Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

Yeah, maybe I'm queer.  But why would people get so upset about something that feels so good?  Me being queer can't hurt anyone, so why should it be such a terrible thing?  Makes no sense.

I initially didn't really care for Rubyfruit Jungle, but that was partly because of my own ignorance and close-mindedness.  I still don't think it's the best written book I've ever read, but since I've learned some more about the author, I appreciate more what she was trying to do here.

Rubyfruit Jungle is a quasi-autobiographical account of a queer woman growing up in the 60s.  Molly is born and lives in rural Pennsylvania and is raised by relatives who adopt her when her mother can't take care of her.  When she's older, they move to Florida, where she excels in school and gets a full scholarship to the University of Florida.  Molly wants to be a filmmaker, but she gets expelled from school when her relationship with her roommate is discovered.  Her family subsequently rejects her and she moves to New York, where she is sometimes homeless, sometimes works, and attends and eventually gets a degree in film making from NYU.

One of the things that bugged me was that a lot of Molly's political statements (and the way Brown described them) were very obvious and straightforward, at least as far as I was concerned.  Like the quoted passage above, I often wrote "a little on the nose" when she described how her refusal to conform to gender norms made her male cousin uncomfortable or when she insisted that she could be a doctor when she grew up even though she was a woman.  Recently I've had less and less patience for homophobia and garden variety 50s-60s misogyny, and it just bores me, so the arguments against them somewhat bore me.  Of course women can be doctors!  No, Leroy, Molly riding a motorcycle, too, shouldn't have any effect on your precious, fragile masculinity!  I had assumed that this book was written rather recently, but after I finished I realized it came out in 1973, when these ideas must have been much more revolutionary.  This realization made me kick myself, because the whole point of reading books written by non-straight, cis, white men is to open my mind and try to get a better understanding of experiences with which I'm not familiar, not just judge a book based on my own perspective, progressive though that may be.  And for that, Rita Mae Brown, I apologize.

Another way I changed my mind about Rubyfruit Jungle was the plot.  The secondary characters are barely developed (the somewhat redemptive conclusion to her relationship with her adopted mother felt surprising and unearned) and the character of Molly hardly changes from the beginning to the end: she is brash and uncompromising throughout.  At one point she tells her cousin, "I don't care whether they like me or not.  Everybody's stupid, that's what I think.  I care if I like me, that's what I truly care about."  However, in context I think that is important.  From the beginning to the end, she knew she was queer, she knew there was nothing wrong with it, and she didn't care what anyone else thought.  It would have been wrong for her to change.


Christopher said...

Sounds like a brand of gum.

Brittany said...

I would really recommend checking out this brief talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called "The Danger of the Single Story." I think it offers an opportunity to think about what it was like for Rita Mae Brown to grow up when/where she did, consider what she was reading, and what models she had that featured stories with characters who were like her. Lesbian fiction is still a really new genre!

billy said...

Chris: it's actually a euphemism for a hairy vulva. For real.