Coming Out Literature

Coming out is a scary thing. If there’s a choice an LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) individual has to make at all it’s the choice of when, where, how, and to whom they come out to. Both novels incorporated in this project—Melody Carson’s Bright Purple: Color Me Confused and Jeanette Winterson’s semi-autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit—are very much coming-out books, coming from both a spectator point of view and that of a first person experience, respectively. While there is much to be written about regarding the lives of people who are attracted to the same sex, the process and story of coming out is one of the most important facets. Coming out to oneself is certainly a pivotal moment in someone’s life, but it is the vulnerable moment of shedding all the protective layers and baring complete authenticity in coming out to someone else that has the powerful potential to build community or tear it away.

I may not personally identify as lesbian or bisexual, but I have witnessed pieces of the coming out story of my father as gay, followed a couple years later with my unabashed ally “coming out” to our extended family. His was multitudes more painful than mine—something that I do not take lightly—but my own experience of being treated differently because of a stance I’m taking on the “wrong side” of LGBTQ+ issues, has opened my eyes to a fraction of what other people must face. This has propelled me into several genres of writing where I’ve focused on not just LGBTQ+ concerns but also their intersection with Christianity. My heightened sense of awareness about the “conflict of interests” of my dual identity—that is, being an LGBTQ+ ally and a Christian—has also shown me that so few are addressing this intersection in a way that is constructive to both identities.

In the same way, I found almost immediately during this project that even in the rare golden nuggets that are Bright Purple and Oranges—that is, gold nuggets in the sense that they are books that actually address both sexuality and religion as the major concerns of the text—both of these books do not constructively discuss the identity of the Christian lesbian. She appears to be an impossibility, a myth, and no one supporting her can have any substantial faith. Bright Purple views homosexuality as a curable confusion of the mind to the very last page and Oranges’ Christians are religiously extreme to the point of being comical and it closes with an agnostic lesbian narrator rather than a spiritual one. Each in their turn decided to choose one identity over the other as the one that “ought” to be the more defining part of a person.

No one should be harassed out of a belief in something greater. And no one should be denied relationship with the one they love.

But why not both? Why can’t someone choose both? The character of Jess from Bright Purple doesn’t appear to have chosen quite yet, though the final chapter assumes that God will be saving her from her fate of remaining a lesbian. So even those up in the air are meant to be read as someday choosing between sexuality and religion. The SCOTUS ruling of June 26, 2015 was a huge step in the Gay Rights movement and an opportunity for some Christian denominations to declare themselves as allies—that is, many Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Methodist, and Episcopal churches. But even with the world shifting to more open-minded ways of life, no new literature and relatively no new films are being written to reflect it. Or maybe they’re hiding under the heap of mainstream media. Or maybe they’re in the making right now.

I plan to be contributing to this new genre. Writing a work of fiction that centers around LGBTQ-Christian conflict has been something I’ve often considered, but now is an undertaking I can hardly wait to begin. For literature is not meant to be written only as a direct reflection of the author, but rather a creative narrative that takes issue with what the author finds is necessary for the world to hear. And I believe the myth of these dual-identities needs to be shaken to the ground. The Us vs. Them mentality dividing LGBTQ+ communities and the Church needs to end. Not every coming out story has to involve bigoted characters that all just happen to be Christian and the religious/spiritual lesbian, gay, or bisexual character does not have to remain an impossibility. Because while many will continue to use their religion to perpetuate violence and homophobia and others will stick to tradition more peacefully in their belief that LGB orientations go against moral code, there are some who do not reflect these ideas and they cannot be left hidden in the shadows. Both the secular and the spiritual LGB person should be able to see themselves proudly represented and unashamed of who they are. Because no one should be harassed out of a belief in something greater. And no one should be denied relationship with the one they love.

