Download In the Dream House Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes

Queer Erasure of Domestic Abuse

Both the personal narrative and academic elements of In the Dream House focus primarily on the theme of domestic abuse within queer relationships. In particular, they highlight the relative invisibility of that experience, especially compared to representations of heterosexual intimate partner violence. In her prologue, Machado outlines the concept of “archival silence”—the notion that if those primarily responsible for record-keeping share a majority experience, the minority experience will, by default, be inadequately recorded. Noting that the word “archive” is derived from the Greek for “house of the ruler,” she adds:

The abused woman has certainly been around as long as human beings have been capable of psychological manipulation and interpersonal violence, but as a generally understood concept it—and she—did not exist until about fifty years ago. The conversation about domestic abuse within queer communities is even newer, and even more shadowed. As we consider the forms intimate violence takes today, each new concept—the male victim, the female perpetrator, queer abusers, and the queer abused—reveals itself as another ghost that has always been here, haunting the ruler’s house. (5)

In braiding academic research on the subject into her own experiences, she demonstrates just how crucial an adequately-documented past is to the experience of the living. The invisibility of same-sex intimate partner violence can—and has—led people to believe that abuse is a problem that the people in same-sex relationships (especially lesbian relationships) don’t need to worry about.

Throughout the narrative, Machado candidly shares her own experience as an abused partner—a danger for which, she notes, she was never prepared. She laments,

I have spent years struggling to find examples of my own experience in history’s queer women. I tore through book after book about the queer women of the past, pen poised over paper, wondering what would happen if they had let the world know they were unmade by someone with just as little power as they. (227)

Machado is deeply honest with the reader about the increasingly malevolent actions of her abuser, but just as vulnerable is her portrait of herself as the abused. She admits the complicated love you can hold for someone who knowingly hurts you, the fear of disrupting your equilibrium, the willingness to be malleable for the sake of preservation, and the surprise and shame of finding yourself in a dynamic you didn’t think existed in your world.

In a chapter dedicated to ruminating on the trope of queer villainy in mainstream media—the pattern that often, the only characters deviating from heterosexual norms in mainstream entertainment are the bad guys—Machado recounts the premise of the Alain Giraudie movie Stranger by the Lake, in which one man witnesses a murder and then begins an affair with the murderer. Machado offers a generously empathetic take on the actions of the witness that speaks to an uncomfortable truth about all relationships:

Franck’s decision to stay with a with the handsome, magnetic murderer is only a few notches exaggerated from a pretty relatable problem: an inability to find logical footing when you’re being knocked around by waves of lust, love, loneliness. (46)

The Importance of Personal Context

In the prologue, Machado asserts that the major consequence of queer erasure—of any erasure—is the absence of personal context. When a perspective is left out of the prevailing social record, she notes, one is left with “gaps where people never see themselves or find information about themselves. Holes that make it impossible to give oneself a context.” This concern with context is central to the choices the author makes, both throughout her primary text and in her structural decisions.

Tucked among Machado’s personal narratives and chapters of academic exposition are brief cultural vignettes, each carefully chosen to...

(The entire section is 1,145 words.)