All my life, I have wanted to be a cutting-edge, Queer Studies academic. And now that I have written my first opus deconstructing a Western literary classic, I am! All I have to do is send this in to the London Review of Books, and wait to be mercilessly attacked by rightwing critics like David Horowitz, who will call me a “PC Thug” and/or “Terrorist,” thus ensuring me years of fame and several financially rewarding speaking tours. So please do not plagiarize the following; it took years of research:
Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town
Upstairs, downstairs, in his nightgown. . . .
At first, this poem appears wholesome and innocent, until we employ an interdisciplinary, multicultural system of inquiry. Then it makes us sick. For, once we unpack things in a scholarly fashion, we find that (a) there really was a “Wee Willie Winkie,” and (b) he has been totally misrepresented by totalizing, heterosexual supremacists.
Tapping at the window, crying at the lock,
‘Are the wee ones in bed, for it’s now eight o’clock?’
The image of Wee Willie gadding about in a long white frock, and peering into children’s bedrooms, has become the cynical tool of white, middle-class, sexually Manichaean, pseudo-monogamous parents who seek to inculcate their progeny with mind-numbing bromides about a sanitized, desexualized “bedtime” privileging the maintenance of a fascistically-gendered, patriarchal hierarchy. We are sorry we had to write such a long, erudite sentence there, but we were pissed.
More to the point: the mythic Wee Willie lulls erotically polymorphous youth into accepting, yea welcoming, control by a voyeuristic police state. A police state that closes down gay bars! A police state that never cared about the real Wee Willie! But Queer Studies cares. Caringly, we present his story.
Newspaper accounts of the Victorian era describe Wee Willie Winkie as a four-foot eleven-inch Scottish immigrant who left Glasgow rather hurriedly in the spring of 1872, due to an obscure morals charge. He settled in London’s East End and, true to his working-class roots, found employment there in a women’s nightgown factory. According to “Cut on the Bias: Tragic Homosexuals and Ladies’ Sleepwear: A Quarterly,” Wee Willie “fit right in” to workaday life.
Yet Wee Willie felt the social unrest of the times, and he took to stealing bits of ribbon and thread from the factory. At home, by candlelight, he began designing a stunning array of nightgowns, which he wore to Hyde Park. There, among the revolutionary orators, he would enhance the ongoing socialist debate by climbing atop his little soapbox to model his creations. Legend has it that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, strolling by one evening, developed the theory of commodity fetishism, simply by glimpsing the cut of Wee Willie’s peignoir. Wee Willie himself was attracted to the idea of a proletarian dictatorship and longed to join the workers’ struggle. His fellow proletarians, however, with their limited class analysis, dictated otherwise, and he was blackballed from the First International for “identity politics.”
Ostracism from the organized Left drove Wee Willie to drink, at a neighborhood pub called the Cock and Rubber, where he would regale patrons with accounts of his handiwork. “Eh, Sailor, ye want to cum ta me flat fur a look at me wee bonny nighties? Hic.” His nightie-viewings proved so popular that, one glorious evening, Wee Willie was asked to model his creations at the pub.
Wee Willie’s great-great-grandniece, Wee Winnie Winkie, agreed to be interviewed for this study. She recounts Wee Willie’s big debut: “Grreat Grreat Uncle was staggerin’ down the runway, bonnie as a sprring day, when the hem of his magenta Empress Josephine nightie caught fire on one o’ the footlights. In half a second, the daft thing burned clean up ta his waistband. All the lads started shouting, “Blimey, Wee Willie’s got a wee winkie — woo woo!” The dirty, alliterative bastarrds.”
Just then, Her Majesty’s vice squad burst into the pub. Clapping eyes on Willie’s singed member, the officers proclaimed they would shut it down. (The pub, that is). Delirious from shock and semi-nakedness, Wee Willie bolted out the door and into history. We pick up his odyssey in the March 12, 1874 issue of the London Daily Colonic:
The diminutive Scotsman led her Majesty’s constabulary forces on a chase through the city’s affluent sectors, upstairs, downstairs, through servants’ quarters, butlers’ pantries, drainpipes. Mr. Winkie was finally apprehended as he attempted to crawl into the nursery window of the Finance Minister’s young son. A disquieted Mr. Winkie explained that he wanted to make sure ‘The wee one was in bed,’ noting that it was ‘now eight o’clock.’ This might have proved plausible, had Big Ben not been tolling 4:00 a.m. Mr. Winkie was taken to headquarters, given a vicious bias beating, and charged with endangering the sleep of a minor. The Finance Minister remarked that this incident alone should be enough to tighten laws on immigration.
But because of Wee Willie’s heroic distraction, the Cock and Rubber was saved. To show their gratitude, pub patrons composed the immortal “Wee Willie Winkie” poem, later co-opted by the heterosexual free market mainstream. The lads at the time were jubilant, however, and cries of Queer identity struggle echoed through Hyde Park as they chanted, “Wee Willie Overcome,” and “All Power to the Winkies.” So righteous and proud were the lads that they failed to notice when Wee Willie was carted off to an immigration detention center, where guards regularly awakened him to jeer at his grey, institutional pajamas.
So you see, identity politics has its problems, too, but not as many as David Horowitz. The end.
Susie Day lives in New York City where she writes a humor column for feminist and gay publications. She has also written on U.S. political prisoners and labor issues and thinks her girlfriend, Laura Whitehorn, is hot stuff.