Are you a living quagmire of sexual guilt and obsession? Do you go to sleep, dreaming of Captain Hook’s hook, then wake up in a cold sweat at 4 in the morning, terrified that someone just pushed you down an elevator shaft, but you can’t remember if it was Tinker Bell or Snow White? Is it impossible for you to find a Pride T-shirt slogan that even comes close to expressing the many vagaries of your libido?
If so, you were probably exposed to children’s literature at far too young an age. Fortunately, there is help, for I am a famous queer culture critic. Here is my analysis of two typically “innocent” children’s poems that are sure to have screwed you up royally.
Little Miss Muffet: Beauty is truth; truth is beauty. And it just gets worse from there. For raw sexual ambivalence, nothing in Western literature beats the nursery rhyme, “Little Miss Muffet.”
The name “Muffet,” being of European origin, presents itself here as a euphemism for “muff,” which the dictionary defines as: (1) (verb) to bungle a performance; (2) (noun) a cluster of feathers on the side of the face of some domestic owls; or (3) (noun) a tubular covering deriving from the word mitten (cf. “The Three Little Kittens”).
This just goes to show what a homophobic nimrod the dictionary is. You would think that, after all these years, straight white male lexicographers would embrace civilization’s lesbian proclivities, at least as far as the word muff is concerned. I mean, whoever heard of “diving” into an owl’s facial feathers? And should owls not be accorded the power to say NO, concerning their own faces? But we digress.
The author — who is either dead or too shy to collect royalties — appears to make a naive, yet defiant plea for autonomous childhood sexuality. The relentless dactylic meter: Little Miss Muffet, she sat on a tuffet/ Eating her curds and whey… points to a consuming subtextual passion, or perhaps an eating disorder.
Questions arise. The word tuffet is, no doubt, meant to suggest either some sort of furniture, or a sexual organ — but exactly what does this organ look like? Is it a Hammond or a Wurlitzer? Also, does this tuffet need to be reupholstered after a lot of steamy Muffet action?
Interestingly, E.F. Divan’s classic, “I Shagged Ethan Allen: Intercourse In and On Traditional American Furniture,” fails to mention the tuffet, reminding us of just how deeply repressed this country’s living room sets really are.
This makes us want to go out and buy something nice at Pottery Barn or Victoria’s Secret. Which begs the question: What were underpants like in those days?
Alas, we may never know, for no sooner are the exposition and rising action presented than the narrative reaches its searing climax: Along came a spider and sat down beside her…
All too soon, we know the tragic consequences. The dark, hairy spider literally “frightens Miss Muffet away.”
This spider — symbolizing adult female genitalia (get it?) — is a terrifyingly mature sexual presence, alerting the girl to the woman she is to become and to the demands of an oppressive patriarchal culture. Worse: Muffet’s erotic crisis becomes our own.
Think about it. If a large female crotch on eight legs crawled over and sat down beside you, could YOU go on with your life? I doubt it.
This poem first appeared circa 1697, yet our Little Miss has done nothing since. Muffet has had over 300 years either to acknowledge her subconscious inner “spider” and come out as queer — or to conform to society’s dictates, accept heterosexuality as normative, and go buy a can of RAID.
But no. Caught in the endless web of meter and rhyme, she is doomed for eternity to repeat this puerile stimulus-response cycle. The Miss has muffed it, and now we will all have to “tuffet” out.
Finally, we arrive at: Little Jack Horner/ Sat in a corner/ Eating his Christmas pie. The name “Horner” obviously suggests “horny.” However, the word horny could not be used in this rhyme scheme, as Jack would then have had to sit in a “corny.” Anyhow, Jack needed to sit facing the door in case the cops busted in. But let’s get back to what Jack was — “eating.”
Notice the roundness of the pie, its moist, tumescent insides. Jack wanted that pie. Wanted it bad. It reminded him of a sailor’s butt. A sailor’s butt on Christmas leave. Yes … Christmas.
Christmas with its hot candles, its moist, tumescent carols. Carols simmering in a sauce of orgasmic fixation on the male love-object: “O COME, Let Us Adore Him”… “Joy to the World, the Lord Has COME” … “COME, they told me, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum” …
“Pum.” That word pum. It made Jack crazy, just thinking about it. That is why Jack: stuck in his thumb and pulled out a PLUM…
Jack’s throbbing digit rammed itself into the moist, tumescent fruit, which opened to him gratefully. He thought of the plum’s color — mauve, the color of world homosexual domination. Jack thought of all the other moist, tumescent fruits he had plunged into over the years.
“Happy Birthday, Jesus,” moaned Jack. Then he died.
In summary: Horner’s death; Muffet’s paralyzing Weltschmerz. These things happen because sex, death, and eating are inextricably bound up in Western culture, and only a literary deconstruction such as this can unravel them. Yet Western culture is already deconstructing — and with it, we, ourselves. So let’s hurry up and overthrow patriarchal capitalist imperialism, you guys, before it’s too late.
Susie Day is the author of “Snidelines: Talking Trash to Power,” published by Abingdon Square Publishing.