Dual Realities

The world is full of binaries. Or rather the world is comprised of an array of spectrums and humans like to simplify them by creating categories—and the binary is our favorite. Are you right or wrong? Male or female? Black or white? And then everything gets shaken when you can’t quite tell which it is. As my professor for a Gender and Sexuality class once put it, to some things, like spectrums, “the answer is yes, yes, and yes.” There is no single “Truth” but rather validity that shines just as bright from one end to the other.

And yet, taking the color spectrum for example, what happens when you are two colors at once? Does your blue half overcome your yellow one, or have you become green and completely lost the essence of these two defining parts of yourself? Both Ramie and Jess from Melody Carlson’s Bright Purple: Color Me Confused and Jeanette from Jeanette Winterson’s semi-autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit battle between binaries they find themselves in, most notably between the conflicting morality of lesbian identity and conservative Christianity—though other binaries in tandem will help shape each character’s growth in demonstration of how such categorizing affects vulnerable people.

Before dividing the two narrators, Ramie and Jeanette, to their separate fates in each book, it should be noted the seriousness they both place on the dual realities of the physical world and that of the spiritual. While concerns for the people around them are ever-present, Ramie is often narrating off to the side her internal communications with God, “I pray as I hurry to French class. I ask God to forgive me for having bad thoughts, and I ask God to keep working on Jess” (Carlson, 57) and similarly Jeanette’s mother has trained her to keep the ways of God a high priority, “I was lying in bed one night, thinking about the glory of the Lord, when it struck me that life had gone very quiet.” (Winterson, 31) Whether through prayer or mediation or the way they interact with others in their lives, both girls have a high sense for what greater authority they are subjected to and with whom they are keeping in frequent communication. Being “in the world and not of it” is something both girls would probably count herself to upholding, though how they define “the world” may be slightly different.

In bridging towards the more conflicting dual-realities, Jeanette captures the feeling of being torn apart and the impossibility of fully encompassing two realities at once in an internal dialogue which takes place after she has been living away from the only home she ever knew. First an arbitrary speaker asks her “‘Don’t you ever thinking of going back?’” to which she responds:

“Silly question. There are threads that help you find your way back, and there are threads that intends to bring you back… I’m always thinking of going back. When Lot’s wife looked over her shoulder, she turned into a pillar of salt. Pillars hold things up, and salt keeps things clean, but it’s a poor exchange for losing yourself. People do go back, but they don’t survive, because the realities are claiming them at the same time. Such things are too much. You can salt your heart, or kill your heart, or you can choose between the two realities.” (Winterson, 204-5)

The lesbian character of Jess in Bright Purple also goes missing from the novel for several chapters, partly from her own fear of ostracization and then later after being actively ostracized. Unfortunately the book begins where Jess has already come out to Ramie and so it is impossible to have an accurate idea of what their past best-friendship was like, given that all of Ramie’s memories of her are discolored by her abhorrence for her ex-best-friend’s “choice.” It is not until almost halfway through the book that the two girls actually have a second conversation, which climaxes to a yelling match where it is clear, from both Ramie and Jess’s side, that the second reality is taking priority over what they once had and the old Jess has not survived.

“‘I was your friend,’ I say quietly to Jess. ‘But you’ve changed. And that changes everything. Can’t you see that?’

‘No! … You’re the one who’s changed, Ramie! I trusted you! And you outed me! … I don’t care what people think anymore. I don’t have anything to hide.’ Then she turns around and looks at the spectators and yells, ‘Yeah, that’s right, I’m gay! … I’m out of the closet! Are you all happy now? Is this what everyone was waiting for? Do you want to take me outside and beat me up now? Do you want to starting throwing rocks at me? Do you want to—’ And then her face just cracks like she can’t control it, and suddenly she is crying.” (Carlson, 89)

It is clear from this exchange that while the second reality is chosen over the first—that is, the new Jess over the “reality” where Jess was perceived as straight—that even this second reality is not the same for them. To Ramie, our narrator, she sees the dividing line between the two realities as a choice Jess makes, a choice that is morally wrong which “justifies” Ramie’s own ostracization of her former friend. However for Jess, her identity as a lesbian has been with her for years and so the dual realities are instead before and after the closet, with the dividing line being the choice of openly presenting herself as she is, denying herself the privileges of being perceived as straight. She clearly understands the repercussions of this action by her expectations of violence.

