First Comes Love, Then…

Domestic privacy can feel like a controllable space, a world of potential unconflictedness (even for five minutes a day): a world built for you. It may seem of a manageable scale and pacing; at best, it makes visible the effects of one’s agency, consciousness, and intention. This leads to another reason the couple form and its spinoffs so effectively siphon off critical thought about the personal and the political: to refuse the maturational narrative of “a life” would require a confrontation with another idea, that social forces and problems of living that seem not about the private “you” are, nonetheless, central to the shape of your story.

I learned to think about these questions in the contexts of feminist/ queer pedagogy; and how many times have I asked my own students to explain why, when there are so many people, only one plot counts as “life” (first comes love, then … )? Those who don’t or can’t find their way in that story–the queers, the single, the something else–can become so easily unimaginable, even often to themselves. Yet it is hard not to see lying about everywhere the detritus and the amputations that come from attempts to fit into the fold; meanwhile, a lot of world-building energy atrophies. Rethinking intimacy calls out not only for redescription but for transformative analyses of the rhetorical and material conditions that enable hegemonic fantasies to thrive in the minds and on the bodies of subjects while, at the same time, attachments are developing that might redirect the different routes taken by history and biography. To rethink intimacy is to appraise how we have been and how we live and how we might imagine lives that make more sense than the ones so many are living.

Lauren Berlant, “Intimacy: A Special Issue,” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 2 (January 1, 1998): 281–88.

[More] Sex in Public

Queer is difficult to entextualize as culture. This is particularly true of intimate culture. Heteronormative forms of intimacy are supported, as we have argued, not only by overt referential discourse such as love plots and sentimentality but materially, in marriage and family law, in the architecture of the domestic, in the zoning of work and politics. Queer culture, by contrast, has almost no institutional matrix for its counterintimacies. In the absence of marriage and the rituals that organize life around matrimony, improvisation is always necessary for the speech act of pledging, or the narrative practice of dating…The heteronormativity in such practices may seem weak and indirect. After all, same-sex couples have sometimes been able to invent versions of such practices. But they have done so only by betrothing themselves to the couple form and its language of personal significance, leaving untransformed the material and ideological conditions that divide intimacy from history, politics, and publics. The queer project we imagine is not just to destigmatize those average intimacies, not just to give access to the sentimentality of the couple for persons of the same sex, and definitely not to certify as properly private the personal lives of gays and lesbians. Rather, it is to support forms of affective, erotic, and personal living that are public in the sense of accessible, available to memory, and sustained through collective activity.

Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, “Sex in Public,” 561-62.

Queer Ecologies

Our argument is thus that we should reorient our politics and take on something like a queer ecological perspective, a transgressive and historically relevant critique of dominant pairings of nature and environment with heteronormativity and homophobia, in order to outline possibilities responsive to these relations and, equally, explicitly critical of the continued organization of dominant metrosexualities through an environmentally disastrous (and often ethically void) lifestyle consumerism. Here, we are advocating a position not only of queering ecology, but of greening queer politics. The extension of queer into ecology is not, then, simply a question of making nature more welcome to gay inhabitation; it is also an invitation to open queer theory to ecological possibilities, and to thus produce a queering of ecocultural relations along the lines of Halberstam’s queering of space: “in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction . . . according to other logics of location, movement and identification” (2005, 1). Queer ecology suggests, then, a new practice of ecological knowledges, spaces, and politics that places central attention on challenging hetero-ecologies from the perspective of non-normative sexual and gender positions.

Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson, Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2010), 22.

Criminal Intimacies & Queer Counterpublics

By queer culture we mean a world-making project, where “world,” like “public,” differs from community or group because it necessarily includes more people than can be identified, more spaces than can be mapped beyond a few reference points, modes of feeling that can be learned rather than experienced as a birthright. The queer world is a space of entrances, exits, unsystematized lines of acquaintance, projected horizons, typifying examples, alternate routes, blockages, incommensurate geographies. World making, as much in the mode of dirty talk as of print-mediated representation, is dispersed through incommensurate registers, by definition unrealizable as community or identity. Every cultural form, be it a novel or an after-hours club or an academic lecture, indexes a virtual social world, in ways that range from a repertoire of styles and speech genres to referential metaculture.

