Jackie Kay has created a topic of controversy regarding gender identity in the novel Trumpet. Through the difference in perspectives on the gender of Joss Moody and Millie Moody, the novel contests the absoluteness of one’s identity by proving language’s inability to express it. Kay thus reaches another way of representing identity by a more universal means – music.
It is understandable that Joss as well as Millie’s genders seem undefinable considering their circumstances. Joss Moody used to be a girl, until the passion for jazz led to her pretending to be a man; as time passes, she gets so used to being a man that she (he) forgets her/his original identity – woman – and therefore obtains another identity – man. In that identity, he meets and falls in love with Millie – a woman who always regards him as a man despite his female body. Their relationship is so complicated that no existing category of sex can describe it. To most people, including Sophie Stone in the novel and Ceri Davies in ‘“The truth is a thorny issue”: lesbian denial’, the couple are simply lesbians who try to deny their sexuality by creating an unreal heterosexual family “Lesbians who [adopt] a son; one playing mummy, one playing daddy” (Kay, 170) ; “Millie has to reject ‘lesbian’ because it suggests otherness rather than the normality she wants her life to project” (Davies, 12). In this sense, the gender aligns with the body, and therefore, no matter what the couples do, they will never escape from their bodily sex.
However, it is important to remember that, as in “The Power of the Ordinary Subversive in Jackie Kay’s Trumpet” written by Tracy Hargreaves* “anatomically differentiated bodies need not…be the guarantee of heterosexuality” (3, 4)**. Gender is partly a person’s identity; therefore, it cannot be defined simply through materiality, but rather by other factors such as self-definition, environment… The relationship between Joss and Millie can only be called lesbians if both consider themselves to be women. However, to Millie, they are always husband and wife “I can’t see him as anything other than him, my Joss, my husband” (Kay, 35). As husband-wife indicates heterosexuality, Millie Moody’s insistence on this term shows that Joss is a man – at least in the relationship. Moreover, as gender is shown through one’s behavior, Joss’s behavior in his most private life proves his gender to be man.
However, can he be a man completely, regarding the fact that he used to be a girl and doesn’t deny that identity? Rather than totally eliminating the girl gender, it is possible that Joss has developed multiple genders – identities inside him. It can be seen clearly as Joss regards Josephine – his girl version as a third person “He always [speaks] about her in the third person. She [is] his third person” (Kay, 93). In doing that, he has created a new gender that is analogous to Virginia Woolf’s “androgynous mind”, a mind that is both masculine and feminine, or as Hargreaves writes, “a celebration of the location, within oneself, of the presence of both sexes, a recognition of sexual plurality”(13). Such a complex identity cannot be condemned in a limited range of definitions created by cultural standards. If language cannot express one’s identity, identity should then be expressed through a more universal means, as in the novel, Music. In music, no gender or self is needed: “All his self collapses – his idiosyncrasies, his personality, his ego, his sexuality, even his memory” (Kay, 135). Everything turns to nothing as people falls into the depth of music which is purely aesthetic without any discrimination or concerns. However, only through the non-identity of music can one freely express the multi-identity within oneself. Every piece of music that Joss takes up represents something of his soul, of his gender, of his race that no language can ever express: “Joss’s performance attempts to break free from formal representation… the power of the word, or at least, the narrative gestures towards a mode of representation that exists beyond the constraints of its own linguistic net” (Hargreaves, 13). As in art, every creation of artists belongs to themselves and is a way to express themselves to the world, Joss’s identity has craved in the heart of his music’s listener. This opens a new way of representing identity: rather than restrictive definitions like gender, one’s passion (job, hobby…) that holds one’s soul will allow a more complete expression of one’s identity.
Through the plot of Trumpet, the complexity of Joss’s gender shows the inability of language to truly express one’s identity. This narrative thus suggests a new way of representing one’s genuine identity – through one’s passion and, as specified in the novel, music.
*From now on the source will be written “TPOTOS”
** The quote is based on “Gender Trouble” written by Judith Butler.
1. Jackie Kay: (1998) Trumpet, London: Picador
2. Ceri Davies: “The truth is a thorny issue”: lesbian denial
3. Tracy Hargreaves: The Power of the Ordinary Subversive in Jackie Kay’s “Trumpet”
4. Virginia Woolf: (1977) A Room of One’s Own, London: Granada.
5. Judith Butler: Gender Trouble