May 20, 3900
See the Theories page to read about what my goals are for this blog, the Footnotes page to read about how it was constructed, and continue on this page to read my hot takes on some (un)popular vaguely-related-to-children media.
This entire blog contains spoilers!
Table of Contents:
Friendship to the Max: Lumberjanes
Complicating Childhood: Marco Impossible
Growing Up: Peter Darling
Remembrances: Butterfly Soup
Chen Chen, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Future Possibilities
Analgesic Productions, Anodyne 2: Return to Dust
Cavetown, "Boys Will Be Bugs"
May 11, 2020
A series of graphic novels written and illustrated by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen, and Noelle Stevenson, Lumberjanes takes a fantastical spin on a girl's summer camp. The Lumberjanes are like Girl Scouts; campers earn badges, sleep in cabins, play games in the woods.
But as you walk through the gates, you realize it's no ordinary summer camp. Most of the girls aren't in uniform, there are weird sculptures all over the place, and the sign that previously called this place a "camp for girls" has a newer sign tacked over it and now reads: "Camp for HARDCORE LADY TYPES."
"Lady types" is right. Lumberjanes embraces every way to be a girl. The main characters have a wide variety of interests, skills, and styles. April is femme but the strongest of the group. Mal looks the most obviously punk or queer coded while at the same time is afraid of the water, and Mal and Molly are dating, a couple visually from the very first page well before they say so on page or kiss. Jo is a trans girl and a scientific genius. Ripley is the youngest and most energetic.
The use of "lady types" also suggests a fuzziness around girlhood, queering gender binaries. I've heard people misgender Jo and Ripley because they don't look like girls-- Jo doesn't "pass well" or look completely cis, which is cool as hell, and Ripley looks like a little boy. The comic challenges our instinct to gender these characters by their appearances, asking what it truly means to adhere to girlhood.
Lumberjanes queers the summer camp, an already very queer experience. Away from parents and family units, queerness is allowed to blossom even under the eyes of camp directors and rules. Lumberjanes goes a step further and erases heterosexual expectations for the girls, giving them a safe space to explore their identity. And also fight monsters and uncover the secrets in the woods.
May 10, 2020
I love Hannah Moskowitz. She writes young adult novels that are queer, weird and surreal, and very very sad. Marco Impossible is not one of them.
Marco Impossible is a middle grade novel about Stephen and his best friend Marco, who are detectives-slash-crimial masterminds. Marco has a crush on Benji, an English exchange student, and when he finds out that Benji's going to be playing in his band at the high school prom, he enlists Stephen to help crash it. At the same time Stephen has to deal with his feelings about their friendship-- Marco's switching schools the next year, and Stephen feels like he's being forgotten and disregarded as a sidekick.
Despite the book's focus on Marco's crush, it's ultimately about Stephen and Marco's friendship. The two are assaulted when a group of students approach to harass Marco and joke that they are dating. The book's approach to the boys' relationship is just as queer as Marco's crush on Benji. While they aren't boyfriends, they present an alternative approach to masculinity and friendship, one that is imperfect and complicated but ultimately deeply caring.
Marco Impossible does contain descriptions of homophobic bullying, but not in a traumatizing or undignifying way. Many books with queer teens use hate crimes as the climax of the novel: Beautiful Music for Ugly Teens. Symptoms of Being Human. Middlesex. On the other hand, Marco Impossible veers a different direction, and trauma being inflicted on queer kids is not presented as a way to move forward.
It's also meant for middle grade audiences, but this age range is apparently hotly disputed. Both my local libraries shelve this book in the young adult section.
I'm not quite sure why-- maybe it's the descriptions of hate crimes and violence? But hey, that's not enough to keep them from keeping Tui Sutherland's Wings of Fire series there, which features torture, war, child abuse, and death described in loving detail from the very first page.
Maybe it's because it depicts a queer child who firmly understands his identity-- he is not someone "discovering his identity but is probably gay." He is the proto-gay child the heterosexuals are afraid of. And he has a sexuality, which children must be distanced from no matter the cost.
"Appropriateness" is a myth. What children are "allowed" to consume is entirely constructed by the myth of childhood innocence and often doesn't reflect what kids actually read. Of course, it's usually violence and sexuality that children shouldn't be exposed to. And queerness is rendered sexual, naturally, because it exists only for pleasure. It isn't interested in heterosexual, normative production of the family, and by extension, the nation.
