Mecca Jamilah Sullivan’s Wolfpack revolves around a group of girls who experience both a verbal and physical attack that leaves them feeling extremely vulnerable. I honestly had a difficult time reading the story. Sullivan did a really good job of infusing her words with the characters’ emotions— more specifically, their pain and suffering. One theme I thought to be especially apparent was the power of words and the effects they have on the “Lesbian Wolfpack.”
On the night of their attack, the man verbally abuses them, calling Verniece a “goddamn elephant,” saying TaRonne “look[s] like a fucking man,” and threatening to “fuck [Sha] straight” (13). His verbal abuse leaves the women speechless and unable to defend themselves against him. Earlier on in the story, Luna differentiates animals from humans by saying, “the only real difference between people and animals is people talk. That’s it” (9). Through verbally assaulting the women and taking away their words, the man dehumanizes them and “[tears] the person out of [each of them]” (14). Even in court when the women are placed on trial, the judge again strips them of their words and minimizes the significance of the event through saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones,” alluding to the saying that “words will never hurt me” (16).
This story demonstrates just how powerful one’s words can be and the magnitude of the effects it has on a person. Being a person and an individual means being able to express oneself freely through using words, and these women were not able to do that. In addition to emphasizing the power of words, this story also highlights how many women’s experiences are often disregarded and deemed unimportant. It made me really sad to think about this, but also made me realize that many women are often mistreated and not taken seriously.
We met on Sunday to create an outline of our presentation and figure out what themes. On Monday in class, we created our presentation and practiced.
I liked reading the second half of Fun Home much more than the first half. Bechdel’s portrayal of her life was not as disturbing as she focused more on how her father lived through her vicariously rather than his role in their family and his affairs with younger men. Additionally, her tone became less cold and more vulnerable, which I believe made the novel easier to read because it made Bechdel seem more human.
With regards to the weight the words and pictures held in the second half of the graphic novel, I would say that they were even for the most part, until around pages 220-221 where both Bechdel and her father confide in each other about their sexualities. In these two pages, the words hold way more weight than the images— there is not much action in the illustrations. This conversation between Bechdel and her father demonstrates a turning point in their relationship. Since her childhood, Bechdel has been trying to find common ground with her father in order to form a genuine connection and relationship with him. However, she has been unsuccessful until this moment. Bechdel is able to bond with her father about dressing in the opposite gender’s clothing and speak freely with her father.
However, Bechdel then continues on to compare their exchange not as the “sobbing, joyous reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus,” but “more like the fatherless Stephen and sonless Bloom having their equivocal late-night cocoa at 7 Eccles Street” (221). Rather than being a moment of acceptance for them both, this exchange is more of an unburdening for Bechdel’s father. Whereas Bechdel has been comfortable with her sexuality for much of her life, Bruce has had to repress his sexuality. Due to this, there is an unexpected shift in roles, with Bechdel mentioning that she felt “distinctly paternal” during this conversation (221).
This conversation is arguably the most important scene of the novel because of how it demonstrates both Bechdel’s and Bruce’s escape from their repressed feelings. I think that Bechdel chose to minimize the action in the images in order to emphasize exactly what is said between her and her father. The lack of action in the images also demonstrates the tone of the conversation, which in this case, seemed to be slightly awkward. Not only does it indicate the awkward tone of the conversation, but it also emphasizes the expressions on Bechdel’s face during the conversation.
The main themes of the first three chapters of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home, seem to be centered around escaping from reality. With the structure of the graphic novel being starkly different from the other pieces we’ve been reading in class, Bechdel describes her father’s life in relation to her family with a series of anecdotes and literary references to characters in some of her and her father’s favorite books.
These first couple of chapters of the novel were very interesting albeit a bit morbid. It made me uncomfortable to get a glimpse into this dysfunctional family where the father was projecting his repressed sexuality onto his family through exerting his control over the redecorating of the house. His role was not one of a loving father, but rather one of authority. Both of his children and his wife were forced to walk on eggshells around him and were unable to voice their opinions in fear that he may lash out. The rule that the Bechdel children and Helen, their mother, agreed on —to never mention anything about what he wore whether good or bad— demonstrated just how controlling and volatile Bruce’s temper was.
Bechdel tries to understand her relationship with her father through drawing parallels between her family and the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Comparing her father to Daedalus, she notes that they are both geniuses in their own right, with Daedalus being a master inventor and her father being a master at altering appearances. Through Bechdel’s anecdotes about her father, it is clear that he is not comfortable with his identity. Thus, he attempts to escape the reality of his life —his wife whom he does not love, and his children— through trying to control the minuscule details that aren’t significant in the bigger picture. He channels his energy into redecorating their house, making it seem ornate and grandiose, in an attempt to hide the dysfunctionality of their family. Furthermore, Bruce’s repressed sexuality is apparent in their family dynamic. Comparing her family to the minotaur, Bechdel implies that her family is also trapped. However, instead of being trapped in a maze, her family is trapped by Bruce’s obsessions and repressed sexuality.
Further contemplating her father’s death, Bechdel struggles with her emotions regarding his death. Bechdel describes the way in which she and her siblings would have fun at the funeral home, smelling the mourners’ salts and playing around the caskets. Because the Bechdel children have grown up around a funeral home, their attitudes toward death have become desensitized. This desensitization leads to emotional issues when Bechdel’s father dies. She is unable to fully mourn her father due to the repression of her feelings, a repression she first exerted when seeing her first corpse. This leads to the opening of this wound later on in her life when Bechdel is able to fully accept her sexuality.
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.