Mecca Jamilah Sullivan’s fiction short story, “Blue Talk and Love,” explores the life of Earnestine Sanchez and her struggles with her identity. Initially, the piece focuses on Earnestine’s inability to fit in at both her school and at her ARYSE program. Throughout the short story, the narrator vocalizes Earnestine’s insecurities about her race, class, and sexuality.
Earnestine feels uncomfortable at school because she doesn’t fit the standards of white beauty. Additionally, because Earnestine doesn’t feel attracted to men, she struggles with society’s perception of how a girl her age should act. Xiomara’s stories about boys don’t interest Earnestine because Earnestine “liked boys like she liked anybody else” (26). Because of this, Earnestine’s feelings toward Xiomara are conflicted, thus leading to the love-hate relationship she has with Xiomara. Earnestine often finds herself feeling jealous of Xiomara because although Xiomara also isn’t white, “by all indications, Xiomara did alright for herself” in society (26).
Earnestine’s sexuality is never explicitly discussed in the story; rather, her true feelings toward Xiomara are hidden throughout the piece. I like how Sullivan chose not to make Earnestine’s sexuality the focus of the story, as it demonstrates that one’s sexuality is not necessarily their defining feature. Furthermore, sexuality is not something one can label or categorize, as in the beginning, many often don’t immediately label themselves as lesbian or gay, if they classify themselves at all. Sexuality is not something that one can organize into neat boxes; rather, it is a spectrum. Additionally, just like in the story, sexuality is something that, by some, is not even considered until later in life, as it is often precedented by other issues in out lives such as our insecurities or our conflicting views on what is accepted by society.
While Gay asserts that taking a stand can be beneficial for many people, she admits that coming out is not equally difficult for everyone. She maintains that society classifies certain queer people as the “right kind of gay” (165). Those who do not fit this mold often are ignored or ostracized. One such person was Sally Ride; after her death in 2012, Ride’s wife was ignored and denied the benefits often given to heterosexual widows. Since she did not fit the mold of a “white, handsome, successful, masculine,” male, their relationship went widely unrecognized (165). Due to her deviance from the norm, she is not recognized as the “right kind of gay” and is not accepted. This fear that one will be ostracized from society if they do not fit the mold of the “right kind of gay” thus makes it more difficult for some to come out.
In her piece, “A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories,” Roxanne Gay begins by examining the privacy rights, or lack thereof, of those who have risen to success, fame, or power. Arguing that privacy should be a right afforded to anyone —regardless of race, class, or sexual orientation— Gay proceeds to protest the general society’s “need” to become privy to the private matters in these public figures’ lives. She maintains that those in the spotlight are “flesh and blood” (162), too, and just because they choose to be in the spotlight does not mean that they have “shed their inalienable rights” (162) and expectations of privacy.
Gay also asserts that because of their social status, these public figures are expected by society to assume responsibility for larger societal issues, namely, the stigma surrounding homosexuality. Using the examples of Matt Bomer, Anderson Cooper, Neil Patrick Harris, and other celebrities that fit the “acceptable” level of homosexuality and contrasting these individuals with the artist Frank Ocean, Gay emphasizes that “coming out” is not equally difficult for everyone and that some have more to lose than others. In this case, just because Frank Ocean is well-known and well-liked by many, he was still taking a big risk due to his part of the “notoriously homophobic R&B and hip-hop community” (167).
I agree with Gay in that those in the spotlight should not feel the social pressure to come out in order to alleviate the stigma surrounding homosexuality. Arguing that in order for progress to be made, we all have to take a stand, no matter how small, and those in the spotlight should not have to “forge these inroads on our behalf… [and] carry the hopes of so many on their shoulders” (168).
In his piece, “The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts Club,” Michael Cobb responds to Justice Kennedy’s remarks on marriage following the Obergefell v. Hodges case. Much like in Laura Kipnis’ essay, “Against Love,” Cobb expresses his dissent towards the societal definition of love which must include marriage. Cobb comments on how it is unfair that the government has the power to determine whether a relationship is acceptable or not.
