The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 44 illustrations Published: October 2009

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory

Children are thoroughly, shockingly queer, as Kathryn Bond Stockton explains in The Queer Child, where she examines children’s strangeness, even some children’s subliminal “gayness,” in the twentieth century. Estranging, broadening, darkening forms of children emerge as this book illuminates the child queered by innocence, the child queered by color, the child queered by Freud, the child queered by money, and the grown homosexual metaphorically seen as a child (or as an animal), alongside the gay child. What might the notion of a “gay” child do to conceptions of the child? How might it outline the pain, closets, emotional labors, sexual motives, and sideways movements that attend all children, however we deny it?

Engaging and challenging the work of sociologists, legal theorists, and historians, Stockton coins the term “growing sideways” to describe ways of growing that defy the usual sense of growing “up” in a linear trajectory toward full stature, marriage, reproduction, and the relinquishing of childish ways. Growing sideways is a mode of irregular growth involving odd lingerings, wayward paths, and fertile delays. Contending that children’s queerness is rendered and explored best in fictional forms, including literature, film, and television, Stockton offers dazzling readings of works ranging from novels by Henry James, Radclyffe Hall, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, and Vladimir Nabokov to the movies Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Hanging Garden, Heavenly Creatures, Hoop Dreams, and the 2005 remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The result is a fascinating look at children’s masochism, their interactions with pedophiles and animals, their unfathomable, hazy motives (leading them at times into sex, seduction, delinquency, and murder), their interracial appetites, and their love of consumption and destruction through the alluring economy of candy.


The Queer Child both describes and models the critical possibilities of a queer and queered essentialism and makes a sophisticated contribution to the seemingly paradoxical but nonetheless crucial anti-identitarian identity politics.” — Shane Vogel, American Literature

The Queer Child is dazzling and important. Its bold interrogations of delay and expansive argument for more sophisticated appreciation for sideways growth should become grounding concerns for those studying childhood, past, present, and future.” — Don Romesburg, H-Net Reviews

“In The Queer Child, Stockton teaches us more than just a few things about queer children. She teaches us a new way to read, one that reminds me of Eve Sedgwick’s call for ‘reparative reading’: that anti-paranoid, ambivalent stance in which one reads the small detail, the found part-object, for surprise, and through surprise, for hope. Before The Queer Child, I did not know why Lolita’s dogs felt like relief. Or the pleasures that can be taken by suspending a verb. Or that getting fat might be a way out rather than up. Stockton’s queer children, for the most part, do not have to watch videos promising that it will get better: their hope lies not in the future, but to the side.” — Elizabeth Freeman, Studies in the Novel

“Kathryn Bond Stockton’s richly incisive intellectual history The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century reveals a parallel tract of the literary imagination. Her compelling, and vitally important, contribution to our understanding of how society juggles, sometimes successfully and often provocatively, the ideas of queerness and childhood proves that these ideas have literally formed one another.” — Michael Amico, Lambda Book Report

“Queer theory is looking at children. And Stockton looks intensely, unflinchingly—grappling with the charged and often enigmatic inextricability of sexuality, politics, and the child.” — Gabrielle Owen, The Lion and the Unicorn

“Stockton ranges widely across the terrain of 20th-century culture, touching on legal cases, novels, films, and other examples from popular culture. . . . [T]he examples she uses help buttress her insights, and she is breathtakingly deft in her readings of cultural texts. . . . The Queer Child offers a provocatively shaded look at the idealized versions of childhood we’re used to encountering, and invites us to rethink our sense of who children are—and what our own childhoods mean to us.” — Audrey Bilger, Bitch

“Stockton’s gripping book fascinatingly illuminates the works she addresses and the conceptual intractabilities of the queerness they allow us to perceive. She also maintains a difficult equipoise: retaining her focus on “the queer child” (resisting the urge to subordinate it to ‘adult’ needs and fantasies), she still allows it its ghostliness, resisting alike the temptation to make it a known entity and thereby leaving it, in the various fictions (legal and otherwise) we spin around it, to its suspended time, its delay, its unwonted forms of pleasure.” — Kevin Ohi, GLQ

“This is an impressive, stimulating, and engaging study that queers the child in ways that show its enormous critical potential.” — Daniela Caselli, New Formations

“I consider Kathryn Bond Stockton to be one of the most impressive and important queer critics in the academy today, and The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century only confirms that assessment. It is magnificent: the kind of book that defines the field and is returned to again and again, inspiring all sorts of thought and work for generations to come.” — Michael Cobb, author of God Hates Fags: The Rhetorics of Religious Violence

“I don’t know when I’ve been so captivated by a book and eager to get to the next page. That it is original and that addresses a topic, the queer child, pretty much completely ignored is one mark of its importance. Even more striking though is the ease with which stunning insights are delivered as if they were a matter of course. Many readers will be struck by the centrality of Kathryn Bond Stockton’s book and the graceful way it exposes and breaks the silence surrounding the queer child.” — James R. Kincaid, author of Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kathryn Bond Stockton is Professor of English and Director of Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She is the author of God Between Their Lips: Desire Between Women in Irigaray, Brontë, and Eliot.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Growing Sideways, or Why Children Appear to Get Queerer in the Twentieth Century 1

Part I. Sideways Relations: "Pedophiles" and Animals

1. The Smart Child is the Masochistic Child: Pedagogy, Pedophilia, and the Pleasures of Harm 61

2. Why the (Lesbian) Child Requires an Interval of Animal: The Family Dog as a Time Machine 89

Part 2. Sideways Motions: Sexual Motives, Criminal Motives

3. What Drives the Sexual Child? The Mysterious Motions of Children's Motives 119

4. Feeling Like Killing? Murderous Motives of the Queer Child 155

Part 3. Sideways Futures: Color and Money

5. Oedipus Raced, or the Child Queered by Color: Birthing "Your" Parents via Intrusions 183

Conclusion: Money Is the Child's Queer Ride: Sexing and Racing around the Future 219

Notes 245

Bibliography 275

Index 287
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Finalist, 2010 Lambda Literary Awards (LGBT category)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4386-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4364-6
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