All of this is feeding into two realities, two “truths”, which Ramie battles throughout the entire book: 1) God says to love everyone, neighbors and enemies alike; and 2) the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin. Ramie feels the tug-of-war of feeling obligation to both love and despise Jess, and conflict rises when these are incompatible. It is clear from the bulk of the book that the despising overrides the love, though Ramie justifies most of her actions as being out of love, or at least for the greater good. For example, Ramie voluntarily quits the girls’ basketball team essentially to avoid being around Jess—and God forbid having to change in the same locker room—at a point in the book when she is the only one aware of Jess’s lesbian identity. However Ramie’s biases paint her situation differently.

“But I console myself with a Bible verse. ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ And that’s what I think I’ve done today. I’ve laid down my life for Jess. Even if she’s not my friend anymore. I’ve laid down my life for her. Maybe that’s what Nathan meant by loving your enemies. Although, to be completely honest, I don’t feel any love for Jess right now.” (Carlson, 63)

The trouble with this book is that it is unclear how much of Ramie’s hypocrisy is picked up by the target audience as such. Are conservative Christian teen girls trapped in this same muddling of love and hate so that they sympathize with another young girl self-centeredly twisting the love and hate together until she has become a whole new, bitter person? While I may read Ramie as the antagonist of her own book, who will pin that label on Jess instead?

These contradictions between sexuality and religion take on an even more complex head in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. As Jeanette comes to terms with her identity as a lesbian in the second half of the book, there is certainly this similar backlash to what Jess faces in Bright Purple. However, Jess is given hardly any voice throughout the text and is mostly referred to in the projection of Ramie’s thoughts. Oranges, in its first-person narrative, gives a complete view of the inner workings of Jeanette’s mind. We observe that she does not see her sexuality and same-sex relationships as a facet of the world that stands in opposition to Christianity in the binary of the secular vs. the spiritual.

“[Katy] was my most uncomplicated love affair, and I loved her because of it… She was blissful. I took care never to look at her when I preached, though she always sat in the front row. We did have a genuinely spiritual dimension. I taught her a lot, and she put all her efforts into the church, quite apart from me. It was a good time. To the pure all things are pure…”(Winterson, 156)

This relationship takes place some years after Jeanette and Melanie’s scandal has already been found out, condemned, and both girls “healed” from the demons inside them. So while Jeanette sees the disapproval of the church—thus her reasoning for never looking at Katy when she preaches—the precautions she takes are not in an act of secrecy between herself and God but rather between herself and the homophobic people around her. While this is a facet of the “two realities” she speaks of, this does not compromise her relationship with God, which is noteworthy because of the large number of people who reject both the church and God after being faced with the cruel reality that is “love the sinner, hate the sin,” as demonstrated through Jess when she emails Ramie:

“‘being a homosexual is not a choice. it’s how we are made. don’t blame me, blame god. he made me like this. although i’m not sure i believe in god now that everyone who claims to be a christian is turning against me. i don’t know what i believe. but i know it’s no use talking to people like u.'” (Carlson, 106)

The marginalization of the “Other” is an age-old trend that stems from the greed for power by a dominant group, whether through sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, or any other means. Its only counter-actions that don’t involve overthrowing the powers that be are 1) assimilating as is possible into the majority’s culture for safety or 2) immersing oneself in one’s “Otherness” as a way of rejecting any connection to the oppressor. For gay Christians this means pretending to be straight or leaving the church for secular gay culture, because those who hold the power and “rule” the Church will never be converted to affirming same-sex relationships and demand it as the status quo.

