“Passing For Black” Discussion – Chapters 9-16


SPOILER ALERT:  We will be discussing plot points and events that happen in this book.  If don’t wish to know, click away now.  There are some great links to the right.

When we last left Angela, she was getting kicked out of the lesbian sex conference after being outed as a jounalist at a no-media event but not before she found out from Suzy Q the whereabouts of the sex party that evening that Cait is helping to organize.  Before Angela can go to SUCK, she and Mae have to meet Keith at a party thrown by aquaintance, Tatiana Braithwaite, a person Angela does not like at all because she is too perfect and a Republican.

Nothing much happens at the party except a jealous reaction by Angela to the extra attention Tatiana pays to Keith.  Oh, and Angela finds a gaggle of prescription pills in Tatiana’s bathroom.  This whole event is basically transparent foreshadowing.

Time is not wasted at this stage however as Angela lies to Keith and hightails it over to the lesbian sex party to smooth things over with Cait.  After some rather tame voyeurism, Angela finds Cait and they end up getting into a hot and heavy make-out session in a supply closet.  At this point Angela goes home, takes a bath and releases her pent up sexual energy on Keith.

Email arrangements are quickly made for Angela and Cait to meet again at Cait’s house where we are introduced to lesbian stock character one:  snarky, child-adverse single woman and lesbian stock characters two:  white couple with ethnic baby.  As soon as they leave it’s on as Angela and Cait commence to finally sealing the deal.

A couple of days later, stuff hits the fan at a faculty meeting when Cait reveals to Keith what happened.  When Angela finally goes back home, she finds Keith drunk and mad.  With a backhand and some shouting, he kicks her out of the house and Angela heads to her parents in Mount Vernon where she finally reveals to her mother, while heading into Church, that her and Keith broke up.  She doesn’t mention Cait at all.

Now I don’t have a lot of questions per se.  I am just going to let you guys know my impressions of what I’ve read.  Not to get negative or anything but this book is starting to disappoint me a little.  Angela’s almost constant avoidance of anything truly proactive is proving very frustrating.  I almost want to yell at the book.

I’m also finding myself way more sympathetic to Keith than I thought I would be in the beginning of the book.  I struggled with my sexuality too and did not come out until my late 20’s and Keith holds many chauvinistic views but he’s not a mind reader which Angela freely admits to.

In my opinion, Cait was just being an insensitive pig at the faculty meeting.  The fact that she could so cavalierly push Angela into such a life-altering situation like that just makes her out to be a bitch.  If Angela chooses Cait, isn’t she basically going with a white Keith with a vagina (I have no idea why, but I have worked the word vagina into like 80% of my writing this week).

What do you guys think?

Also, last week there was some great points made in the comments that I wanted to address but didn’t have the time to properly do so.  I’ll be going back from time to time and leaving replies here and there on all posts.  Check back or when you leave your comment, check the box on the bottom to be notified of replies.

24 comments

  1. prof susurro · · Reply

    you raise an interesting question: Are Cait and Keith basically two sides of the same coin?

    I hadn’t thought about that b/c I remain myopically caught up in how they behave in faculty meetings and public academic spaces and how little I care for either character . . .

    For me both the outing and the party were very stereotypical and Angela as narrator is extremely frustrating. Comments like “is this just how it is in a woman’s dorm” made me guffaw and roll my eyes. Descriptions of women that could have been beautiful are also extremely flat, like the two older women dancing together. However, I was so glad to see Villarosa including a wide range of ages tho.

    For me the jealousy with Tatiana was one of the only nuance moments of this section; the scenes weren’t nuanced they were recognizable plot devices, but the idea that Angela still cares for Keith and thinks of herself as part of this heterosexual couple even as she is beginning to open up to a wider view of herself/sexuality was at least more depth than most things in the book.

    (I’m trying to keep my comments short this week.) So I look forward to hearing what others thought of this section.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who found the description of the sex party a little flat. Put me in a room full of women having sex and I would be able unbelievably turned on and would be able to offer steamy descriptions of everything that went on within my range of vision.

      I don’t think that Angela really was jealous of Keith as a couple thing. Keith is her go-to in case things over here on the Sapphic side did not work out. I also feel that making Tatiana a Republican was a cheap way to get the reader not to feel anything for her.

  2. ok-I’m here!

