The Future is Fruitless: How The Handmaid’s Tale Predicts a Frightening Possibility

“We want wisdom. We want hope. We want to be good. Therefore we sometimes tell ourselves warning stories that deal with the darker side of some of our other wants.”

Margaret Atwood, Interview with The Guardian, 2005

The Handmaid's tale

Promotional Poster for HULU’s The Handmaids Tale, featuring Elisabeth Moss.

In 1986, the author, literary critic and environmental activist, Margaret Atwood introduced a work of speculative fiction which has had a lasting effect on the public.  Although written over 30 years ago, The Handmaid’s Tale maintains relevancy in a number of ways.  The most obvious, of course, is the recent television adaptation by HULU.  Before you binge-watch the entirety of season 1, I highly recommend picking up Atwood’s original piece. I have now read the novel twice through and I’m glad to have done so. This story is an important one to tell.  

Let’s start with a little overview.  This story takes place sometime in America’s future; and although specific dates are not disclosed by Atwood or her characters, the reader can assume the United States has been grappling with a number of issues which stem mostly from environmental decline and social discontent.  In attempts to take control of the situation, the country slowly transitions into a totalitarian state.  Renamed “The Republic of Gilead,” the state keeps order according to unyielding religious law.  The people who were once able to take pride in freedom and individuality, have now been categorized according to functionality.  We see a socioeconomic hierarchy forming reminiscent of medieval Europe.  Even the Constitution has been suspended.   

“The chances [of delivering a healthy baby] are one in four…The air got too full, once, f chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules, all of that takes years to clean up…sure death to shore birds and unborn babies” (Atwood, 112).

The depreciation of environmental and physical health has led to outbreaks of cancer and syphilis, to name a few health issues. However, the most troublesome problem Gilead faces is their inability to keep up its population.  Procreation has become nearly impossible, with case after case of infertility in women.  This point brings me to our narrator and the main character, “Offred.”  She is a Handmaid: a child bearer.  “Handmaid” is a confusing space to occupy in Gilead’s hierarchy. One one hand, the Handmaid is a valued member of society. They are trained and protected. On the other hand, however, this training states Handmaids have but one purpose in society: bear children for women who cannot do so themselves.

The Handmaid's Tale

Various Editions of The Handmaid’s Tale

Reflecting on the effects of this message, Offred comments, “We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices” (136).  I am struck by the starkness of this particular line.  Just like that, Offred is plainly saying “I am an object and I know it.” And at this point in the text, she is not exclaiming or complaining about this fact.  She is simply stating something she knows to be true.  There are many other times throughout the book when either Offred, her friend Moira, or even one of the Aunts who train the women comments on their condition in this way. I am left speechless by the perceived normalcy of it all.

I didn’t see too much dialogue from male characters, but when I did, I almost wish I hadn’t.  Offred’s Commander (the man with whom she has been paired to become pregnant) says the following of women in Gilead: “We have quite a collection… That one was a lawyer, that one was in business, an executive position” but will also state that women “can’t add”  (237, 186). He sees no contradictions in these two statements at all.

I start to think about the blatant objectification of women and the focus on environmental in this book and am convinced that every woman needs to read this book.  As fictional as this novel may be, I stress the word “speculative,” as the genre states. We need to remember these kinds of stories are possible and that we do have the means of writing our own future.   



Atwood, Margaret. “’Aliens Have Taken the Place of Angels’.” The Guardian, Guardian

News and Media, 16 June 2005,
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. O.W. Toad, LTD, 1986.

