As I am beginning to read Judith Roof’s Come As You Are I am thinking about the Eng reading we did, and some of the discussion we had in class around heteronormativity and homonormativity. Something that stuck with me from last class was our discussion around the narrative that sexual encounters are predicated on the assumption that people are looking for a relationship that leads to marriage/children, and how this leads to the idea that a relationship is considered a failure when those things don’t happen. It seems like Roof’s piece ties into this when it talks about narrative needing an ending to make sense. Roof writes “without the expectation of an ending, we have difficulty discerning a story, its pleasures, terrors, lessons, its making sense of things,” I think that radical queerness that critiques marriage disrupts the expected narrative arc, making the lives of queer people (their ‘pleasures, terrors, ways of making sense of things’) more difficult to be read and controlled by the patriarchy. I’m also thinking about my own approach to intimacy, and the things that I have been taught to value in my relationships. I am really interested in thinking more about the ways that we talk about and value different kinds of relationships, and the language we use around relationships and intimacy. I think it is useful to think about narrative to do this, and I’m excited to read more of the Roof piece.
I’m writing this post having read 2/3 of Judith Roof’s piece and am honestly a bit lost in regards to her main point, though I have collected some individual points that resonate with me. I’m going to connect these ideas to Moonlight in order to affirm the structure of the film’s narrative as nontraditional or queer in terms of Roof’s conception of the typical (heterosexual) narrative structure.
First, there are certain things we normally identify as an end to a narrative (i.e. “orgasm, death, marriage, victory,” etc.). Moonlight turns this concept on its head, throwing multiple “ends” in the middle–Kevin and Chiron’s sexual experience at the beach, Juan’s death, etc.–and ending without any of the aforementioned elements or even a clear suggestion that any sort of “traditional” ending will occur. The final scene with Kevin and Chiron doesn’t end in orgasm or even imply that it is to come. There is a general sense of ambivalence regarding where each character’s life is headed in the time following the conclusion of the film. Only Kevin comes close to having a clear path as he has established a comfortable life working in the diner, though with the reemergence of Chiron in his life this path becomes less clear.
Second, narratives traditionally have a clear ending, such that when a narrative ends, “its time is now separate from ours,” that we feel we have experienced something full and are thus able to remove ourselves from it and analyze it from a distance. Though Moonlight has three distinct sections that, without digging deeper, might appear to be the three parts of a traditional narrative, it feels as though we are eternally stuck in its spacial/temporal realms, unable to escape unless we imagine the continuation of its narrative toward an ending we can leave behind. Moonlight’s ending is neither an ending nor a beginning in the circular/reproductive sense that Roof discusses. Rather, it occurs at a point of tension between beginning and end, i.e. the middle. The reuniting of Kevin and Chiron sends the viewer’s mind simultaneously backward and forward in time as they recall the history of the men’s relationship and imagine what their future entails. The lack of closure or conclusion at the end of the film necessarily leaves us in the middle of a narrative.
Third, rather than imitating or responding to life, narrative determines our notion of the shape of life and what’s important in it. Moonlight, as previously explained, disrupts the traditional narrative structure. Perhaps this is where its incredible power lies: rather than letting the traditional ideas of how a narrative should be structured manipulate Chiron’s story, Moonlight lets Chiron’s story speak for itself. Human life, it suggests, doesn’t always have a clear structure with satisfying or conclusive endings. By failing to follow a traditional narrative structure, Moonlight disrupts the traditional notion of the shape of life.
I hope this makes any sense at all and I didn’t just write a bunch of nonsense.
This week’s readings and viewings were somewhat of a challenge for me, mostly because I don’t have a lot of context on narrative theory (or psychoanalysis or queer theory for that matter!), and have never watched the Little Mermaid! That being said, here are some of my thoughts on Judith Roof’s “Come As You Are” and the two viewings:
- When I first watched Moonlight, I felt a slight sense of confusion or dissatisfaction at the end, like maybe I had missed something. After reading Roof’s discussion on endings, I understand my reaction as a response to the narrative I have been constructed to expect: one with a clear, climactic ending, involving sexual climax, death, or a related metaphor.
- One of the most poignant understandings I gained from Roof’s piece is the role that homosexual and deviant sexual behaviors play in the middle of a narrative, as the heterosexual ending is re-inscribed. This is an important critique on the way homosexual sexuality, when it is portrayed as such, continued to uphold the necessity of a heterosexual, reproductive end.
- I felt confused about the connections drawn at the end of Roof’s piece to capitalism. I understand the commodification of queer identity, but still have questions about the ties to narrative.
- In relation to “Be Prepared” from the Lion King and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid, Roof’s arguments are really interesting. Scar lays out a clear end—the deaths of Mufasa and Simba—that will lead to the coming story where he is the King. We anticipate this ending, even as we know it will not happen. In “Be Prepared,” Ariel chooses to participate in devious behavior—using the magic of Ursula, a non-normative character in terms of gender portrayal and sexuality—to take her to the inherent end—heterosexual matching and potential reproduction.
All of this made me think about our class, “Queer Narratives”—now that we have begun to unpack what a narrative is, I’m excited to deepen my understanding of how we understand and use the word queer.