By Francesca Lewis
With the highly anticipated Catching Fire, to be released on November 21, I decided to re-read the novel. As I turned each page, I couldn’t help but notice a new layer of meaning in the text. Perhaps because, since I have begun working for Curve Magazine, the similarity between the oppression of the Districts and the oppression of the queer community felt so much more resonant to me. It started to feel almost like a queer treatise, a manual for our community. There are many lessons to be learned from this novel, but here I have listed nine of them.
Since these lessons hinge upon major plot points from the novel, and the movie is based upon that, it should go without saying that this list is VERY SPOILERY – if you want things that happen in the film to come as a surprise, you should probably bookmark this for later. You were warned!
1. The Haters Are Only Afraid Of Your Power
President Snow hates Katniss. Like, really a lot. She stands for everything he hates: commoners, underdogs, rebellion. In Catching Fire, he makes it his personal mission to see to it that she is distracted, devalued and sent to her death. Very early in the book, he has already done something incredibly creepy – invaded her home, uninvited and demanded that she submit to a marriage she does not want. He then puts her through a rollercoaster of meaningless emotion, making her believe that if she carries out these wishes and subdues the rebellions beginning to rise up in her name, he will let her and her family off the hook. Only as she is about to enter The Games once more, after learning the extent of the uprisings all over Panem, does she realize that her efforts could never have calmed these flames. President Snow had simply wanted her kept silent and compliant, focused on other issues, roped in by his sleight of hand. Why? Because she is powerful. She is the Mockingjay.
LGBT people have experienced something very similar for many years. By remaining in the closet, dutifully marrying a member of the opposite sex and staying well away from politics, countless gay men and women have hoped that they would be keeping themselves and their families, and even society, safe from harm. But if we examine the reasons for these practices, and the people they are for, we find that they are based upon fear. Fundamentalist religion, the far Right, the Establishment – these things are all based upon a system that does not factor in the true diversity of the human experience. To these people, queer people should not exist, just like the mockingjay and Katniss. Queer people are something they did not anticipate, something that does not fit into their system – queer people belong to a new world, and they survive.
2. Love Is Both Complicated And Private
Team Peeta or Team Gale? Partly due to the first movie’s inability to convey Katniss’ inner processes, many read The Hunger Games as a love triangle. In Catching Fire, the relationships reach new levels, with kisses and platonic bed sharing, however, these relationships are more than silly teenage crushes. Katniss’ love for both Peeta and Gale is deep, complex and not necessarily sexual. Despite being told by everyone around her – President Snow, Caesar, even Peeta – who she should love and how she should love them, Katniss refuses to accept their simplistic views of her own heart.
Everyone seems to want to put in their two cents when it comes to the love lives of LGBT people. Some of them mean well, while others definitely do not, but either way, one thing is for sure – it is none of their business. By refusing to allow anyone to dictate to her whom she should love and how, Katniss reminds us that the only opinion that matters is our own.
3. Not Everyone Is Strong Enough To Fight
When Katniss hears of the rebellions in the other Districts, she is filled with a new hope and purpose. The spark that has ignited in 11 and 8, surely she can replicate that in The Seam. But the people of District 12 are weak. They are starved, exhausted and their numbers are few. Add to that a fresh crop of especially cruel Peacekeepers and it becomes clear that there will be no rebellion in District 12. Yet, the strongest among them – Haymitch, Peeta, Katniss – are able to carry the burden of revolution themselves.
Ever had the frustrating experience of trying to rally someone to a cause that they are just not on board with? It seems strange to you, because you know this is something that impacts upon their lives, something they must disagree with as much as you. You can’t understand why they aren’t ready to take to the streets, to wave their banners high and raise their voices higher. Can’t they see that now is the time for rebellion? The thing is, it’s awesome if you feel strong enough to go out there and stand up for your beliefs – the cause is lucky to have you. Those who are too exhausted, sick or afraid to join in are probably extremely grateful that people like you can give them a voice. We all have our different paths to tread.
4. It Is Okay To Fall Apart
When we find Katniss at the start of Catching Fire, she is deeply traumatized by her time in the arena. Since The Games ended, her life has been far from easy, not least because she expects at any moment to be punished for her rebellious stunt with the berries. Still, the one thing she takes comfort in is the fact that The Games are over and that horrible experience is behind her. At least until the Quarter Quell is announced and she learns that she is going back. Rather than quietly accepting her fate with dignity, Katniss flips out – fleeing into the night, breaking into an empty basement, screaming her throat raw, drinking the white liquor that keeps Haymitch in a constant stupor. Luckily, she has her mother, Prim and Gale to comfort her and Peeta to pull her out of her self-pity and give her a new cause.
When the persecution, unkindness, cruelty and violence of homophobia hits, we may feel that it is our duty to stay strong. Surely, if we are to win the battle, we must be impenetrable and stalwart at all times. In Catching Fire, Katniss reveals the true extent of her very human vulnerability and reminds us all that sometimes, when faced with the ugliness of life, it is okay to just collapse in a heap. As long as we let our friends help us, comfort us and, when we’re all cried out, steer us back onto our original path.
