le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

queer theory and the child

i have not read, at all, in the children's lit + queer theory realm. I'm not sure how I managed to miss this. Jody Norton's good, though by necessity rudimentary, essay on transchildren is about it. Lee Edelman's No Future doesn't count, since Edelman is surely no children's lit scholar. The book (what I've read of it, anyway) is staggeringly insightful. There are essays and articles floating around, and a couple of books that have collected them; Curiouser is the only one that comes to mind.

I need to read in queer children's lit theory, but I'm wondering at the outset: is the child already always queer?

or: what does it mean to be a queer child? I believe fervently that children have a (or several) sexuality(ies), but i don't know that it is expressed the same way as adult sexualities. in some physiological ways, obviously not. but in that vast array of components that comprise queerness, what can or do appear in children?
when does queerness happen? when does gender happen, for that matter? is a child gendered from the moment its parent(s) learn its anatomical structure, and rush out to buy pink or blue bedding accordingly? sneakers with baseballs, or sneakers with princess crowns?
(aside: interestingly, and I need to dig in my program for details, a woman at the MAPACA conference last year told me that she worked on children's clothing; and that the pink and blue gendering of baby's gear was a very, very recent development - like in the last 30 years or so).

if, as i accept, gender is a construct, then WHOSE construct is it? or is it always a collaborative effort?

and why are we - and by this i mean everyone, myself most definitely included - so desperate to resolve things into binaries? i do it myself; when i see a person whose gender is not instantly apparent, i try to figure out: is that a man or a woman?
i catch myself at it, now, and stop the querying, but the "instinct" to ascertain gender remains intact.

and what is a queer space, anyway? all the theorists talk about this "space" - what is it? where is it? is it a literal space, a multidimensional, plottable, locatable area in the world? or is it an abstract, a kind of thought bubble, hovering outside the main action? OR, better still: a combination of both?


JLH said...

One very very simple comment on your theoretical post. I think that when we see a person whose gender is NOT immediately clear -- an adult, anyway -- we want to know for two simple reasons: one is just simple curiosity (born of course out of our social conditioning and "need: to categorize everyone as one or the other, and two is a grammatical problem: do we refer to the person as "he" or "she"?
One reason I love reading Ursula LeGuin's "Left Hand of Darkness" is because ofr its complete upheaval of the male-female dichotomy. (There are probably many other modern fictions which do this, but I tend to stick to the well-known writers.) She is truly mind-bending in this, as she is in most of her novels, though with different ways of bending the mind.

Kara said...

Interesting, Kerry! I didn't even know you had a blog. I like your thinking about gender, especially when you say "if, as i accept, gender is a construct, then WHOSE construct is it? or is it always a collaborative effort?" I DO think it is always a collaborative effort. After all, there are two necessary forces constructing gender here. First, there is the performative aspect. Each of us takes cues from the gendered people surrounding us (and, by extension, the larger societal construct of gender) and performs according to our own understanding and identification with those gendered elements. Then, there is also the "reading" of gender from the outside, just as you attempted to read the ambiguously gendered man or woman you encountered. Really, there is no use for gender unless both of these are happening at once. It is, at core, most useful as a way for others to categorize you and is only important to personal self-conception to the extent that we are interested in how others define us and how we are expected to interact with the world. It strikes me that for gender to exist binaries must also exist. We must have something to define ourselves against - there must be another choice opposing the choice that you have made for it to have any significance. And even then, I feel that others read these decisions based much more on the choice you have NOT made than the choice you made. When we define gender it is often by noticing what we cannot, should not, and will not do more than it is about what we do.