Romantic Ideologies

The ability of human beings to reason and develop that has separated our species from our environment. However, claiming the human identity, this “privileged” species, has not guaranteed a completely communicable group. Conversely, the ability to reason has left us with the ability to lack completely congruent thought. While this seems a visionary prospect, individuals will claim allegiance to various patterns of thinking. In doing so, their thoughts and/or goals form an individual system of values referred to as an ideology.
Now, in order to form an ideology, a group of people must agree on a set of values. This is how individuals form groups and identities. For example, there are ideologies which relate and depend on facets such as media, government, education, geography, ethnicity, race, heritage, gender, religion, social status etc. One ideology, which grew out of the Late Classical Period is based in the arts. Claiming an idealistic attitude for music and art through the title of Romanticism, this way of thinking brought a concrete expression of lofty ideas. In other words, the work of Romanticism brought forth attempts to find truth and clarity through ambiguity. The ideals of Romanticism are often problematic, in that they often create dual interpretations for both the creator and audience. This battling of self and other makes way for a number of dualities that guide one through the analysis of art through a Romantic lens.
While “Man versus Nature” begins by questioning the effects humanity and nature have on each other, “Science vs. Irrational” pits humans against each through their ability to reason and live reasonably. Each duality represents a version of questioning the self’s relationship to the other. In order to explore these dualities further, I will consult Timothy Morton’s “Environmentalism” and the theories of Friedrich Nietzsche as they apply to examples in music across the genres.
Timothy Morton describes environmentalism as “a set of cultural and political responses to a crisis in humans’ relationships with their surroundings” (Morton, 696). This description is haunting in relationship to Romanticism, because Morton reveals that environmental crises rather than appreciations are what have called humans to examine their relationship with phenomenons other than themselves. I would argue that Romanticism struggles to create a balance between the self and other, constantly critiquing the effects each has on the other. For example, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl not only affected the physical land but those living in and near the city. Morton writes “no matter what our nationality or class affiliation is, we share the toxic legacy of Chernobyl” (697). This instance speaks to the long lasting relationship between humans and earth, and puts into perspective the values humans hold (industrialism over environmental consciousness).

Inner City Blues
Nature is included in this discourse but certainly not the sole focus. The neglectful behaviors that led to Chernobyl illustrate the attitudes humans can have toward each other due to “otherness.” Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)” allows the listener to reflect upon the economy and state of the inner city ghetto of New York City. Written in 1971, there are aspects of the song which deliberately expose the inequality among the races, especially between black and white. The echoing vocals are illicit emptiness and the addition of percussive bongos brings the listener to a bleakness of losing oneself in that emptiness. The lyrics describe the inability to pay bills, monetary inflation, and the double standard of living in the city as a black community. The piece could be angry, but I believe Gaye deliberately chose to write “makes me wanna holler” rather than “I will holler” in order to prevent the creation of a violent voice/attitude. In this piece there is simultaneous fear and frustration for change. Gaye’s “self” struggles to be heard over the dominant “other” without precautions or policing of behavior- an environmental (social) injustice he undoubtedly aimed to affect with his music.
To elaborate on the policing of human behavior, I will move to discuss the duality of “Science vs. Irrational.” According to Friedrich Nietzsche, “man must understand that life is not governed by rational principles” (Brady, 1). Rather, humans are absurd and when stripped naked, cannot claim allegiance to society while continuing to stay true to themselves. Therefore, there are various instances of humans defying social norms. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the system is constraining (yet we strive to subscribe to it by forming ideologies).

Let's Go Crazy
Prince is an appropriate musician to analyze for this duality because of his tendency to skirt in an out of social constraints and expectations. For example, he has made several statements based on gender nonconformity and against labeling identities. In these actions, he illustrates that society is constraining. Perhaps this makes him crazy, but perhaps he is saner than those who conform. “Let’s Go Crazy,” (1984) is a commentary on the restrictions humans face on earth. The lyrics form most of the commentary, calling on the audience to remain true to themselves and to their own mind. He says “So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills/You know the one, Dr. Everything-will-be-alright/Instead of asking him how much how much of your time is left/ask him how much of your mind” he attitude is not as morbid as Nietzsche would suggest, that we are all naked and alone in the world. On the contrary, we should be not be brought down by the constraints of society at the expense of ourselves. He ends by bringing the shrink back into conversation, “Dr. Everything-will-be-alright will make everything go wrong.” This is a blatant stab at psychology, and the “fixing” of human incongruences and aligns perfectly with Nietzsche’s theories.
The Romantic ideology of finding a truth through ambiguity and binaries can easily be explained through the examination of the self as opposed to the other. The musical examples I have described in this short essay have hopefully exposed the reality of these conflicting issues in our history and current society. So long as romantic ideals of questioning through expression prevail, humans will be enacting their skills as thinkers and communicators.