  3. Lunakiss · · Reply

    No, I don’t think Cait is the white vagina version of Keith. I think both are extreme opposites defending their sexuality and gender. Angela is caught between the two. Cait really is annoying at this point in these chapters. She things can happen like that with a snap of her feminist fingers. Really, life isn’t like that. Life is complicated. Angela’s interanl feelings reflect her external environment. Cait has the me syndrome. It is interesting that Villarosa turns the card for Keith by makng him to us empathetic.
    Angela feels she’s part of the heterosexual relationship w/ Keith b/c it is an easy access to a privileged society unlike the relationship she has with Cait.
    I do want to bring up how I like the other conflict Cait has with trans females. It is a parallel theme internally occurring in the novel with the bigger conflict at hand.

    With this observation, do you think Cait is the bigot like Angela mom’s friend?

    1. It’s hard for me to say if Cait is being a bigot or not regarding the trans thing though I would not compare her to Nona if she is. Any perceived bias on Cait’s part serves (in her mind) to empower lesbians. The annoying and ignorant “Too Black, Too Strong” manifesto of Nona clearly teaches women to be less than they can be to service the egos of men.

      I do want to have a real, in depth discussion about how trans issues are handled in this book at the end once we have a more complete picture.

  4. I think both of you bring up some great points.

    For me, when I first read this book last year, I was not yet out to my family (I was out and about in every other aspect of my life- the world, work and friends- but not to the fam. I came out to them this past February), so I was and was not able to identify with Angela.

    I WAS able to identify with the way she-literally- pushed her feelings away (remember when she would push her fingernails into her skin?), tried to bury them and once she could no longer do that, the all comsuming fear she felt over her family, friends and colleagues no longer wanting to be around her. Hell, EVERY queer person can relate to that. So on that level I think anyone can empathize, yet as people who are now out in all aspects of our lives, it can be frustrating to read about characters who are not yet out and I think sometimes we can forget how hard that can be.

    My theory is this: because it is so hard to be out, when we read about queer characters, we want them to be strong for us when we’re not feeling so strong ourselves OR if we ARE feeling strong and we really, really wanna see some strong representation (prime example: Molly Bolt from Rubyfruit Jungle. She was so O-U-T and fierce that she just made you feel great about being queer. She was strong so YOU felt strong). This is totally normal. So when queer characters just don’t come out as gay/lesbian/trans right out of the gate, we get frustrated and mad. As soon as a character realizes their same sex attraction or a different gender identity, we want these characters to come out as easy as 1-2-3 and as well all know, coming to grips with sexuality/gender identity is not nearly as simple. The time we first realize we’re queer to the time we accept it to the time we eventually come out can be the difference of years in between.

    My point is: in taking a good, long look at Angela, yes, it is frustrating that she is still hanging on to this life with Keith, she has the gall to get jealous of another woman (Tatiana) looking at Keith and she keeps denying her true feelings about Cait BUT aren’t these very human things to feel and go through?

    I mean, she was living this straight, privileged life (with a local celebrity mama) and then she meets this person, a woman- a WHITE woman, no less- and now her world as she knew it is turned upside down. Imagine how scary that is. REMEMBER how scary that is, to realize you’re queer. I mean, she knows she has feelings for Cait and she hasn’t been in love with Keith in years BUT she’s scared to death. Let us not forget the power of fear. I’m not saying it’s right and I am certainly not saying we should indulge fear but what I am saying let us not forget what fear can do to a person.

    She’s been with Keith for SIX YEARS, and OK, if she wasn’t feelin’ the fire anymore, she should have said something or left. However, how many times have we all been in relationships where we overstayed? How many of us have stayed longer than we should have? Yes, Angela should have been more honest about her feelings for Cait and women in general BUT, again, they (Angela and Keith) were together for six years and she had to give it at least one more shot. She had to try. She couldn’t just throw six years away without fighting for it. It was a half-ass fight, granted, but in her heart (if not in her actions) she tried to give it a shot. Frustrating-absolutely. Hurtful? Yup. Human? You betcha.

    As for Cait- yes, her outing Angela was not cool and it DOES make her the bitch. She’s the more militant type (dimples be damned) and I really can’t understand those types of women. She seems like a good person but then she opens her mouth and her trans-phobia and self-rigteousness get in the way.

    I can sympathize with the situation Keith is in but I do not sympathize with the character, at all. He’s an arrogat, homophobic, racist ass.

    1. All through my teens and early twenties I knew I was attracted to women. You could say I was on the “Bi now, gay later” plan. While I had sex with men, there was always this glaring disconnect at such a fundamental level I knew something wasn’t right. Because of this feeling, I avoided serious relationships because I viewed it as unfair to the man. But stories need conflict to sell and if Angela wasn’t a flawed person, it would be a really boring book. I understand her fear. I just don’t like it because like you said, I really prefer strong women. That’s true in my fiction and my life.