Jeanette, in her initial refusal to neither assimilate nor reject her oppressors, begins her own attempts at something like an overthrowing in her refusal of narrow-minded ideas of what it is to be gay. As in Bright Purple where choosing to be gay is seen as contracting some kind of disease from hanging around other gay people and/or appearing too much like the other gender, Jeanette laughs at this idea when her mother remarks “‘Should have been a woman that one’” when a man brings his boyfriend to the church, openly holding his hand:

“This is clearly not true. At that point I had no notion of sexual politics, but I knew that a homosexual is further from a woman than a rhinoceros. Now that I do have a number of notions about sexual politics, this early observation holds good. There are shades of meaning, but a man is a man, wherever you find it.” (Winterson, 164)

While this opinion appears to contradict ideas of the gender spectrum and its fluidity, its main objective of separating ideas of gender identification from sexuality is certainly subverting traditional, conservative ways of viewing the “Other” which tends to lump “Others” all together in a heap of misunderstanding—as well as unwillingness to understand.

Unfortunately this lumping together of the “Other” is something illustrated in an event in Bright Purple that is meant to be read as a sort of epiphany game-changer for the character of Ramie in understanding the need for tolerance of people who profess attractions to the same sex. Upon first glance it may appear harmless enough, because of how both minority traits discussed are used as justification for oppression, but a closer reading suggests otherwise. Ramie addresses Amy, after Amy has jokingly suggested shipping “homosexuals off to some deserted island” (Carlson, 155)

“‘But what if your opinion hurts others? Like I know that people have said or thought the very same thing about me. You know, bigoted people who think that just because I’m biracial, I should go live somewhere else too.’

‘Why should you be offended’ [Kelsey] continues. ‘I mean on one hand you’re saying that we need to accept homosexuals. But then on the other hand, you don’t want to be associated with them. What’s up with that?’

‘I mean, if you haven’t noticed, my skin isn’t exactly the same color as yours. So, I’m curious, do you accept me or not? … I mean you say you accept me, but that doesn’t mean you’re like me… So maybe it’s possible for us to accept Jess without being gay.'” (156-7)

To treat people equally despite differences in race and sexuality seems pretty obvious and is probably what the author is meaning to get at. What the issue is here, is that there is no moral binary for race while there is one for sexuality, according to this book. Homosexuality is, through the end of Bright Purple, seen as a sin that someone can be saved from, which has no comparison to race, which is merely the combination of your parents’ DNA that manifests itself in the physical features of your body. There is no intersection of Ramie’s race with her opinion on homosexuality and religion, while the same cannot be said for Jess, who cannot survive out of the closet long without choosing between the two.

Living lives that force either suppression of dual-identities or choosing between one or the other is a huge factor that drives much of the conflict in both Bright Purple and Oranges. Compromises are either unlawful or possible fatal to a character. It is a testament to humanity’s issue with categorizing people into harmful boxes and the need to move towards more open, spectrum-like ways of viewing people and the world. While having opposing conclusions in each novel’s final chapter, these contemporary novelists have both courageously opened a controversial door to a discussion of how Christians ought to approach homosexuality so that hopefully this harmful suppression of true identity comes to an end.

 

Works Cited

 

Carlson, Melody. “Bright Purple: Color Me Confused.” Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006. Print.

 

Winterson, Jeanette. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. 3rd ed. London, UK: Vintage, 2010. Print.