Intersectionality in Cereus Blooms at Night and Orange is the New Black

Through the following comparative essay, I will attempt to address examples of intersectionality in Cereus Blooms at Night, a novel by Shani Mootoo, and Orange is the New Black, a Netflix original series based on a memoir by Piper Kerman. These texts are appropriate for an application of queer theory due to consistently queered characters. The reader struggles to define and identify the characters, which leads to the discourse of intersectionality. According to the University of California Center for New Racial Studies, “Intersectionality is the name that is now given to the complex of reciprocal attachments and sometimes polarizing conflicts that confront both individuals and movements as they seek to ‘navigate’ among the raced, gendered, and class-based dimensions of social and political life” (University of California). I enjoy this particular definition because of the simultaneous sense of isolation and fluidity it creates. With this in mind, I will begin to investigate the condition of Chandin Ramchandin in Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.
Cereus Blooms at NightAlthough Cereus is set in the fictional country of Lantanacamara, Mootoo based much of the book’s construction on her experience living in Trinidad. Lantanacamara mirrors Trinidad geographically and socially, with a racial composition of white, indian and black peoples. Racism runs rampant in even this fictional country, leaving many indians to struggle as servant laborers. When Chandin Ramchandin arrives in Lantancamara, his father takes precautions against subjecting his son to the system.The boy enrolls in a school founded by a white Reverend, who eventually adopts him. In associating with the Reverend’s education system, Chandin and his family are forced to convert to Christianity. While Chandin is in favor of this change, his parents are not and continue to practice Hindu traditions. Displeased, Chandin all but disowns his own family in favor of the “smarter-acting Reverend’s religion.”
This small excerpt of Chandin’s early life presents the “complex attachments” of intersectionality. Because he is indian, Chandin’s options for a career are limited. He comes from a servant laborer’s family who has worked very hard to improve his status, but the best option is also limiting. Chandin receives education at the expense of his family and family’s customs, which is a tough decision to follow through with. Among the gossip of the Ramchandin’s story is heard “If it is the only way for your child to get an education and not have to work like a horse sweating and breaking back in the hot sun for hardly nothing, you wouldn’t convert?” (28). While he is taken away from his family in the name of education, he is also being exploited by the Reverend to help convert more of “his kind” to Christianity. These particular comments strike a chord. I wonder how much an individual should expect to give up of themselves to reach the smallest of opportunities?
Chandin’s situation is complex because even though his religion and race are compromised in the opportunity for education, at least he is granted at least one opportunity to break out of the “caste.” Chandin is an intelligent young man, which puts him at more of an advantage than if he were a young woman instead. There are only two girls in the school enrolled in Chandin’s class, and one of them is the Reverend’s daughter, Lavinia. Chandin’s gender is not very helpful beyond granting him admission to the school. He is usually uncomfortable with his “new family,” constantly deliberating his role among them;

Chandin’s favorite time of day was after the evening meal when the family gathered in the living room for an hour of relaxation. At other times, he was unsure of his place in this new household. He often felt conspicuously lost. But evenings, sitting quietly in the living room with his new family, he had a very definite place…Chandin found that a straight-back upholstered chair had come to be marked as his. Although it was only a physical place, the chair became an antidote to the chaos of his uprootedness.

