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Sexuality is the result of diverse self-identities and social-definitions, which are explored and constructed in the human social interactions. Social interaction is generated from the Social network, and the emergence of the sub-culture is from the culture of resistance for revolting the mainstream moral code. In this essay William Shakespeare and Janet Mock will highlight the issues regarding homosexuality and gender roles by using the texts “As You Like It” and “Redefining Realness”. William Shakespeare was a truly iconic artist of the Renaissance era in Europe. Shakespeare was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, authors of all time. Over these many years there has been much rumor surrounding various aspects of William Shakespeare’s life including his sources for collaborations, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, authorship of and chronology of the plays and sonnets. On the hand Janet Mock’s “redefining realness” gives us a window into the life of a trans, mixed-race woman, who has survived abuse, sex work, and has gone on to become an activist in the transgender community. Chapters seven and thirteen of her memoir “Redefining Realness” specifically embody all and more of these struggles as she navigates her own identity within social institutions that promote hetero and cis normativity.
In William Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” homosexuality is one of the main issues. In the play Rosalind’s choice of for her male disguise is very fascinating and very important. In ancient Greek mythology Ganymede was a beautiful young man whom Zeus desired and so took to be his cup-bearer (64). This is prophesy of Rosalind’s being “universally attractive, to women as to men.” (148) It is no coincidence that, in exploiting the gender boundaries by dressing as a man, she further broke them by giving her male alter the name of a well-known homosexual. When actually considering the mechanics of the play “As You Like It”, it becomes even more interesting: that a male actor playing a female and a male role who is named after a homosexual. Nevertheless, while “As You Like It” is indeed one of Shakespeare’s most gender-sensitive plays, I do think that homosexuality is a very important theme of the play. As it focuses on the freedom that springs from ignoring gender roles and boundaries. Whereas Janet’s first experience with cross-dressing came from a game of “truth or dare”. When she is caught wearing a pink dress and her grandmother spanks her. Janet’s mother later explains that “boys are not supposed to wear dresses”. (21) From this experience, Janet learns that her desire to express femininity is inappropriate. Janet explains in her book that even though the mother was upset about the fact this was not for reprimanding her. She was just telling Janet the way things were based on how she had learned the world. Further she points out that both the mother and the grandmother thought that they were raising a boy child, and according to the western cultures gender binary system fixed between two poles (boy and girl) a boy does not wear dresses. Furthermore, there are other more common similarities like for example the color pink which is associated with girls and blue with boys. When it comes to differentiating in form of colors this is something that starts the moment you get born and get your first set of clothes. You rarely see a little baby boy dressed in all pink.
In William Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” Phoebe’s “love at first sight” for Rosalind/Ganymede is also worthy of attention. It is perhaps believable that Phoebe does not recognize that Ganymede is really a woman than that neither Rosalind nor Orlando own father recognized her. However, Rosalind apparently could not conceal her femininity well, thus makes a very effeminate male. Also, intriguing is the fact that Rosalind opposes so effectively against the love another woman has for her, asserting “I am for no woman”. She however has no issues with such male relationships, such as Orlando using a “man” to replace his female love. Certainly, William Shakespeare seems to be making a point against close female relationships, considering how easily and quickly Rosalind and Celia’s affection for each other is replaced when they both find male lovers (54). Unfortunately for Mock she bears the burden of having to explain her gender and sexuality and justify her actions. Mock writes that “she always been a girl in a boy’s body” and that she is looking to reconcile with him. His response was surprisingly tolerant although he does end the letter by negatively addressing the ultimatum given to him by Janet—to take her as she is or pretend, she doesn’t exist. She asserts “Your disrespect for me is apparent. You never respected me when I think about it and you never liked me. But I’m the parent and you’re the child… no matter what you decide in your life I will love you. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I will always love you. (231) Thinking critically about his response, this puts the blame on Mock for their strained relationship although she felt her behavior was normal. Her normal is conflicting with dominant cultures “normal” and was perceived as disrespect. But as she acknowledges he is mourning the loss of his son and is willing to transition for her as an accepting father— this significant as a possible sense of closure for the transphobia and gender dysphoria she internalized growing up and shows the family is adapting to her new identity.