“To the Pure All Things Are Pure”

The tenth chapter in the book of Acts, the first New Testament book immediately proceeding the four gospels, tells a very important story that has shaped much of Christian culture, though it can easily go unnoticed. In the account the apostle Peter sees a vision in which something like a sheet is lowered from the sky, and on the sheet are a large number of animals that Peter recognizes as traditionally unclean according to the Law of Moses. However he hears the voice of God say to freely eat them, and in response to Peter’s objection there is the retort from heaven, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (New American Standard, Acts 10.10-16) While the vision specifically pointed towards a change in perspective on food, Peter immediately attributes this to a change in perspective of Gentiles, now seeing all people as able to have access to the gospel of salvation, the spirit of God, and eternal life. Because of this event, cultures like the western world converted to Christianity. But the message of change regarding the old Law, the stricter rules that set the Jewish nation apart from the rest of the world were considered a part of that culture and not carried over to Christian theology. Throughout history, we see sects and denominations split themselves again and again and often over debate over traditional doctrine. Someone is always going back to passages like Acts 10 to advocate for a less rigid way of living for God.

This is what I think the protagonist of British author Jeanette Winterson’s semi-autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is getting at. As the character of Jeanette stands firm on the non-perversity of her love and desire for other women, one line in particular stands out that also echoes Peter’s vision: “To the pure all things are pure.” (156) This iconic moment in the text is quoted by critics from Laura Doan to Jeanette King, but they all appear to be coming at the text with a more objective lens given their likely secular viewpoint. For anyone accustomed to the study, research, and debate of literature it should be readily acknowledged that true objectivity is impossible—and honestly pointless—because ethos inhabits too vast a portion of the human psyche. And with such substantial potential for emotional intelligence, what good does it do anyone to hinder it?

And so I, as a Christian and scholar of literature, approach Winterson’s Oranges with a peaked interest in how a traditional, and yet postmodern, Christian audience approaches this text, should they be so fortunate as to both stumble upon it and read it in its entirety. Winterson states in her introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition of Oranges that

“In structure and in style and in content Oranges was unlike any other novel. This didn’t worry me, neither did it worry Philippa Brewster, my publisher at the newly former Pandora Press. It did worry her bosses though, who couldn’t see its market or its merit, and who were reluctant to waste a hardback on it.” (xvi-xvii)

Especially now, more than thirty years since the novel was published and any audience reading Oranges now is living in a world in which many countries—including the United Kingdom and the United States—have legalized same-sex marriage, the tensions between Christian churches and LGBTQ+ communities seem to be greater than ever. Did Winterson expect any Christians—both in 1985 and in the future—to pick up her controversial novel and read it? I would say that she did. But if by reading it they aren’t converted into this “to the pure all things are pure” theology, what is the object for them to come away with? I believe it is meant to prompt the question of “What makes sin sinful?” but also for readers to recognize Christianity’s religious origins in a patriarchy that controls first women and then any additional “Other”—be it other races, cultures, or sexual orientations—and the grave problems this produces.

The uniqueness of the book—which Winterson described in her introduction—has much to do with the ambiguity of her target audience. While the subject matter may make most conservative Christians squirm in their seats, it is by no means a book for secular folks alone. This is demonstrated in several ways, namely how the chapter titles are the first eight books of the Bible (Genesis-Ruth) and from the highly religiously intelligent narration of the protagonist, Jeanette. In fact, there is almost complete absence of reference to same-sex attraction for the first half of the book. It’s not until a hundred pages in that Jeanette meets the first girl that she will fall in love with. All prior to this is tens of pages describing the religiously devout life that Jeanette leads, thanks to her mother who adopted her for the sole purpose of raising her to be a missionary. In an essay tackling issues of homosexuality and the adoption of children, Margot Gayle Backus remarks on this undertaking:

“Ultimately, Jeanette’s mother earmarks Jeanette, rather than herself, to be the missionary in the family, thus enabling her to lay claim to the sacrificial aspirations of a saint without having to sacrifice anything. As Jeanette remarks, the process of rearing a child dedicated to such a holy mission would provide her mother with ‘a way out now, for years and years to come’ (10).” (136)

I first found it odd that this religious upbringing should be the focus of the entire first half of the book while the supposed central conflict didn’t arise until one hundred pages in. There are certainly many reasons why Winterson chose to write in the way she did, but one in particular is the process of building a firm foundation for the Christian audience. There must be a strong bond between the narrator and this kind of reader for any empathy to be cultivated. For once this familiar bond is set in stone, challenging questions can now be asked that will be given more credibility and serious thought, instead of being regarded as a piece of propaganda that gets tossed to the side without a more conservative reader having taken even a glance at it.