This moment describes Chandin’s otherness quite well, in that he has a very specific function in the family that is only appropriate or helpful at very specific times (i.e. religious conversion and education). His race is detrimental to him yet again when he shows interest in his non biological sister, Lavinia. The Reverend scolds for his desires, insisting they are “surely against God’s will…Otherwise…” The break in the Reverend’s speech suggests racist undertones, of which he fears announce outright. This is proven by Lavinia’s engagement to a white man, who is indeed distantly related to her. Chandin’s lack of control over his own life and emotions undoubtedly becomes a factor in the treatment of his daughters later in life. Because of the complete exposure to Chandin’s exposure, the reader struggles to form a consistent judgement of his character. His “navigation” through identities is troubled and limiting.Sophia Bursett
Sophia Burest of Orange is the New Black is another character who suffers from the implications of intersectionality. She is a black transgendered woman who is serving time because she organized credit card scams in order to pay for gender reassignment surgery. Before transitioning, Sophia was a firefighter. The hyper-masculine job allowed her opportunity for social acceptance, but as I questioned earlier with Chandin’s case how much should a person really be expected to give up of his or her identity in order to live safely? As a man, Sophia was safe but as a woman is “free” (until convicted of a real crime).
Although she was fortunate enough to be admitted to a women’s prison rather than men’s, I wonder if the only reason this happened was to admit her quickly without too many questions. As an she is already limited in her options for gender expression (as are all the characters). However, she manages to fashion small additions to her wardrobe and run a makeshift salon for the women through the barter system. Problems come to the surface in two cases. First, Sophia is denied her prescribed hormones due to “budget cuts” in the prison, but there are reasons to believe that she is being discriminated against. Other inmates manage to reason or make deals with each other or the C.O.’s in order to get what they want or need. There are a few white women who acquire street drugs with ease, while Sophia is being weaned off of her medication. It should be noted that when trans women are not able to receive their hormones, the experience is quite painful. This pain is disregarded and the medication is not considered necessary. Sophia’s black trans identity is put in jeopardy and she knows her rights. However, she is silenced until forced to injure herself for an emergency trip to the doctor.
The second case that comes to mind is Sophia’s experience as a father and mother. During her sentence, Sophia’s wife grows consistently different. She is dealing with the distance but also her husband’s transition from male to female. This becomes a real issue for Sophia, because she is replaced by a white man (colonization??). Sophia’s wife claims that their son needs a father as well as a mother. I am not condemning this woman, because her experience is difficult as well. However, the instance of a replacement father is heartbreaking and another example of Sophia being silenced, this time in her own family.
The actress who plays Sophia, Laverne Cox, is quite the advocate for the trans community. She has proclaimed herself a “black, trans, middle class, woman” and is very focused on intersectionality and identity. By examining the characters of Cereus Blooms at Night and Orange is the New Black I have seen how different combinations of identities affect an individual. While carrying multiple identities should open up opportunities, they have proven to be limiting based on stigmas and historical patterns. These texts, Orange especially, should open up this discourse to the public and allow more individuals to see the effects of intersectionality.

The Color Purple: Reading Response

Questions be running back and forth through my mind. Feel like snakes. I pray strength, bite the insides of my jaw.

The Color Purple
Alice Walker

The Color PurpleIn The Color Purple the silencing of women is critiqued highly. This is an appropriate fixation due to Celie’s race and gender in relation to her passivity. As many critics recognize, the protagonist is silenced by her friends and family alike. What is interesting is that not only do both men and women silence her, she silences herself. She has been conditioned by her step-father from age fourteen to refrain from questioning the actions of others and focus on questioning herself. She is inhibited regarding her speech and actions through victim-blaming. Alfonso sexually and mentally abuses Celie with this warning: “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (11). From this point on she lacks personal conviction, as most young people would after the same situation. However, the misplaced blame is so exaggerated that Celie’s questions cause her to feel devilish and weak, which leads to a struggle with her sexuality.

The dismissal of Celie’s intelligence and overall humanity causes her to continue silencing herself. Even though she is unhappy she knows how to live in an abusive environment. She knows how to survive. Celie is silent for an entire spring when Mr.____ takes his time in deciding whether or not he wants to take her as his “wife.” From the context, it seems the two characters don’t speak to each other at all during this time, so Celie has not actively objected to the exchange. In this silence, she remains weak. Others realize Celie’s silence and avoid dealing with situations as she does. Mr. ____’s sister, Kate, remarks “You’ve got to fight them Celie, I can’t do it for you” You’ve got to fight them for yourself” (21). Although Kate barely knows Celie, she has witnessed her weaknesses and calls her on them. Celie is afraid to leave after her experience with losing Nettie. Even Shug Avery, her future lover tells Celie that “she ain’t got no good sense” (42).

On her wedding day, Celie is chased around the house and brutally hit by her husband’s children. Despite the blood and frustrating persistence to be a good mother. She doesn’t cry and attempts to find strength in her silence. This effort is troubling not only because young children have already learned that physical abuse is acceptable, but because her forced stoicism is her only strength. Imagine if she would have cried. Would Mr. ____ have beaten her or thrown her out because she couldn’t care for his children after a single day?