We are trying to promote this world-making project, and a first step in doing so is to recognize that queer culture constitutes itself in many ways other than through the official publics of opinion culture and the state, or through the privatized forms normally associated with sexuality. Queer and other insurgents have long striven, often dangerously or scandalously, to cultivate what good folks used to call criminal intimacies. We have developed relations and narratives that are only recognized as intimate in queer culture: girlfriends, gal pals, fuckbuddies, tricks. Queer culture has learned not only how to sexualize these and other relations, but also to use them as a context for witnessing intense and personal affect while elaborating a public world of belonging and transformation. Making a queer world has required the development of kinds of intimacy that bear no necessary relation to domestic space, to kinship, to the couple form, to property, or to the nation. These intimacies do bear a necessary relation to a counterpublic–an indefinitely accessible world conscious of its subordinate relation. They are typical both of the inventiveness of queer world making and of the queer world’s fragility.

From “Sex in Public” by Lauren Berlant & Michael Warner

The Tide that Rolls

“When Hernando de Soto embarked on his civilizing mission through what would later become the American South, he left behind a trail of misery that extended from Florida to the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Accompanied by priests, de Soto and his men burned their way through native villages, enslaving local citizens in iron neck collars and chains to work as beasts of burdens. The expedition was hungry for wealth, and when one slave fell from exhaustion, de Soto would behead him so as not to impede the progress of the journey. However, de Soto’s expedition was slowed down in 1540 by Tuscaloosa, the Black Warrior, king of the Mobiles. Historical accounts describe the Black Warrior as a man of gigantic stature, a commanding eminence who died, along with 11,000 of his subjects, in an intense battle with de Soto’s forces.

The Black Warrior River that winds along the western edge of Hale County, Alabama, takes its name from this decimate king. It flows from Bankhead Lake as a thin line and then opens into a thick-waisted body of water. Rivers like the Black Warrior are always somehow larger than life. They move like time, carrying along everything in their drift; they dry up and overflow and, like the history whose relentless current they suggest, constantly change shape. The land through which the Black Warrior curls is rich with defeat. One has only to kick at its red surface to detect the layers of hurt beneath it. Yet, there is a loveliness to the place that may come in part from the conflicting myths of freedom that shadow its soil. In the paintings, collages, drawings, and architecture of Samuel Mockbee, these shadows complicate everything living under them.

In these shadows, Mockbee has created a rural mythology. A place akin to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, it is a living fiction in which Mockbee’s architecture, his wealthy clients, the projects of the Rural Studio, and its poor clients are interwoven with one another. This mythology is a work in progress. It is a process that continues to unfold as personal memories intersect with public histories and the poor and the black become Black Warriors, mother goddess, master of knots of fate, ciphers endowed with an agency that allows them to throw their sex hundreds of yards across a lake.”

-Samuel Mockbee and An Architecture of Decency

Welcome to the Country

From back porches to back woods, we navigate these spaces as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. We are pregnant high school drop outs, sex workers, closeted and not closeted preachers, first-generation immigrants, DREAMERS, sons and daughters of slaves and sharecroppers and migrant farm workers, unemployed and underemployed college graduates living with our parents and not living with our parents, trans people hitching rides and carpooling two to four hours to the closest clinics, country dyke mamas wearing flannel and wearing heels, and high femme gay boys working at gas stations and in hospitals. We sow seeds, we work in factories, we teach young people, we volunteer at the county Fire and EMT stations, and we serve coffee at the local dinner or dive. We came up in trailer homes on cinder blocks, in old falling down farm houses sitting in fields miles away from anything, or in towns with one grocery store and what seems like half a doctor’s office.

This is life in the country, on the back roads, in rural counties and small towns in the American South. There is no one rural queer experience. We come from every walk of life across this great land that is filled with both a haunting and resilient legacy.”

-Southerners on New Ground, Small Town Crossroads Report 2014

Remapping Same-Sex Desire

In contemporary American queer studies, not only is there a metropolitan bias in thinking about queer location but a coastal one as well, and we have yet to address the limitations of narrowly ascribing queer culture(s) to concentrated geographic areas and political spheres. Specifically, in the US, we have not yet begun to challenge popular assumptions that the seaboard cities are the only centres of queer culture and the primary locations from which queers can speak, when, in fact, many lesbians and gay men in the American Midwest, and in other non-urban parts of the country, often express dissatisfaction with queer communities in large urban areas on the coasts because queers in coastal cities often have a rather narrow image of what constitutes a queer identity and simultaneously exclude or marginalize those who do not fit their image of ‘queer’.

William J. Spurlin, “Remapping Same-Sex Desire: Queer writing and culture in the American heartland” in De-Centering Sexualities Politics and Representations beyond the Metropolis. London; New York: Garland Pub., 2000, 192.