Sara Cooper, “Burning Down the Canon: Queer Family and Queer Text in Flaming Iguanas”
Cooper’s essay on Lopez’ queer aesthetic highlighted the multiple instances of deconstruction of the family, both in terms of the traditional American conception thereof as well as Lopez’ own queer family structure. As the article points out, Lopez often and easily puts the idealized white, heterosexual, nuclear family into sharp relief, effectively debunking the notion of the family unit as stable and impenetrable, so long as it does not stray too far from the “Leave it to Beaver” conception of “normal.” Yet this myth has been debunked many times, as early as the fifties by shows such as the Honeymooners, and in a sense Lopez only repeats what other commentators have already said, she just uses a different language.
To me, the more interesting parts of her story occurred during her exploration and critique of the queer aspects of her home life and sexuality, which she both glorifies and normalizes, sometimes doing both at once. The article points to a pivotal moment in Tomato’s quest to realize her lesbian identity, during which she sleeps with the experienced older lesbian Hodie, yet does not feel transformed by the experience. In this one short scene she begins by idealizing what she sees as a rebellious attack against the norm and the potential to become a stereotypical lesbian archetype through Hodie, something which she both fears and desires. Yet by the end of it she has rejected her previous urge to fit neatly into one category and instead insists on embracing all parts of herself and feeling liberated in her new contradictory, multifaceted identity. Cooper summarizes this change in perspective, writing that: “Queer family does not admit the restraints even of an alternative or subculture, and the protagonist does not shy away from claiming her own unique identity, even when that transgresses the limitations implied by any externally-conceived label. Quite the opposite, she is delighted to ignore societal norms, or better, to taunt those around her (especially the reader) by going one step further.” Here Lopez does what few authors before her have done: she acknowledges the restraints and norms within subcultures and asserts the idea that one should not need to live by these restrictions, or by any restrictions for that matter. Her concept of identity rejects the idea of belonging to a specific place, and being defined by a single culture, even if that culture formed as a space of rebellion against conventional society. She promotes an entirely individualistic take on identity, similar to Judith Butler’s who, like Lopez, sees identity as less of a concret and permanent aspect of the self, but as something extremely maleable that changes based on however and whatever we choose to express on any given day. Cooper’s article reveals the complex theory hidden within Lopez’ text and as a result provides evidence of an important and challenging text deserving of a more prominent place in the literary canon.