      Also, my problem in relationships has never been overstaying, it’s been understaying. I hate drama and the slightest hint of it sends me heading for the door.

      1. That makes two of us who were on the ‘Bi Now, Gay Later’ plan, Swandiver, LOL!

        As someone who was on the ‘BN, GL’ plan, I completely know what you’re talking about in being with men and thinking and feeling ‘I know this is a really nice guy but I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.’ Now, there are two types of people in situations like that: (1) B/c of fear and confusion, you jump head-first into relationships with people of the opposite gender (see my post above about folks getting married when they know perfectly well they’re queerer than a junebug) or (2) like you, they feel ‘I can’t bring another person into my confusion’ and you keep a distance.

        Option #2 is, obviously, the more mature and grown-up route but Angela has clearly chosen Option #1. This is what I call ‘taking the scenic route’ in realizing someone is queer. I agree that it is both hurtful (to herself and everyone else in her life) for her not to be truthful with her feelings BUT I can also remember the fear of first relalizing I was queer and that fear paralyzed me for a bit. It was around that time that I started developing anxiety attacks.

        So, again, in no way, shape or form am I saying we should indulge or promote Angela’s actions (i.e. the lying and cheating) but I think we should all try to remember what it’s like at this stage (i.e. realizing you are ‘different’). If Angela were doing these things out of sheer malice, this would be a different story and post. As she is NOT acting out of malice but instead fear and confusion, I have a bit of empathy AND sympathy for her.

        And as for Cait: her attitude and complete disregard towards trans people is appalling. I’m sure she does truly think that by excluding trans people out of everything queer she trying to do right by lesbians and create a ‘safe space’ for lesbians but she’s also shutting out (1) SCORES of lesbian allies and (2) trans women who may identify as queer themselves. So by shutting out this branch of the family tree, I believe, she’s doing more harm to The Cause then helping. If we’re going to one day have this grand, beautiful world where we truly can all just get along, then that means creating dialogue and building bridges to people who are different from us: straight, trans, male, poly, different races and religions, etc. It is impossible to create a movement of humanity by excluding portions of humanity itself.

  5. I can relate to the character Angela’s judgments, stereotypes, and unknown views of being attracted to a female. I am still at that stage in my life even though my family and friends know I am same gender loving individual. I have not had a relationship with a lady yet so I do have that unknown fear. The problem I have with the overall character is the cheating. I cannot stand infidelity. I would like for her to stand up and say to to herself “I may not want others to know right about what I am dealing with, my attraction but at least I am giving myself time to think about it, etc”. Just be honest with herself.
    Anyways, Angela is (was) using Keith which is sad. I agree with Lunakiss, Cait is about what she wants pretty much. I do not like how Cait and Angela are interested in each other, for some reason it does not work for me. Maybe too rushed, like even though there is infidelity it is still sunshine and flowers between the two of them especially from Cait’s point of view. ::wit::
    (I have read the book previously several months ago. However I do not remember scene by scene so I am rereading. I have not read chapters 14-16 yet.)

  6. Tara- you bring up a really great point.

    I, too, cannot stand infidelity. There really is no excuse for it. Although every queer person on the planet can empathize with what Angela is going through (the uncertainty, the fear), cheating is bullshit, which is why I have such a problem with people that full-well know they’re gay/lesbian and yet go on ahead and marry people of the opposite gender, have kids, and ‘live’ on the DL. That’s totally unfair b/c although we can all understand the fear, what this person has done (in this case Angela) is pull a completely innocent person into their web of confusion/pain/all around crap. Even if you are not able to say ‘I’m gay/lesbian/trans’ yet, you can at least tell your partner, ‘I’m going through some things right now that I am not yet ready to talk about. It is b/c of these things that I cannot marry you/be with you right now. Trust me when I say this has nothng to do with you. It has nothing to do with what you said or didn’t say or did or didn’t do.”

    Angela should have been brave enough to say this to Keith. But again, life isn’t so simple and we all make mistakes. either she should have left Keith to be w/ Cait, left Cait to give an honest-to-goodness fight for her six-year relationship with Keith or just left both of them alone to figure herself out. When we face alot of fear, anxiety and confusion, we often do things we shouldn’t at the time and handle things in ways we shouldn’t. Again, I do NOT excuse Angela’s actions but I can still feel a bit of empanthy and sympathy for her.

