Among the queerest literature, both of the modern and the traditional society explores themes deemed unfit to talk about. By any standard, a literature developed for children and on heteronormative scales: sexuality, sex, and gender stands out as a queer topic. Queer literature has responded to the complex and sensitive topic of gender and sexuality. The text And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie, and Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children by Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley are among the controversial and contemporary. The paper examines the sexuality notions held on the 20th and the 21st Century. Despite its controversial nature, children literature is an area of concern in the traditional and contemporary popular culture.
For centuries, children have been protected by heteronormative culture. Educators, parents, and lawmakers in the society have strongly guarded children content. Children literature was developed to make learning interesting, to teach cultural norms, and allow kids explore their environment. At the same time, they demonstrate that lifestyles, beliefs, and behaviors that do not fall within the heteronormativity theme are queer and unacceptable ("Frequently Challenged Books of the 21st Century" 1).
While classic children's literature works, such as those of Peter Wendy by J.M. Barrie elicit minimal complaints from parents and teachers, their queerness still present challenges in the society. In the 20th and 21st Century, themes such as homosexuality, gender bending, homosexuality, and are considered adulthood topics. It is a norm in the society that children should be protected from such topics as they have the potential to set them into deviant behaviors and abuse their innocence hood. It is commonly held beliefs that when children grow protected from the sensitive topics, they become upright people in the society. However, the controversial literature underscores the fact that many children materials are not heteronormatively wholesome as perceived. The authors, implore the readers to take a distance stance when analyzing literature.
To tackle the challenge of heteronormatively, authors' covers the topics deemed inappropriately to the young age group by reducing them to mere fantasy, or child plays. The 21st Century children books: And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie, and Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children by Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley still present the queer themes inherited from the traditional children literature. However, the challenge with the modern writers is their openness in handling the sensitive topic that comes with the heteronormative issues. Queer literature comes with the heavy debate of protecting the family and the children against societal malpractices. As a result, handling gender, sex, and sexuality have remained debatable with some literature materials being banned as inappropriate from the readers. And Tango Makes Three was such materials banned because of the parental pressure of what they considered harmful to their children (Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009 1)"). Despite the societal pressure, the need to address gender, sexuality, and sex has been compelling.
J.M. Barrie's 1911 Peter Wendy address the traditional literature's concept of fantasy. The plot revolves around Peter who detached himself from the city of London to an imaginary land called Neverland. Neverland is portrayed as a Land of freedom and fantasy. Peter is convinced that he will remain in his boyhood since he is hesitant to join adulthood. He colludes with John, Wendy, and Michael from London and takes them with him Neverland. In Neverland, he lives with the host of boys called ‘Lost Boys.' Peter engages in a fight of returning Wendy to a land of reality and with Captain Hook on the principle of adulthood. The protagonist is saddened by the fact that Wendy has to leave but cannot allow anyone in "catch me and make me a man" (Barrie 144).
Peter Wendy is a perfect modern gender fantasy. Peter refuses to be "ma[d]e a man," a homosexuality deviance. He yearns to have space where he can live in freedom without growing up. Barrie defines homosexuality as a deviant behavior, or juvenile resistant to adopting proper societal gender role. Based on the definition, Peter has refused to be a man because he is not interested in participating in men's gender roles. He has no gender, a fact supported by the group that he lives with "The Lost Boys." The lost boy is coined from the fact that the group has lost their societal gender roles. According to Barrie, physical gender, based on sexual organs does not contribute to the societal definition of gender. In the society, gender is defined by the role participation of an individual.
Barrie presents a perfect case of imitation and gender insubordination. Peter's is experiencing manhood trouble created by socially imposed demands of arbitrary gender. It should be understood that the both the traditional and the modern society have specific expectation and importance of gender in their roles. The gender demands, which cannot allow him to operate in "The Lost Boys" category in the real society forces him to escape into the world of fantasy. Despite Peter's success in undertaking a man's role when he creates the "Lost Boys" group, his position in the society is incomplete without undertaking manhood sexual responsibilities. In a sexless society, even treatment of Wendy does not hold as an important man's duty. Peter can only find comfort and freedom in the world of fantasy.
