The “We of Me” — Everything That’s Queer
April 2020, From The Trenches
“April that year came sudden and still, and the green of the trees was a wild bright green. The pale wistarias bloomed all over town, and silently the blossoms shattered. There was something about the green trees and the flowers of April that made Frankie sad. She did not know why she was sad, but because of this peculiar sadness, she began to realize she ought to leave the town. She read the war news and thought about the world and packed her suitcase to go away; but she did not know where she should go.”
— The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers
The we of me: everything that’s queer
The Member of the Wedding was written in 1946 by American novelist, playwright & poet Carson McCullers (1917–1967). Not only did she write the original novel, but she also wrote the award-winning stage and screen adaptations of The Member of the Wedding. Often referred to as a “southern gothic” writer, McCullers was one of those prolific figures who was light years ahead of her time.
I found this particular story relevant for GftT’s April letter, because:
- The Member of the Wedding is a story that reads more like a modern anthem for queer and trans people, despite the fact that it was written in the 1940s; and
- Two years ago this month, my trans non-binary child — who was the inspiration for creating this publication — made their professional theatre debut in “The Member of the Wedding,” playing one of McCullers’ trio of “queer” central characters: John Henry West.
McCullers herself was said to have likely been bisexual, and labeled herself as a “tomboy” — who notoriously relished in wearing men’s clothing during a time when that was not socially acceptable. She also was said to have struggled with identity issues throughout her life.
McCullers wrote the central character of Frankie Addams in her own image. Like all angst-ridden adolescents, Frankie is a restless 12-year-old on the cusp of physical and emotional change. But unlike the rest of her small town southern peers, Frankie is an extreme loner, a social outcast of the highest order — excluded by classmates, would-be friends, and family alike.
From almost the beginning, we see Frankie fixate on the notion of leaving her old life behind and becoming a part of her older brother’s upcoming wedding (and marriage ) — which she believes will make her feel, finally, a part of something. She refers to her brother Jarvis (and his fiance Janice) as “the we of me.” The wedding itself is almost a non-event in the series of stories-within-this-story; it serves more as a catalyst for Frankie’s preoccupations and preparations.
If you aren’t familiar with this often overlooked literary gem, you definitely should check it out. And if you’re queer, trans/non-binary, gender nonconforming, etc., if you’ve questioned or struggled to understand your identity or felt somehow “unjoined,” or if you’ve always felt like the world was a series of clubs and you belonged to none of them — or worse, were intentionally excluded from membership — then this story is likely to resonate on a deeply personal level.
In 2018, my child had already socially transitioned to express/present feminine and had shed any hint of a former masculine persona, but for just this once, they embraced playing the on-stage role of a little boy named John Henry West, in The Member of the Wedding.
After all, this wasn’t just any boy — it was a boy in 1946, in the south, who outwardly defied gender norms, loved playing frilly dress-up and tending to baby dolls, and (like his older cousin Frankie), didn’t fit in anywhere…
Also, my kiddo got to wear a wig onstage, which may or may not have been their deciding factor in playing this role ;-)
It has been an odd season of life lately in the midst of a global pandemic, but this month, Gender from the Trenches has been honored by the gift of adding more writers and more brilliant new work from the trans community. As happens on a near-regular basis, a clear theme began to emerge around many of our newly submitted pieces: the theme of confusion.
Not a chaotic confusion. Not a frightened or timid confusion. A peaceful, comfortable — if not satisfied — confusion. In fact, maybe it’s less confusion and more examination. As in ‘quest.’
Questioning. Seeking. Evolving. Becoming.
Here are some snapshots from this most recent collection on GftT. I encourage you to dig in, read more, and journey along this quest with your fellow family from the trenches.
(Click on the link beneath the image — in the image caption — to read the full story, or click on the author’s name to visit their profile page.)
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Til next time, stay home, stay well, and stay safe!