Our Flag Means Death: Representation in Media


Our Flag Means Death is a show in which two worlds collide. It follows the life of the protagonist Stede Bonnet, an upper class gentleman who leaves his life and family behind to pursue his life’s goal, to become a pirate. Alas, Stede is not used to the life of a pirate and quickly realizes the dangers of his new life. But, he’s determined to be a pirate, no matter what. As his journey progresses, Stede meets Blackbeard, the king of pirates. Blackbeard is known for his dangerous exploits, and yet Stede falls in love with him. Surprisingly, Blackbeard falls in love with him as well. The rest of the show follows their relationship as it progresses.


Our Flag Means Death means many things to me. It has taught me to pursue what makes me happy, regardless of obstacles in my path. It has shown me that being queer does not mean the loss of a family. Of course as Eve Sedgwick states, some parents will wish their child’s death over their queerness, but blood connection does not define family. Stede meets his chosen family throughout his journey as a pirate. His crew became his family and they stood by each other, even during fights and through many disagreements, regardless of sexual orientation.


Identity and sexual fluidity are two key themes in Our Flag Means Death. Stede hasn’t completely found his identity yet, but he’s tried many throughout his journey. As previously mentioned, Stede was raised as an English nobleman. He had extreme wealth and a peaceful life, but he never identified with his life as an English nobleman. When he left his life behind, Stede began exploring his identity. He no longer identified as a nobleman, but as a pirate. He didn’t identify with the traditional pirate life, so he decided to become a “gentleman” pirate in an attempt to mesh his personality with his new identity. Stede also explored his sexual identity.


Sexuality is fluid, it can change over time. Stede was a husband to a woman of similar social status. He never loved her. Stede hadn’t explored his sexuality until Blackbeard. In the beginning, Stede was hesitant to love a man because of old social expectations. However, the sea did not care who was in love with who, the life of a pirate meant freedom, especially sexually. Once he realized this, Stede allowed himself to embrace the concept of loving Blackbeard. Although he remains unlabeled in the show, Stede’s sexual identity can no longer be considered heterosexual exclusively.


I relate this concept of sexual fluidity to “Growing up Gay”. In “Growing up Gay”, an individual of Hispanic descent spoke of exploring his sexuality in secret. His family was strict in their decision that they would only accept his relationships if they were heterosexual. His family restricted his ability to be free and to explore his sexuality. This can be connected to Stede as he was forced into a loveless heterosexual marriage and he didn’t explore his sexuality until he was a pirate out at sea.

I also connect the theme of identity being complex to Eve Sedgwick’s definition of queer that states that queer could not be made to signify monolithically. Even though he is unlabeled, Stede still falls under the umbrella term of queer. In Our Flag Means Death, Stede explores many facets of his identity and still isn’t completely sure but his identity is, and that’s okay. Being queer allows one to explore the many facets of their identity without feeling constrained to a label. I feel that the storyline of the show truly portrays the complexity and intersectionality in regards to being queer.

Title: Roy Cohn: A Study in Toxic Masculinity

In the play, “Angels of America”, Tony Kushner explores many ways men demonstrate masculine traits and express their masculinity. The character, Roy Cohn, exhibits many characteristics that align with the concept of toxic masculinity. This includes presenting oneself as infallible and expressing aggression, especially in regard to affection. Tony Kushner explores the manifestation of toxic masculinity through the actions and dialogue of Roy Cohn in “Angels of America”.


Roy Cohn frequently presents himself as infallible in regard to his sickness. This is extremely prevalent after his conversation with Joe in the stage directions given for Roy, “(Roy doubles over in great pain, which he’s been hiding while Joe was in the room)” (116). These directions explicitly make clear to the readers that Roy was acting tough, acting masculine while talking with Joe even though he was feeling extreme pain. Another example of Roy acting dismissive toward his illness is shown during his dialogue with Ethel. By claiming that, “[he has]  forcedR [his] way into history. [He] ain’t never gonna die” (118), Roy is emphasizing his accomplishments as reasoning for his survival, essentially stating that because he has done such great things, that he has to be immortal and nothing will ever knock him down. 


In addition to presenting as infallible, Roy Cohn also expresses affection in an aggressive way. Aggressive behavior, especially when seen in tandem to affection, is a main trait of toxic masculinity. In the play, “Angels of America”, Roy Cohn demonstrates aggressive affection toward Joe. This is extremely prevalent when Roy says, “I love you, baby Joe. That’s why I’m so rough on you” (115). This quote demonstrates the juxtaposition between love and pain, suggesting that in order to be loved, you must endure pain. Essentially, Roy Cohn is exhibiting toxic masculinity ideas in the way that he will only show love in an aggressive way.



Home on The Mountain


“I will never find home on the mountain.” (Clare 10). That sentence really stood out to me among the first chapter of Exile and Pride by Eli Clare. The first chapter of this book focuses on the metaphor of the mountain. The metaphor of the mountain in this chapter is described as the uphill battle that one faces to succeed. As Clare is disabled, the idea that “[he] will never find home on the mountain” (10) becomes more powerful. 


There are many struggles that people that are able bodied will never understand in regards to succeeding in life. The disabled community will always face synonyms such as incompetent and unable. Society is determined to tear down the disabled and limit any sense of direction that they could have in their life. In other words, Clare is right; the disabled will never find home on the mountain. Society makes damn sure of that by crushing the hopes of the disabled.


Clare also references his queerness as a reason for why “[he] will never find home on the mountain” (10). On one hand, I understand where he is coming from. Queer communities often face discrimination in daily life, as well as the workplace specifically. If we maintain that the mountain is a symbol towards success, then it is easy to see how homophobia may limit the success of a queer individual. But, I believe that his disabilities play a bigger role in shaping his ability to find a home on the mountain, somewhere where he can succeed. 


Saeed Jones explores the idea that sexual intimacy is used to validate sexual orientation in the poem “Thralldom” from his collection Prelude to Bruise. The first line, “I survived on mouthfuls of hyacinth” sets a tone of sexual rashness. A hyacinth flower somewhat resembles a penis, hence the sexual connotation, and it signifies rashness, especially if the rashness pertains to a game. In Jones’ case, the game is his sexuality and he is rashly performing sexual acts as the “beauty” of being with another man “is what [he] choked on”. The juxtaposition of something beautiful leading to something painful, like choking, leads me to believe that Jones is recklessly engaging in painful sex in order to feel that his sexuality  can be validated as beauty. By claiming that “The beauty is what [he] choked on”, Jones also alludes to the beauty of sexual intimacy. Many queer people that engage in sex, oral or other, feel that there is something ethereal about physically being with someone of the same sex. For Jones, the “beauty” of oral sex is painful as it is “choking” him, but the situation is ethereal to him because it’s with another man. To further add to this opposition of beauty and pain, Jones claims that the men he’s sleeping within have “cruel tongues” yet he asks for “more / please”. Cruel tongues may be alluding to harsh language rather than an actual physical description as tongues can also be used as a synonym for language.  If he is referring to degrading language, then perhaps he is seeking out more degrading language for comfort. As a gay black man, Jones was probably used to degrading language and slurs being thrown at him, which could, oddly enough, cause a sense of comfort in that type of language. Therefore, asking for “more / please” In the very obviously cruel and painful situation Is a way of Jones acknowledging his sexual orientation during sexually intimate moments.