University of Southern Maine professors Lucinda Cole and Wendy Chapkis, Portlander erin purnell, and the Phoenix’s own have chosen books which they find to be worthy of our fledgling queer curriculum. Professor Cole teaches two courses through the English Department at USM: her Sex, Species and Sci-Fi course draws upon animal studies and eco-feminism to analyze gender relations in American science fiction, and Professor Chapkis teaches classic texts in trans issues and queer theory in gender politics and sociology courses. You might recognize erin’s name from the summer edition of Out in Maine—they’re a co-founder of Fruit Punch Productions, self-described as a “feminist, sex positive, queer-owned outfit with a vision for porn that blurs the line between art and smut.” The three have helped us compile a list of agency-giving, identity-affirming titles, and we let them describe the books in their own words.
_by LUCINDA COLE:
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
Many people regard Carson’s expose of widespread pesticide use as the beginning of the modern North American environmental movement. Scratch an environmental scientist over the age of 50 and chances are they were propelled into their field because of this book. It’s also fascinating, if troubling, to look at the responses from industry, most of which attacked her on the grounds of gender.
Naomi Mitchison, Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962)
Naomi Mitchison, who was born in 1897, wrote this sci-fi novel—one of her 90 books-- at the age of 65. Its narrator is a “communicator” trained to make contact with non-human species, such as alien “grafts” who grow on human and animal host bodies, and giant sentient butterflies who prohibit any form of pleasure in their larval young, so as to ensure “proper” development. The novel raises all kinds of ethical questions about sex, sexualities, gender, and species.
Nicola Griffith, Ammonite (1993)
Griffith, a self-identified “dyke,” set out to write a novel about a world composed solely of women. She wanted to explode the literary stereotypes about such women being either booted and leather-wearing Lara-Croft type Amazons or, alternatively, fairy-like non-violent vegans. Ammonite offers many different points of identification, and tells a good story.
Michel Faber, Under the Skin (2001)
Yes, it’s a provocative film, but it’s also a deeply disturbing novel about how heteronormativity, speciesism, and economic exploitation are entangled. The original Isserley is a furry mammal who, in order to escape back-breaking work for the 1 percent in an off-world mine, submits to surgical alteration; she hunts “vodsels”—humans--who, once fattened, slaughtered, and packaged, are served to the wealthy. As a thought experiment for the twenty-first century, Under the Skin can’t be beat.
_by WENDY CHAPKIS:
Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)
An autobiography by poet and essayist Audre Lorde recounting her life growing up in Harlem and coming of age as a “gay girl” in Greenwich Village of the 1950s. Her account of being black, female, and queer offers a complex examination of difference: “Being women together was not enough. We were different. Being gay-girls together was not enough. We were different. Being Black together was not enough. We were different. Being Black women together was not enough. We were different. Being Black dykes together was not enough. We were different.” (p. 226)