Allen Synthesis Three: Where and What is Home?

I am still very enamored with the concepts of place and home, and these stayed with me throughout the readings for this week, most notably in The Salt Roads , Zami, and the “Queer Diasporas” chapter. The movements written about in these three works captured my attention, especially because of my own notions of home and the feeling of being unable to return myself.

The female characters in The Salt Roads all seem to be displaced in one way or another; none of them are where they “should” be (either by society’s standards or by their own feelings), and this leads to a great deal of pain, aloneness, and frustration among them. Jeanne is the black companion of the poet Charles Baudelaire, and even among the French, she is looked down upon for having the wrong complexion. She pretends that it does not bother her, but really, it leaves her feeling out of place and alone. She is not at home, even beside her partner. Mer, Tipingee, and Patrice have a complicated three-way relationship throughout the novel, ending in circumstances that cannot ever return to how they were: Patrice leaves the plantation without Tipingee, leaving her and Mer to be together. Meritet wants to get away from her life as a whore, so she leaves town. However, later, she wishes to return to her old life as a whore. The novel ends without this resolution occurring, but its lack speaks to the feeling of displacement I have had for years now (which has been brought to the forefront by our readings for the past two weeks).

This same lack of “proper” ending to a novel occurs with Zami, as well, but like with The Salt Roads, I understood why the novel trailed off instead of having full closure. Real life is well represented in both of these stories, because life does not ever wrap up neatly. Something is always left undone, whether it is words unsaid, gifts not given, love not shared, or questions not answered. The same can be said of what occurs when people are moved away from home or what was considered “home” changes in such a way as to be unrecognizable or no longer “home.” Without closure, there is a disjoining of the psyche and emotions, and this is what occurs during a diaspora. Diasporas are everywhere, and although they usually involve an entire group of people (such as the Middle Passage from Africa and the Trail of Tears across the United States), they can also be much more personal.

I wonder if the very act of coming out could be seen as a type of diaspora, especially when a person’s coming out is not well received by friends, the family, or anyone the person works with.  Since a diaspora is moving away from one’s home, I can see a coming out into a judgmental family or society as one. When my sister first came out as lesbian, my mother was shocked and wanted to kick my sister, Liz, out of the family completely. There was definitely separation there: mentally, emotionally, and physically. My mother could not emotionally or mentally handle the concept of having a lesbian for a daughter, so she pushed Liz away from her, which was terribly hurtful to my sister. In the introduction to Queer Diasporas, Gayatri Gopinath says, “staying put becomes a way of remaining within the oppressive structures of the home” (14-15). This is what happened to my sister; she could not remain in the oppressive structure my parents’ home had become for her.

My sister moved an hour away, barely spoke to my mother, and both parties talked to me about how hurt they were by the other’s actions. Throughout this entire time, my father stayed out of the situation. His only comment was that he had already figured out that my sister was lesbian before she announced it. Yet, despite his apparent knowledge, he did nothing to support Liz. She told me that his distance hurt more than my mother’s judgmental comments and announcement that “coming back to the Lord would fix that issue.” Liz’s friends and I supported her through the problems with Mom, and eventually, she quit asking Liz to go to one of the gay camps and get “fixed.”

This time was my sister’s own diaspora. She was unwelcome at family gatherings because of her “problem” according to Mom, and Dad never did anything to stand up to Mom about this. He told me privately that he disapproved of her attitude, but he did nothing to change it. So Liz was an hour away from where we grew up, unable to come back home. I was reminded of this situation as I read about Audre’s description of leaving her own family. Thankfully, though, my sister’s situation ended much better than Audre’s did: she made many friends that loved her, and she made her own home in the Queen City (Charlotte, North Carolina). She now has a lot of friends that are like family to her, as well, many of whom are GLBTQ. Some of them have gone through their own, similar, diasporas upon coming out, so she has had a wonderful support network for the last three years.

Liz and Mom have recently come to a rocky understanding that Liz’s sexual identity is just not discussed. Mom does not ask Liz if she is seeing anyone, and Liz does not volunteer this information. I am the only one in our immediate family that knows when she is interested in, or dating, someone. While I know that Liz is very happy about the support I have shown her, the lack of discussion with our parents does hurt her. She has yet to bring a girlfriend to my parents’ house, and I wonder if she ever will.

My sister’s issues with our parents have caused an emotional rift between them and myself, as well. This definitely impacted my own notion of “home” because I no longer feel as attached to my parents as I used to. I don’t feel like I can be as close to them, given the reaction they had to my sister when she came out. Between my mental separation from my parents over their treatment of her, the fact that my childhood home (where I lived for over half my life) is no longer standing, and my own frequent moving, I am not sure where—or what—home is, and that realization makes me feel very queer.

One thought on “Allen Synthesis Three: Where and What is Home?

  1. alexislothian

    I’m glad that you have found the readings for class so resonant!

    “Diaspora” is a term whose meaning is inherently collective, though; I’m not sure we can meaningfully expand it to an individual coming out narrative. The word comes from the Greek for “seed” and it implies dispersal, a group dispersing out from an originating place. Gopinath extends the meaning to move away from the idea of looking back to the homeland, but she maintains the connection to migration. In her work, queer diaspora is carefully distinguished from a more familiar coming-out narrative where a queer person leaves their family of origin and moves to a different location to create a new context for themselves. The queer diasporic subject might seek to maintain a relationship to their home community even if they experience homophobia there because that is where they can have recognition and understanding for their diasporic experience; that’s what the sentence you quoted, about “staying put” in the “oppressive structures of home” states. It’s crucial in Gopinath’s work that the particular experience of being both queer and othered by diasporic identity are maintained; transposing her ideas into a different cultural context risks losing sight of them.

    I wonder whether you can explore the individual melancholies of finding and losing home through different readings we have done; you might even want to argue that some of what Gopinath describes as diasporic feeling is in fact valid in non-diasporic contexts as well.


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