- IntroductionQueer(ing) Fairy Tales
In May 2014 the Lithuanian Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics banned Gintariné širdis (Amber Heart), a collection of fairy tales for children about minorities. At issue were two tales depicting same-sex love, which according to the Office amounted to “harmful, primitive, and purposeful propaganda of homosexuality,” in violation of a 2010 law that prohibits the “promotion of sexual relations or other conceptions of concluding a marriage or creating a family other than established in the Constitution or the Civil Code” (European Parliament, Intergroup on LGBT Rights). As appalling as this decision was, though, it was at least based on a profound understanding of how fairy tales work. The Lithuanian censors fully grasped that the genre not only represents sexuality and kinship but also plays a crucial role in defining those representations as normal, especially for children. When confronted with fairy tales that dared to present desires and relationships they deemed to be abnormal—because they did not conform to the heteronormative Constitution and the Civil Code—they had little choice but to ban them. For the Lithuanian authorities, then, the magic of the fairy tales in Amber Heart was all too threatening and all too real because they had the power to reshape their readers’ understanding of what constituted sexual relations, marriage, and family.
As an example of anxiety about the socializing role of fairy tales, the recent Lithuanian incident is not unprecedented, of course. Such debates have swirled around fairy tales from the moment they entered the canon of children’s literature—debates about the effects of fantasy, violence, and more recently, gender stereotypes. But what makes the recent Lithuanian case different and [End Page 15] noteworthy is the way it foregrounds homosexuality in relation to a genre that has been overwhelmingly perceived as heterosexual.1 What is at stake, then, is whether fairy tales are inextricably bound up with the pursuit and fulfillment of heternormativity. Beyond the example of Amber Heart, recent developments indicate that this is not the case: a small but growing body of contemporary queer fairy-tale adaptations use nonnormative representations of gender and sexuality,2 and a small but growing body of queer scholarship brings critical attention to those adaptations and, increasingly, to their precursors. The five essays in this special issue of Marvels and Tales are another contribution to what is taking shape as an exciting (and long overdue) new subfield within fairy-tale studies, namely, queer fairy-tale studies.
The term queer is multivalent, and necessarily so, because its proponents insist on keeping its meanings open.3 In the broadest sense, queer involves the questioning of dominant forms of social and political relationships while deliberately resisting any prescription of what those relationships should look like. More specifically, though, queer is frequently used to qualify what Annamarie Jagose calls “those gestures or analytical models which dramatize incoherencies in the allegedly stable relations between chromosomal sex, gender, and sexual desire” (3). In other words, queer designates the practices and concepts showing that gender and sexuality do not derive in any straightforward way from a “natural” essence but necessarily involve social and cultural factors, which in turn create normative constructions. The term queer designates those genders and sexualities that resist these normative constructions, including not only gay male and lesbian sexualities but also nonnormative heterosexualities and the range of gender expressions often classified as transgender. As forms of resistance to the heteronormative order, queer genders and sexualities aim to destabilize the binaries (such as masculine-feminine, heterosexual-homosexual, dominant-submissive, active-passive) that are so central to upholding normative categories. Queer erotic and affective relationships also contest the privilege granted to the nuclear heterosexual family unit and seek to expand the spectrum of relational arrangements. If there are no such things as a natural gender and a natural sexuality, then affective and kinship relationships are likewise not determined by any natural order.
As a practice, queer is also a verb, in addition to being a noun and an adjective. “To queer,” in this sense, is to make strange by accentuating what departs from normative social expectations about gender and sexuality, thus exposing the...