- Queerness and Children’s Literature: Embracing the Negative
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As I sit down to write this introduction in late summer of 2013, three unrelated media stories keep tugging my attention away from queerness and children’s literature, the special topic for this issue of Bookbird. First, in July 2013, the group Geeks Out called for a boycott of the soon-to-be released film version of Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel Ender’s Game. Geeks Out is protesting Card’s anti-gay stance, which he articulated in a 1990 interview for the magazine Sunstone. Lest you think this was a while back, the New York Times also points out that Card was on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, until very recently. Second, the Russian government’s new law against gay propagandizing is rousing the ire of many people internationally and mobilizing a movement to boycott the winter Olympics in Sochi. Third, on 22 July, Dwayne Jones, a [End Page v] transgender sixteen year old, was beaten to death by a mob in Jamaica supposedly because he went to a party dressed as a female.1
While at first glance these stories seem unrelated, each is strangely connected to queerness and children’s literature. First, Geeks Out might do well to consider how the young adult novel Ender’s Game can be read, despite Card’s beliefs spoken elsewhere. As Jennifer Mitchell argues in this issue, this novel, the first of Card’s trilogy, if not the others, “is full of queer potential.” Indeed, the queerness of a novel that has spent 42 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list (paperback mass market fiction) might have more ideological impact than an organization that attempts to regulate the meaning of marriage. Reading texts queerly can change the world.
Second, the BBC News Europe’s coverage of the concern over how Russia’s repressive laws will affect athletes at the Sochi Olympics quotes the interior ministry as saying “that officials would act during the games—as at any other time—to protect children ‘from the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’” (BBC News, my emphasis). Many critics have discussed the use of children as a trope to police adult sexuality (see Undoing Gender, Butler and Kincaid). Given the arguments in his book Innocence, Heterosexuality, and the Queerness of Children’s Literature, Tison Pugh might take this further and suggest to the Russian state that the very laws that enforce or fetishize childhood innocence work to produce queerness and, moreover, create such an ignorance “that normative heterosexuality itself becomes corruptive” (166). The marriage of queer theory with children’s literature studies enables us to unpack the devastating irony of Russia’s attempt to police not only sexuality but its representation in so-called propaganda.
Third, according to the Ottawa Citizen, Dwayne Jones was kicked out of his home and shamed at age fourteen and then murdered at age sixteen, all because he did not, and perhaps simply could not, abide by the standards of his society. I include Dwayne’s story because he is a child who did not end up having what Judith Butler calls a “livable life.” She discusses the violence that homosexual and trans people experience all over the world: “The negation, through violence, of that body is a vain and violent effort to restore order, to renew the social world on the basis of intelligible gender, and to refuse the challenge to rethink that world as something other than natural or necessary” (Undoing Gender 34). The work we do as literary scholars may sometimes seem far removed from the so-called real world; however, many academics’ insistence on unveiling the constructedness of the social order, on denaturalizing power relations, on challenging the world as it is, whether through history, anthropology, psychology, or children’s literature, can indeed have an impact on real children’s lives, can “open the possibility of both identifying and articulating queer child life” (xxxiii, emphasis in original), to borrow words from Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley.
This issue on queerness and children’s literature yokes together the political...