The Pace of Queer Time

feature image via shutterstock.com

Our second date lasted 36 hours. We woke the first morning to a snow storm. Overnight the streets, trees and rooftops had transformed into a soft white world. We threw back the covers and pushed our faces against my small window to watch the flakes drift slowly to the ground. We stayed awake long enough to declare ourselves a personal snow day before falling back asleep in each others’ shaky arms. Before I knew it, it was Tuesday, and we had been talking for a day and a half.

If you are someone whose identity has ever been even sort of aligned with “lesbian,” chances are you’ve heard the U-Haul joke so many times the white and orange trucks themselves seem a little heavy handed. But at the center of the joke is a truth: queers move through time differently than straight people.

Queer theorists talk a lot about time. Or rather, queer theorists talk a lot about “temporality,” which I understand as a pretentious way to say time. My favorite description of queer time comes from the theorist Jack Halberstam who wrote “queer time for me is the dark nightclub, the perverse turn away from the narrative coherence of adolescence– early adulthood –marriage – reproduction – child rearing– retirement–death ”

I’ve been thinking recently that queer time for me is a self-declared snow day. A chance to stay in bed and explore ourselves unhindered by the outside world. A chance to exist, to play — free from the hetero pillars of career, marriage, and lineage. A break from the ticking clock of larger society’s notions of progression.

When I was growing up, I didn’t know any other queer people. At least not anyone who identified themselves that way to little tomboy me. So I didn’t know it was an option. I only knew I wanted to be a truck driver or a football player. I knew the woman with curly black hair and soft sweaters, who tried to correct my speech impediment, to be the most beautiful creature in the world. And I knew I occasionally put a tennis ball in my underwear to see it bulge out of the front of my shorts. But none of these desires were reflected in the books or TV shows or the older kids I adored. And thus, I did not have an image of what I could become. My path forward never felt like a chronological progression towards a fixed point. But rather a whole lot of fumbling self-discovery. An erratic and uneasy becoming.

The thing about moving without an established route is that the going is messy. My progression has felt at times like interminable bushwhacking: walking for awhile in one direction, and then abruptly changing course. Scratching my legs on raspberry brambles and falling in ditches. But also getting to taste the sweet and wild fruit, and to stumble upon beautiful clearings.

This trajectory of constant reinvention is something that I believe is common among queer people. Queer people, on average, own homes, graduate college, and settle in careers later than their heterosexual counterparts. But the negative space in these statistics, the years that failed to produce a degree or a six figure salary, I recognize those years. Those are the years when we got to know ourselves — by tumbling through mistakes, through trauma, through depression so bleak that it seemed it would never lift.

Which is why I believe there is something distinct about queer time. Queer time is a bushwhacked path, a sled’s shaky trail, a web of continual reinvention in many different directions.

Falling in love with S this winter has felt like the very best parts of a long and gentle blizzard: the simultaneous excitement and coziness of watching the window sills collect with snow, the wonder of finding the streets I thought I knew so well filled with magic overnight. With S, minutes and hours feel like unreliable metrics: a seven hour conversation goes by in a blink, a weekend in bed is barely scratching the surface, and three months feels like always.

And recently I’ve been seeing images, though they feel like memories: S filling out a crossword puzzle in the beige comfy chair at my family home in western Massachusetts, or S walking with my sister through our overgrown pasture. These are places S has never been, and for a moment I get confused, as though what is yet to come has already happened. As though being in love means everything: the past, the current, and the future, are all touchable, all at once.

When I feel scared of falling so fast, I remember these words, a benediction for the pace of queer love by the poet Mary Oliver:

I Did Think, Let’s Go About This Slowly

I did think, let’s go about this slowly,
This is important. This should take
some really deep thought. We should take
small thoughtful steps.
But, bless us, we didn’t.

Lila is a freelance writer and radio producer in Minneapolis.

Lila has written 3 articles for us.

85 Comments

  1. Oh wow, this is such a thoughtful and cozy and heart-wide meditation. I’ve been looking around and comparing myself to a lot of my peers and counterparts parts lately, queer and otherwise, and thinking, “Oh jeez what am I even doing?” But this. This was a much-needed balm.

    Also: “As though being in love means everything: the past, the current, and the future, are all touchable, all at once.” IT DOES IT SO DOES.

    Thank you, Lila. Queer time, always.

  2. Congrats on this new love !

    As an academic I want to love this piece forever, especially the parts about temporality. I use its cousin, materiality, in my everyday work life and now I really want to read (or write?) a piece about the materiality of queerness.

    Also this :
    “Queer people, on average, own homes, graduate college, and settle in careers later than their heterosexual counterparts. But the negative space in these statistics, the years that failed to produce a degree or a six figure salary, I recognize those years. Those are the years when we got to know ourselves — by tumbling through mistakes, through trauma, through depression so bleak that it seemed it would never lift”

    I can’t believe I’d never thought about this before. I mean I knew it to be TRUE but I never thought about it hard enough to actually put it into words, so THANK YOU. I’m gonna write it on a piece of paper and look at it everyday.

