An Unfolding Queer Cosmology, The Second Post
curious about Curio's Being Seen and queer temporalities
Note: This is the second post in a new series I’m titling An Unfolding Queer Cosmology. It is not the beginning. It is not complete. The ending of this post is not the end.
A Grounding (edited from “The First Post”)
This is a work-in-progress (just like me, just like us).
We are not complete. We are neither a beginning nor an end. We exist only now.
May the now that is unfolding unfold all.
My pronouns are they/them. I have been using they/them pronouns off and on since I more formally started working with youth in youth development programs and public schools. I wasn’t consistent in their usage when I was younger because I also understand that I present male, and I know what that assumption means politically. That understanding is also why I started using they/them to begin with.
I remember working for the St. Paul YMCA the summer of 1996. I was 20 years old, and I was running their summer camp. My boss was a very conservative Christian, and she told me over and again that coming out would cause a row with parents and result in my termination. I couldn’t lose the job; it was the only way to pay rent.
That summer instead of coming out, I told the youth to use they/them when referring to me instead of he/his. Initially, the young folx were a bit confused. Conversations of gender were still incredibly rare in the late 90s, and I was asking for something not just outside of the norm but unheard of. Still, we were able to have nuanced, delicate conversations about expectations forced on our bodies by others.
Gender became a way into conversations about language, race, class, sexuality, religion, depression. Suddenly, even though we didn’t have a lot in common, we found ways our lived experiences of otherness connected to others experiences of otherness. We all became a little less alone.
My boss found out, and she was livid. While she wanted to terminate me, she hadn’t received any complaints from parents. In fact, she found out because students talked about how much they liked the conversation. It was an incredible conundrum for her: how could she fire the person connecting best with youth?
I quit the St. Paul YMCA at the end of camp.
I’ve carried and carry that experience with me to every other job or contract or commission or engagement from there on out. I know the power of pronouns to change conversations and courses. I also realize that my ability to challenge these norms are precisely because my body was and is still seen and experienced as white and male. I want to wield what power I have to disrupt the power I’m perceived to hold.
I am realizing that is not just a politics.
To wield it ethically and morally, I must also understand and interrogate its cosmology.
I’ve never really identified as non-binary. My work over the last five years (even before COVID) has increasingly become virtual, which is a visual and auditory medium. This transition in work has also transitioned my pronoun usage. What used to be infrequent is now exclusive. By constantly and consistently using they/them, I force others to queer me. Within a visual medium in which I have a beard and an auditory medium in which my voice is low, they/them codes me as queer, a positionality in which I find comfort and power.
Lately though, I’ve started really questioning (again) my identity. Why do I not identify as non-binary? Why am I comfortable with a perception of male? Who am I really?
And I’m discovering a queer cosmology of time and space I never saw before.
Recently, I watched Being Seen by Curio (aka Mx Eric Sophia McAllister). I stumbled across it thanks to Twitter. I can’t remember who posted it. I just love a good winged eyeliner and bright pink shadow. I clicked play and watched the whole thing.
Curio talks about hetero temporality, gender, and queer temporality, topics about which I’ve always been curious. Gender and sexuality often are origins of questions. I am intrigued by how they shape our perceptions and realities. So many of my friends experience gender and sexuality in so many varied ways. I’ve seen time and again how some new insight or experience or revelation will suddenly shift someone’s entire conception of who they are.
Being Seen hit me at just the right moment of curiosity. Judith Butler and Kate Bornstein were influential in my own coming out. Their understanding of gender helped me explore who I wanted to be, not just who I was. But it’s been a minute since I’ve revisited Butler, so when Curio shared her main concept—“Gender is a performance”—I heard it in deeper way. I now really understand it as it relates to my own performance on camera and my usage of they/them.
When Curio shared the concepts of hetero temporality and queer temporality, I suddenly felt seen. I was hearing a way of conceiving time that made sense to me. It reflected a lot of my own understanding of it, and Curio’s own vulnerable storytelling invited me to question more deeply who and where I am.
I started peeling back my own layers of identity, wondering why I believe what I believe about who I am.
I am queer. Wholly queer. Not just in terms of sexuality and gender. My whole existence is queer. It is odd. It is weird. Existence, to me, does not make sense. At all. It is a great unknown.
I am not gay. I have had numerous partners of many genders and sexualities from the first time I was sexually active to now. The combinations of those relationships have been monogamous, open, casual, one night stands, too-many-at-one-time-to-count. The past fifteen years, I have been in a monogamous relationship with a man. We have been married 13 years. This single relationship does not define the totality of my sexuality.
I am not exactly male, and I am not exactly trans? I experience the world as male because the physical body that makes me me is perceived as male no matter what I do to it. I am comfortable in this body, and I love manipulating my appearance to queer other’s expectations of me. I have worn and wear make up when working in public schools. I’ve shaved off all my body hair, including my eyebrows, to disconcert audiences and force them to really look at me both within a performance installation and during video calls about youth media. I am overly conscious of how all of the little things—behaviors, tone, clothing, accessories, expressions—are coded masculine or feminine, and how there are real repercussions for subverting that coding. I think about this all of the time. It makes me hyper aware of my maleness, and forces me to question all of what it means to be male especially as I am being read by others as male because of my big bushy beard and unkept hair. My hyper focus on understanding and examining and expressing gender constantly does not fundamentally change other’s perceptions of me. My biological body grows lots of hair, has a penis, and has a deep voice. I do not wish to change these things. I want to change how others perceive them. This liminal space does not make me necessarily male. It most certainly, in my experience, does not make me trans.
In other words, I am queer. It is word I was called in sixth grade in a game where my tailbone was broken. It is a word that’s been screamed at me derogatorily while walking San Francisco streets. It is a word that, when I reflect on how others forced it upon me, still reflects who I am.
It defines me. And I love it now more than ever.
Hetero temporality is a construction of time in a linear fashion where points in the future have been predetermined through cultural beliefs, mores, and, quite often, policies. It is the path of expectations. Who you are born as and what you will be is who others assume you are and where others expect you will go as a result of who you are. The variance is minimal and any deviance is repressed.
Thanks to changing mores and to military and marriage policies, queers can now more easily find their way onto the path of hetero temporality. Marriage can still be expected and service to country can now be demanded. Our possibilities as queer peoples are becoming limited by our closer proximity to heteronormativity. Sure, not all queers desire marriage or military service. And still, more and more in our communities (not just queer communities) expect queers to now conform to legalities, which were once illegalities that literally defined our lived experience.
The weight of heteronormativity and cisnormativity still burdens queers. It forces queers in closets even when our caregivers might love queer culture and queer people. Straight folx and cisfolx will always hold more space. As a result, the act of coming out is always something queers at some point have to figure out.
Queer temporality is a construction of time in which past experience is questioned, and thus time bends. It is born through coming out, through the act of having to claim one’s self as something other than what they were perceived to be. It is a process that deconstructs and reconstructs the self. Often, though, queer temporality is just temporary.
As Curio points out in Being Seen, in queer temporality, “there is so much more waiting involved, looking back at little tiny moments of your life and realizing that you are just the same person as you were back then.” Coming out is then a coming to terms with and becoming the person “you needed to be when you were little.”
What happens, then, when you become the person you needed to be when you were little? Will you just find yourself back in linear time plotting towards a predetermined destination? Where will you be when you are fully you?
Our bodies—the things in which we experience our sexuality and gender and race and class and so many other things—are not simply temporal; they are also spacial. This means our bodies are a cosmology. And with all these questions swirling, mine is starting to unfold.
More coming soon…