Aug 1, 2015

Alice's Queer Wonderland

I first encountered Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) when I was 8 or 9, in a volume of the Junior Classics called Stories that Never Grow Old (along with such oddities as The King of the Golden River and Jackanapes).  I didn't understand most of it , and what I did understand was either horrifying or deadly dull.  Alice falls into a constantly-changing world where bizarre characters quiz her on her knowledge of arithmetic and poetry.  Most of them want to kill her. And it turns out to be a dream.

Besides, there were no cute boys or muscular men in it, although movie adaptions often feature hot actors, like Andrew-Lane Potts as the Mad Hatter (2009), left, or Jason Byrne as Pat the Gardner (1999), below.  Lewis Carroll liked little girls (a lot), but he detested boys.

Give me a nice, normal science fiction novel, like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet or The Spaceship under the Apple Tree.

But in the spring of 1985, just before I moved to West Hollywood, the music video of Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More" used an Alice motif.  I reread Alice and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and found ample gay content.

1. No character displays even a hint of heterosexual interest. Lewis Carroll was utterly baffled by sex and romance in general, and looked in horror at the day when Alice would grow up, and marriage would "summon to unwelcome bed a melancholy maiden."  Although there are occasional sexual threats, such as the Duchess, who digs her sharp chin into Alice's shoulder as they walk (begin Freudian analysis here).

2. Male characters often come in domestic duos: the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Lion and the Unicorn.

3. For all of Lewis Carroll's fear of sex, he populates his Wonderland with phallic symbols (the Caterpiller's mushroom, the swaying flamingo mallets, Alice with the elongated serpentine neck) and castration motifs (the Red Queen's constant cry of "Off with his head!").  He is very interested in the power and threat of sexual potency.

4. The adult characters, with their lessons and demands, are trying to force Alice into the constraint of a proper Victorian girlhood, but she will have none of it.  She mangles her lessons, rejects advice, and fails utterly at domesticity when the child in her charge turns into a pig.  Gay kids understand, perhaps better than others, the malice of adult constraints, the "what girl do you like?" chant, the "when you grow up and get a wife" threats.

5. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Wonderland uses madness as a substitute for the queer, the marginal, and the outsider.  "We're all mad," the Cheshire Cat tells Alice.  "You must be [mad], or you wouldn't have come here."