Despite all this evidence of homosexuality in As You Like It, what is much more exciting is how the importance of these relationships changes when looked at from a different perspective: namely, that of freedom from gender-specific boundaries. The pastoral setting of the play, the Forest of Arden, has a liberating effect on both men and women. They “are permitted an expansion of sexual identity that transcends restrictive gender roles.” (51) Orlando and Rosalind seem to feel the effects of this liberation most strongly, as it “reverses their gendered characteristics.” (61) Rosalind becomes more masculine in that she gains control and strength and Orlando becomes a bit more feminine; the traits of gentleness and compassion starts to appear in him. Celia also feels the liberating effects of pastoral life even before they reach the forest, when she says, “Now go we in content to liberty, and not to banishment.” (44) This transgender freedom goes into the real world of the actors and beyond the fantasy world of the play. Mostly the female roles in William Shakespeare’s time were played by young boys. As Harold Bloom says, “In the boy-actor motif, woman is a metaphor for the male discovery of the feminine within himself.” Taking on female roles allowed both the male actors and the male viewers to experience “what otherwise might remain unknown, forbidden territory.” (53) Just as the effects of the Forest of Arden free the characters from their gender roles and allowed them to cross boundaries, so the actors playing the female parts are allowed to experiment with alternate genders. However, in “Redefining Realness” one notable shift towards acceptance in this chapter is a conversation between Janet and her Mother. Her mother became pregnant with her oldest sister Corey at a very young age, and parallels her mother’s coming out about pregnancy to her own coming out about transitioning. Janet writes “She was surprised when Grandma told her, “We need to go to the doctor, make sure you’re healthy.” That loving reaction from Grandma was a pivotal moment she looked back on with love decades later when her first born daughter, pregnant at just fifteen, reached out to her. I believe Mom used that same moment with me when I reached out to her” (214). Mock lingers on the subject of her relationship with her parents throughout chapter seven, and the isolation and neglect she felt from both of them. Within the institution of family, we all carry certain roles and are held to expectations in regard to age, gender, and sexuality. Her mother’s experience falls outside of these expectations, as she became a mother at a very young age. Receiving acceptance from her mother, gave her the freedom and courage at that moment to fully take on her identity and speak to her father later on in chapter thirteen. Additionally, I think Mock is trying to express that acceptance is a universal concept despite varying circumstances.
Thus, William Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” is a play not only of homosexuality, but of blurring the boundaries between male and female genders and Janet Mock’s memoir “Redefining Realness” is an example of a true story where she goes from rags to riches. She did not have the greatest home life for a while and face a lot of hardships along her journey but overcame each and every one. The transvestitism and homoeroticism within the play are not a theme of themselves. Instead, they contribute to the much larger theme of transgender freedom. As You Like It is absolutely a tale of breaking traditions—just not sexual traditions, as critics today would lead us to believe. Through the play, William Shakespeare familiarizes us to a world where men and women are free to discover the characteristics of the opposite sex; indeed, a world where the term “opposite sex” is meaningless. Whereas Janet would not be the person she is today without each misstep. Her writing of this memoir allows every person to connect with her on a different level and may help inspire those who need it. Whether it’s within gender identity, feminism, LGBTQ community, family life, poverty and self-love. Janet makes great effort to combine all those within her memoir and connect with us readers. Mock’s journey to self – acceptance and womanhood is compelling.
Judged by society, judged by family
Lost in a world with a strong desire
Accepted by one, denied by many
Feelings feel like an extinguished fire
Love is portrayed as such a beautiful thing
It’s not time’s fool, though beautiful lips and cheeks
Let them all marry so we all can sing
Love transform not with his brief hours and weeks
How fitting if life had come crashing down
Love isn’t just finding somebody on earth
Now in an endless pool ready to drown
You really think this sweet work worth
Patience than may led to satisfaction
All you have to do is leave the traction
- Ryan, Keirnan. Shakespeare: Texts and Contexts. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
- Knowles, Richard. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: As You Like It. New York: The Modern Language Association of North America, 1977.
- Mock, Janet, 1983-. Redefining Realness : My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & so Much More. New York :Atria Books, 2014. Print.
- Shakespeare, William, and Horace H. Furness. As You Like It. New York: Dover Publications, 1963. Print.
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