- Homonormativity and Emma Donoghue’s Landing (2007)
Having enjoyed immense success since the 1990s, Emma Donoghue is considered one of the most prominent lesbian writers in contemporary Ireland. Jennifer M. Jeffers writes that “the 1990s must certainly be regarded as a time of great fruition: [with] young writers creating new paradigms that in many instances have virtually no precedent” (179); and Donoghue’s work is testament to Jeffers’s statement: her early novels Stir-fry (1994) and Hood (1995) are amongst the first Irish novels to present an affirming example of lesbian identity. The decriminalization of homosexuality in Ireland in 1993 was a hugely significant moment of affirmation for Irish LGBTQ+ people.1 However, it is misleading to assume that the decriminalization of homosexuality empowered lesbian and gay writers to wholly abandon the trappings of fear and prejudice which had surrounded their lives and resurfaced in their work. Concerned with the interface between sexual identity and cultural hegemonies in Irish society, Donoghue’s novels explore how lesbians in Ireland negotiate the limitations placed on them in a society which is largely heterocentric.
Critical attention has focused on the fact that from 1993 onwards gay themes increased in Irish writing. Whilst Heather Ingman argues that “the fact that lesbianism could be openly taken as a subject in Irish writing reflects the increased visibility of gays and lesbians in Irish life after 1993” (229), that is not to state that the Ireland of the early 1990s was [End Page 1] one wholly at ease with the integration of LGBTQ+ people into society at large. Éibhear Walshe holds that “in the mid and late 1990s there was a polemical urgency for the openly lesbian or gay Irish novelist to write the ‘coming out’ novel, where the need for a statement of Irish lesbian and gay identity was being addressed” (2). Donoghue’s early novels capture such a moment. Her recent work, however, has moved beyond the urgency of the coming out novel. Donoghue’s corpus has expanded to include historical fiction and has been increasingly concerned with global issues. In 2007, she published Landing, a work altogether more global in nature than her early or historical novels. Landing incorporates themes of transnational identity, globalization, and the interface between cultural and geographical distances. Set during and engaging directly with the economic prosperity of the “Celtic Tiger” in Ireland, the novel is uniquely situated to discuss the complexities of contemporary relationships, especially ones that demand global mobility and transnational adaptability.2
Landing charts the relationship between thirty-nine-year-old Irish air-hostess Síle O’Shaughnessy and twenty-five-year-old Canadian Jude Turner, two women who meet on a plane to England, bond over the in-flight death of a passenger and in turn develop and navigate the demands of a long-distance relationship between Canada and Ireland. “Donoghue’s unspoken point is that a gay love affair is just like any other,” claims the Kirkus Review, implying that lesbian relationships in Landing are not dramatically different from heterosexual relationships. Such an interpretation assumes the premise in Donoghue’s work of homonormativity, an aspect of which is defined by the eradication of any distinctive homosexual identity that differs dramatically from heteronormative ideals. Homonormativity may also be defined as the creation of new norms of invisible privilege within the LGBTQ+ community that often intersect with racial privilege, capitalism, sexism, transmisogyny, and cissexism. Homonormativity, as a gay replication of heteronormativity, is thus innately tied to the concept of assimilation. According to Nikki Sullivan, “the aim of assimilation groups was (and still is) to be accepted into, and to become one with mainstream culture” (23). Indeed, one of Donoghue’s aims throughout her fiction has been to normalize LGBTQ+ relationships in an attempt to dispel homophobic [End Page 2] attitudes that have long existed in Irish society. This novel, moreover, was published in the mid-2000s, a period which saw an increase in lobbying by Irish gay and lesbian groups for greater inclusion into heteronormative arenas, mainly gay marriage and gay adoption. However, in this discussion I suggest that Donoghue subverts heteronormative practices and queries the concept of homonormativity in Landing...