Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Queering Breast Cancer's Affective Narratives: The Summer of Her Baldness and the L Word

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Queering Breast Cancer's Affective Narratives: The Summer of Her Baldness and the L Word

Article excerpt

Affective politics is negotiated throughout breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and has the potential to be performed and narrated queerly. Deploying S. Lochlann Jain's conception of "elegiac politics," this essay explores the queer affective terrain of breast cancer via Catherine Lord's The Summer of Her Baldness and the television drama The L Word.

In "Cancer Butch," an essay that critiques both breast cancer's normative cultural politics and a lack of effective cancer prevention strategies, Sarah Lochlann Jain asserts that she is not calling for a war on cancer and its terrors "to the extent that anthropologists get to make such calls." Instead, "the activist desire," she says, "is to proliferate the possible identities of illness." Here, Jain stresses that queer analysis of breast cancer can do more than make space for, or somehow make visible, queer subjectivities within dominant discourse. She believes it offers more than simply highlighting how, in the United States, lesbians still might be the most medically underserved group in society. Overwhelmingly, Jain argues for queering breast cancer because it "provides a radical intervention into the ways in which gender is constituted and inhabited." Here, Jain references Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's conception of how gender is constituted by breast cancer when she considers how the "relentless hyper--and heterosexualization of the disease results in something of a recursive process through which gender is produced and policed." Jain suggests that querying the social constructions of gender and, by extension, sexuality in relation to breast cancer may prove somewhat less daunting than insisting on a discussion of mortality in relation to the disease, but that does not mean queering breast cancer is not a necessary theoretical intervention. In her disruptive breast cancer narrative, Jain creates a context where cancer can come out of the closet (506).

I name Jain's narrative a "disruptive" one because it does not narrate or espouse "the standard story of breast cancer," a narrative type, as Judy Segal rightly argues, with easily recognizable features that has come to dominate public discourse of the disease. The standard story most often begins with the discovery of a breast lump and typically concludes with the breast cancer survivor sharing what lessons cancer has imparted (4). Notably, social critic Barbara Ehrenreich first publicly resisted the standard story of breast cancer when she wrote "Welcome to Cancerland," a personal account of the disease published in Harper's Magazine. Here, she questions the publicly acceptable feelings a cancer patient can express, observing that "so pervasive is the perkiness of the breast-cancer world that unhappiness requires a kind of apology" (48). Yet cancer is not an intrinsically ennobling disease and Ehrenreich describes how a cancer diagnosis did not make her more courageous or hopeful; instead, it only made her more "deeply angry" (53). Moreover, Diane Price Herndl takes issue with breast cancer narratives that claim women do not have to die from breast cancer because, in truth, nearly a quarter of all women diagnosed die from the disease (238). Even worse, "to present the disease as an issue of will and of one's recovery as a matter of attitude is to indirectly claim that those who do die from the disease just had the wrong attitude" (236). Certainly, as Herndl argues, it is much easier to have a "good attitude" toward cancer when you have the financial means and the necessary support systems in place to not only treat the disease but also recover from debilitating cancer treatments (238). Rather than attempt to normalize breast cancer, then, Jain calls for a consideration of the complexity of what it means to live with--and potentiallly die from--cancer because this is what we must contend with in the current historical moment. As she says, "The point is not simply to eradicate the shame that has for centuries accompanied the disease, but also to acknowledge the ugliness of the disease and of the suffering it causes and to let that suffering be okay, not because it is okay but because this is what we have" ("Cancer" 506). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.