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English Final Outline

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“Funny All Her Life”:

Race, Place, and the Coming-Out Narrative in Getting Mother’s Body


P1: Introduction

A. Introduce character of Dill

B. Dill’s identity is not explicitly named, though implied throughout the book—no “coming out” moment

C. Trans theorists of Color call the uselessness of (and privilege imbedded in) the coming out narrative

D. Thesis: “Coming out” in the traditional sense would be useless and damaging to Dill—rather, by living openly but without claiming a community or label, they can protect their life and home.


P2: Dill’s “Secret”

A. Willa Mae outs Dill as “really a woman”

1. “They all remember or remember being told how Willa Mae went and bellowed through the streets that I weren’t no man” (Parks 89).

B. But Dill doesn’t claim term explicitly

C. But everybody “knows,” whatever that means to them

1. “The way [Laz] says Dill’s name makes it sound like they got a bond of some kind but I know enough about Dill to know Laz ain’t her sweetheart” (Parks 210).

D. Still, there is implication that to name it overtly would be dangerous, unacceptable; hence, Willa Mae’s regret

1. "I found out but I didn’t tell nobody for a long time and when I did. I felt bad but once words leave your mouth you can’t get them back in. I know cause I tried. I went around trying to take back what I’d said about Dill Smiles but the words had already run down the road. It weren’t no use” (Parks 225)


P3: Pushing the “Coming Out” Narrative

A. Coming out narrative implies that you are not authentic until you come out

1. “Post-gay activists and writers such as James Collard contend that being and doing gay ‘authentically’ involves moving past oppression and despair and living an openly gay life” (Brown i). 

2. Implies living a “lie” before moment of coming out; those who are closeted are “stigmatized as living false, unhappy lives and are pressured to be public” (Seidman qtd. in Walters)

B. Coming out narrative depends upon stable identity category into which to identify

1. “Coming out as a singular process—and the closet as the paradigmatic metaphor for [queer] life itself—depended on the establishment of a [queer] identity and a [queer] movement to make it happen. In simple terms, one needed the very category of ‘the homosexual’ to produce the story of coming out” (Walters).

C. Ultimately, the goal is to live openly so as to reduce stigma

1. “The larger social message now [. . .] is that coming out will promote tolerance [. . .] So one must be ‘known’ to be tolerated” (Walters)

2. But what if coming out inhibits tolerance?


P4: Trans POC Critique

A. Many popular narratives around coming out are white-centric

1. “Indeed, the kind of ‘American’ or ‘routinized’ homosexuality described by post-closet scholars privileges white, non-gender conforming, middle-class individuals, most often male and urban [. . .] Intersectionality exposes how privilege functions as a dimension to coming out stories, leading to marginalization and oppression amongst already discriminated identities” (Brown ii). 

2. “Trans people in the USA change genders in relation to androcentric, middle-class, white-normative, and heterocentric cultural narratives” (de Vries 4).

B. In fact, even identity categories are not divided along the same lines as western white queer people assume them to be

1. “For Don, being fa’afafine does not imply dissatisfaction with sexed embodiment nor does it make specifications about partner-gender: fa’afafine is constructed across sexuality and gender” (Roen 257)

C. Failure to look at these identities intersectionally means that crucial pieces of ones identity are overlooked

1. “For Don, cultural identity precedes gender/sexuality identity in political importance, but the two are intrinsically linked: one does not make sense without the other” (Roen 257). 

2. This is something that needs to be sustained, it is culturally significant: “[Don] echoes his elders in expressing concern about younger fa’afafine being attracted by the glamour and lifestyle of cities where they come to think of themselves more in terms of western transvestite and transsexual identities, rather than according to traditional understandings of fa’afafine" (Roen 258). 

3. “All the Palagi [English] terms: gay, faggot, queer [. . .] [they’re] awful [. . .] [Those terms] actually tell you how that society views that person. My culture just views it ‘like a woman.’ And it’s like a special woman” (Don qtd. in Roen 257).


