Lisan Jutras is an editor for The Globe and Mail.
There is no question that the monarchy is capital-P Problematic, for reasons I don’t need to work hard to enumerate: It is the apotheosis of the idea that the world is an unjust place where money and privilege are dispensed entirely at random, the institution historically is the engine of colonialism, and various residents of Buckingham Palace have been personally and institutionally racist in our lifetime.
But somehow this knowledge had no bearing on the feeling I had when the Queen died, especially as mentions of King Charles began to proliferate – “King” Charles! – an unfamiliar phrase in the mouth, with decidedly archaic overtones. My existential vertigo had very little to do with who Queen Elizabeth was, and much to do with the idea of a queen, especially in contrast to a king. And, as I asked around, it became clear that I was not alone. The people do not necessarily want a monarch, but they did not like to lose a queen.
A queen, or indeed a king, is a figurehead – a magnet for our projections. The woman behind the queen was somewhat unknowable, accruing (like a god … or a therapist) different meanings to different people. Losing Queen Elizabeth herself is not the loss I feel – who the heck was she, even? Does anyone really know?
Nonetheless, I dread the moment at which King Charles’s face begins to crowd my palm in a handful of coins. This is, again, less about King Charles as a person (dorky shirtless polo hunk/pitiable boarding school student/unfeeling husband to Diana, an image I’ve cobbled together entirely and unreliably from pop culture) and more about the feeling I get when I think about yet another omnipresent reminder of yet another male ruler. (Canada, by all measures a developed country with a relatively high gender equality index, had a female prime minister once for about three minutes. Our Parliament is 29.4-per-cent female.) I know our monarch “rules” us in some almost entirely symbolic way, but these symbolic icons don’t count for nothing.
Little kids, who read fairy tales, understand the significance of a queen (“I’m the queen of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal!”) even if they don’t understand things such as income inequality. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about the Royal Family; they were just always there – the way that parents are, come to think of it. Like parents to kids, they hold a mysterious status as quasi-divine, which in fact European royals were believed to be until the 1600s.
For most of my adult life I laboured under the belief, hilarious to my friends, that I looked like the Queen. I don’t know exactly what to make of this, other than to say that, in some literal way, I saw her as a mirror, and possibly a collective mother figure. But don’t mistake her for maternal. (Anyone who watched The Crown will not.) A queen does not bake cakes or seek your approval. She doesn’t have to play a supporting role, the way all the first ladies, for instance, do and did. She doesn’t have to work for her power (which is one reason why people hate the monarchy). Unlike prime ministers, who come and go, riding on waves of popular support, or pop stars and actors, who struggle to garner appeal as they age, she was immovable, untouchable. How many women can we say that about? And although as an adult I understood that this untouchability came from the immense privilege which she had accrued through a history of exploitation, it didn’t erase the deeper, more iconic notion I had of her – call it an archetype.
Thinking of archetypes put me in mind of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst. Knowing almost nothing of his theories, I reached out to a Jungian analyst, Dorothy Gardner. To my surprise, she told me that King Charles is rumoured to be interested in Jung’s work, and to have had more than a passing familiarity with Jungian analysis itself. This is what Jung might term synchronicity.
Ms. Gardner explained that in Jung’s worldview we are all populated by various versions of archetypal images – the hero, the shadow and the fool, among others. Figures of the king and queen, I gathered, can represent a certain complementary duality of “masculine” and “feminine” traits. She stressed that Jung saw these as potential energies within each person, regardless of gender.
King Charles, so far, has not come across as especially authoritarian in the ways attributed to an archetypal king, she said. Instead, he may in fact have shown some qualities, “such as openness and a willingness to engage,” that have been more traditionally associated with the archetypal queen.
After speaking to Ms. Gardner, I watched a YouTube video explaining the origins of the phrase “Yas, queen!” At one time a solely derogatory term for a gay man, “queen” was flipped into a cry of praise during the 1980s in the New York drag scene. According to the host of this explainer, you can use “yas queen” when “somebody absolutely kills it, or he or she is speaking to your soul with their everything.”
Let’s be real: The monarchy is never going to speak to my soul. The inner duality of masculine and feminine is not going to magically make, say, unequal parliamentary representation irrelevant. I still don’t want to see Chuck on a dime. But, as long as we have a king, I’ll try to keep this notion of queenliness in mind. Werk, Charles!
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