Bee and Mei’s connection to Bette and Tina from the L word

After Mr. Anderson gets fired, Bee asks Mei how she’s feeling (Kohr, 113). Mei is frustrated and explains that her father “spent weeks on a boat to come here [to the logging camp]. He said my life will be better than his. He said we are a people that endure.” Mei and Bee have come from different backgrounds, ‘people.’ Even though Bee and Mei are friends (with some romantic tension as well) there is a clear power imbalance between them since Mei’s dad worked under Bee’s dad, who fired him for not being white. Even though a part of Bee and Mei’s identities is centered around their relationship, layers of their identity relating to race and class are more prevalent when people make judgements about them, as individuals. Mei finally asks Bee, “does your family have to endure too, or is it just us?” While Bee can empathize with her friend and her family, she does not share the same experiences as Mei. When Bee doesn’t respond, this gives Mei a newfound perspective about Bee’s life experience and identity (it is not remotely like hers) which makes her feel very isolated because this is her only friend. 

Bee and Mei’s relationship reminds me of Bette and Tina’s relationship from the L word. When Bette and Tina were talking about sperm donors, Tina was confused why Bette wanted an African American sperm donor. Bette was hurt because her partner, Tina, forgot a very important part of her identity. Even though Bette is biracial and might not present as ‘black’ to some people, including her own partner, her identity as a black woman is valid, and has always existed. Even though Bee never questioned her friendship with Mei because she was Chinese, as other people in the logging community might, Mei’s Chinese identity has always existed too. Mei and Bee will never share the same identity, no matter how much time they spend together and that it is an essential part of their coming to age story.

Roy and Joe’s Coming to Terms

In Angels in America Tony Kushner argues that when situations arise in which people, who are not already ‘out’ as members of the LGBTQ+ community, must label their sexuality (I.e., Aids) they will struggle with this (47).  

When Roy hears that he has AIDS he is unable to accept it because he does not identify with one of the four H’s (hemophiliac, Haitian, heroin user, homosexuals). Even though Roy regularly has sex with men, he shouts at his doctor “Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry who fucks around with guys.” He refers to himself in the third person because his self-perception is based on how others view him in society (straight). He believes that “homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout” (46). Roy says this to Henry to ‘prove’ he is not homosexual for he is symbol for hard work and masculinity in this story—he is the one who knows President Reagan after all. Roy believes that being homosexual will prevent him from gaining trust and respect from other successful people which is why he is so sensitive to this information and rather believes he has liver cancer.  

Another example that supports my claim shows up when Harper asks Joe if he is homosexual. Joe does not outright deny her accusation and refers to his gayness as a ‘thing that he’s fought very hard to kill’ (40). He then says, “all I will say is that I am a very good man who has worked very hard to become good and you want to destroy that” (41).  He believes that accepting his identity will prevent him from being a ‘good’ Mormon in the same aspect that Roy believes being homosexual will prevent him from being good at his job. 

Roy and Joe feel like their queer identities contradict other facets of their identities which are more outwardly appearing, like being a successful lawyer and a kind husband and Mormon. Both characters are essentially forced to come out, which explains such emotional reactions from each of them. They don’t feel safe coming out because people have already formed ideas of who they are in their heads. Even though Roy is not married to a woman, like Joe is people have already deemed him straight too because he is successful even though the two characteristics are clearly unrelated. 

Eli Clare’s pursuit to define his identity

Close reading Clare’s first paragraph on page 31 

Clare uses intense words like ‘must’, ‘need’ and ‘restrain’ to highlight the challenges he faces writing a story about his identity. First, Clare says he ‘must’ acknowledge the feeling of longing for rural Oregon. He vocalizes how painful it is to talk about his hometown and how the words that come from his mouth ache like an “abscessed tooth”. He feigns that he is moving on from this topic for the sake of his writing by saying the word homesick is too overused, even after making such a chilling simile to a tooth infection. Clare’s pain seeps out from him even though it seems he wants to display vulnerability in the most objective way possible.  

Clare’s desire to remain objective is displayed in his efforts to find the definitions of his identity which he lists “Queer. Exile. Class” (31). Clare says he ‘restrains’ himself from using the dictionary because he knows them already—he represents them. Even though he failed at discussing his rural upbringing, he is now able to describe his true intention as the pursuit in defining his identity to himself, as challenging as that may be for someone who feels like the layers of their identity don’t align.  

In order to fully grasp his identity, he “needs to enter the maze created by dyke identity, class location, and white rural roots” (31). ‘Need’ points urgency to Clare’s mission to meaningfully reflect on his life experiences. This quote reminded me of Eli Clare’s “The good Body” lecture where he draws importance to recognizing the complex, complicated, and contradictory nature of our bodies. This passage suggests Clare feels the same way about identity in general: one must identify each layer of their identity and work to make sense of it all, without regard to textbook definitions and stereotypes.  

Jones’ relationship with his inner child in “Insomniac”

“Insomniac” is about Saeed Jones’ broken relationship with his inner child. The reason why I know the boy Jones describes is him is because his reference to ‘legs’ in the first stanza of this poem parallels the several references made about legs in his other poems about later life experiences. In “Insomniac” Jones describes the young boy (himself as a child) as “small with wild legs” (1). In “Cruel Body” about Jones’ experience with sexual assault, it says “Get up. Find your legs, leave” (35). There is a clear difference between the two characters, the young boy who cannot sit still and the older person who cannot leave.  

The relationship between the two characters, the two versions of Jones, is described as an estranged relationship between child and parent, which supports the idea about Jones lamenting over his inner child. The newer version of Jones is described as the “mother of sorrows” who cries in the child’s bed and waits for him to answer her calls (1).  

Even though the two people come from the same ‘family’ Jones says, “the only inheritance of worth [the inner child’s] in the village of your synapses” (1). This line suggests that the relationship between parent and son- Jones and his inner child- is not only sad but dysfunctional as well; the inheritance was not intended for the child but for Jones’ older self. I think this makes sense because children seem to have more self-worth in general until it gets robbed from them in life experiences.  

It is not until the last stanza where Jones accepts fault for this relationship when it says “but — for now—he’s still your boy. Sweet little wreck. Check the room you’ve locked him in” (1). The reader stops focusing on how the boy was ‘trapped in his synapses’ but how he got trapped there to begin with.