I’ve been thinking about submission lately. As in Paul whipped Larry into submission, not I need to send out more poetry submissions. In a recent GOP debate, Bryon York raised the subject with Minnesota Representative and presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann:
“When you were running for Congress, you described a moment in your life when your husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea. And then you explained the Lord said, ‘Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.’ As president, would you be submissive to your husband?”
Immediately, the audience booed York and Bachmann was able to gloss over the legitimate question. I say legitimate because in this case yes, the public has the right, nay, the need, to know. If President Bachmann were to seek advice from her husband on a subject he has strong feelings about—LGBT rights, let’s say—would she automatically submit to his authority as husband? The game of who is to submit to whom may be fun on a Friday night down at your local leather bar, but decidedly less so when it comes to presidential politics.
What does this have to do with poets?
As queer people, and especially as queer writers, we are all familiar with constant, forced submission to a hetero-normative society. Our writing hasn’t been and won’t be the sole solution to this “othering,” to this relegation to second-class citizenry. But, it is part of the solution; art is a necessary part of the solution, and we’re fortunate to have the obligation every day to fight against unwilling submission in our poetry, to show the world that our lives and our loves are not only legitimate, but also beautiful. Maybe this is obvious, and others have said it more eloquently than I, but it warrants repeating often.
To the poets who have come before, from Whitman to Bishop, from O’Hara to Gunn, thank you for wielding a machete and clearing a path for the rest of us. To the poets writing today and tomorrow: write the fucking poems. Let them be born of your very lifeblood. Save the world. Or at least write the world we all dream of.
Submission takes many forms, some of which are fun. Rihanna’s “S&M” is certainly irresistible, and as social chair for Proud Otters of America, I can tell you submission has its place. The submission we choose, however, is different than the submission we don’t. Just remember—you are required to submit to no one except the art before you.
D. Gilson is a teaching fellow at Chatham University. A queer boy from the Ozark Mountains, his writing is forthcoming in Assaracus and can be found in Moon City Review, The Rumpus, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere.
Follow him at twitter.com/dgilson.