Peter's fantasy resonates with the human nature that what human being need is directly related to what they lack, and what they possess is never what is considered important. Based on the argument, fantasies are the pressure of what we lack. The society expects Peter to be a man, but being a man is the most worry Peter possess. As a result, Peter is forced into a world of fantasy, the only world free from sex and societal regulations of manhood. Peter's utopia created by fantasy of a world free from sex gives him the freedom he yearns. However, it is contrasted by the real world, London, where manhood is defined by one's sexual abilities as they grow into adults.
Although upon closer examination, Peter Wendy unearths unsettling reactions to queerness, the examples are still not worthy for the 21st Century's American families. The book is not considered an effective material for class education since it incorporates more elements out of the contemporary American society. The texts are highly heteronormative and would encourage children to reject the more dangerously queer and accept the normatively queer in their future lives.
In And Tango Makes Three, the traditional family unit emphasizes on protecting children to ensure that they grow within the acceptable cultural beliefs. However, homosexuality and alternative parenting have put family values under threat. They are said to trigger queer texts among children, which is contrary to the traditional nuclear family structure and ethics. As such, lawmakers, caregivers, and parents have a tough duty of preserving heteronormative societal values. The American Library Association noted that reproaches regarding anti-family and sexuality topics filed under children's literature make up most official complaints to the ALA. Between 1990 and 2010, 10,676 official complaints were received; 6,621 of the complaints questioned the representations of non-heteronormative lifestyles. For instance, And Tango Makes Three is among top banned children books in the USA. It was banned on the grounds that it does not support the family unit. It was seen to bring out homosexuality, encourage sexism, and disregard religious standpoints about family and not suitable for children (Bronski 57). Though the complaints raised against the book make it appear vulgar or grossly inappropriate especially for children, And Tango Makes Three is a perfect example of children literature that positions the developing non-heteronormative relationship with the traditional heteronormative family structure.
And Tango Makes Three is a narrative about real-life collaborating of two male penguins that took place at New York's Central Park Zoo. The male penguins, Silo and Roy, were 16 when they tried to hatch an egg-shaped rock. Upon observing, zookeepers offered them an egg to hatch and raise. The product was Tango, a baby penguin who had two dads. In light of this, the book depicts the family's happiness and attempts to convince the society in accepting same-sex families and parents. It continues to argue that families with same-sex parents are equal to conventionally structured families. Like all other penguin families, zoo animals and human families in New York City, Tango's family cuddled together and went to sleep (30).
In the presence of sexual metaphors, the book deposes queerness to a child's level of understanding. Meaning that homosexuality is depicted to fall within the heteronormativity context. The authors, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, try to educate children about the homonormative family structures with the aim of dispelling motherless childhood stigmatization. They also bring out the heteronormative family culture that oppresses same-sex parenting. Instead of being labeled a family, Tango's family was labeled the alternative family; it was never depicted as a heteronormative family.
For the obvious reason of lacking a mother figure, And Tango Makes Three is described as an anti-family children's literature by formal complaints filed to the ALA. However, the nuclear family structure that is protected and conserved by heteronorms is neither a reliable nor absolute structure for children today. This theory is well-portrayed by the high divorce rates; according to the 2009 census data, one in every three children in the USA live in non-traditional households. Meaning that they thrive under family structures that are not complete with a mother, father and child composition. Because a good number of children in the United States do not grow under conventional family composition, notions that children's literature like And Tango Makes Three go against family values are inherently flawed. As a matter of fact, the text is pro-family literature piece because it emphasizes the need for a loving household so long as two cooperating parents are present despite their gender. Similarly, to how most American children thrive in homes without mother figures, little Tango thrives and adjusts to the environment around him without a female mother figure.
In queer terms, the book disintegrates the belief that mothering performance and behavior must be tied to a female parent. As the number of customary nuclear families decline, people who uphold heteronormative social formations misplace their frustrations by terming books like And Tango Makes Three anti-family. However, in reality, they are anti-heteronormative and pro-family.
