Jade McDonald

Once Upon an LGBTQIA+ Dream: Exploring Queer Marginality in Folklore As part of their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, creative writing major Jade McDonald ’24 has given classic fairy tales a modern twist.

Jade McDonald ’24 has always loved “Sleeping Beauty.” But in their version, the knight that rescues the sleeping princess is a woman, and the beast she must slay is herself:

The knight looked concerned but sheathed her blade, walking over to kneel at Thorn’s bedside. She looked deep into Thorn’s eyes with an expression that was strong yet soft. 

“My lady. Where is the beast I must slay to free you?” 

“Can’t you tell?” She gestured at the thorns corrupting her skin, her bloodstained dress, the singular, consuming twin voids set in her eye sockets. The knight only looked at her face, eyebrows knit tight. She looked into Thorn’s eyes, unafraid. “You’re looking at her.” 

Excerpt from”Thorn” by Jade McDonald ’24

“The Disney film is so beautiful, but it is problematic,” says McDonald, a Chapman University creative writing major. “I think that’s what’s so interesting … even with all the problematic aspects, they’re still interesting to read and analyze.”

McDonald has spent the summer doing just that, as part of their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) in the Center of Undergraduate Excellence (CUE). The goal of their project – which combines research with creative writing – is to explore how heteronormative ideas are reinforced through the narratives that our society tells over and over again, with a particular focus on fairy tales.

Over the course of the fellowship, McDonald has explored the classic versions of folk and fairy tales from collectors and writers such as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Charles Perrault, along with modern retellings from authors such as Angela Carter. 

McDonald has also studied queer and feminist theorists such as Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Jack Halberstam and Adrienne Rich.

The extensive research served as a springboard for the creative portion of the project: their own retellings of “Sleeping Beauty” and “Beauty and the Beast.” 

“I’ve written a version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that examines the problematic implications of the original story, where a prince is kissing a sleeping girl – and even other versions of the story where it’s worse than that. What I wanted to do with my story is give her the power to choose her own fate and prevent abuse from happening. To have her able to select her own fate and her own love for herself,” they say.

“I also explore how queerness can be associated with difference, and difference can be associated with monstrosity – analyzing how one can look and act and be different, but still be a person and still deserve love.”

“Jade’s alternative readings reclaim and transform the fairy tales, stripping them of the age-old heteronormative and patriarchal stereotypes,” says Julye Bidmead, associate professor of religious studies and CUE director, who is McDonald’s supervisor on this project.  

“Though scholars have been examining fairy tales and folklore through feminist and gender theory for a while, it is only within recent years that they have begun to apply a queer and trans lens to these stories. Jade’s retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ adds to that growing body of scholarship.”

“It’s been really interesting to me and really fun to be able to play around with the expectations of the stories and their cultural resonances,” says McDonald. “I think that it’s why I started writing and why I wanted to do it as a career in the first place.”

Chapman’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence organizes SURF, an on-campus eight-week summer program that offers Chapman University undergraduate students experience in hands-on research and creative scholarship mentored by expert faculty. The fellowship includes a $4,000 stipend for 30 hours of research work per week.

Staci Dumoski

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