The myth of queer unhappiness
A friend of mine sent me an interesting article this morning. It was a beautiful read. But its hypothesis that queer writing is somehow less happy than literature at large, left me disturbed enough that I felt I just had to write something about it. I love this feeling - the inspiration that strikes unexpectedly and forces one to pour one's thoughts onto paper (or indeed, a blog), so on one level, I'm happy I read it. I have missed this feeling over the past couple of months. Its lack made me feel deserted, empty, sad in some way. As if I had run out of things to say altogether. To be frank, I'd never before believed in what they call writer's block. So when it struck me, I was shocked and allowed myself to wallow in my sadness for weeks. Freaky feeling. Especially since it was rather new to me.
The thing is that I do know that it passes. Inspiration is never constant. It needs to be fed. And, at last, the the joy that comes from it returned with the article grandly titled 'Whatever happened to queer happiness'. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, as it was beautifully written. So much so that I could hardly stop reading. Still, it left me quite disturbed. Its hypothesis - that queer writing revolves almost entirely around individual stories of great, existential unhappiness - seems to me, frankly, quite far-fetched and unfair. Perhaps, it would have been prudent of the author to notice that our impressions of what we read are as much a result of our choice of literature as they are of the writing itself.
Beautiful queer stories are plentiful. This is the kind of literature that I'm drawn to, and perhaps that's why Brasil's theory of queer literature as misery unsettled my mind so much.
I'm just in the middle of reading my friend's, Dan's, new book, United Queerdom, and it's gorgeous! Yes, it is full of stories that are not necessarily all happy or joyful, but it is not a story of misery at all. It's a story of coming into your own (as Dan says, as queers, our stories are not so much about coming out as they are of coming into what we are), against a world that challenged you not to too many times to count. And yet you persisted. It's a story of struggle and remaining deeply hopeful through the adversity. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone, queer, activist, or otherwise.
I'm not saying that a lot of queer literature is not centred around unhappiness. But isn't it also true of all oppressed groups' stories? We live with a disproportionate number of dreadful experiences in this world! So it seems only natural that our stories will reflect this. But Brasil seems to single out queer literature, and unfairly so, in my experience. I have been an activist in a number of intersecting areas for years now, and, from what I've seen, the rainbow bunch have the strongest tendency for telling a positive story, against all odds! Of course, we have to highlight the oppression too, especially considering how frustrating it is that we're still having to fight it in 2020! And yet - despite the frustration, the heartbreak and the anger at the reality - we retain this enormous capacity for sharing stories of love in all colours of the rainbow!
One of my favourite queer publications of recent months is Kate Charlesworth's Sensible Footwear. To be completely honest, at first I just fell in love with the cover and the title! (Yes, it is perhaps bad form to judge a book by its cover, but in this case the judgement was spot on.) The book combines everything that I love the most - her/queerstory, struggle and hope. And it also an absolute bundle of joy! The struggle is undoubtedly there, but so is bravery, solidarity and hope - all the ingredients for happiness in my books (or collective joy, as Lynne Segal calls it, beautifully). Making it another title, just in the last few months alone, supporting my point.
As much as I love making lists (have a look at my other blog for more of this kind of thing if you'd like!), that's not the point of this post. So let me end on a note that will hopefully drive my point home. I work at the Feminist Library. The Library holds one of the largest collections of lesbian literature out there - 600 titles from just one donor alone! Let's just list a few to give you a bit of a flavour of what I'm talking about: Surpassing the Love of Men by Lillian Faderman, Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality by Pat Califa, or Queer by Choice by Vera Whisman. More recently, I also discovered an amazing queer magazine from the 80s in our Library - Quim - it was full of amazing, spicy, diverse erotic stories (and I must have been blushing hard when I was reading it on the train that day...), and it's just one of 1,500 periodical titles the Library holds!
When I first perused the Library, I happened to, somewhat randomly (or you can call it destiny if you like!;)), wander into the lesbian section, and proceeded to get lost in it. I discovered the most celebratory, loving writing about women I have ever seen in my life. I was stunned, having never read anything like this before. I cherish that memory to this day. It was one of the most memorable library days in my life (and I've had many! As I've always loved libraries).
So, to me, claims that queer literature is somehow particularly miserable or disproportionately negatively focused, seem ridiculous, to be honest. I would invite you to the Feminist Library, Kevin. (Well, once it's reopened, anyway!) Hope it changes your mind! And let me know if you're coming - perhaps we can have a coffee and have more of a chat about this, if you need more proof that your thesis was perhaps somewhat prematurely written!