“IT Can take A large amount more than clarity to hold an individual likely,” Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart demonstrate in The Hundreds, an experimental, genre-bending challenge on crafting and worldmaking revealed in 2019. “[T]here’s a lot more at stake than just being aware of.” Each professors doing the job in gender and sexuality experiments, Berlant and Stewart jettison standard educational crafting to assemble sketches and reflections on every day lifestyle with a conceptual bent. Making use of the personal as an entryway to literary theory’s much more abstract method of pondering, they check with: What can we discover by taking into consideration concept through lived knowledge?
These issues linking selfhood, style, and social principle are the foundation of Jonathan Alexander’s modern guide, Bullied: The Tale of an Abuse. Printed in late 2021, Bullied orbits all-around a 50 %-remembered abuse by an uncle that drove Alexander to panic his personal queerness by way of his early adult everyday living. In a nonlinear narrative that is section memoir and portion vital reflection, Alexander — an editor for the Los Angeles Critique of Guides — procedures the way abuse amplified the homophobia that now saturated his globe in the South of the 1970s and 1980s. Alongside the way, he explores how the internalized homophobia that dominated his young adult working experience — as an individual marrying a girl and at beginning his tutorial job — formed and continues to shape his experience now as homosexual guy married to one more man and as a tenured professor of English in California. Together the way, Alexander connects his own knowledge being bullied and abused to a broader tradition of hostility towards queer folks, a tradition that styles and, in its way, distorts gay subjects.
As Bullied weaves concerning reminiscences of the previous and reflections on queer everyday living now, Alexander wonders: How do gentlemen, primarily youthful adult males, study not to develop into a “penetrable male”? How do abuse, bullying, and other sorts of trauma get the job done jointly to form how queer people today adapt to a hostile planet? Most troublingly, he asks: “[W]hat occurs if [a] totalizing occasion, the traumatic occurrence, is just one you feel might have transpired, but perhaps didn’t”? Following Berlant and Stewart, he agrees that “there is extra at stake than just understanding.” Potentially it’s the method of telling the tale that matters.
Bullied starts with a jolt. Alexander describes being “in my mid-twenties, conversing on the cellular phone with the female I will soon be marrying” — and reveals the way the impending marriage spurs him to use the word “‘abuse’ to chat about my first sexual activities.” Growing ever more unsettled at the prospect of marriage, Alexander recounts commencing to comprehend that relationship would not fulfill desires to which he could not nevertheless set a name. In this way, he lingers on a sensation perhaps acquainted to lots of: the unexpectedness of looking at himself as queer when, in numerous approaches, his daily life had felt secured by its normative trajectory. What jolts is pairing this realization with the far more distinct — though by no suggests distinctive — memory of abuse.
Extra unsettling about Alexander’s come across with marriage, queerness, and abuse at the begin of the book is that his minute of self-realization is abruptly interrupted, his agency taken off. Alexander relates how, times right before he’s to be married, he starts sobbing uncontrollably, to which his father responds: “I think I know what it is. You’re a homosexual.” Following this, Alexander confesses acquiring been molested by his uncle and sensation that “‘it’s provided me these ideas, these feelings … I really do not know what to do.’ That was as shut as I could get to the truth at the time.” In this foundational instant, Alexander recounts what could have been a coming-out instant subsumed by the specter of abuse, forever linking queerness with trauma, perversion, and disempowerment in his brain.
This first scene of dropped company introduces a sequence of thoughts about Alexander’s possess relation to ordeals “with disgrace-inducing homophobia” that he’s tried using to unpack due to the fact. Much more tellingly, this opening conflict involving normativity’s allure and queerness’s uncertainty metaphorizes Alexander’s approach of suspense, which applies to his description of queerness and abuse alike. Even though abuse appears in the book’s title, audience only belatedly come upon the resurgent memory of remaining molested by his uncle in a film theater when he was a boy. In withholding its facts, Alexander moves absent from viewing trauma as a revelation, with out diminishing its severe consequences.
If this seems a little bit puzzling, that is by design and style. Extra than telling a cohesive daily life tale, the project of the e book is to trace the strategies trauma refracts about a life. The reserve addresses these refractions indirectly, and we’re left to reconstruct a narrative that Alexander himself seems to wish us to come across opaque. Following divorcing his very first wife and marrying a person (Alexander withholds particulars about equally marriages), his narrative chronicles reminiscences and dreams that even now inflect his now stable everyday living as professor. These reminiscences erupt throughout the book: he remembers currently being provided an enema by his father at a younger age and speculating that his gayness is connected to the memory he remembers acquiring an orgasm soon after becoming tied up by his wife and pondering about the satisfaction of this enjoy he asks what it usually means that he thought it “totally Ok to consider of gentlemen while masturbating if I was dominating them” due to the fact the power exchange in this kind of fantasies “somehow bolstered my sense of my have masculinity.” Visitors meander by means of these recollections, whilst Alexander purposefully retains details and narrative cohesion at bay.
In the system, he forces viewers to inhabit uncertain territory. In meandering by means of somewhat than documenting the direct ordeals of his abuse, Alexander emphasizes the long lasting “psychic damage” of currently being addressed with “scorn and contempt and hatred.” At the exact same time, he purposefully blunts our obtain to scenes of ache, as a substitute concentrating our consideration on its lingering results. We’re still left to confront the sensation Alexander himself describes as staying in limbo, caught amongst emotion a “diffusion of agency” and a “saturation of the earth close to me with risk.”
