What is Queer?

“If we think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices, we detach queerness from sexual identity and come closer to understanding Foucault’s comment in “Friendship as a Way of Life” that “homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex” (310)” (Halberstam, 1).

My first thought is Sedgwick’s Tendencies, specifically Sedgwick’s definition of queer, as well as the exercise we did on the first day of class of what queer means. Sedgwick describes queer as “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses, and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality, aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically” (Sedgwick, 8). While Sedgwick is referring to queer as elements of sexuality or family that differs from the “list” society has made as acceptable; Halberstam define queerness as abnormalities or as something differs from the norm, but not just family and sexual identity but everything, like time and space. Their core definition is similar, not sticking to the norm or the status quo in whatever way (this also reminds me of the song “Stick to the Status Quo” from the first High School Musical). What is truly interesting is that on the first day of class before we read anything, we talked about what does queer mean. We used many words and phrases to describe this word, including one particular phrase, something different than “cis”. In Sedgwick’s Tendencies, she has two lists that describe elements that makeup, in the first list, what a family is, and sexual identity in the second list. The elements listed are what we would consider being “cis”, just a bit fancier.

My second thought is about the quote from Friendship as a Way of Life that Halbustam uses, “homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex”. This is interesting because a lot of people use words like “lifestyle” and “choice” when talking about homosexuality. In their minds, people are making the conscious decision to stray from the list of what is acceptable. That these people are more afraid of their lives being upturned than of how a couple or group likes to have sex. If people start turning away from what is “right” and “acceptable” then what does that mean for the people that have structured their lives around it. We see this is Lisa Dordal’s Mosaic of the Dark in the poem Intersection, “Have you ever thought you might be… – / …It wasn’t an option, you said. / Your head never turning, both of us looking straight…” (Dordal, 11). Dordal’s mother tells us in this snippet that being anything other than a heterosexual woman, that being attracted to anyone other than a man was not possible. What is more terrifying, two people of the same sex having sex? Or the timeline people are brainwashed into believing is the only is not the only way?

Born to Die

What is the point of movement when movement indicates life and life indicates hope?  I have neither life nor hope.  Better than to fall in with the crumbling wainscot, to settle with the dust and be drawn up into someone’s nostrils.  Daily we breathe the dead” (108)

Perhaps the most obvious syntactical choice in this passage is the structure of the first sentence.  The “x begets y begets z” form instantly implies unflagging forward motion. Word choices such as “fall” and “drawn up” conjure the idea of a cycle, and the narrator’s repetition of words such as “life” and “dead” lead me to believe that ze is referring to the circle of life.  To live, we must breathe.  However, the narrator makes the point that the air we breathe, the key to life as many would argue, consists of the dead.  That image in and of itself it wonderfully poetic.

While my explication of the passage could end there, with that dark yet beautiful image, I think that it connects really well to Judith Halberstam’s piece called “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies.”  Halberstam introduces to us the idea of “queer time” (1).  The heteronormative timeline is generally considered to play out as follows: birth, school, job, spouse, kids, retirement, and finally death.  However, Halberstam poses the idea of “queer time” that breaks this timeline, as it focuses on “other logics of location, movement, and identification” rather than “reproduction” (1).  The narrator actually addresses this idea in a passage soon after the one I chose to analyze, listing the “characteristics of living things” that she was taught in school.  In fact, ze goes on to say, “I don’t want to reproduce, I want to make something entirely new” (108).

Halberstam’s idea of “queer time” allows us to eliminate reproduction from the list of “characteristics of living things” that exacerbate the narrator (108).  In fact, of all the aspects of life that “queer time” allows us to move around or eliminate, birth and death are the only two constants.  We will all be born, and our lives will all push forward until we die, our dust mixing into the atmosphere to sustain the new life to come.  Beyond that, it is fair to say that nothing else is constant.  We our slaves to our own desires, but our own desires are just that; our own.  Just as desires vary from person to person, so should the characteristics and timelines of our lives.   Perhaps if the narrator was able to read some of Halberstam’s work, ze would struggle less with how zir own wants and desires don’t fit into the supposed timeline we’re all supposed to follow.