Character analysis of Territory by David Leavitt

Topics: Gender identity, Homosexuality, Gender role Pages: 12 (2938 words) Published: August 13, 2014
“Territory” by David Leavitt is a short, yet complexly intimate tail of a mother’s futile attempts to accept her son’s homosexual identity and his on-going struggle with internalized homophobia. The story opens with twenty-three year old Neil visiting his mother, Mrs. Campbell, at his childhood home. As they prepare for the first arrival of Neil’s lover, Wayne, the anticipation triggers anxieties both Neil, causing him to have painful flashbacks of the past. As these images reveal, Neil has lived with feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt over his sexual identity, as well as an exposure to the impactful role that his mother has played in his life. We are also made privy to the numerous effects of her emotional detachment, which she ultimately leaves him to cope with, void of genuine support or feelings of positive self-regard. The narrative carries overtones of how Neil's sexual identity development has been affected by socially constructed ideology, internalization of negative self-identity, interpersonal relationships and institutional oppressive forces in the transitions from the adolescent to emerging adulthood stages.

Internalized heterosexism and homophobia
Neil has internalized the cultural homophobia and bias that he has experienced both interpersonally and socially (Green, 2003; Sullivan, 2008). Although the polarization of masculine and feminine gender roles had already been established well before he came out to his parents (Gilmore, 1990), his mother's reaction to this life-changing revelation marked the beginning of internalized homophobia for Neil. His mother's stoic reserve and sparse choice of words at the point of his disclosure made an immediate effect, leading him to feel embarrassed, inadequate and pitiful. This also marked a more observable emotional detachment from her son, which inherently brought with it messages of her own internalized biases and lacking acceptance of the man that he had become. Her attention turned to the apparent support of this new "cause", which she manifested by acquiring immediate membership to the Coalition of Parents of Lesbians and Gays, followed by an aggressively speedy rise to its presidency. However, her activities in this alleged support of his sexual identity would involve situating herself in front of gay bath houses and distributing pamphlets that warn the exiting men, who in her mind "did violent things to each other", against the dangers of drugs and anonymous sex. Her actions made these men re-live the shame and guilt and Neil was no exception, as he would often find himself wondering if she have would have changed him for a son that she could be proud of. As he observes Wayne and his mother conversing, he unconsciously thinks of Wayne as "a faggot son's sodomist", which is what he imagines his mother truly thinks of them both.

A system of rewards and punishments for following cultural expectations of gender norms are the basic underpinnings of socially constructed homophobia and heterosexism (Appleby & Anastas, 1998; Kimmel, 1994), which is often first experienced at home. Neil's experience is exemplary of this premise, as his mother's home was described as "this place of his childhood, of his earliest shame". When Neil cowers away from the thought of holding his lover's hand at the dinner table with Mrs. Campbell present, Wayne takes hold Neil's hand and she finds herself forced to recognize the reality of Neil's sexual preference. Her physical response of eyes flickering tells us that she was not prepared for this outward gesture of their unity. For Neil, it symbolized "every taboo nurtured since childhood".

Unearned heterosexual privilege, heterosexism and homphobia
It is commonplace for Neil and Wayne to be forced to deal with the unearned heterosexual privileges (Appleby & Anastas, 1998) that are engrained into society on interpersonal, community and institutional levels. When they first meet at the airport, they wait until they reach...

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