    The way the character of Cait is written, I believe, is somewhat like the the passionate, all consuming ID- that mechanism in our brains that says ‘You want that brownie? Go ahead and have it! You wanna shag that hot girl over there? I know you may already be with someone but you only live once-so go for it anyways!,’ which I think is the intention. Cait wants what she wants when she wants it. I can appreciate her not wanting a closeted girlfriend and encouraging someone to come out but I do NOT dig people outing other people and if Cait is this frustrated, she can step. She has a choice, too. Only her choices are based on what she wants, everyone else be damned. Angela’s problem (besides the obvious) is that she’s thinking too much of other people and not of herself. In this way, I think Cait and Angela are, somewhat, flip sides of the same coin.

  7. Lunakiss · · Reply

    Speaking of lfipsides of the coin. They honestly aren’t a match made in heaven. It is why I have hard time believing Cait wants a womyn like Angela. It may be Cait wants a beautiful African-American female. Angela is like her dreamwomyn. Still I mean I can’t picture myself with a female like Cait b/c she is too miltant and unaware the stigma African people place about Queer people. It’s like Cait has no manners about a world outside her own.

  8. Nona J. · · Reply

    Party
    Simply stating, I thought it was over done. The big orgy fest and then boom Angela and Cait finally have their moment. Sorry, I thought it was over done.

    The only thing I like about that moment at the party was Suzy G saying, “Hon attraction can get in the way of pleasure. Without any kind of attraction you can be completely free. In total darkness, you’re judging your lover using senses beyond vision, so you aren’t prejudiced by race or age or hair or looks of any kind. And no one’s judging you, so your self- consciousness melts away. Unknown flesh is more interesting. “Even though it foreshadowed a missed opportunity, I agree with it.

    Cait & Keith
    I think Cait and Keith are on opposite sides but preside on the same coin. Cait and Keith are both strong in their convictions and come off as very progressive in their focused issue. But they aren’t as progressive as they are made out to be. Is Keith no less than a homophobe as Cait, who (in my opinion) shouldn’t even be linked with this question?

    Angela, Keith, Cait triangle
    As much as Villarosa tries to make Keith this pampas ass, I don’t see him that way. If I had just found out the person I have spent the last five years with and soon my future, was having an affair with not only my colleague but someone I clearly have an issues with, I wouldn’t have walked away. Then Angela has the audacity to tell him to go home and he does….It couldn’t have been me. Angela clearly stated who was more important in that situation by trying to explain herself not to her fiancée but her affair. I understand that Angela is going through a trying experience of figuring out her sexuality and trying to get a grip on her life, which is at this point in a state of chaos and confusion, but damn did Keith really deserve that. I have sympathy for her, BUT it is very little. Angela is selfish. Even when I was going through my experience, I recognized that I wasn’t the only one involved. I at least had the audacity to respect the person I was with by breaking it off. I would have more respect for someone who breaks up with me before they cheat. I would at least feel they had some kind of respect for me. Also, in Angela clearly stating who she has chosen, Cait, how does Cait act? Like a pampas ass. She is just as selfish as Angela. How in the world is she going to 1) out Angela 2) get an attitude and storm off like a five year old.

    Angela & Tatiana
    Angela is a person who, in my opinion, needs a stronger person to balance her out. Cait, Lucia, Mae, Keith, and her mom, all come off as being comfortable and aware of their self identity. These are the types of people Angela seems to gravitate to. She understands and has somewhat of a solidified idea of who these people are. Yet she hates Tatiana, even to the point she gets diarrhea. I think she can’t stomach her for two reasons, 1.) she can’t figure her out, 2) Tatiana possesses, no matter how arrogant it may come off, assurance and confidence, she wishes she had. Angela describes Tatiana as perfectly put-together, which is completely the opposite of Angela at this point in time. I just see Angela as envious of Tatiana.

  9. Lunakiss · · Reply

    Hey what is the next book that we’re reading?

    1. I haven’t decided yet. I really want to read Staceyann Chin’s memoir, “The Other Side of Paradise” because I think it may offer some good, non-American perspective to being black and a lesbian but don’t know if it would have enough things to talk about.

      What do you guys think? It would also be helpful if in your suggestions, you provide a link to the Amazon or other page that gives a brief description of the book.

  10. prof susurro · · Reply

    I’ve been dying to read Other Side of Paradise. Her piece on differences between homophobia in various countries should spark a lot of conversation and her prose is pretty accessible and multi-layered.