This small strength is not as strange to me as Celie’s ability to give wonderful advice and protection to other women while remaining submissive for most of her life. She immediately recognizes that Nettie does not deserve to be taken away by Mr. _____ because she is a smart young girl. However, she is confused by Sophia’s bold behavior so much that she encourages Harpo to beat her. In Celie’s mind the problems that Harpo has are very simple. A woman in insubordinate, so you beat her. At the same time, Celie marvels at Sophia’s boldness. She says she’s jealous of Sophia, but the problem is deeper at this moment in Celie’s life: This woman is too independent and the balance is off. No one knows how to deal with her. I don’t think she starts to understand Sophia’s character until she meets Shug Avery. She notices a difference between a man’s love and necessity for a woman. She realizes that they don’t have to come from the same place, and more importantly, it is possible for a man to love a woman at all.


Because Celie has never had the opportunity to become attracted to a man, she begins to consider women at a relatively early age:

Dear God,
He beat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may have got somethin in my eye but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look at mens. That’s the truth. I look at women, tho, cause I’m not scared of them.


Celie doesn’t admit to (or realize) the possibility of a romantic relationship with women until her experience with Shug Avery, but she definitely trusts them exclusively from her teenage years on. Her father’s abuse and lack of conviction would account for confusion with sexuality. There is certainly no form of sexual education during this time, even if Celie remained in school long enough to receive it, and there was no opportunity for a healthy introduction to what sex is until Shug abruptly asks her about her sex life with Mr. _____. This scene is jarringly playful due to Shug’s initial laughter and the schoolgirl-eque examination of Celie’s genitalia. Because sexual intercourse is a painful and involuntary experience for Celie, she never considered the possibility that it could be enjoyable for a woman. It is disturbing that for at least 20 years of her life, this woman did not question the act of sex. How did she not even mentally ponder the fact that something so searingly painful for her was the source pleasure for multiple men in her life? The silencing is so deep that critical thinking barely scrapes through Celie mentally, let alone verbally.

Remaining Questions:

Consider this quotation: “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power” (Oscar Wilde).

If this is true (which I think it is) does Celie know this? What would she think about this quote if she were to hear it?

What do you think about Harpo? His mother was killed by a “boyfriend,” and a scandal broke out after her death. He doesn’t initially beat Sophia and only does after Celie suggests it. Did he think the violence was okay because another woman encouraged it? His character is puzzling…

Celie really respects Sophia and Shug. She recognizes their strength and knows they have both suffered some of the same things she has. Why does she either encourage violence against them (Sophia) or submit to them (Shug)? She doesn’t seem to be able to adopt the strengths that she admires.

The Last Report on the Miracles of Little No Horse and Mix-ups, Messes, Confinements, and Double Dealings: Reading Response


Louise Erdrich thrives on queer theory, constantly tempting the borders of gender expression.  The Last Report on the Miracles of Little No Horse impressively confused me in terms of gender, specifically in regard to Agnes/Father Damien.  My realization that Agnes and Father Damien were the same person came embarrassingly late in the novel. More accurately, I wasn’t sure on the details of Father Damien. Thankfully, some of my assumptions were clarified by Mix-ups, Messes, Confinements, and Double Dealings, by Jeffry Iovonnone. For example, I was reassured in my assumption that Agnes took on a former holy man’s identity.  I find the title of Iovonnone’s essay amusing and reassuring, because the multiple identities that Agnes/Damien assume reminded me instantly of a Shakespearean character. There are many reasons why the characters in Shakespeare assume alternative identities, but they all boil down to power.

Perhaps, in a more subtle way, Erdrich is hinting at the role gender has in relationship to power. The protagonist in Little No Horse is troubled by an overwhelming identity crisis that begins with her queer attraction to the music of Chopin. When she is not playing his music, she is lost; even heartbroken At this time, she is Sister Cecilia (patron saint of music) but she developed an “unsaintly” relationship with Chopin, “Such was her innocence that she didn’t know she was experiencing a sexual climax, but believed rather that what she felt was the natural outcome of this particular nocturne played to the utmost of her skills” (Erdrich, 28). That Iovonnone detects jab at heteronormativity here is reassuring as well. Not only will this character prove to be atypical in gender, but in sexuality as well. Agnes/Damien/Cecilia develops a connection to music the way other characters develop connections to each other. In this scenario, however, Cecilia is not in power. She is under the command of the Mother Superior, and unique her connection to music is therefore restricted.

