At 21, I came out to my mother, a year after I had come out to my siblings. I was living in free campus housing (luckily); working a summer student job making something like $4.50 an hour; spending too many hours at Pegasus, the downtown Pittsburgh club; and trying to figure out what “gay” meant as I tried to translate it into a changing life narrative in which my parents’ ambitions for me no longer seemed as urgent. Internationalism mattered, in ways that I really want to mark here. And this because many of the It Gets Better narratives have been so U.S.-focused.
Immigrant, migrant, and alien narratives require differently configured lenses, though the frames may look the same.
It’s difficult to inhabit that moment—to think of its hurts and resentments, of conversations through letters and emails and phones, of phone messages that should never have been left, that should have been erased rather than replayed, of its various impossibilities, and the miracle of having made it through. Not stronger. With more scars.
I retrieve this moment to think through some of the It Gets Better messages.
Perez Hilton, in his contribution, assures younger queers that two to three years is not so long. As one who is (now) 32, he claims that time can be experienced differently. While I understand this claim for seeing the world as more temporally expansive, I wonder how time is experienced. In the moment of the sneer, the laugh, the bullying, time expands—seconds turn into millennia, and it becomes impossible to imagine time beyond its present dilation.
I return, here, to a claim I have made before: the experience of time has nothing to do with its duration. Those who face oppression must fight to imagine time after the time of oppression, and many times it becomes difficult to imagine time will stop dilating into prolonged oppression. I want to mark the difficulty of imagining time beyond the dilation of oppression.
Dan Savage and his partner, Terry, speak about being re-embedded within their families, about the difference of couplehood, fatherhood, family. Better resolves into a form of homonormativity understood as re-assimilation, albeit with a difference. But a difference anchored in a legible normativity. What would it be to refuse forms of legibility?
My frustration with Savage’s video stems, in part, from my own participation in a similar narrative. I am past 21, now newly respectable with a ph.d. in hand, a respectable job, a position from which I have written for national papers. I have, now, a name and even privilege I did not have at 21. I wonder how my newly acquired respectability implicates me. While I would not agree with some critics that I am a neo-liberal neo-imperialist, I do think about how privilege (no matter how limited) may be exercised.
Educational achievement is a lubricant, easing one’s way into a “better,” which is sometimes a “good,” sometimes a “less bad,” and sometimes a “bad.” It takes some imagination to map how one moves to a “better” that is “bad,” and this veers into those ugly feelings that Heather Love argues queers want to erase.
It requires some labor to re-inhabit ugly feelings, to try to figure out the inchoate strategy one might derive from them.
Forgive me. I am watching Spivak. She kills my sentences.
Perhaps I am grasping for that place beyond or without lubrication, the raspy, ashy place that one cannot quite grasp. I have often called this place irritation. (For a more eloquent description of It Gets Better, see Kenne.)
I have wanted in the last few days to think about management, about failure, about the worse, about the bad, about the ambivalent. To push against a developmental narrative—we learn more, but not necessarily better. Sometimes we are the accumulation of failed pedagogy. Here, I want to resist thinking about “learning moments,” that a pedagogical imperative is inevitably wedded to developmental temporality.
Time bends, swerves, curves, folds in on itself. We move in it. But it need not move us. Affect can remain stubbornly indifferent to time.
I began to write this a few days ago, unsure of its trajectory, one that I am not sure it can achieve. One can end abruptly—a lesson from Spivak.
It is dangerous to mistake lubrication for “better.” Or to assume that lubrication leads to “better.” One can slide into an elsewhere that remains stubbornly indifferent to one. One can be slathered with lubricant—and misrecognition is, of course, the engine of the social—but should beware labeling slipperiness “better.”
Yet, (still listening to Spivak), I want to retain a sense of possibility, to continue to think about loopholes of retreat. What might be strategy?
It is this I am now interested in: how to think about a multiplicity of strategies to manage time’s folds, its invaginations, its dilations, its halts and stops and ever-receding starts. How to live in an elongated now. And not to mistake the experience of slipperiness as the achievement of better.
Spivak has killed my sentences. But the inchoate might still be useful.