    There was a list of books circulating for the reading list (possibly started on After Elton?) is that not real? Or is it just not in order? (I’m just asking b/c I have not been able to find the Makeda book anywhere and was going to order it online this week.) Here’s the list in case it’s total fiction; if it was mis-circulated, can you let me know which ones we are reading so I can make the book order all at once. 😀

    # The Heart Does Not Bend by Makeda Silvera
    # Ezulie’s Skirt by Ana Maurine Lara
    # Does Your Mama Know? edited by Lisa C. Moore
    # Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
    # The Color Purple by Alice Walker
    # The Other Side Of Paradise (A Memoir) by Staceyann Chin
    # The Serpent’s Gift by Helen Elaine Lee
    # The Bull-Jean Stories by Sharon Bridgeforth
    # Callaloo and Other Lesbian Love Tales by LaShonda K. Barnett
    # Love Like Gumbo by Nancy Rawles
    # Crawfish Dreams by Nancy Rawles
    # Water In A Broken Glass by Odessa Rose
    # The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

  11. Christine · · Reply

    I’ve had this book forseveral months now and I am really struggling to get through it. The characters are trite — it seems like they were molded out of stereotypes and dropped into the plot in a very transparent way. None of them come across as real people. The point where Angela/Keith/Cait had the confrontation at the faculty meeting is where I put down the book. The characters’ reaction to the situation is done to heighten the tension, but really it just rings fake. I don’t think any sensible person, much less educated professionals, would behave this way in a public setting. How can the reader believe in the authenticity of these characters when they are so far removed from reality? They are just plot devices stomping and storming and throwing tantrums.

  12. There is a book listing on After Ellen in the book club thread. Go here: http://www.afterellen.com/node/52201.

    As someone who read The Other Side of Paradise, I have to admit: there’s not a whole lot of ‘lesbian’ content there to discuss. The memoir is 99.99% about Staceyann growing up in Jamaica. She doesn’t even mention any kind of same-sex leaning until you’re about 30 pages from the end and then it just seems like it comes from out of nowhere. She DOES talk about the assault she faced when she was in college for being queer but she doesn’t actually come out and say ‘I’m a lesbian’ until, like, 30 pages from the end of the book. If you want a good read by a black, Jamaican lesbian, let’s read it. If you want to read a book on what it’s like growing up black and queer in Jamaica, this isn’t your book. A good read, nonetheless.

    The Heart Does Not Bend might be hard to find. When I read it earlier this year, my local queer bookstore had to find a buyer all the way in Canada (the book IS set in Canada, after all) to get it. So, to get it, you either have to (1) bite the bullett and order from Amazon (boo! hiss!) OR (2) order it from your local queer bookstore (or indie bookstore) and be patient with the wait.

    My two cents for the next book: The Color Purple. I’ve only ever seen the movie and never read the book. I think that would be a great one! Another hat-toss would be to The Bull-jean Stories. The way the story is wriiten, I think, could generate a lot of discussion around here. :0)

  13. Lunakiss · · Reply

    Does Your Mama Know ? by Lisa C Mooore is out of print. Last year I contacted Lambada and the owner of the site said it was out-of-print but was suppose to be back in print. I kept checking with B&N; they didn’t see where was in print. If anybody know s different let me know.

    The Other Side of Paradise I read already. If we do that book we can talk about it from StaceyAnn’s Perspective as a Jamaican Lesbian how she saw her world.

    What genre do you want to stick with? Maybe it’ll help narrow down a list.

    1. I don’t want to limit the club to a particular genre. The only criteria for the books are an inclusion of black lesbian/queer characters and the ability to spark good discussions. Other than that, the field is wide open.

      1. So why don’t we go with the book, maybe opinions and questions will be discussed that possibly weren’t asked by a reader before. Especially since we have this book club.

  14. prof susurro · · Reply

    @shortypants – that is the list a posted in my comment. So it is not in order of the way we will be reading them?

    @lunakiss – the book is in print as far as I know and you can order it directly from the publisher Redbone press which is a black lesbian press founded and run by Lisa C Moore.

  15. Christine · · Reply

    Fall on Your Knees by Anne Marie Mcdonald was an Oprah Book Club selection that I read years ago, and I believe there was a black lesbian character included.

  16. Lunakiss · · Reply

    @prof surf thanks I’ll check it out and order it from Redbone Press

    I want to do a book about black female relationships w/o interracial slant.

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