Speaker Addresses the Penetrative Power of Words


The word filled Kathryn Bond Stockton’s first slide in a poetic Feb. 22 talk at Franklin & Marshall College’s Mayser Gymnasium. Stockton is a distinguished professor of English and associate vice president for equity and diversity at the University of Utah, where she also is dean of the School for Cultural and Social Transformation. She spoke at Common Hour, a community discussion conducted every Thursday classes are in session.

Stockton defined the term in two ways: first, as slang for “homosexual,” previously considered derisive; and second, as strange.

“I want to use that (second) definition to include all of you,” she said. 

  • “We put words in each other. It’s intimate. Words allow us to carry someone else’s pain," said Stockton. “We put words in each other. It’s intimate. Words allow us to carry someone else’s pain," said Stockton. Image Credit: Deb Grove

Stockton’s talk, “I Was a Queer Child and So Were You,” was part theory and part performance. In it, she posed questions about the words we use to describe ourselves and others.

Weaving together memoir and linguistics, Stockton stretched how culture looks at gender, kissing, and reading, and how it considers the queerness of children.

She took herself as an example. Stockton now identifies as genderqueer, but as a child, she was not sure exactly how to identify herself. “I carried in myself a face I couldn't see,” she said, explaining her girl image felt discordant with “boy,” which she felt inside.

“I was drawn to the ‘boy’ word because it would allow me to move in certain ways and desire certain things,” Stockton said. “I felt like I was born into the wrong word, not the wrong body.

“I [learned] to live inside this contradiction,” she said.

To identify children as gay is to sexualize them, which is societally forbidden, Stockton said. In the same vein, she pointed out that straight children are also “not-yet-straight.”

“I was a gay child,” said Stockton, “but the gay child is an impossible category.”

Similar to a kiss, Stockton discussed reading; the words we consume are penetration.

“We put words in each other. It’s intimate. Words allow us to carry someone else’s pain.”

She ended with a story of her first kiss with a woman, using illustrious language intended to penetrate the audience, as she had done throughout the talk.

“I [was] flooded—or pierced—by feathers.”

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