Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WITMonth Day 13 - Queer lit (or lack thereof) | Thoughts

Today's prompt was supposed to be simple: write about queer women writers. This turned out to be a lot harder than I expected it to be.

The first reason for this is that queer literature is... fairly marginalized. In general, not just in translation. I know of a lot of young adult books that deal with coming out, for example, but I haven't read or encountered much for adults (for the record, I know that there is a lot out there and some of it even mainstream, but I personally haven't had much experience with it). So when I come and look at the intersection between these two extremely narrowed fields, it somehow becomes less surprising that I can't find much. Where are the queer women writers in translation? I don't know. Here I open the floor.

It's a curious question. When I went through the 2014 stats for literature in translation, I didn't attempt to read through every single biography, but I skimmed quite a few. I'm honestly not sure how many of the women whose pictures and bios I looked at were queer. It's an interesting indicator of the bigger issues of representation - we're not just looking at translations, we're not just looking at Western women, we're not just looking at straight writers...

Instead of the post I had originally planned, I offer instead two examples I could come up with that do look at issues of gender and have queer relevance.

The first is Yona Wallach's poem "Hebrew", which deals fairly explicitly with gender. Wallach is a rare Israeli poet to be translated into English, and an even rarer case of a bisexual woman to have been translated. Her poems are sometimes considered coarse and even vulgar (sparking controversy in Israel in regards to including her in the curriculum, which is distinctly woman-light), yet "Hebrew" is a powerful statement about gender balances, and can certainly be viewed as a sharp rebuke of the clearly drawn boundaries of binary gendered pronouns (and society).

The second is Elvira Dones's Sworn Virgin (which I plan to review next week). Sworn Virgin also tackles gender issues fairly head-on, mostly through its constant questioning of these definitions. The premise of the novel is deeply rooted in questions of gender definitions - Hana is a woman who has lived as a man. She explicitly explains that she is not gay or transgendered, yet she also struggles with other basic definitions. It's true that much of the book revolves around her trying to come to terms with more "gender-appropriate" behavior (in what might seem as a firm reinforcement of traditional gender roles, though I'm not convinced), but I think that Dones does a good job of showing the complexities of gender, identification, society and culture. It's also a book that deals heavily with gender roles and sexism, but we'll get to that in the actual review next week.

This isn't much. I know this isn't much. And we can talk extensively about why it's not much... in fact, we probably should talk about it at some point. These are questions that are worth asking, and I would love to hear thoughts from anyone who thinks they have some answers.


  1. Coincidentally, I just wrote my first review for WITMonth about The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, who was a lesbian. She and artist Tuulikki Pietilä were lifelong partners.

    1. The fact that I've read Jansson and have looked her up multiple times and did not know that she was lesbian is... really surprising. And indicative of something. Thank you for pointing that out!


Anonymous comments have been disabled due to an increase in spam. Sorry!