    • Wow, please do write or find one! In what way do you use materiality in your work? It was something I hadn’t thought about too theoretically until my first semester of graduate school, around the same time I started falling messily for one female classmate after another. Eventually, materiality and corporeality permeated my project, which now focuses on the relationship between books and bodies in medieval and early modern Spain.

      Do you mean “cousin” in terms of the dimensions of space and time?

  3. As a queer who is stumbling, frantically, towards graduation and figuring out what this next chunk of my adult life means (especially balancing that with dating, and making friends, and being part of a community), this resonates with so much of the anxiety and happiness and mixed-up-churning feelings I’ve been feeling recently.

    thank you so much for sharing, Lila!

  4. This is beautiful. In our “erratic and uneasy becoming” we have challenges, but also opportunities. Thank you for giving attention and love to the brambles, bees, and bits of our lives that don’t fit neatly into a progression. We still achieve things during these times: we live.

  5. “Queer people, on average, own homes, graduate college, and settle in careers later than their heterosexual counterparts. But the negative space in these statistics, the years that failed to produce a degree or a six figure salary, I recognize those years. Those are the years when we got to know ourselves — by tumbling through mistakes, through trauma, through depression so bleak that it seemed it would never lift.”

    Echoing @clochou in saying how valuable this was for me. I fell into the opposite path–no six-figure salary, but I got through everything that had achievable steps quickly and competently and by-the-rules-ing-ly–in part, I think, because I couldn’t stand to pause and look around and figure out my own damn self.

    I’m still afraid of unstructured time, and I’m a tiny bit envious of all y’all who fought through and tumbled and self-actualized and maybe even sought out help in those earlier years when our bones were still soft and our brains still unfinished.

    • I relate – I achieved a lot really early on in my life (my grades and a really good first job) and felt like I was on the right path to adulthood. Ten years later I haven’t progressed as much as I thought, there are a lot of big things I haven’t done, and although the idea of having children seemed likely once and I’m still young, I’m not ready and I feel like it might never happen.

    • I relate to this a lot. I managed to acheive quite a bit – college, law school, a reasonably well paying job – without undue difficulty,and I’m incredibly blessed to have had that privledge. But I seriously neglected my mental health and my emotional life for many years. I am 28 years old and finally coming into my own (and dating a wonderful, beautiful woman – my first real romantic relationship!).

      I’m happy with what I’ve acheived in life, and happy with what I continue to acheive, but I really wish I had allowed myself more of a chance to just live when I was younger.

    • relating to what all three of you have said !
      I finished a PhD at 26. 26! Yet I only came out at 25, not because I was afraid of being gay but because I never before actually TOOK THE TIME to understand my feelings or process them. They were always second priority after school and everything. And now i’m 27 and I’ve never really been in a relationship and never fallen in love !

      I really connected with the analysis of queerness vs. capitalism, so now I wonder if the opposite is true. if it takes us in general more time to “become productive members of society” (ugh) because in the mean time we’re exploring and constructing identities, building communities and learning self-care, does it mean that when we rush to do the first, it’s at the detriment of the second? Because it certainly feels that way for me!

      • I got my Ph.D at 26 too! And I’m only just coming out at 30. I think part of why I “took so long” actually has to do with assuming I was straight and getting on birth control pills at 19. This may have no scientific basis, but I’m pretty sure I had no emotions above a baseline neutral for the next ten years. I went through life sleepwalking, doing what I thought I was supposed to do – college, grad school, marriage. Then I started having migraines, ditched the pills, and got hit in the face with my own feelings. My internal time feels like a Twilight Zone episode.
        I feel so far behind about the career thing, partly because I’m not interested (or likely to be able) to work in the field my Ph.D is in. So now I feel like I have no skills and am too old to change paths. It’s hard some days, and I feel like I might as well have “FAILURE” tattooed on my forehead. But I’m working on letting go of class biases and definitions of success that I unknowingly acquired, and that helps. A lot of drastic changes are in my near-ish future anyway, so maybe that will kick-start something.
        I’m with you in wondering if we all wouldn’t be better members of society by taking the time (at the right time for each person) to do all that identity exploration and community building. Better not in terms of empty “productivity” but in terms of participating in our communities, problem-solving, and planning for the future of those societies. Just a thought.

      • “does it mean that when we rush to do the first, it’s at the detriment of the second?”

        I certainly think so! There’s also that capitalist fallacy that doing the former (gathering degrees, jobs, dollars, houses, etc.) makes you worthy/capable of the latter (being included in community, having a personal identity, being mentally healthy and secure, etc.).

        As a kid, I was really enamoured of communitarian and socialist ideals (while striving HARD for those educational credentials), and I wonder if some of that was a way of dealing with sublimated queerness.

  6. I know this article is about love, but it still resonates with me so much as an ace/aro-ish person – ‘My path forward never felt like a chronological progression towards a fixed point’, and the mingled fear and possibility of not having an model for how to grow up. Thank you for writing this. <3

  7. Oh that is so beautiful. I also like thinking about living outside time, stretching it so you fit in a relaxing morning before anything else happens, things like that. I loved the poem too.

