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My new obsession with Jean Genet

Better late than never, they say.

Why am I just discovering this man’s work? Seriously, this is an important question. I’m a very curious girl by nature–always trying to deepened my thoughts and broadened my suburban-white-girl-franco-catholic horizons,  but sometimes, no matter how much I seek out knowledge and am willing to question everything I was taught, I still miss out on some incredibly important passages or people in history.

Especially if they’re queer. Or women. Or not white.

Because, those other subjects aren’t so easy to come by or find, even with the internet. You need to know what you’re looking for to find it online. What I’m trying to say is, everything I’ve ever discovered about people like me, has been accidental. Almost like a fluke. That doesn’t feel very safe or comforting. By safe, I mean, it doesn’t feel like I can trust what’s in front of my eyes. I have to put my face real close to the mainstream/straight/white guy/ veil in order to see on the other side.

For the femininity and queerness and ethnicity of the world to reveal itself to me…

I love David Bowie. Big surprise, right? 🙂 I used to sing to his song Jean Genie all the time, as a teenager. I loved the lyrics. I wanted to know what David meant. I wanted to know who this person was he was singing about…There was something in that song that connected with me. Something resonated with me. But this is before the internet and search engines. I didn’t know anything about David Bowie’s personal life and couldn’t put things together. Couldn’t connect the queer dots.

It’s lonely growing up when your friends fantasize about Corey Hart, while you secretly fall in love with Boy George and wonder what’s wrong with you.

Back to Jean Genie. Or Jean Genet, as I found out this week. Twenty years later, I’m finally putting the pieces together. David Bowie wrote that song with Genet in mind, and when I looked up Jean Genet’s work, something inside me leaped. Like if you found out, that for the last years, every time you turned on the radio, your favorite song had just ended. You never got to listen to it, yet it was always playing for you if you could have just tuned in earlier.

I watched Un chant D’Amour this week, a controversial little film made in the 50s , by Genet, about two prisoners in joining cells, sharing a wall, and much more than that. I won’t say more about it…It’s beautiful and erotic.

Genet wrote Querelle a Brest and a movie was made of it. It stars Brad Davis, and here’s another Ha-ah moment for me: for a long time, my favorite movie was Midnight Express. There was something about that character which again resonated with me. I never saw Brad Davis again, until this week, when I watched Querelle. Turns out, he was bi and married and passed away from an AIDS related illness in his forties. Again, that made my little brain reel.

All this connections…It makes you feel less lonely in the world, I suppose.

Why did it take me twenty years to discover Genet? Because, unlike Ridley Scott or Micheal Bay, or whoever else making movies out there, he was a queer man and somewhat of an underground artist. Yet, he was important man, and very much an activist. I should have been told about him at some point during my education. High School or Cegep, Drama, something, people. Please.

Why do queer people have to work so fucking hard to find these things out? I want my queer culture on a silver platter.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe it’s better this way. Maybe this connecting the dots things is what keeps me searching, learning, and questioning.

But more importantly, it keeps me dreaming too.

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About Mel

Montreal queer fiction writer.

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