5. People Who Seem To Be Part Of The Problem Are Probably Just Ignorant
The Capitol is despicable, I think we can all agree upon that. Not only do they rip children from their families and make them murder each other for their entertainment, they are also incredibly shallow, wasteful people. Who among us didn’t feel a deep anger stirring within when the Capitol party-goers explained the liquid they drank at parties to allow themselves to vomit, making space for more food, all the while leaving Districts like Katniss’ suffering from starvation. Yet, as we get to know Katniss’ prep team a little better, we can’t help but notice something, they’re like children. From their fascination with shiny things and yummy foods, to their complete inability to grasp the political implications of their privilege, the people of the Capitol are like silly children, carelessly wielding a pretty magnifying glass over ants they hardly notice. As soon as suffering is given a human face, the face of their beloved Katniss – Flavius, Venia and Octavia are just as saddened and horrified as any person should be. It is safe to assume that much of the Capitol is like this, oblivious in their ignorance of what the system they are complicit in actually does.
Just like in Panem, the bullies and homophobes of our world are real and dangerous. But the many who sit upon the fence, unaware of their own privilege and their inbuilt prejudice, are not necessarily evil. These people, throwing around the term “gay” as a slur, automatically asking if we have heterosexual partners, using the wrong pronouns – have very little knowledge of the impact of their actions. Like Flavius, Venia and Octavia, they are under the spell of the Establishment, focused on frivolous things, distracted from the issues that they think do not matter. This doesn’t give them a free pass to keep on treating us unfairly, but it should remind us that all these people need is a little education and a reminder that we are just as human as they.
6. No Matter How Alone You Feel, You Have More Allies Than You Think
Katniss Everdeen is not a trusting person. She assumed that Peeta’s declaration of love for her was an act in the first Games, and in Catching Fire her distrusting attitude reaches the level of paranoia. Not without good reason, as people are constantly lying to her and she is often thrown into “them or me” type situations. Unfortunately, Katniss’ assumption that she is alone and must look after number one prevents her from seeing the very real allies she has all around her. From Plutrarch Heavensbee, who tries to hint at the nature of the arena, to Finnick and Johanna, who tirelessly work to keep her alive in the arena, Katniss has more friends than she thinks.
Much like Katniss, we in the queer community have good reason to be wary. Most of us have been rejected, tormented and even physically attacked by the time we leave high school, simply for being who we are. It is easy to feel that the world outside is a cruel place filled with snakes and wolves. However, if we open ourselves up to the possibility, we will see that, like Katniss, we often have more understanding and helpful people around us than we think. These days you don’t have to be queer to care about queer rights, to stand up for equality and change. There are allies all around, if we only open our eyes.
7. Even When Things Are Dark, You Can Still Enjoy Life
Life in The Seam, or as a pawn in the Capitol’s Games, does not lend itself to having fun, but Katniss still manages to occasionally stop and smell the roses. Even in the most dire situations she manages to muster a sarcastic quip. And when the drama finally lets up, such as on her last day with Peeta on the roof before The Games, Katniss knows that this is the time to let go of everything weighing her down and simply be. Her ability to put aside her fears and snatch moments of happiness as they come is just as important as her ability to snap out of it at a moment’s notice and get back to business. Katniss embraces the happy moments because she knows that the sad ones are too many.
After an evening of reading articles about Putin’s anti-gay laws, news stories about yet another gay teen suicide, and flame wars on Facebook over what it says in the Bible about homosexuality, it can be hard to enjoy that cat video your friend just sent you. However, in those dark times, silly things that make us smile are more important than ever. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life while others suffer – so long as they’re not suffering so that you can enjoy it. The time to be sad, serious or angry will come again soon enough, so take a leaf out of Katniss’ book and enjoy it while it lasts.
8. Remember Who The Enemy Is
When Haymitch tells Katniss this the night before The Games begin, she doesn’t understand what he means. It is only at zero hour as, injured and confused, she is staring at Beetee’s wire that she realizes what he meant – the enemy is not her fellow tributes, but the Capitol – more specifically, President Snow and the entire system of oppression he has created. Armed with this realization, Katniss fires the arrow that blows up the arena in an action far more definite than threatening to eat some berries. In order for the rebellion to truly begin, Katniss must focus on what really matters, freedom from oppression.
Sometimes it can be hard to maintain this kind of focus in our everyday lives. We get caught up in petty arguments over minutiae and forget that all this in-fighting is not the real battle. The battle is with the enemy. The enemy is homophobia, inequality, oppression. If we unite and combine our many talents, then like the tributes in Catching Fire, we can create a (metaphorical) explosion.
9. While You Live, The Revolution Lives
Plutrarch Heavensbee’s words are not exactly well received when he tells Katniss this at the end of the novel, but this is due partly to shock at finding out the true plan and Haymitch’s heavy-handed approach making her feel hurt and betrayed. The power behind those words, though – while you live, the revolution lives – is undeniable. In the dire chaos of the final chapter of Catching Fire, Katniss feels like this just means she’s a pawn in another kind of game. Who knows, though, how she will feel once the dust settles as her dreams of revolution come to life in Mockingjay.
As I told you when we began, we queer people are all mockingjays. They did not anticipate us. We do not fit into their old world, and yet we survive against all odds. Well, mostly we survive. The fact is, because the pain and suffering queer people face, queer people are more likely to attempt suicide. Yet we are, as Catching Fire reminds us, the key to the revolution. We may fear that there is no hope, but while we still draw breath, there is still potential for change. While we live, the revolution lives.