After the scene on page 41, where Agnes is shot by “The Actor,” I was quite flustered. My reaction was “What the hell just happened?” and I think that reaction is expected. This seems to begin the second phase in the identity crisis. She is unhappy without her husband, but also has trouble remembering who he is. “Now that she remembered him, the place [farm] was treacherous with the raw ache of memory that returned in unexpected bits, then vanished before she could get the whole of it firmly laid out in her mind” (Erdrich, 51). She is still not in control of herself, whomever that may be. When she takes on Father Damien’s identity, she is still not entirely comfortable. “Tomorrow, she thought, I’ll get rid of this cassock and be Agnes DeWitt again, formerly Sister Cecilia, who has lived enough for two women and two nuns already, let alone a mission priest.” Despite her confusion however, she manages to reach a solution. She commits to the identity of Father Damien as “the true lie…the most sincere lie a person could ever tell” (Erdrich, 72). In this moment, is she being sincere to herself, or simply committing to an identity that will ensure her survival and power? If she had converted herself back to Agnes, could she have held the respect to freely say that answers are not always black and white?

In his discussions with Father Jude, Damien states that he “cherishes” irregular behavior (queerness). He says “I have never seen the truth without crossing my eyes. Life is crazy… it is our job to understand it… [and] anything of a large nature will create problems” (149). This character is well aware of her expectations as a man and woman, and knows when to enact particular gender constructions. As Agnes, she knows that her questions would be limited, but as Damien, he could ask questions with “frankness and ease” (Erdrich, 76). The more I think about Agnes/Damien, the more I am reminded of the power we associate with different identities.  Erdrich continues to illustrate the importance of respecting humanity in all it’s queerness. Whether she confronts race, sexuality, gender, age, ethnicity, religion (etc), she writes to expose any and all combinations of these identities as legitimate choices and occurrences.

Remaining Questions:

The role of Father Damien allowed the protagonist to reflect on gender publicly (or at least with a few people). Would this be possible if he/she chose to resume the role of Agnes/Cecilia?

Considering the following quotations, who can be granted the authority to label another as “queer?”

“Robes or not, I am human” (Erdrich, 76).
“The priest is unusual, but then, who among the zhaaganaashiwug is not strange?” (Erdrich, 78).


Fun Home and Queer Alternatives: Reading Response

Fun Home Fun Home and Queer Alternatives: Reading Response 

The graphic novel, “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel is a brilliant depiction of what queer theory represents. Over the course of her retellings, there are countless mysterious experiences that are connected in a nonlinear fashion.  The initial image of Bruce Bechdel is an uptight abusive father. It would not be unreasonable for the reader to assume that he follows the model patriarch of the family. He is very critical of his children and sometimes uses physical force to correct their behavior. However, there is so much more to this facade, which Alison takes great care to illustrate as she recalls her childhood and early adulthood.  Sarah Richardson comments on the usage of comics, stating that they emphasize the “subjectivity of perception and memory.” Alison seems to be conscious of this subjectivity. The playfulness of the comics not only make the narration more approachable, they seem to add to the conception that the story is compiled of memories (some of which may be more fresh than others).  Richardson also observes that the graphic novel “does not seek to preserve the past as it was, as its archival obsession might suggest, but rather to circulate ideas about the past with gaps fully intact” (Richardson, 4).  This use of the “gap,” frankly seems more reliable than the more traditional detailed memoir. Bechdel admits that remembering painful or distant experiences in her childhood can be difficult.

"Not only were we inverts, but inversions of each other."

“Not only were we inverts, but inversions of each other.”

