon a time there was a beautiful and brilliant princess, so sensitive that the death of a moth could distress her for weeks…” (Pg. 9)
In the readings thus far, one passage that has stuck out to me has been the parable of the sensitive princess. In chapter 1, Genesis, Jeannette tells the story of an incredibly compassionate princess who is, for the most part, tethered to her kingdom and becomes distressed by something as simple as the death of a moth. For this reason, her whole kingdom worries for her until one day she finds an old hunchback woman who is dying. The hunchback women asks her to take care of a certain list of duties and the Princess obliges. When the hunchback woman dies, the princess abides by her promise and is never bothered by her excessive sensitivity again.
This is a story that I felt accurately paralleled the childhood of Jeanette. In my interpretation, the princess is a perfect representation of innocence. As a youth, Jeanette mirrors this innocence in her ignorance of her own sexual orientation. Living a life skewed and sheltered by her mother’s extreme religiosity, Jeanette know’s nothing but what is considered right by the church. In the same way that the princess is restricted by her self-imposed fear, Jeanette is limited by her mother’s overbearing and manipulative. Although she is ultimately able to break free from the major restrictions set by her mother and church later in life, until her freedom Jeanette exemplifies innocence in a life manipulated by her mother and religion. Another, more literal, parallel exists in the distress that the princess feels. Though not to the extent of the anxious princess, Jeanette’s internal conflict of natural instinct versus her mother’s will leads to her living a very confusing and stressful childhood. Lastly, and perhaps most important the way that the princess is able to alleviate her distress is paralleled by an unsuccessful attempt of coping by Jeanette. Unlike the princess, who successfully escapes her restrictions through finding where she belongs, Jeannette seeks to find where she belongs through accepting the manipulation by her mother. Thus, Jeanette attempts to overcome her limits by accepting the cause of them.
In Adrienne Rich’s poem, “Hunger”, there are many powerful lines that attracted my attention. Among several, the second stanza line “They can rule the world while they can persuade us our pain belongs in some order. Is death by famine worse than death by suicide?” evoked the most thought. A theme of the poetry read in this class thus far has been the oppression, struggle, and exclusion felt by marginalized women. In Audre Rich’s “Uses of the erotic”, the author describes how, over time, society has silenced an internal source of power in women, this power is referred to as the erotic. I felt that “Hunger” was an extension of this oppression on a wider societal level. In “Uses of the erotic”, Lorde paints the picture of a reality where women will never have the full control over their sense of the erotic. Rich takes this idea and elevates it to the next level. I interpreted the usage of “they” as an allusion to societal norms that have developed over time to normalize the mistreatment of women. The line “our pain belongs in some order” reinforces this normalization by asserting that we, women included, have been taught that societies mistreatment of women is nothing out of the ordinary. The last line “Is death by famine worse than death by suicide?” bluntly and wholly exemplifies the point being brought to light by both poets. Is it better to die on your own terms or by the rules set by our society? In terms of poetic themes, I don’t see any particular clusters, however, the passage does have a dark and despotic feel through the usage of words like rule, pain, famine, and suicide.