There is an archetypal story, beloved around the world, about an abnormal child. Somehow placed into an ordinary family, he or she is soon found not to fit there. Despised and abused for inborn gifts, the child must escape and find, at great risk, a place of belonging.

Italy, Ivory Carving of a woman with phallus, reportedly found in a 13th Century nunnery

Stories like Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, and Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Ducking” help children cling to hope and survive the suffering in families that refuse their extraordinary powers. The archetype is revisited in  stories told of queer lives. We are said to be despised and reviled by siblings, rejected by tormented parents. Exiled and escaped, we adventure in the wide world, where we are starved and damaged, filled with fear and self-loathing. Then suddenly, and just in time, we recognize our true identity. We stretch our wings and fly with the magnificent swans.

Cirlot describes abnormality as a universal symbol of an extraordinary inborn gift – often the gift of prophecy. He notes that modern psychology advances the theory that abnormal individuals develop astonishing psychic powers in compensation for the difference that separates them from ordinary people. Traditional cultures reverse this thinking, believing that the abnormality is a consequence of the inborn gift, the price exacted by the gods.

Shadow: Queer people are called outside the patriarchal nuclear family to find their origins. We are nurtured by the world, taught to live by one another. We are sustained by nature, books, friends and fabulous strangers as well as – or in spite of – the families we are born to. As we seek civil rights for queer families, we need not forget these gifts

Related Figures and Attributes: Hero, Unstable, Joyous, Innocent, Friend

For more writing on this symbol, see these chapters of Orientation: Mapping Queer Meanings: Family, The River, Pedophile, Conclusion