Arguing that marriage is not an essential part of a person’s happiness, Cobb expresses that single people are also able to find relationships (not necessarily romantic) that give them the “general feeling of dignity, well-being, and justice” (4). In society, marriage is viewed as the embodiment of “the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family” (4), and those who are unwed are deemed as undignified and are “den[ied]… adequate language, representation, and consideration” (3).
I agree with Cobb that the government shouldn’t be able to decide what type of love or relationships are “legitimate.” Even in the “progressive” world that we are in, when we talk about love, it is almost always the passionate love of those in a romantic relationship. However, there are many other types of love —the love between friends, family members, and even business partners— that are just as important to an individual’s happiness and well-being as romantic love. Cobb demonstrates the importance of platonic love with the example of Senator Lindsey Graham. While single, Senator Graham has been able to lead a successful career, and when asked who would become his First Lady, he merely replied: “Well, I’ve got a sister, she could play that role if necessary” (2).
However, while I agree that all forms of love should be given an equal amount of respect by both society and the government, I also disagree with how Cobb reduces marriage to little more than a contract between those who only want the benefits mentioned above. I recognize some’s hesitance in wanting to get married to avoid the commitment to becoming one’s lifelong partner. However, I believe that marriage should not only be viewed as an institution that presents couples with legal benefits and “orders the world and civilization” (2) but also as a tradition that couples can go through as a way to express their love and commitment to one another.
In Michel Foucault’s introduction to The History of Sexuality, he discusses the repression of sexuality that was evident during the Victorian era, and compares it to the modern world. Foucault argues that while Freud has allowed for more open discussions on sexuality, these discussions (as in the Victorian era) are still only limited to the scientific realm of psychiatry.
Furthermore, Foucault examines the topic of sexuality with regards to marriage, stating that the institution of marriage has now claimed this discourse on sexuality, “mov[ing] it into the home” (3), where couples can decide what is and what isn’t said about sexuality. Taking it a step further, Foucault touches on the discourse of sexuality and how it is used to gain power. He takes the old saying “knowledge is power,” and applies this to sexuality, inferring that whoever determines what can be talked about also determines what can be known.
This repression of sexuality has not changed much since the Victorian era. The stigma that accompanied the “Other Victorians” that Foucault discusses, those that have taken their “infernal mischief” (4) to brothels and mental institutions, has not disappeared; rather, the names have changed, and these individuals are now known to modern society as “sluts,” “tramps,” “hookers,” and “whores.” Even in today’s morally loose society and despite the willingness of recent generations to talk about sexuality, there is still a sense of taboo surrounding the topic of sex. Public discussions of sex are only considered acceptable by society when in the context of an academic setting, and even then, many parents have issues with sexual education being taught at schools, arguing that it is crude and indecent.
As Laura Kipnis writes in her polemic, “Against Love,” we all want to be loved, be in love, and be someone else’s “special someone,” feeling that desire and passion that overrides our rational thoughts and actions. Her cynical and almost scientific tone when discussing love, infidelity, and marriage demonstrates the many sacrifices one makes to attain love. This feeling of “modern love” according to Kipnis, however, is merely fleeting, and is portrayed as a disillusioned belief that can only lead to torment and despair. Moreover, the marriage that often accompanies this “modern love” is merely a social institution committed to “maximizing submission and minimizing freedom” (740). Thus, with this mindset, adulterers can only be seen as rebels who are trying to assert their freedom from the “domestic confines of love” (736) in which the individual costs heavily outweigh the benefits.
However, while Kipnis constantly pokes fun at the aids that help in the labors of love, bemoaning at the amount of work that goes into a relationship and the sacrifices that come with marriage, she fails to recognize that anything that is of value in life takes some effort and work. It is easy for wood to rot, dust to collect on shelves, nor does it take much effort (if any at all) for relationships to fall apart or for marriages to crumble. This “work” she mentions that goes into relationships, however, is not limited only to relationships of a romantic nature, but also to those that are platonic. Our interactions with those around us take work and effort, not only to maintain relationships, but also for the purpose of working together to succeed in endeavors that would further society as a whole.