“What makes sin sinful?” seems at first to have a fairly clear answer: that which is not pleasing to God. Yet, if homosexuality is not pleasing to God, and therefore sinful, how can Jeanette reconcile her homosexual desires and behavior as sinless? This is the flabbergasting question that boggles the Christian’s mind. Critic Laura Doan notes this in The Lesbian Postmodern,

“Jeanette reaches what seems a sensible conclusion: if her love is not evil, it must be good. Jeanette experiences neither guilt nor self-doubt—let alone second thoughts. Her lovers attend her church, listen to her preach—they pray together before going home to make love. By embracing a credo (“To the pure all things are pure”) that assures her of the rightness of her love, she reconciles her private involvement with women and her public position in the church. She perceives no discrepancy, moral or otherwise, between her sexual preference (natural and essential) and the prescriptions of the church (cultural and social) because she believes, like Winterson, that love shouldn’t be ‘gender bound.'” (144)

What Jeanette finds to be evil is not what is written on a list of Do Not’s but rather evil is deliberate hurt of other people. This includes ill treatment of people, physical violence, theft, lying, etc. All very unloving things that can be done and are certainly not a reflection of God. If she is not hurting anyone—that is, if the sexual relationship is consensual—and she is doing it out of love, Jeanette sees it as not unnatural or sinful. Separate from being displeasing to God—for any sexual relations between non-married couples is sinful according to the Christian tradition, as with many other religions—many Christians feel that while the same-sex partners themselves do not feel they are being harmed, Christians themselves sometimes feel manipulated by their loved ones by their coming out. This is reflected in the Christian teen novel by Melody Carlson, Bright Purple: Color Me Confused, in which the narrator reacts inwardly towards her friend’s coming out by lamenting over how “my entire life spins totally out of control” (11) and later gives a general statement about coming out.

“I think people who decide to become gay should consider these things more carefully, especially before they jump out of the closet and scare everyone to death. They should think about how their new “orientation” completely disorients others around them. They should consider the unfairness of their selfish and sinful choice, and how it hurts all the people who love and care about them.” (34)

Surely many more Christians today would not have such a harsh view of LGB people, but this response is also still not far from the norm. Bright Purple’s narrator is able to lovingly accept her friend by the end while still holding on to the fact that God can save the friend, “from living the rest of her life as a lesbian.” (203) If this is a more homophobic stance than Winterson’s audience may be, Jeanette may receive some empathy for her sexually exploring teenage self, because of the fact that she holds so tightly onto her faith, despite the cruelty of other Christians. However, Jeanette takes it even further by not only declaring herself innocent but by accusing others as sinful for not accepting her as God made her.

“The problem, as Jeanette sees it, stems not from her exquisite longings for women, but from others’ inability to recognize and acknowledge the loveliness of sexual love shared between women. Jeanette’s strength and the strength of this coming-of-age/coming-out novel, emerges from a profound and unshakable conviction that her lesbianism is right and that any attempt to condemn or despise her—a celebrant of the most natural of passions—constitutes perversion.” (Doan, 137)

Certainly the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, and thus to reject, ostracize, and take judgment into one’s own hands would not constitute as loving someone as yourself. Here is where Winterson’s book might bring some Christians to serious questioning of their own convictions and even changing their minds, though many more may see same-sex attraction and relationships as unloving to God, if not to their neighbor.

