In the end, the book called “The Queer Child” by Kathryn Bond Stockton turned out to be not at all what I expected. Not disappointing, but a lot of work to figure out and then not with the end point I expected — I suppose I thought it would be something like how to protect and nurture such a child.
First, let me note that the photographer for the front cover is Sean Graff who points out he has copyrighted his work. Instead of reproducing anything more than the book cover, I’ll just link to his website: http://www.seangraff.com/bio.php His photos are remarkable, somehow familiar and yet askew in a subtle way.
In the end the chapters that began by focussing on children in terms of their gender identity (not necessarily considering themselves gay, but claiming a role that the culture labels either male or female) or sexual objects (with only hints at acts), went on to discuss children who murder or adult murderers looking back at their childhoods, and then finally children and money.
His name was Eric Smith.
But it was NOT about comforting them and guiding them to “healing,” as in Alice Miller’s “The Drama of the Gifted Child.” The real subject of this book seems to be NOT the odd or peculiar child, but the peculiar fear society has of the child who is unpredictable, atypical or maybe out-of-control. As a powerless child (if there is such a thing) grows into an adult along a gradient of increasing power, at what point can sheltering stop and controlling begin without the adults becoming monstrous? At what point can a child be said to have a clear legally defined motive of murder?
Queerness is comparative. Our assumption is that there will be a mainstream path guiding the growth of children and that this will lead to a typical responsible adult. But small minority cultures don’t raise their children the same way and don’t result in the same kinds of adults. Even regional differences are famously liable to produce different adults. Children who have survived disasters or criminal uses or captivity (which might be luxurious) are different — will always be different even as adults. Some children are just wired differently. Many studies show left-handedness has real-world consequences.
We are discovering the enormous plasticity of humans, even in terms of brain neurons which provide many workarounds and even maybe auxiliary hard drives. But everything has limits and appearances can be deceiving, so that the most charming of little pinafore-wearing girls may set the house on fire. Almost all of the school shooters seemed “normal” (sorta) until they obviously weren’t. It’s a hard puzzle to solve, esp. when it’s complicated by people moving around from one culture to another, even if its from suburb to ghetto.
As in the existence of any gradient, the inequity — which may or may not be transient if we’re talking about money — may linger in a hoard of resentments, betrayals, lusts and disgusts. At some point the individual may have the power of payback and act in revenge, if only by creating a life that offends and embarrasses parents. Possibly as drastic as murder.
We create such anomalies by our treatment of children, even the assumptions that could be called mainstream. That derives from what we think they are: Embryo adults? Higher than animals but no angels? Repositories for our hopes regarding the future? Lurking in the background is stuff not normally discussed: how we treat truly dangerous children, which currently seems to mean casting them into a bear pit with oversexed mercenaries. In short, destroying them without admitting it.
The boundary between the generations is meant to be both control and protection. The older generation is notorious for wanting the next set of kids to be just like they were or maybe the way they wished they were, but sometimes the way those parents turned out doesn’t say much for the desirability of the results. Even if they are honorable and well-intentioned, the times change and what went well for one time can be a disaster for a later time. Demographics alone stir the mix in ways no one really understands.
What does it mean when over the half the US is “people of color” and what does “people of color” mean anyway, or even “Spanish-speakers” when the cultures of the Southern Hemisphere are so various: Cuba is nothing like Chile. An increasing number of people are mixed in many ways: mestizo is beginning to be a demographic overlay on what was previously separate, a forming but invisible nation, like Metis on the northern prairie.
A child of eight is sent north by himself with a little money and the name of a big city where he may have an auntie, if she hasn’t moved on. He knows how to get to the train that people ride but will need skills to keep from being taken advantage of, and a good grasp of possible danger to keep from being hurt by the train itself or by lawmen.
Here’s what the academic shrinks say about eight-year-olds:
▪ Eight-year-olds enjoy having the opportunity to solve problems independently. They are able to concentrate on tasks for longer periods of time and begin to use their own resources prior to seeking adult help or they may seek out peers for assistance. Eight-year-olds demonstrate more highly-developed thinking skills as well as the ability to solve problems with creative strategies.
▪ The language skills of eight-year-olds continue to show the impact of their developing literacy skills. Children's fundamental reading skills are established and one function of reading becomes its use for learning about various topics. At the same time, children's writing skills continue to develop. A child's language and literacy skills lay the groundwork for academic achievement and will be the route through which academic learning will progress.
Our imaginary kid probably can’t read very well. But the same skills might serve him pretty well: an eye for detail, a good memory for marks and shapes, a sense of story and relationship, and a line of bullshit. When to resist people and when to join them, form alliances, be useful to them. If he makes it to his auntie, and is taken to public school as the law requires though he probably doesn’t have a legal identity, he will be put into third grade unless no one thinks he can catch up without special ed or English as a second language. Those same skills will work.
But what if he was raped, hurt, made to see things that were horrifying — like people falling under the train or children younger them himself shot because they ran? Can an American impoverished school address that or the behavior that comes from that? Will he be a citizen or even have a consciousness of the United States as a nation? Who will he vote for: a nice mommy with a very firm voice or a wildly entertaining madman with short fingers?
Maybe his auntie has fallen on hard times and is financing her drug comforts with sexual services. What does the kid do to survive? He is QUEER. Forget "gay." He is not any kid that suburban families are likely to know. He is unpredictable. He looks like bad people on street corners in the dangerous part of town. Academics and journalists will be fascinated in a semi-sexual way, not quite tricks.
I myself am attracted, almost reassured by their darkness and exotic world, which I know in part from working the street in a uniform and in part from living on a rez. But I don’t go sit on a curb and share wine with them — I COULD, but I don’t. Somehow in my own queerness, I want to think about them in an abstract, generalized way. So far that hasn’t gelled into one story or a book. Blogging seems about right. Reading Stockton seems worthy. But I don’t recommend that just anyone enter this world. It is, at core, as non-conforming as a drug-addicted auntie in a ghetto, though she is in fact conforming to her own world, to which she does NOT welcome me. I’m feeling my way with empathy as much as deducing.
Stockton's later book. It's about degradation.
How can I resist?