These recollections are generally raw and unsettling. And that really rawness speaks to Alexander’s broader mental curiosity in the longstanding association concerning homosexual males and perversity. In this way, the experimental mix of the personalized and the theoretical in Bullied extends from Alexander’s preceding reserve, Creep: A Life, A Principle, An Apology (2017), which a single reviewer known as a “meta exercising in memoir writing” and that Alexander described as a “‘critical memoir’ mixing personal narrative, textual assessment, and theoretical speculation.” On the 1 hand, Alexander traces ordeals of internalized homophobia that are properly documented among the gay gentlemen like himself, and that carry on to have impressive afterlives these days. On the other, he wishes to mine the depths of what it feels like to realize the history of homophobia intellectually and to dwell with its outcomes nevertheless.
This bridge involving the own and theoretical speaks to a climbing fascination — primarily among academically minded queer authors — in employing the self as a internet site to demonstrate queer theory’s insights. Considering that Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015), these self-theorizing narrative has acquired prominence. Tracing the rise of this manner, Robyn Wiegman — a professor at Duke University — has traced the latest “pollination” of so-called “autotheory,” demonstrating how latest manifestations attract from previously 20th-century tactics.
For Wiegman, autotheory revisits the individuality of autobiography, which, primarily in the late 19th and 20th generations, challenged the “hierarchical predilections of dominant record-making” by professing space and presence for the marginalized. Autotheory continues in autobiography’s lineage, but speaks to a second fewer interested in unique life than in growing the dialogue about how structural exclusion operates and is sustained. Because queer life typically reject the scripts of normative lifestyle, autotheory’s blend of the own and political and its desire in the nonlinear pays productive dividends. It is towards this job that Alexander adds his voice, sharing with us a individual narrative that materializes theory’s abstractions via his individual practical experience.
At its ideal, Bullied provides a well timed meditation on acquainted traumas that numerous queers face. As the title implies, bullying and abuse are relevant phenomena — kinds that are usually foundational experiences for queer men and women that cue thoughts of depression, alienation, stress and anxiety, and additional from a younger age onward. However Alexander does not concentrate on the particulars of situations like the bullying he professional, he notes the damage of currently being taken care of with contempt. From this destruction, Alexander wishes to excavate “simple pure” times of resilience that his youthful self “will not bear in mind.” In this way, Bullied confronts activities of abuse with security, treatment, and growth, modeling a method of queer resilience in the method.
This individual method of modeling resilience runs into restrictions, even so, when Alexander far more straight addresses our present working day. At instances, Alexander spots his encounters beside situations like Jussie Smollett’s staged homophobic attack by Trump supporters the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida and other times of spectacularized queer trauma. In the process, he dangers analogizing his ordeals growing up with abuse in the South of the 1970s and 1980s to a broader aura of problems that queers, and specially queers of colour, sense.
Whilst these associations are provocative in the way that they trace the violence queers of colour face in our minute of resurgent white supremacist violence, they far too normally spend insufficient notice to the particularities that different violence against queers of colour from white homosexual men. For case in point, there’s a inclination to introduce scenes about racist anti-queer violence via Alexander’s very own concern of “how exposed I’m making myself, how visible, how considerably a focus on” by being out in the environment. Primarily for a guide mixing the theoretical and the particular, these reflections would have benefited by getting in dialogue with the do the job of activists, writers, and scholars of shade to unpack how queer of colour embodiment — the intersection of race and sexuality, additional typically — consists of substantial particularities not skilled by white queers. The kernels of such an evaluation are in this article, but a immediate articulation would have benefited the two Alexander and his objects of comparison.
Nonetheless, this pretty conundrum emphasizes 1 of the knottiest questions of Alexander’s challenge: Who has the authority to interpret? What I discover relocating is that Alexander himself wonders what authorizes him to reexamine his have foundational assumptions about how trauma shaped his queerness. Reconsidering the scene of abuse that was so foundational for coming to consciousness about his sexuality, Alexander concludes:
But what comes about when the scene, the originating scene, is lost, or perhaps significantly less than primal, or additional diffused by a set of social relations that situation you as constantly by now outcast, thrust to the margins? What if the abuse, the violation, isn’t certain, localized, chronologically contained […] but aspect of the formlessness of your existence alone? […] Is this the lesson we preserve thrusting down our throats, the lesson I preserve fucking myself with, again and once more?
In the stop, Alexander reexamines an array of the unpleasant emotions he’s lived with: the disgrace he internalized about his interest in S&M, his desire for the kind of gentlemen who tormented him when he was young, his fascination with sexual transgression, amongst others. Along the way, he moves further than the abuse from which his tale originates. By lingering on ambiguities amongst abuse and its afterlives, he in the end offers a daring and important reminder that our relation to situations can transform.
At the stop of the working day, Alexander is circumspect about the traumas Bullied procedures in watch of its much larger self-assigned essential job. Reflecting with candor on the way his sexual disgrace was shaped both by a broader societal violence toward queers and by the 50 %-memory of abuse he experienced, Alexander the two acknowledges the truth of trauma and attempts to discover techniques to reside past the detrimental affects it engendered. Toward the stop of the book, he observes that our “transferential monsters push us at situations to astonishing places.” Via trauma memory, Alexander’s journey looks back again on those people experiences and grants grace to the self of the earlier, admiring the resilience of the individual he has turn into. In synthesizing the remembered previous and reexamining the present, he styles a type of important apply that navigates alienation to guide him — and us — towards the utopian options of confronting our worst and most susceptible selves.
Will Clark is an assistant professor of English at San Francisco Point out University, in which he writes and teaches about US literature, queer reports, and important race principle.