In Those Years

I believe Adrienne Rich’s poem “In Those Years” is a striking acknowledgement of the inherent politicalization of queer identity. It calls attention to the expectation that queer people have a responsibility outside of their own happiness, and that to focus on only finding themselves would be selfish.

Rich states that “people will say, we lost track / of the meaning of we, of you” and that “the whole thing became / silly, ironic, terrible: / we were trying to live a personal life”. I interpret this to mean that she believes there to have been judgement directed towards queer people just being queer for the sake of it being who they are. Although obviously queer people are just as entitled to the experience of self-discovery and contentedness as straight people, “people,” perhaps meaning society, find that to be unacceptable. She also uses the phrase “the great dark bird of history” when referring to those who dissent to the act of self-discovery. This mention of “history” is what makes me think there is a political tone to this poem.

When queer people are putting themselves out there in a way that can be commodified for the sake of progressiveness, it is perhaps more palatable to straight people. They can view queerness as an abstract political concept they can gain moral “points” for supporting. Sedgewick discusses the idea I am trying to get at in the chapter “Queer and Now” when she points out the popularity of her class with straight students.

On the other hand, when queer people engage in self-expression simply to be at peace with themselves, it is “silly, ironic, terrible,” otherwise translated to uncomfortable for society, which I believe to be the crux of this poem.

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