I was surprised, and I suppose it is a little refreshing that a daughter came to realize her father was born out of his own unique pain, and that she does not completely victimize herself. She feels a connection to him and his queerness. She humanizes him through this comic, even though sometimes she seems to be acting against her better judgement. For example, she begins studying an author that Bruce is very passionate about. Here, I am wondering if she was consciously trying to connect with him or if she really was reluctant to complete the required readings.  She also sees the similarities between her father and Jay Gatsby, a character whom Bruce is proven to have idolized through the discovered letters to Alison’s mother. Fun Home I love the opening quotation to “Queer Alternatives,” by Mimi Marinucci. Even the wizard, a virtually all-knowing creature, is taken aback when he crosses paths with the unfamiliar. I suppose the word “especially” is more appropriate than “even.” If one claims to be the great and powerful being of a land, he or she would be extremely offset when faced with a queer beast. The presence of the “beast” upsets the norm, or what is expected and familiar.  It causes a crisis, or upheaval of the identification system. The more “queer”  encounters we experience, the more pressing the crisis becomes.  Eventually, the system ceases to function and we begin to categorize identities less accurately.  For example, we have organized and reorganized the “rainbow” community (as I like to call it) as GLB, LGB, LGBT, LGBTQA, LGBTQAS, LGBT+ and so on. All of these acronyms are attempting inclusiveness, but don’t quite get the job done. Someone(s) will always be left out through this classification. Objectively speaking, this would make the most sense, because each marginal identity “challenge[s] the widespread expectation that biological females and biological males should exhibit the specific collection of attitudes and behaviors assigned to each sex category, and that they should partner sexually only with biological members of the opposite sex and corresponding gender categories” (Marinucci, 31). In other words, such individuals go against the grain. They oppose the dominant and familiar “straight culture” and are therefore part of a “queer culture.” However, many people like being identified as one of the letters in the alphabet soup of sexuality and gender and would be offended if grouped into a grand category labeled “queer.” I suppose this all depends if this individual is dependant on the classification for clarity.

Queer Theory: A Brief Response to Wilchins, Butler, and Cohen


The complications that Queer Theory brings to the forefront is not unfamiliar to many activists today.  What I mean to say is, there is rarely a time when an individual’s identity is not questioned.  For example, the opening paragraph of Butler and the Problem of Identity by Riki Wilchins, reads “You don’t have to be a whale to join Greenpeace, and you don’t need to be locked up in a foreign cell to support Amnesty International” (123).  Likewise, an individual who supports the queer community may or may not be “queer.” Furthermore, how does one define such a community, and why must we categorize ourselves at all? Judith Butler faces this conundrum by her refusal to acknowledge identities at “face value,” by working to reveal the instability of categories and communities.

Butler begins Imitation and Gender Insubordination by disputing the concept of “being.” How does one theorize as a lesbian or otherwise?  These suggests that all who identify as “lesbian” would come to a single conclusion, which Butler explains as such; “identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes, whether as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures or as the rallying points for a liberatory contestation of that very oppression” (Butler, 308). This issue resides very strongly in feminist debates. Wilchins upholds that “assuming a commonality to any identity, even one as apparently uncomplicated as Woman, can mean assuming a unity that doesn’t exist in reality” (124).  Not only are biological women concerned with different issues throughout the world, the questions such as “what makes a Woman?” are increasingly relevant. Butler and Wilchins use Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman to support their argument that there is a sense of “proper” womanhood.  When an audience reflected on Franklin’s lyrics, they almost unarguably thought of the biologically natural woman, stripped of her worldly problems. In other words, the “natural women” might have referred to regaining a sense of innocence, which is traditionally a feminine quality. However, if I were to read the lyrics through a queer lens, I would determine that term “natural” was used to speak of the “soul” or “true self.” I am reminded that the terms natural, real, and truth are all subjective terms in an identity discourse; therefore what is natural for one individual may be completely unnatural for another. Even though the two may both identify as women, their true senses of womanhood are not identical.

With this inter-identity crisis, I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s observation of a crumbling United States. He declared “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” I see a single feminism struggling to stand as well. There is matter of who is “more important” or “well-known” in the community. Think about the marginalized communities of transgender, genderqueer, gender-different and so on. The fact that I even wrote the words “and so on” proves that there are multiple identities that I am not aware of, or cannot remember due to the focus on the more prominent gay and lesbian communities. We refer to these “different” communities as LGBT+, using the + sign to cover our bases. I don’t know if this is more or less inclusive in the long run. Cathy Cohen seems to see positivism in wider sense of identity. In Punks Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens, she suggests “At the intersection of oppression and resistance lies the radical potential of queerness to challenge and bring together all those deemed marginal and all those committed to liberatory politics” (440). Even though I agree with this statement, I got the sense that Cohen does not agree with Wilchins or myself about the larger identity of fluidity. As a generally dominant culture woman, I was a little offended by her frequent aversion to heterosexuality. She seems to be discounting this identity as valid, and suggesting that the heterosexual identity is concrete.  In this way, she is enacting the exclusion of which she simultaneously protests.