P5: Self-Protection

A. Living in 1960s Texas, it is a matter of life and death for Dill to be finding community among their family and friends, rather than queer-identified white people. The coming out narrative assumes that we can move beyond pain by vocally asserting ourselves into community. 

1. “When one is ostracized for a social marker, particularly a visible dimension of identity, the concept of a being in or out of the closet shifts, access to or from marginalization is transformed, and the standardized meaning of the closet is rattled. Normalizing gay and lesbian experiences, according to the post-gay discourse, involves moving beyond oppression and discrimination, pushing despair to the side and removing it from gay and lesbian narratives. Yet, most individuals not privileged by race, class, gender, or gender presentation, move through society with marginalization, discrimination, or prejudice in some type or form as a component of daily interactions” (Brown 23).

2. This discrimination is compounded onto the already oppressed racial identities that cannot be invisible “The stigmatization of men of color as criminals by officers did not decrease even when trans men’s status as transgender was disclosed [. . .] The officer’s response, after reading the feminine name and gender marker on his driver’s license, was to ‘further harass’ him” (de Vries 16). 

3. Reference section on 140, Dill imagining a conversation between a bunch of white guys (who they think stole their truck), about her—referring to themself using racial and homophobic slurs. Their sexual/gender identity is used against them in the context of racism, compounded onto racism.


P6: Positionality Earned, Not Named

A. Dill’s “legitimacy” as who they are is defined not by their moment of claiming specific labels, but by fulfilling the requirements of a successful, masculine role in the community

1. “Something else comes into my head. I wait for a lot of miles before I say it, then I figure what the hell. ‘What’s it like, being a man?’ I ask Dill. She looks at me, her eyes like two slow snakes. Dill is more of a man than I am. She’s had Willa Mae and she’s had herself. That’s two more women than I’ve had” (Parks 155).

2. Having earned this position, Dill can behave in a manner that would otherwise be deemed inappropriate for women: “Dill puts her hand in her pocket, fiddling with something. She’s been fiddling in her pocket like that for years. Like a fella would touch hisself from time to time. Dill sees me watching her fiddle and stops, taking out her hand. I want to tell her that she can go head and fiddle all she wants to, it’s her pocket and her privates” (Parks 46).

B. Just as masculinity and manhood are qualities earned and not implicit, they can be revoked as well. 

1. “Someone heard about Son and Dill Smiles in bed with Willa Mae and called Son sissified and cut him in the street. He couldn’t hold his head up. Wanted to leave town. That’s how come Willa started talking. Cause if Son was in bed with Willa, and Dill weren’t no man, then Son weren’t no sissy. Shit. He left her anyway” (Parks 191).


P7: Rejecting Language

A. Rural place and communities of color are often stereotyped as homophobic and hateful, when there are great benefits to the ability to stay home

1. Eli Clare: “Yet in this extended working-class family, unspoken lesbianism balanced against tacit acceptance means that Barb is family, [and] that Aunt Margaret and she are treated as a couple [. . .] Not ideal, but better than frigid denial, better than polite manners and backhanded snubs, better than middle-class ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ which would carefully place Barb into the category marked ‘friend’ and have her sit pews away from immediate family at her lover’s father’s funeral” (Clare 34).

B. Insisting upon this way of life is an act of agency, not of failure to tell your “truth”

1. Someone’s ‘life in the closet’ may be another person’s refusal to be pinned down” (Walters)

2. “Entering and exiting the closet is a process of managing one’s identity based on time, place, and location. Thus the individual uses the closet” (Brown 21-22).

C. This works for Dill: “Over the years they all put two and two together. But it remains unspoken. North and me hunt together. I am the better shot. When two of Little’s heifers got the hoof root, it was me who cured them from it. For most of the people in Lincoln, the way I carry myself and the work I do and the clothes I got and the money I earn keeps their respect. I don’t ask more from them than that” (Parks 89). 


P8: Conclusion

A. Reviewing thesis

B. But ultimately, language is important—sometimes: “She called me Mr. Smiles. I’ll drink to that. Just one or two. I deserve that much” (Parks 241).