Never mind that Marco is literally 13. It's no mystery that he's impossible: queer children are told both that queers are born this way, implying the presence of an unshakably child, but also that queerness can also be learned from other adults. Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick's essay "Queer and Now" discusses the high suicide rates for queer teens:
I think everyone who does gay and lesbian studies is haunted by the suicides of adolescents. To us, the hard statistics come easily: that queer teenagers are two to three times likelier to attempt suicide, and to accomplish it, than others;...
Queer children are told over and over that they shouldn't, can't, exist, rejected from families and normative futures. Which makes kidlit with queer characters who are sure of themselves, who fight back and survive, more important than ever.
May 08, 2020
How could I talk about queer kidlit without talking about Peter Pan?
Peter Pan is, as Jacqueline Rose writes, the "ultimate fetishization of childhood": a boy who never grows up. She points out that J. M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan because of wanting-- whether sexual or not, he stole and adopted four young boys to keep for his own. The story was not originally meant for children, and the versions that we read today are not written by Barrie himself. There is no real child in Peter Pan, only the one constructed by an adult as an attempt to grasp at childhood.
Peter Darling is not kidlit. It's a novella by S. A. Chant, a queer reimagining of Peter Pan as an adult. Wendy Darling is Peter Pan is a young trans man, returning to Neverland having left it ten years prior. He does not want to grow up, and he does not want to remember his life before Neverland. He wants to play with the Lost Boys and fight Captain Hook. Or maybe kiss him?
But Neverland has changed in his absence, become foreign and deadly. There's a new boy called Ernest who's leading the Lost Boys now. One of the Lost Boys is sick. People die-- it's not just fun and games anymore.
Peter's future is marked by cisheteronormative society-- growing up means he must become a woman, or treated as something to be fixed. To escape, he refuses to become older, shunning his future. Lee Edelman writes about the queerness in rejecting futurity in The Future is Kid Stuff. The future means (heterosexual) family, which in turn means (heterosexual) reproduction of (heterosexual) children, who will go on to produce (heterosexual) families of their own. Peter shuns it.
Neverland, as it turns out, is a place that Peter's invented. A place of refuge, where he can be everything that he wants to be. His emotions change the weather, for heaven's sake. But as Peter soon discovers, rejecting his past doesn't solve anything. Lauren Berlant mentions the "interminable" traumatic story-- Peter's unwillingness to remember restricts him from adulthood.
"Where are you going?"
Ernest's expression changed. Peter saw him remembering, strengthening his resolve. "Home," he said.
"I thought your family made you unhappy," Peter said. "I thought they were trying to fix something that wasn't wrong with you."
Ernest nodded. He looked down. "All of that was true," he said. "But I still love them. And I still want to live."
Peter moves on, though. With James Hook, his enemy-turned-lover, he leaves Neverland, allowing his life to continue. He moves away from imaginings of what he could be to accepting that the real world is enough for himself and for James, and living. Simply rejecting futurity in itself isn't queer, and instead it's rejecting a heterosexual, normative one that truly is. Peter Darling embraces queer futurity, queer lives, and queer loves.
May 07, 2020
Butterfly Soup is a visual novel about gay Asian girls and baseball by Brianna Lei.
The game describes a world very familiar to me. I grew up in the Bay Area at an academically competitive school. I've had a lot of similar experiences as the protaognists, but unlike them, I never played sports.
The queerness of the game is in your face right from the start. Min and Diya take over and destroy the princess story they and their friends are trying to act out at the playground. Min, the hero having defeated the evil dragon, carries princess Diya down a slide.
Fast forward to high school. A baseball club is starting, and all the members are girls. They're all attracted to the sport for different reasons-- anime, mostly, and also peer pressure. But Min and Diya are big fans of baseball. Min knows how to throw a knuckleball, a highly unpredictable ball that's very hard to hit, throw, and catch. It's a pitch she learned so that she and Diya, who's incredibly athletic, could play together and be unstoppable.
After the credits, Brianna Lei writes, "I really miss high school," even after the all the conversations about academic pressure and parental queerphobia and abuse. Her statement doesn't idealize childhood. She understands that the process of growing up is painful and difficult. But she finds the beauty in it anyway.
The game is a love letter to goofing off with friends, figuring out sexualities, defying parents; it finds the joy in queer childhood. And even if it's not a perfect, perpetual happiness, it is enough.