“I think about my disabled body, how as a teenager I escaped the endless pressure to have a boyfriend, to shave my legs, to wear make-up. The same lies that cast me as genderless, asexual, and undesirable also framed a space in which I was left alone to be my quiet, bookish, tomboy self, neither girl nor boy” (Clare 151).
Clare discusses how systems of power shape experiences by exerting control over bodies. He uses words relating to being trapped (“escaped,” “endless,” “pressure,” and “space”) and definition/characterization (“cast,” “framed,” and “lies”) to denote how systems of power inscribe false meanings onto the body. These “lies” written on the body force him to explore his identity under the surface, isolated from others. While being “left alone” seems like an escape from the rigidity of expectations, it is actually an example of a more subtle form of violence that manifests within structures of power. Clare identifies how interlocking systems of ableism, patriarchy, and compulsory (hetero)sexuality* pressure those who are able-bodied to conform to (hetero)sexual, binary gender experiences. But these systems ostracize Clare for his disability and gender fluidity by categorizing him as genderless and asexual. While Clare notes that this does provide him space to experience identity in ways often restricted by these systems of power, he still recognizes that it is an act of violence through exclusion and isolation; certain bodies are not held to the same standards because they are seen as “undesirable,” expendable, or perhaps unproductive.
Through this space of “undesirability,” Clare provides an example of chrononormativity, “the use of time to organize individual human bodies toward maximum productivity,” but he introduces the question of which bodies and in what ways (Freeman 3). Systems of power like those that Clare analyzes—ableism, patriarchy, and compulsory (hetero)sexuality, but also white supremacy and capitalism—shape our understanding of life as “event-centered, goal-oriented, intentional, and culminating in epiphanies or major transformations,” and often focus on productivity, not just of products but also of means to produce those products (Freeman 5). Not only does this relate to Clare’s metaphor of the mountain, but it also reverberates in what he notes about the experiences teenagers are expected to have. In a sense, the “endless pressure” forces people to follow a narrative path in life (having (hetero)sexual experiences during their teenage years and accepting traditional gender stereotypes like wearing makeup or shaving their legs) that will ultimately lead to the reproduction of these systems. So, while systems of power create a construct of linear time, they perform a cycle to maintain that power.
Clare’s passage describes this cycle. First, a person’s intersectional positioning impacts how they are expected to adhere to constructions of time that dictate a particular narrative experience of life. Second, the degree to which they adhere to that construction of time allows systems of power to measure the value of their body. And third, people, but specifically children, internalize this notion of value whether they experience the “endless pressure” to conform or not. The practice of queering time and place, then, challenges that cycle from the first step by asserting that there is more than one way of life. In essence, it contests the “lies” that systems of power use to define our lives.
*I write (hetero)sexuality to include both compulsory sexuality and compulsory heterosexuality.