queer

Come We Stay

Before my language became more “sophisticated,” before, that is, I used words like “partners” and “lovers” and “significant others,” before I tried to “queer” such terms, I knew of the intimate arrangements known as “come we stay.”

(I have used up my quota of quotation marks.)

I like the phrase “come we stay” or “come, we stay,” because of the range of intimate and domestic arrangements it allows. Although used to describe heterosexual relationships that were publicly recognized but not official (dowry hadn’t been paid, legal documents had not been filed), these arrangements said nothing about the scope of intimacies defined. To my mind, their extra-legal status (though dangerous in matters of, say, child support) coupled with their social recognition, astutely combined traditional ideas of intimacy, where social recognition was privileged over State recognition; implicitly critiqued the State’s power to legislate intimacy; and functioned as forms of intimate innovation tied to culture and economics. It is no coincidence that the very a-grammatical “come we stay” attempts to mimic the speech (and it is said in a very particular way) of speakers who also use the phrase “play sex.” It lacks, we might claim, a certain rhetorical sophistication, even as it re-forms language to suit context.

Apart from the many ideological and theoretical reasons I like the phrase, I simply also like how casual it sounds. I am a fan of the simple beckoning gesture coupled with the many possibilities it offers (its resemblance to the pastoral poem “come stay with me and be my love” is purely coincidental, but also remarkably suggestive, if one were to pursue the point). By no means is this arrangement unusual—it runs through the “yard” fiction of C.L.R. James and Roger Mais, for instance.

It would be a mistake to erase the class-specific aspect of this phrase—and practice. I am still enough of a Freudian to believe in the transcontinental “sickness” of the middle-class. Of course, I am also taken by the romance of imagining a “come we stay” arrangement that does not include movers and security deposits. Arrangements where a wheelbarrow and bag suffice. Needless to say, such arrangements require a certain spatial proximity—or an ability to follow a trail of crumbs. “Come we stay.”

I also like the awkwardness of the phrase, its inability to describe the terms of the relationship. Now, to be sure, Foucault teaches us that heterosexual relations are so sanctioned that they need not disclose their specificities—they don’t need scrutiny. (In part, this already-known sanction explains the “transgression” of celebrity sex tapes.) But I queer this relationship to reclaim the value of inscrutability, a theme to which I keep returning and on which I shall end.

A friend has a new book coming out that assesses the value of anonymity to twentieth-century queer cultures. Much of what I know, I have learned from his work. For me, the value of inscrutability lies in the possibilities it affords. What cannot—indeed, need not—be named or managed, what, I think, is captured by “come we stay” can only be described as the richness of intimacy in the life worlds we inhabit and those we have yet to create.