- Queer Girls, Temporality and Screen Media: Not "Just a Phase" by Whitney Monaghan
Queer Girls, Temporality and Screen Media: Not "Just a Phase" makes a landmark interdisciplinary contribution to studies of both queer screen media and youth culture, encouraging readers to consider the conceptual and practical implications of simultaneously queering girls' studies and "girling" queer studies. The book deftly balances its theoretical intervention with the careful textual analysis of a range of global representations from cinema, television, and digital media. Its ultimate achievement is to show how girlhood has been reframed across a range of texts in a way that opens up the potential for a queer futurity and sustaining happiness.
Monaghan's book takes as its premise the growing prominence of queer girls as major characters in contemporary films and television series from around the world. As it emphasizes, though, the welcome nature of this visibility is tempered by the trope within which many of these characters are mired—the "passing phase," whereby youthful queer transgressions are presented as mere bumps on the passage to heterosexual development. The patterns of affirmation and renunciation that anchor this trope form the backbone of the book, allowing Monaghan to situate the queer girl as a rhetorical figure that embodies two sets of impulses. On the one hand, Monaghan theorizes the queer girl as the embodiment of heteronormative temporal logic; as represented within mainstream media, her experience of physical and emotional intimacy with friends or peers signifies not homosexual desire (as it surely does for boys in similar representations) but a "normal" phase of development on the path to compulsory heterosexuality. On the other hand, the book harnesses the critical potential of queer girlhood to argue for this figure as a disruptive force that challenges both the queer canon and certain principles of queer studies. [End Page 168]
With its project of theorizing queerness around a nonadult subject, the book locates itself squarely within the temporal turn in queer theory—a development whose best-known perspective derives from the antisocial, antirelational project of Lee Edelman's No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive.1 The trope of the queer girl as passing phase presents a compelling example of the negativity that, Edelman argues, the queer subject represents: her queer phase has no futurity of its own, being structurally incongruous with the reproductive temporality that she can pursue only by moving through and out of the phase.
But rather than following the possibilities of queer negativity in this way, the book draws on other theorizations of queer temporality undertaken by writers including José Esteban Muñoz, Kathryn Bond Stockton, and Sara Ahmed to offer a more open and positive consideration of the issue of futurity. In this move, Monaghan bridges significant gaps in the fields she is working in. By employing the central term "queer girl," she makes a deliberate conceptual move away from the stringency of "lesbian" as an identity category and simultaneously addresses the lack of work on this figure in queer theory, girl studies, and scholarship on teen screen media. Following the specific lead of scholars such as Susan Driver, Catherine Driscoll, and Fran Martin, Monaghan is contributing here to the work that is slowly broadening girlhood studies as a field still "plagued by heteronormativity."2 As she writes, the teen genre overwhelmingly deals with issues of girlhood through a narrow and simplified frame of reference: "Girls are white, middle-class, slender and able-bodied, feminine in appearance and dress. They typically aspire to beauty, popularity and successful heterosexual romance."3 At the same time, and in different ways, queer theory has also been critiqued for erasing difference—by constructing queerness in terms of either a universal (male) subject or, as Monaghan quotes from Suzanna Danuta Walters, "a sort of transcendent polymorphous perversity."4
Queer Girls addresses the erasure of its central figure from these fields by discussing a range of intersectional identities across a variety of texts, seeking at all times to attend to the specificities of girls' represented...