Tango's parents do everything all other penguin parents would do. And Tango Makes Three displays actions to illustrate that same-sex parenting is normal and demystify the suggestion that same-sex families can only be legitimized if all heteronormative family rules are followed. Though somewhat clear in its primary meaning, the book supports the queer utopian theory. The book's plot through its penguin characters explains what it means to deviate from heteronormativity to homonormativity. Though it partly gives into the heteronormative procreative requirements, the book supports encouragement of unconventionality as opposed to rebuking the protagonists. The script emphasizes the need to nurture a queer microcosm provided it falls within the heteronormative boundaries. Individuals who fall on the opposite side of the hierarchy must conform to the heteronormative beliefs to avoid stigmatization and shame ("Frequently Challenged Books of the 21st Century" 1). The script interprets that it is acceptable to be from the heteronormative family aspect when people are willing to accept some heteronormative rules.
In their edited volume of Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children, Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley argue that "there is currently a dominant narrative about children: children are (and should stay) innocent of sexual desires and intentions. At the same time, however, children are also officially, tacitly, assumed to be heterosexual." This furthers the debate as to whether the queer books should remain in classes and library shelves or whether they should be banned altogether. What is the place of the literary materials in the modern society? At one point, children will have to come to terms with the deviant sexual behaviors in the society. It is then still debatable whether they should be introduced to the deviances early enough or shielded until they become adults.
Curiouser provocation is focused on the most controversial area in sexuality studies. The author challenges naturalized cultural prospects about sex, children, and development. The book engages the readers into intricate cultural studies, psychoanalysis, queer theory, and psychoanalysis. It profiles key structures of the critical debate on childhood and sexuality. To some extent, Curiouser's publication and approach to the topic makes it unofficial reader in queer children studies.
Curiouser initially argues that kids' sexual experiences can be both pleasurable and traumatic. The arguments become the backbone of the book, "How to make sense of the child's pleasure without pathologizing it or reducing it to 'trauma'" (xxix). As a result, Curiouser tracks traces many queer stories in an attempt to draw a comparison and a make a rational conclusion.
Through the examples, Curiouser illustrates how the contemporary culture's appetite for eroticizing childishness evocative the deep hostility the society direct toward any intellectual endeavor trying to challenge the safety zones around childhood sexuality. Curiouser adopts scandals to illustrate the war between the intellectuals and the strongly held cultural demands.
By the time Bruhm and Hurley's Curiouser was produced, a debate was already raging on how sexuality, childhood, and gender should be configured in relation to each other. At one point, childhood is seen and held as a realm of innocence. Pre-sexuality and heterosexuality, on a different note, is placed on the vanguard of freedom and liberation with respect to sexuality, with gender being the divide between adulthood and childhood. Barrier holds that Childhood innocence is equated to perceived freedom, while Bruhm and Hurley believe that freedom of sex is determined by the society demands as held's. As Bruhm and Hurley hold that the "queer child" result to "panic more explosive than the child whose play confirms neither the comfortable stories of child sexuality nor the supposedly blissful promises of adult heteronormativity"(10). The society, on the other hand, increasingly comes across gay, cross-dressing, queer, or transgendered children, and adults as an important aspect of the popular media and a cherished trend.
In conclusion, despite the fact that classical children literature has always brought forward queer themes, lawmakers and parents alike have often ignored the concerns because the stage has been sanctioned as a queer period. Within the allowable queer period, children are permitted to transgress and explore heteronormative beliefs as part of their development and preparation to adulthood. Queer children's texts such as And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie, and Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children by Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley, engages readers with heteronormative topics but also offers more options for adults and children in the stalemate. Arguably most queer stories are pegged on heteronormativity, either through the characters, family style, or narrative framework, such as fairytale. Although the adherence to heteronormative conventions has been the center of criticism, modern queer children's literature has remained a challenge to normative practices while at the same time appealing to both the parents and the learners.
Barrie, J. M., and Jack Zipes. Peter Pan. New York: Penguin, 2004.
Bronski, Michael. "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: Notes on the Materialization of
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