Transgressive Individuality in YA Literature

Offensive Mechanisms

Transgressive Individuality

In Steve Brezenoff’s Brooklyn, Burning, the narrator’s gender is never disclosed, allowing the reader to form their own interpretation of the narrator based on individuality rather than sexuality. Similarly, in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, the characterization of the protagonist, Alina Starkov, places her individuality as paramount to resolving the conflict of the novel, rather than relying on gender conventions to reach a resolution. In both novels, the protagonists’ heroism arises from individual virtue rather than being the result of conventional virtues associated with a particular gender. It is the individual qualities and actions of the protagonists’ that ultimately define their character, rather than a set of preconceived notions based on gender. In Susan Stryker’s article, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”, the author addresses the reader, stating, “If this is your path, as it is mine, let me offer whatever solace you may find in this monstrous benediction: May you discover the enlivening power of darkness within yourself. May it nourish your rage. May your rage inform your actions, and your actions transform you as you struggle to transform your world” (‘Theory’). The narrator of Brooklyn, Burning, and the protagonist of Shadow and Bone, both discover, “the enlivening power” that Stryker’s article promotes. This discovery allows both Brooklyn, Burning‘s protagonist, Kid, and Shadow and Bone‘s protagonist, Alina, to transform their worlds by embracing their unique individuality even in the face of social adversity.

In Steve Brezenoff’s Brooklyn, Burning, the narrator and protagonist, Kid, never makes specific reference to their gender in order to emphasize the importance of individuality in defining character, rather than sexuality. The novel’s characterizations of the protagonist operate separately from a reliance on gender conventions. Instead, the reader’s impression of the protagonist arises from Kid’s actions and interpersonal relationships. The ways in which the narrator negotiates their place in society is a more significant signifier of character than a declaration of gender. Kid’s character qualities translate into a visual rendering of an individual that is made of ideas rather than gendered parts. Kid represents the idea of the “transgender” individual. According to Susan Stryker, “The term ‘transgender’… was originally coined as a noun… by people who resisted categorization… and who used the term to describe their own identity” (Footnote #2, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”). Kid’s characterization in the novel adheres to Stryker’s transgender terminology by remaining true to the details of individual identity rather than gendered sexuality. By making no direct reference to the narrator’s gender, the author’s characterization of Kid effectually conveys Stryker’s definition of transgender, by describing an individual who, “resists categorization” (Footnote #2, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”). Kid is dually the protagonist and the narrator, and both of these roles express a different facet of Stryker’s definition of transgender. According to Stryker, “[Transgenders] express their identities through… a non-corporeal change in public gender expression that is nevertheless more complex than a simple change of clothes” (Footnote #2, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”). Kid’s role as the protagonist creates a mode of articulating identity that functions on the level of, “public gender expression that is nevertheless more complex than a simple change of clothes” through music. Kid’s role as the narrator creates a space for articulating, “a non-corporeal change in public gender expression” that exists outside the realm of gendered pronouns.

In Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, the author’s characterization of Alina adheres to Stryker’s transgender terminology by emphasizing individuality as determining identity. At the “Fantasy Gender: YA Literature Panel” kindly hosted by Professor Mesle, the author made reference to her deliberate efforts to operate outside of gender conventions and her authorial choice to create a second-world that emphasizes gender equality. The protagonist’s specific magical power is unique to Alina only, and is also of paramount importance to saving the entirety of the novel’s second-world existence. Leigh’s characterization of Alina’s power emphasizes the protagonist’s unique identity and demonstrates Stryker’s transgender definition of resisting categorization. Stryker’s definition of the term, “transgender” states that transgender individuals, “habitually wear clothing that represents a gender other than the one to which they were assigned at birth” (Footnote #2, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”). According to the author, Shadow and Bone‘s second-world of, “Ravka” was written with the intention of creating a space of gender equality (Fantasy Gender: YA Literature Panel). By aiming to create a realm of equality, Leigh Bardugo intends for the novel to depict individuation arising in a transgender manner. In Shadow and Bone, individuation is the result of an individual expression of identity through power or magic, rather than through gender. According to Stryker, “[Transgenders] consistently and publicly express an ongoing commitment to their claimed gender identities through the same visual representational strategies used by others to signify that gender” (Footnote #2, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”). In the gender neutral world of Ravka, societal conventions regarding gender are replaced by a systematic hierarchy governed by magic. In the sociopolitical sphere of Ravka, an individual’s mark of magical distinction is synonymous with their clothing color and embellishments. Given that Alina’s magical power is unique to her alone, she chooses to wear clothing that is a colorfully embroidered signifier of her unique individuality. Leigh’s description of Alina as desiring an individually distinct dress-code, aligns the author’s characterization of the protagonist with Stryker’s definition of the transgender individual, who’s, “actions transform [them] as [they] struggle to transform [their] world” (‘Theory’, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”).

 

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