If there’s one book I’d recommend all sapphic women to at least consider, it’s this one. Especially if one’s interaction with the rest of the queer community mostly happen online and one doesn’t have the chance to hear about these stories in real life. In the Dream House is a memoir about domestic abuse in a same-sex relationship, and it talks about how homophobia, sexism and the all-around toxic ideas we have about romantic relationships make it difficult for us to even talk about it.
We see domestic abuse as something gendered. And it’s not that it isn’t – it’s not a case that most dynamics do include an abusive man and an abused woman, and that it’s easier for heterosexual men, especially if wealthy and white, to abuse; as this book says, it takes less effort. But in an online culture where this discussion mostly stops to the concept that men are trash (at the same time an accusation and an excuse, we always make excuses for men – they’re trash! it’s their nature! they can’t help but abuse!), it’s difficult for us to conceptualize that no, relationships in absence of men won’t mean there won’t be abuse. If anything, the way queer people are statistically more estranged from traditional support networks (like their own family) makes them vulnerable.
There’s a part of this that hit me more than the others – which is saying a lot, because after the first fifty pages, I was more or less annotating every other page – the author chose to relegate to a footnote. She says that, if in many cases heterosexual abuse is basically misogyny and enabled by misogyny (a concept I was already familiar from Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That, which while dated and very gender essentialist, was a worthwhile read), queer abuse is homophobia and enabled by homophobia. It’s about control, and it uses the same means society tries to use to control queer people.
Another part I highlighted almost entirely was the one about queer villainy. This is a topic that is really important to me: like this book, I strongly believe that one of the most vital parts of being recognized as human is being recognized as someone who is capable of evil like everyone else. Queer villains written by queer authors are some of the most important characters to me, and yet I get why so many of us are afraid of those portrayals. But it’s not like trying to paint ourselves in the image of saints will do anything to stop the people who hate us.
And yet, In the Dream House is all but a traditional memoir: Carmen Maria Machado looks at her own experiences through archetypes. We’re used to see abuse as gendered, if we ever talk about it; we’re not used to talk about queer people and society isn’t invested in us understanding ourselves (erasure is a form of violence); we’re used to see the house as safety and women as hysterical and lesbians as Schrödinger’s women, only true women when it’s convenient to the person speaking. Archetypes can blind us, and the author uses them to start these conversations; she uses fairytale tropes to explore what happened to her, she uses a choose-your-own-adventure structure to talk about the helpless cycle the domestic abuse victim is caught in (featuring pages in which she tells you you’re cheating and couldn’t possibly have gotten to that page). Every chapter is short, between one and five pages, and plays with different genre tropes and expectations. It’s one of the most ingenious things I’ve ever read.
There would be so much more to say, but if I tried to dissect everything and mention every part I felt the need to highlight and annotate, this review would be as long as the book and completely incoherent, so I’m just going to end this. Read it.
My rating: ★★★★★