by Jean Roberta
I've been pondering the word "metronormativity" ever since I reviewed a diverse collection of essays, Queering the Countryside, for The Gay & Lesbian Review. The word is used throughout the book, and it looks parallel to "heteronormativity," the assumption that "normal" sexual attraction is between males and females.
For several generations, the children of rural folk have been migrating to cities, openly looking for jobs they couldn't find elsewhere, but also seeking identities and lifestyles they couldn't imagine having in the country: queer, non-monogamous, radical or creative. Fiction, especially erotica, often seems urban by default. Characters meet in nightclubs or coffee shops, get stuck in traffic, have trysts in hotels, and even have sex on or near famous landmarks. English-speaking culture seems to have become "metronormative."
The Canadian town I live in, which features a government building with a gleaming copper dome, has been described by writers I've met in larger cities as "very small." In fact, London, England, had the same size population (200K) when William Wordsworth described the cityscape he was leaving in "Lines Written Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802."
How do we as writers conceive of cities, and how does an urban or rural setting influence our narratives? Smaller towns provide fewer potential playmates or lovers, but easier wsys to meet them. In small towns, neighbours usually talk to each other.
In "small" towns (compared to urban centres of at least one million people), finding kindred souls can be surprisingly easy, since one can strike up (non-sexual) conversations with strangers without being perceived as crazy or dangerous.
In any case, no one actually knows a million people or more, and this includes people who have dozens of "friends" on Facebook. Communities based on ethnicity, religion, sexuality, profession, or shared passion (e.g.: writing) could be defined as towns within cities, and members of different towns might as well be living in different regions.
I'm currently spending two weeks in Vancouver, on the Canadian west coast, catching up with old friends. It's tempting to describe the spectacular natural setting of the city (cloud-topped mountains meet the Pacific Ocean) and the colourful urban gardens, but as a writer, I'm more interested in how local culture affects relationships.
I often wish I could live in a different place each year, just long enough to get a feel for it, to stretch my imagination. Making a conscious effort to break free of assumptions based on one environment seems like a good start.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
by Jean Roberta