I recently began watching the 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, not knowing a whole heap about it, but reassured that it is a must-see. It begins in World War II, with army captain Charles Ryder moving his company to a secret location that turns out to be Brideshead, the former home of the Marchmain family. We move with Charles into memories of his university days and his association with the Marchmains’ younger son, Lord Sebastian Flyte. At eleven episodes and with a 659 minute running time, I’m nowhere close to finishing it yet, but I really didn’t have to be in order to get my slash fan on.
I won’t lie to you, I do try and find the queer subtext in all the media I consume. Fan fiction has ruined me, ruined, I say, for non-slashy viewing and reading. So I was having bundles of fun with this series: Charles’ impassioned glances at Sebastian even after the latter throws up in the former’s room, Sebastian’s covering Charles’ room with flowers in recompense for said vomiting, all around hilarity. It was, in fact, the slashiest thing I’d ever seen, and it was glorious.
And then? Well, it became pretty obvious that this wasn’t in fact the strongest subtext in the world, but… text. (I think it happened somewhere around the line ‘Nothing could give me greater pleasure than to be manhandled by you meaty boys’.) And, rather than being delighted that I was watching a romance between two men, I was disappointed.
What on earth? How does it even make sense to seek after something and be disappointed to find it confirmed? I’m not sure. Surely it’s not that I want to see queer narratives and people continue to be relegated to subtext and the marginal. Hopefully it’s not that scrabbling to find scarce queer narratives wherever one can has become so much an internal norm that finding queerness not at the periphery of popular consciousness has become unsettling.
In any case, what to do as we push marginalised narratives away from the margins? We can’t have them without their marginalisation all wrapped up in it. How will we move to telling such stories without largely framing them in the terms of their oppression? Well, at that stage, there might have to be a more substantial shifting of categories, but, in this transitional stage of moving towards acceptance, what does it work?
I think and hope that part of why I love looking for those submerged narratives is because I’m a being who swims in stories like a fish in water. Because I love looking around the edges of things, tearing up the sides of the carpet and looking at the layers of layering that go into story. And being part of creating a private world.
I want to try and integrate approaches to text and subtext in ways that will normalise marginalised narratives and preserve the love of finding what’s underneath.