The Gendering of Male Insanity in The Halfway House

Throughout the novel, The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales, there are many moments where the readers are appalled by the acts of sexual violence suffered by the boarders in the house. One of the more prominent examples is Arsenio’s treatment of Hilda and his frequent attempts to anally rape her.  Another example would be William’s erotic strangling of Frances and her submission to his violence.  However, there is another element of sexual violence that is less recognized, which is the sexual violence suffered by the male boarders.  This also has implications on the gendering of insanity in the novel and surfaces complications in the usually gendered discourse about rape.

Reyes is the main figurehead for sexual violence against males.  Though he is not overtly sexually penetrated, there is a homoerotic quality about the way Arsenio and William whip his naked body with a wrung towel.  On page 46, William assaults Reyes in the shower.

“I go over to Reyes and grab him tightly by the neck.  I give him a kick in the testicles.  I bang his head against the wall. … I look at him, disgusted.  His forehead is bleeding.  Upon seeing this, I feel a strange pleasure.  I grab the towel, twist it, and whip his frail chest.”

There is also another attempt to penetrate/rape Reyes on page 29, when Arsenio directs Rene to stab Reyes with a knife, repeatedly shouting “Stick it in him!”  Though not overtly sexual, the suggestion of a male penetrating another male is homoerotic and queer.  Given the erotic pleasure reminiscent of dominatrix-ism that William gains from whipping Reyes and the attempts to penetrate him, there seems to be a gendering of the insane male characters that is taking place in the novel.  Since the feminine gender is more often associated with the rhetoric of penetration by phalluses, it would then follow that insane male characters in this novel are gendered as feminine and serve feminine roles in sexual intercourse.

If we then accept this postulation, since both the insane male and female characters serve the feminine roles of sexual intercourse for Arsenio and William, the arguably “more sane” characters of the novel, the novel could also be gendering insanity as feminine and sanity as masculine.  This gendering would place mental illnesses in an implicit power hierarchy and highlight dynamics of power that are present in the framework of gender performance and heterosexist sexual practices.  The presence of dominance and the eroticism derived from such gendered conquest calls into question the whole nature of mental illness diagnoses and treatments.  For example, by committing mental patients into a center, there is the inevitable loss of autonomy and deprivation of rights.  Can this process also be seen as a rape?

As someone mentioned in class, maybe the reason why Frances doesn’t distinctly reject sexual advances is because by entering the halfway house, her consent is inherently invalidated and the rape has taken place long before any sexual assault even occurs.  If we accept this theory, then we can extend this theory to the men as well: by being committed to the halfway house, are they inherently “penetrated” and thus subject to homoeroticism and emasculation?  If we answer yes, then readers can analyze another phenomenon that occurs in the text.  What is the work that this novel does in creating and shaping discourse around men as victims of sexual assault?

As I noticed in class, the discussion was very much centered on Frances and other female characters that experienced rape; there was little mention of male rape victims.  This is reflective of the nature of rape discourse in general; male rape victims get left out because rapists are frequently gendered as male.  On page 49, Napoleon complains of being sexually violated and touched by Tato.

“‘Stop talking shit.” Tato says.

‘He touched me,’ Napoleon insists. ‘Yesterday, in my room, he came at night and touched me!’

I look at Tato.  He doesn’t look like a homosexual.”

First, Napoleon is described as “tragically beautiful and his large, popping eyes forever wear[ing] a deeply submissive expression…” Tato is distinctly described as not looking like a homosexual.  There is the definite gendering of both these men in relation to their roles in the act of sexual assault.  Then there is a very casual tone and dismissal of Napoleon’s experience as insignificant.  It pretty much goes unaddressed by both the characters and by the readers.  Thus, this book is a reflection of the lack of role that male rape victims have in the discourse and depiction of sexual violence. This novel also reminds readers to challenge the assumption in discourse about rape and gender violence that males do not suffer.  Instead, male rape victims have the additional burden of suffering as an invisible minority.

 

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One thought on “The Gendering of Male Insanity in The Halfway House

  1. wow this post is really interesting. I am thinking about the questions you raised, about how insanity is gendered female, and about how being committed to the halfway house is, or is like, a sexual violation (and almost always leads to actual sexual assault.) What I am immediately curious about is how the narrator relates to this gendering. So I guess he is male gendered throughout the book because of his connection to the guy who runs the place – to the “mafia” and also that he assaults others. Is he male gendered throughout the book, since the beginning? And are we supposed to take that as a sign that he is not crazy? And would you say that characters like Reyes and Napoleon are actually feminized or just the ones penetrated – like, is that all it would take to make them feminine? Is that all it would take to emasculate them? and is there a difference between emasculating someone and making them feminine?

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