Expanding Our Sexual Continuum

Throughout the past few weeks, like many of my fellow classmates on this blog, I have been challenged by the texts in our course to step back and think about how the words of early 20th century authors in our course reverberate in my day-to-day life.

In Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, we have turned a critical eye on how male-dominant sexual frameworks oppress the freedom for female characters to fully explore their sexual desires. We see the same traits echo across sexually dominant men like Tom Buchanan, Reverend Green, and Stanley Kowalski: they are brutes, driven by power, apt to snap into violent rage, and are the alpha males of their domain. While we can sit back and critique these men for their actions, our writers do not judge them as we would like. All these men “Get the girl” by the end of their respective novels.

Tom Daley, British Olympic  Diver

Tom Daley, British Olympic Diver

What does this say about conceptions of masculinity in modern Western society? I ask this on the tails of this week’s announcement via YouTube that Tom Daley, Olympic Diver for Great Britain, is in a public relationship with a male. While many news agencies around the world raced to publish articles about Daley “coming out,” a review of his video by The Guardian reveals that he never once call his action as “coming out,” uses the word “gay,” or refers to his relationship as a “gay relationship.”

The news storm reminded me of another blog post I read by a group of writers publishing on a blog called “The Good Men Project” entitled Mostly Straight, Most of the Time that explores how more men in Western societies, when given the choice, will opt to refer to themselves as “mostly straight” rather than ascribing to strict sexual labels like heterosexual, bisexual, or gay. Like we have discussed for the women in our books, there is cause to discuss the liberation of sexuality for men. These conversations are not mutually exclusive, nor do they threaten each other. We can extend the sexual continuum for men and women, allowing ourselves to be freed from past conceptions of sexual oppression.

– Cody O.

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7 thoughts on “Expanding Our Sexual Continuum

  1. This post really made me think, because this is definitely a topic that I don’t think many people pay much attention to. I especially liked your connections to the 3 particular books: Streetcar, Quicksand, and Gatsby. I can see many parallels between Tom Buchanan and Stanley Kowalski, but I never would have considered Reverend Green with these men. I do think it is unusual to call the Reverend a brute, but when I thought about it more, I can see why you grouped them together. After all, he did have 5 children by Helga, even though she never wanted kids, so in the end he really was the alpha male (his dominance was just not as clear in the novel). This is a great post in my opinion because you really connect it with modern events, and I didn’t even know that Tom Daley had announced a relationship, so I just learned lots of new stuff through this post 🙂

  2. This post really caught my attention because I recently finished the book “In the Game:Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity” for my Politics of Sport class. The that masculine men will “win out” in the end is pervasive not only in the texts we’ve read in class but in our world of sports. As a side note, “In the Game” was published in 2005, and it in the author states that no athletes in the United States was openly gay until their retirement. I think it says a lot about our society that today athletes feel more comfortable challenging stereotypes. Who can really say that an Olympic winning athlete isn’t a winner? (Th book is a fascinating read if you’re interested in the topic.)

  3. Sexuality seems to be a topic that keeps resurfacing. I liked your connection between Tom, Reverend Green, and Stanley. It really struck me when you said by the end of their respective stories they all “get the girl.” I hadn’t initially thought that as I was reading. I made me question our expectations, as well as the expectations of the writers, that the guy still gets the girl, especially, in Williams’, A Streetcar Named Desire. I remember when I first told my mom that is what I was reading, what she remembered most (from the movie with Marlon Brando not the play) was the way Stanley called after Stella. They way she recalled it was as if Stanley and Stella had this romantic story and he just couldn’t live with out her. Upon reading the play, I was shocked to learn that the scene my mom recalled was right after Stanley had hit Stella.