Still, there is another aspect of religion that Jeanette’s character critiques for the benefit of any conservative Christian audience: patriarchal control. Upon a first reading, this may be lost on the audience, predominately because the Pentecostal church Jeanette grows up in is full of and run by women. Or so it seems. Pastor Finch is sometimes mentioned as is Pastor Spratt (often off doing missionary work), but these are the men who are actually running the show behind the mass of wailing, tongue-speaking, gossiping women. Even Jeanette’s mother, with a mostly absent husband and seeming to be pretty independent, actually is more controlled in her actions than may appear at first sight—because a second glance takes note of her devotion to male superiority, including a strange obsession with Pastor Spratt.

“[Jeanette’s mother] is an example therefore of the woman who identifies totally with the male symbolic order, deriving her status from it by serving it. Her conformity to the church’s patriarchal view of female sexuality is evident throughout the novel. She appears to have no sexual relationship with her husband,” (King, 119)

It is this same patriarchy that quickly accounts for Jeanette’s “deviant” behavior by her undermining male leads by giving sermons herself as a woman, though she—as well as other women—had been doing so for years without any sort of conflict.

“I knew my mother hoped I would blame myself, but I didn’t. I knew now where the blame lay. If there’s such a thing as spiritual adultery, my mother was a whore… So there I was, my success in the pulpit being the reason for my downfall. The devil had attacked me at my weakest point: my inability to realize the limitations of my sex.” (Winterson, 172)

Sexual orientation is quickly reworded to be an issue of gender, something more familiar, but still qualified as “Other” enough to be accused of being subversive and thus silenced. Critic Jeanette King goes on to argue the predestined betrayal of mother to daughter when an exorcism previously performed has not fully healed Jeanette; the pastor proclaims, “‘The demon…had returned sevenfold.’” (Winterson, 168) leading to Jeanette’s demotion from church leadership. “Given that Jeanette’s mother has identified herself with the patriarchal church in this way, it is inevitable that she will betray her daughter when Jeanette comes into conflict with the church by falling in love with another young woman” (120) With patriarchy comes tradition to keep the status quo, to keep the men in power, and the Pentecostal church’s literal readings of the Bible are un-persuaded despite Jeanette’s convictions.

In her book titled “Lesbian Panic,” Patricia J. Smith remarks on the intersectionality of equal parts Christian and lesbianism that other books do not similarly approach.

“While institutional religion, Christianity in particular, is generally perceived as a primary source of social prohibitions against homosexuality, few of the novels I consider in this study have directly considered the interaction between the church and the lesbian individual; it is as if they actively deny the pervasive influence of this interaction over their subjects. Winterson, having herself been a child evangelist, unflinchingly examines the relationships between the male-controlled church policy of homophobia and finds an endless cycle in which the former is both the cause and effect of the latter.” (183-4)

While the intensity of the church presented in Oranges is not the norm in either the United Kingdom or the United States, and is often read with an ironic eye, it is neither the gay-bashing and homophobic material of Carlson’s Bright Purple nor one that treats the church like a joke. Perhaps this is thanks only to the intersectionality of both the narrator and author herself, but it is a dual-identity that is held by more people than many are willing to admit. Where the bosses at Winterson’s publishing house saw neither market nor merit for Oranges at first, the merit and market are invisible but larger than both a secular and religious audience might suppose. It is the patriarchal aspect of tradition that keeps literal readings of scripture the law of the land. Though Oranges may not be transforming many minds by itself, every year longer that it exists on bookstore and library shelves is one year further into a new age of Christian reform mirroring those of the past: from inter-racial marriage, to the emergence of Protestants, to the cleansing of formally unclean animals on the sheet in Peter’s vision. “To the pure all things are pure” may be comforting to some and subversive for others, but it certainly challenges an audience who might not readily agree and ally with everything Oranges brings to the table.

 

Works Cited:

Backus, Margot Gayle. “‘I Am Your Mother; She Was a Carrying Case’: Adoption, Class, and

Sexual Orientation in Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.” Imagining Adoption. 4rd ed. Ann Arbor: UM, 2004. 136. Print.

