As an epigraph to her introduction to the first essay in In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, Judith Halberstam uses a quote from Steve Pile that reads, ” . . . the map of resistance is not just the map to the underside of domination — if only because each is a lie to the other, and each gives the lie to the other.” Pile’s observation speaks to the complex, at times symbiotic, at times parasitic nature of the rural, urban and suburban imaginaries of queer people. In America, the true complexity of this relationship is often glossed over. The teleology of manifest destiny creates a familiar plot line in which white, straight and Christian bodies move from Plymouth rock, to the “Wild West” modernizing and civilizing as they go, eventually evolving toward the city (which has been spoiled by queer bodies and bodies of color), and that telos ends with a tidy retreat to the suburbs, replete with dogs, kids and a white picket fence. Of course, Halberstam’s nod to the assertion that the dominator lies to the resistor and the resistor lies to the dominator coincides with her assertion Foucault wants us to take away that when you say yes to sex, you are not saying no to power. Does this mean that Queer people are not just the abject, but may also take up positions of power within and without American rural, urban and suburban imaginaries? And, how does the American telos of “rural to urban to suburban” collude, collide or collaborate where the migration of queer bodies is concerned?
One key way that Queer bodies collaborate with the American telos of progressive migration is via the ways in which their bodies are used as signposts for the “decline” of an area, and at other times as harbingers of urban “renewal.” If one of Foucault’s projects is to make us understand that we are “producing” power all the time, it is even during those times that Queer communities and enclaves (such as the men who populate the porn theatres in Delaney’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue) appear the most powerless that they are producing power. For instance, according to Delaney, the New York City mandate to sex shops to stock sixty percent “family” fare, and the city’s “exclusionary” rezoning so as to create “safe” environments for families fall into the former use. Delaney believed that these moves were not designed with public welfare in mind. He observed that restricting the sexual wares and forcing sex shops to cover advertisement with brown paper was actually designed to “Make any small business there as unprofitable as possible so that much bigger ones can buy them up cheaply, receive a certain amount of social approbation in the process and then proceed to replace them.” In this example we see that the power of capitalist interests is reified partly by using the purposely cultivated fear of non-normative sexualities and Queer men. In other, more shameful instances, the scourge of AIDS was used to label theatres and clubs that catered to Queer men as medically “unsafe”. To this tactic, Delaney responds, “Safe-sex-shmafe-sex, the city wanted to get the current owners out of those movie houses, “J/O Clubs” (Jack Off Clubs, advertised as just that on the marquees), and peep shows, and open up the sites for developers.” Halberstam further complicates this discourse in which Queer bodies are used as signposts for the “decline” of a neighborhood, by proposing that the ways in which Queer communities have been used by capitalism be fully critiqued. She challenges neo-Marxists to include sexuality in their theorizing of space, and to stop treating sexuality as if it is just “local” and not global or “class related.” Halberstam bolsters this challenge by mentioning Delaney’s “beautifully articulated claim” that it is usually urban artists whose income come from several classes that can afford to have a “truly radical political practice.” Halberstam understands that the “creative class” is populated by Queer people, transgressing heteronormativity in diverse ways. Both theorists see the meta discourse revolving around the patterns of economy following the demonizing of alternate sexualities and Queer communities, which must be uncovered and made plain to Queer communities and their allies.
As harbingers of urban “renewal”, or “canaries” of gentrification, mostly white and male Queer communities have taken on what would have seemed just twenty years ago an integral role in a kind of repatriation of white suburban citizens. Both Delaney and Halberstam acutely parse and trouble this pattern in their essays. Marxist critique of gentrification handily points out that the “trendy” homonormative queer couples who rehab homes and open flower shops are insidiously colluding with the constant commodification project of capitalism. But what Halberstam observes is that Marxism has made capitalism a monolith and instead it needs to be queried about the other forms that are already being constructed and used and broken up. Halberstam posits a queer temporality as a way to archive the interventions that have been made into capitalism and the “eccentric capitalism” that is being made and remade. Citing Delaney, Halberstam concludes that “Queers use space and time ways that challenge conventional logic of development, maturity, adulthood and responsibility.” For me, both Delaney and Halberstam provided a new view of the issue of gentrification. Like many people, I saw “gay” neighborhoods as signs of cultural progress, and not the complex dance of power resituating itself right back into the hands of white men.
Halberstam’s citing of J. K. Gibson-Graham’s vision for an “end of capitalism” collides with Delaney’s assertions about this country’s reticence to live in class diverse settings. It would seem that the end of capitalism would signal the end of class. And for Queer communities this notion is made even more complex by issues of passing and privilege. Halberstam and Delaney’s projections each rely on an “out” population, a culture redesigned by its sexual honesty, and a culture able to have pervasive awakening to the interconnectedness of race, class and gender. In the vernacular of my grandmother, I would submit we ain’t there yet. However, Queer theorists’ querying of temporality and space and the knowledge their interrogation is producing is slowly making the way there a bit clearer.
Delany, Samuel R. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. NYU Press, 2001.
Halberstam, Judith. In a queer time and place: Transgender bodies, subcultural lives. NYU Press, 2005.