Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

22 May 2011

In a Queerer Direction

My friend Brian warned me that after the comprehensive exams I was going to have trouble getting back on the writing horse. He was obviously correct about this – and I have had some trouble (I'm euphemizing) finding the energy/will/need-to-speak necessary for real theorizing.

To keep busy I am teaching and, of course, reading. I finished Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips's short/sweet book Intimacies this week. And I was reminded of something that I think about frequently that I wanted to share.

People who know me, and regular readers of this space, will probably have heard me say something to the effect that I don't believe in homosexuality. I believe in gay people, sure; I consider myself one or at least close to one (I'm grinning as I type that). But that doesn't mean I believe in the thing homosexuality. Homosexuality as some kind of identifiable reality. In my classes, I refer to this idea of an actual homosexuality as "secret gay," as though it is hidden somewhere on my body, inside, like behind my pancreas. Where is this gay? I ask my students. Show me.

And while I was reading Intimacies, Leo Bersani reminded me that "For Foucault, the virtue of role reversals in S/M was that, by undoing fixed assignments of top and bottom, and of active and passive, such reversals help to create intimacies no longer structured by the masculine-feminine polarity. I think that when he told gays not to be proud of being gay, but rather to learn to become gay, he meant that we should work to invent relations that no longer imitate the dominant heterosexual model of a gender-based and fundamentally hierarchical relationality." This, strikes me as an ideal goal for queer relationality – and perhaps for (my) (queer-inflected) pedagogical praxis.

But I was also reminded of the amazing book The Queen's Throat by Wayne Koestenbaum. I read this when I was an undergraduate and immediately fell in love.Take this passage as exemplary:

I have been speaking about gayness as if I knew what it meant. I don't. It is a mirage.
Gayness isn't my rock-bottom nature. Rather, I listen for and toward gayness: I approach it, as one approaches a vanishing point, or as one tries to match a pitch that is fading into a vast silence.

One of my favorite literary passages of all time comes just a bit later in the book. This is a little long, but I hope you find it as lovely as I do:

You listen to an operatic voice or you sing with operatic tone production and thereby your throat participates in that larger, historical throat, the Ur-throat, the queen's throat, the throat-in-the-sky, the throat-in-the-mind, the voice box beneath the voice box. Homosexuality is a way of singing. I can't be gay, I can only sing it, disperse it. I can't knock on its door and demand entrance because it is not a place or a fixed location. Instead, it is a million intersections—or it is a dividing line, a membrane, like the throat, that separates the body's breathing interior from the chaotic external world.

I think a lot about becoming. Of rising into who I wish to be through effort/dedication/devotion. And I love the idea of performing in the direction of queerness.