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Chase Dimock

Writer, Editor, and Researcher in Comparative Literature and LGBT Studies

Month

December 2013

Growing up on the Island of Misfit Toys or: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as a Queer Allegory

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The Misfit Narrative and Queer Youth

The narrative of the misfit character struggling to find his place in the world is a well-used trope for popular entertainment. It is universally identifiable and it lends itself to a light, yet redeeming moral at the end of the story. Everyone thinks of himself or herself as a misfit to some degree and everyone is accustomed to the simplistic and not controversial message of tolerance and treating everyone equally.

Yet, the story of Rudolph as a misfit takes on a different dimension for the 50 years worth of queer American children who grew up watching the holiday classic every year on television. While these stories about treating kindly those different from us and not being afraid to be different were commonplace in the American classroom with their examples of not being ashamed to wear glasses, have freckles, stutter, etc., the narrative of tolerating difference resonates differently for queer youth. Unlike the child with glasses who knows he is the same as other children beneath the glasses, queer youth often feel an intrinsic difference; they are often treated as though they inhabit a different kind of body and thus live as almost another species of being. The queer youth is looking for more than a little hope that they will be tolerated and accepted; they are also looking for a subject model to emulate, a guide on how to live as a misfit.

For most of the past 50 years, lgbt youth have had to look for subject models in the abstract. Until the past decade, there were few, if any, lgbt-identified characters in the media that their family consumed. Unlike today, where lgbt youth have a character on Gleeor Modern Family to point to in order to navigate their lgbt subject position, children of previous generations (including myself) had to look elsewhere for characters and subject models who mirrored their queerness in non-explicitly gendered or sexual forms. Coming into one’s gay identity meant identifying across a variety of different kinds of queerness and cobbling together a sense of how to think and live in a marginalized subject position by observing and learning from other forms of outsider status, like racial minorities, the disabled, immigrants, the poor—pretty much any oppressed class of people who had some representation in the media.

In a certain way, maturing into my gay subjectivity by identifying through the similar outsider subject positions of others was beneficial because I saw my gayness as united with other disadvantaged segments of the population. It allowed me to see that some of the challenges facing the lgbt world come not simply from sexual or gender difference, but also from how society defines and polices otherness. In contrast, growing up today with gay visibility in the mainstream media sometimes cuts out some of the unique self-invention that the queer youth historically went through in understanding their sexual or gender identity. Now they are given preformed, and usually limited, definitions of what constitutes an lgbt person. We now tolerate same sex attraction insofar as it does not disrupt or challenge our cultural norms.

(Read the full Article on As It Ought To Be)

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My Review of Camp Sites By Michael Trask

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The gay community has always had a contradictory relationship with the notion of authenticity. We have delighted in the camp spectacles of drag on stage and marveled at the “realness” of ball culture in Paris is Burning, yet we maintain that to be “straight acting” is the pinnacle of masculine attractiveness and many lgbt rights groups preach assimilation and highlight our “normality” as a political tactic. In Camp Sites, Michael Trask traces some of the origins of this contemporary obsession with authenticity in the lgbt world and its cultural politics to a shift in the culture of leftist politics and American academia from the 50s to the 60s.

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Charging that the New Left of the 60s “drew with surprising frequency on the Cold War culture’s wide repertoire of homophobic suppositions,” Trask argues that “the New Social Movements had such difficulty with the queers” because “the equation radicals forged between authenticity and a meaningful life rendered gay culture’s uncommitted and artificial persons beyond redemption, even if such figures would serve a role in defining countercultural commitment by their negative example.” (1) Trask contends that the Left of the 60s saw the hallmarks of gay existence such as camp culture, male effeminacy, and closetedness as vestiges of the inauthenticity they sought to dismantle as they posited more utopian visions of cultural revolution. As Trask puts it “in the liberal mind, camp followers became so hopelessly beholden to surfaces that they were incapable of taking advantage of the opportunistic gap between appearance and depth, the gap in which realpolitik unfolded.” (8)

(Full Article Available at The Lambda Literary Review)

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