  4. On April 29, 2013 Jason Collins delivered an open letter to his fans and the world declaring, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” The media responded in quick succession, “The Gay Athlete,” “Jason Collins is Gay,” among a multitude of varying voices echoing the same sentiments. As an advocate for gay marriage and the deserved equalities that every citizen of the United States deserves, I celebrated Collin’s undeniably brave decision to announce his sexuality, rejoicing in the hopes of a man standing against the currents of hateful segregation that remain rampant among our current society. But after pondering the effect that his decision would have on homosexual athletes around the country I stumbled over a couple of questions: was Collin’s decision to publicly announce his sexuality the vessel into which we pour enough of our precious tolerance to admire ourselves in its reflection? Was taking his image and manipulating it into a symbol for the ongoing struggle for LGBT equality the correct move? He is still the same human he was before he made his announcement. His choice was a personal one, but because his own conscious efforts contrived to make him a symbol does not mean that we should treat him as such, to do so is to dehumanize him. This is just one event, one man continuing to live his life how he sees fit. In our world of obliviousness to truth and equality, Collin’s voice will gently irradicate past conceptions of sexual oppression.

  5. I like the connections you made between Tom, Green, and Stanley. However, I’m not sure the Author’s critique of the men is entirely unreasonable. Each author recognizes and vividly displays the faults of the men in such a way that the reader can judge them accurately for themselves. The job of the authors in this case isn’t to give judgement of the culture per se, but rather to present the truth as they see it and let us interpret from there.
    In these books, the “brutes” get the girls because of wider cultural reasons rather than for any reason. Heldga, in “Quicksand,” ends up with the Reverend Green because of cultural restrictions imposed on her. She is unable to live the life she wants because there is no outlet for her to do so. This being the case, the inevitable path for her meant something she didn’t want. Similarly, Stella is put into a position where she doesn’t really have an option to leave Stanley. In order to properly take care of her new child she needs the financial security of Stanley. She convinces herself that Blanche is lying because it’s necessary for her to do so in that given set of circumstances. The case is similar for Daisy. She is already married to Tom and has a kid with him. This, coupled with the fact that she had just accidently killed someone, means it is very unlikely that she will step away from the security that he offers. These cases all represent a constrained world for women, but we have to remember that the culture that fosters this is made up equally of men and women. So while some criticism can be made of the men in the way they act, criticism can also be made of the women in choosing to associate with such men in the first place.
    I agree with your analysis of the relation between men and women’s sexual restrictions, and the implications this has on masculinity. The biggest example of this to me is the use of phrases such as, “you’re being a pussy” or “you’re being a faggot,” to describe the behavior of someone not conforming to the set of masculine ideals. This language sets up being gay with being a woman, and thus not being a man. But cases like the ones you’ve posted above demonstrates that this not the story at all. A man can be gay and still be a winner and being gay shouldn’t inhibit also being a man. The fact that gay men are still men means any thing they do is “manly” insofar as the action is performed by a man. Any sort of attempt to form a construct of masculinity is inherently flawed for this reason. There cannot be clear cut boundaries that define an action or a person as manly or not. As with most things, it lies on a continuum, and any person should be allowed to navigate however they wish.

  6. I agree that the parallel drawn between the three novels is poignant and interesting for discussion, but I don’t necessarily think that the dominant male “getting the girl” at the end of the story necessarily reflects authors’ lack of criticism. I think that, actually, the fact that these males triumphed is entirely necessary on a literary level; we don’t want the “bad guy” to win in real life, and in the story we don’t want to see the oppressive alpha-males get what they want (or at least most of us don’t). When we do, then, it is extremely frustrating to us, and we think about it, and we analyze it. Their success in the novels promotes reader discussion, like the one we’re having now, and I think the authors definitely intended it this way. We can’t change what happens in the stories but we can effect what happens in the real world. Also, the success of oppressive alpha-males in these novels acts as a critique of the societies that support their success. It calls into question the values of our culture as a whole, at least at the time periods in which the novels take place. These rather unsatisfying endings are really a call to action.

  7. Hey great thought Cody. This is something, I’ll admit, I had not thought too much about. We’ve made a lot of progress in regards to homosexuality in the past few decades, but we are still a ways away from complete equality. I’m particularly interested in the transgender population, which seems to be lagging behind the progress made by gays. I think our society still judges people who are transgender in a negative way. Their sexual identity sort of morphs into their entire personal identity. Williams warns us about the dangers of classifying people in this way.

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