Carlson, Melody. “Bright Purple: Color Me Confused.” Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006.

Print.

Doan, Laura L. “Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Postmodern.” The Lesbian Postmodern. New

York: Columbia UP, 1994. 137-44. Print.

King, Jeannette. “‘Outside Time’: Prophets of Transgression.” Women and the Word:

Contemporary Women Novelists and the Bible. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000. 118-20. Print.

New American Standard Bible.. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1977. Print.

Smith, Patricia Juliana. “The Proper Names For Things.” Lesbian Panic: Homoeroticism in

            Modern British Women’s Fiction. New York: Columbia UP, 1997. 183-84. Print.

Winterson, Jeanette. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. 3rd ed. London, UK: Vintage, 2010. Print.

Video: Purple & Orange

Below is the video I made as part of one of my open genres for my project. I am by no means a filmmaker of any sort, so I do apologize for my amateur skills at putting together this kind of medium. But I was sparked by the idea of my two narrators, Ramie and Jeanette, having a kind of dialogue with each other, and this seemed like a new and fun way to do it.

I would also like to add that my portrayal of both characters, while being my own personal interpretation of them, does not necessarily reflect my own opinions of these issues. And if this video or any of my other essay blogs interest you enough to read these books for yourself, you can access the Bright Purple book here and the Oranges book here.

Unfortunately I am currently unable to upload my own videos to this blog, but you can view it on YouTube by clicking The Purple Vs. Orange Video. Thanks for watching!

 

Claudia Rankine “Citizen” Reading

Today at 5:30 Claudia Rankine gave a reading of Citizen: An American Lyric at Eastern Michigan University. Intellectual though she is, I found her to be so open and personable, I cannot imagine anyone not falling in love with her. Through all the heaviness of her subject material–that is, everyday racism, intended or not, felt specifically by African Americans masked underneath the tight phrase “micro-aggressions”–she put an ease in the air where some people come in with an automatic feeling of tension.

She went through her book based on the images she had interspersed throughout the poetry, explaining the specific reasons for each one’s inclusion. Now and then she digressed but never without intention of making an applicable point. While the short narratives I had assumed were based off of interviews with people she knew, I was surprised at the amount of instances that involved Rankine herself, both in the book and in her digressions.

In the conclusion she showed a video made by her husband with her voice over. While not quoting directly from the line in Citizen, the whole video’s footage echoed “because white men can’t / police their imagination / black men are dying” (135). Rankine never used the word “scapegoating” but that is what white supremacy does. White prejudice, white threat, and white violence onto others is projected onto black communities who are then seen as the threats, the dangerous ones, the violent ones. Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson–who advocated for freeing slaves though never found it economical for him to do the same–Rankine quoted, “‘After we free the slaves, we should send them back. Because they will have every right to want to kill us.'” This, Rankine said, is a piece of white fear that is perpetuated to this day, to keep the projection of potential for violence on blacks instead of whites.

At the end of the reading, the first question was asked, “What can I do to help?” I sensed the whole auditorium hold its breath, everyone feeling uncomfortable at the ignorance of the question. Rankine, bless her soul, gave a fantastic response that pointed out the privilege and why someone might feel they are able to ask the question “What can I do to help?” Because it is not a “black problem.” Racism is a problem for humanity as a whole. And as the man tried to recover himself later and the rest of the audience squirmed in our seats as he backtracked, a thought came to mind. That question is ignorant and I may be laughing at him inside my head, but have I ever had that question myself? I may have never verbalized it or made a fool of myself, but I have had a white-guilt reaction in the past with that question in mind. My hope is that he doesn’t take any humiliation he felt too much to heart, but rather actually listened to what Rankine said, because we all need to “self diagnose,” as she says, and realize where the problem is really coming from. That it is something everyone should be dealing with and working on, so that as one person changes at a time, how we view the world and interact with others like and unlike ourselves is filled more and more with empathy and respect.