I Can’t Place My Queerness

I can’t place my queerness. That’s what I told a friend over drinks.

We’re sitting in a pub in east London. We’re sitting in a pub, we two queers. We’re sitting in a pub, knowing how to stop, but not asking to stop. We’re sitting in a pub, not knowing when to stop, because queerness doesn’t stop.

Queerness doesn’t disappear by displacement. It doesn’t stop. So why should it have a place from which it derives?

When I re-posted a wonderful video to Facebook, friends reached out wanting to know more about the term queer. Queer is slippery. It both is and isn’t: more than simply a derivative of queer theory, queer is itself a subject position with too many signifiers to effectively pin down.

Queer is an ambiguous term. The Cambridge Dictionary pegs queer as a contemporaneous ontology, a ‘gay person, especially a man’. But this inexhaustive ontology hardly scratches the most mundane element(s) of being queer and navigating queer (self) terrains.

By way of metaphor, I sometimes think of queerness as a pane of glass. Glass represents the self; everything exists through and around it. Even in queerness’s conceivably slippery potential, there is something fatal about reclaiming queerness in the name of all things individual. Thus to conflate queerness with glass is to erase the weight of the individual, or the ‘special snowflake’ ideology. Let’s take a moment to consider the glass metaphor, which elsewhere I have begun pondering:

[Do] not believe
in glass. Glass breaks as suddenly as fingernails,
polished and darkly transposed against the sun.
Glass bows when distorted, taking for its object
every life that imagines love and lust, and wants.
(Busted in Holborn, 2015)

Although the immediate metaphor is not referentially queerness as an entity, queerness, by way of the glass metaphor, returns to the fragile nature of desire beyond linguistic markers. This may sound exceedingly academic; let me attempt to explain.

Queerness is supple at the individual level. That is why queerness is amorphous, without clearly defined boundaries, without skin. Queerness is clear, for it can be seen and interpreted through many lenses. What’s more, queerness is a veneer that is paradoxically supple whilst crystallised. As easily as it has remains supple, it grows tough with refining academic and identitarian tactics. Queerness becomes the linguistic category of anything in a curious terrain that makes room for imaginary potentialities.

It’s clear that queerness is a potentiality inasmuch as it is a blank category for gender, sexual(ity), and identitarian descriptors – words that are, now, continually rearranging, or continue to defer their meaning toward what cannot or what is not referenced within changing contemporary subjectivities. Queerness, then, is the différance (Jacques Derrida, 1968) to which we are increasingly submitted.

(Photo credit: Charissa Fay)

But let me return to the metaphor of glass, for it might not yet be clear why I might so easily pair the dual supple-crystallised glass with queerness.

As I’ve said already, I cannot place my queerness. There are many things here, two of which I’d like to briefly expound upon: First, queerness is not a place, nor ever is it a specific time. That is the trouble with queerness: we attempt to mingle it with bodies and identities, but it exists nowhere and at no time but in the abstract comfortability (or disjunction) of the self. Queerness is not an entity with a face; it does not parade itself on parade day; it does not know because it is not distinctly human. It becomes something else when we attempt to interpolate its meaning (and being) into language. This is the manifestation of queerness’s slippery ontology.

Unlike a mirror, and very much like glass, queerness commits to ephemeral, and even spectral, representations of the human and her desires. The image is delayed, despotic, sometimes blurry (depending on the condition of the glass), and always transposed against that which it looks upon and into. Queerness is that hazy (un)familiarity of being part of the surface that reflects back the self and already looks beyond into a world that has no specific language to define it. That is, it is simply an image which comes and goes within the glass that never captures, never sedates, and never sediments a self that arrives as quickly as it leaves.

When I say queerness doesn’t stop, I mean, forcibly, that queerness does not stagnate. Queerness is not a camera: it is a glass full of potential, which never retains its meaning. Queerness does not need to retain a meaning aligned with this or that person in order to be powerful. Queerness is powerful simply because it is without a concrete definition.

This may sound increasingly abstract, but the nature of queerness, and its potentiality, is the very abstraction that dictates and enables the transgression of language into modes of being with ourselves without always defaulting to language. Queerness, as an empty signifier or category, provides a blank space that should remain resistant to definition. Yet, as we continue to rally toward more inclusive terminologies to bring together our various humanist traits, queer comes into focus as an ideology (and loses its potentiality).

I want to pressure this move toward concretisation of a troubled English word. For what other spaces might we allow ourselves as (gender and/or sexually) queer persons if we continue toward homogenised spaces of sameness (through difference)? What will become of queer as it enters the glittering generalities of the expanding cultures of human sameness? Where, then, is my time and place for queerness? Now, queer sits in a settling ground for all those accepted others amongst society, but a society in which there is never space enough for the ‘queer’.

Queerness, I want to suggest, comes and goes, as we must. We move from one life-moment to the next, burdened with residue, perhaps, but always something new or slightly altered in the next moment. In the next moment, queer is always shifting and never quite clear in the glass that reflects our faces and then promptly forgets. It is here that queer must proliferate; indeed its inevitable transgression of the obvious, the realisable, the knowable makes it all the more vital for imagining, and moving toward, a future where the individual is never always-already alone.

Further Reading: For a politically-engaged account of queer(ness) and performativity, read Judith Butler’s 1993 GLQ article, ‘Critically Queer‘. For a thorough critique of recent queer etymology, watch Shon Faye’s short video, ‘What Does It Mean to be Queer?


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