Toward Queer(er) Homostories

English 391: Studies in Gay and Lesbian Literature
February 24, 2003

The function of queer literature lies somewhere between the ideas of Havelock Ellis and Bennett Singer. Ellis’ assertion that queer literature, in a sense, provides an “insider’s view” of the “human psyche” of queer people, making it somewhat of a speculative writing, fails to capture the importance queer literature plays for queer people. Conversely, Singer’s suggestion that queer literature establishes a sense of queer identity and allows queer readers to relate with other (even fictional) queer people does not address the importance queer literature holds for non-queer people. I think queer literature does, as it should, combine those two approaches to queer literature, which results in a genre that is comfortable for any reader. At the same time, however, I want to propose that queer literature should evolve and look to feminist texts and theorists for ways to grow as a literary art, a way to give voice to oppressed/underrepresented people, and elevate itself on a critical and theoretical level.

Lately I’ve been really interested in feminist (or, more specifically, the French Feminists’) perspectives on writing. Using Lacan’s psychoanalytic understanding of language and the subconscious, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva (who I am least familiar with at the time), and Hélène Cixous spent a good amount of time in the 1970s analyzing the phallocentric construction of language and understanding. Cixous’ suggestion that women should practice écriture feminine, to “write their body,” absolutely fascinates me. In Sorties and The Laugh of the Medusa [both from The Newly Born Woman], Cixous outlines her ideas on how expression can be reclaimed from a system which has been created and enforced by men. While Cixous does make some vague references to homosexuality (or rather, against the overpowering nature of heterosexuality), she doesn’t address queer issues as much as she could. Granted, in the 1970s in France the topic was not as big as it is now, so I hardly blame her for the omission—I think her work as it stands is amazing and extremely thought-provoking. Nonetheless, I think a queer “tweaking” of écriture feminine would prove interesting and I would like to see queer literature head in such a way.

One of Cixious’ disciples/followers/students/etc., Nancy K. Miller, demonstrates a type of écriture feminine that I think can prove extremely useful for queer authors. In Rereading the Sophists, Susan Jarrat discusses Miller’s essay “Arachnologies: The Women, The Text, and the Critic.” In the essay, Jarrat explains, “Miller provides examples of feminist readings which take a revision of logic through narrative as their central strategy” (77). Miller retells Ovid’s story of Arachne, who, in Ovid’s version, “spins a meaningless web” (Jarrat 77). In Miller’s version, on the other hand, “Arachne is reinstated…in the process of weaving a beautiful tapestry with its own story of women raped and destroyed by Zeus” (Jarrat 77). According to Jarrat, “Miller calls her own technique ‘overreading’ an ‘underread’ text. The goal of overreading is…to retrieve a text from anonymity it may have been forced into by a philosophical or ‘masculine’ discourse” (77). I think queer authors can follow Miller and Cixous’ lead to “overread” “underread” texts for queer meanings.

Queer literature, then, should become even more “queer.” It should become strange and questionable and fanciful. Just as the feminists have made critiques of history, emphasing the masculine influence and telling hystery or herstory, queers need to displace herterostory and tell homostories. Queer men, as effeminized men from a theoretical standpoint, have been victims of phallocentric/heteronormative doctrines just as much as women. The debates about gender and nature versus nurture are just as important to feminists as they are to queer authors, and the queers, like the feminists, need to uncover the untold stories that need to be told. Just because heterostory tells us that Abraham Lincoln was straight doesn’t mean that we can’t fathom the possibility that he might have had a male lover. Even though suggesting that Jesus was not heterosexual (if he was sexual at all) may be blasphemous, someone needs to ask whether there was something more to the relationships he had with the Disciples. Even if the homostories are not based in “logical” masculine his/heterostorical fact, opening the possibilities makes it easier for contemporary readers to accept queers in mainstream culture. Further, the homostories will continue the feminists work to dismantle the oppressive structure of masculine (not physical “men” but the “masculine” position of power) that has silenced the queers and women and blacks and others and give new ownership to the past and present to those who haven’t had a chance yet—and that should appeal to everyone.

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