  8. This is gorgeous.

    I’ve been stumbling through love, career, family, self-actualization, depression, and all of those fun anxieties that come with nearing the arbitrary age of 30.

    Of late, I’ve been drawing lines between myself and other people who call themselves queer who seem to have worn that word more easily and live in the theory of queer but not the actuality, while I feel like I’ve skinned my knees so many times from all the falling down and running into, that queer is as much a scar I wear as much as a label I own. I think sometimes it makes me harder than necessary.

    But thinking of all of us as experiencing queer time together, reinventing ourselves in the presence of another human, stumbling and hitting branches sometimes, but also watching the snow fall down — that helps me think of things differently. My queer may be different from her queer, but the time we shared together is still distinctively queer from the path we’ve both been taught all our lives.

    It’s a comforting thought. Thank you for getting me there.

  9. My God, I didn’t realize how huge this concept is until I read it here…queer time is absolutely real. And how beautifully expressed, Lila. Thank you.

    Negative space, shaky years, depression, frozen afternoons into evenings into a new morning. And on and on…it’s all true.

  10. Li –
    It’s such a gift to know you, and now to read these beautiful words.
    I want to say more but I’m too shy to post it all online. You are so wonderful, thank you for sharing this beautiful piece.

  11. thank you! and bravo, this is so beautifully composed.

    i’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (along with half of AS, haha). Specifically, about what the significance of being two women has on how a relationship plays out.

    But, somehow, this is the first time I’ve really thought to myself – fuck judging this shit! I’m on queer time, and questioning myself comes from a patriarchal, straight mindset.

    so, again, thanks

  12. “The thing about moving without an established route is that the going is messy.” This perfectly encapsulates my life today. And the rest of this piece helps me to remember that that’s OK. Thank you.

  13. Lila,

    Bgifxghhcvbbhcvb

    I’ve just read through all your comments and I agree with every one. You write things so beautiful and true. They settle on me like new snow, all bright and hopeful and “hey I’m a cute little snow flake put me on your tongue furnace!”

    You’ve inspired me to research! Never heard of queer theorists but I’m so so so so ecstatic they exist. Can’t wait to crack open my laptop and read queer theorists all afternoon!

    This made me think about the word queer too. Not just “homosexual” but queer as in different. Queer people, when you get back to bones, are just different. Of course our lives unravel in weird, scrambly ways.

    I also grew up with no one to mimic. No gay woman winking at me when I bragged about my best friend’s award, or said I was sleeping over.

    This piece is beautiful. You are beautiful.
    Feeling so much love.

  14. I love this and I love that poem. It’s so nice to have some recognize and name that it’s okay to be a little slow in figuring it all out. On re-thinking yourself and who you are and that it’s okay to take the time to do that.

  15. After what feels like a lifetime (33 years) and a couple of false starts, I am in love for the first time.

    At first I was scared of the pace, but this article has summed it up completely. And I feel amazing.

    Bravo.

  16. I really love how this is written. The combination of poetic and practical is what I always want.

    Being queer and being in time means queering that time. Whether that is freeing ourselves from the expectation that we have done a certain thing by a certain time or freeing ourselves to experience relationships and events at our own pace not influenced by the status quo. How wonderful that what others may see as a burden is actually so freeing to us. We can discover our lives at our own pace.
    This is really great for me to hear at the moment as someone just out of some relationships which haven’t spanned time in a straightforward or normative way but have still changed my heart forever. Also as someone who has decided to dedicate this next year to not seeking romantic and sexual relationships. It’s powerful to remember that there is no urgency to this, it will happen when and however it happens.

  17. Thank you for this wonderful piece.

    “I’ve been thinking recently that queer time for me is a self-declared snow day. A chance to stay in bed and explore ourselves unhindered by the outside world. A chance to exist, to play — free from the hetero pillars of career, marriage, and lineage. A break from the ticking clock of larger society’s notions of progression.”

    “Queer time is a bushwhacked path, a sled’s shaky trail, a web of continual reinvention in many different directions.”

    I think I’m gonna staple those two parts to my wall, they are excellent.

  18. This article is really timely, so thank you so much. I’m meeting with my advisor today to talk about decisions I have to make to finish my degree, and so many of her questions are about what I want out of the future. I don’t know. I don’t know what the future is. I’ve been stumbling along in school, looking like a success because I can get good grades and move from BA to MA to PhD, but there’s no end game. Just the “trajectory of constant reinvention” and now I’m dating a girl for the first time and things are good and suddenly the future has so many more options than I ever dreamed of, and they’re delightful and scary and I have no idea what to tell my professor when she asks what I want this project to do for my career. But these words are so lovely and I’m going to take them with me like a blanket on my shoulders.

      • Yes, exactly! Like, “what do you want to be able to do with this degree?” uhhh, something that lets me do good but also go home and cook dinner for a hypothetical wife someday?

        • It’s funny how we’re dreaming about domesticity, but like queer domesticity. I wonder what that looks like. I think about heather and her life and all of these rescued kitties and I think “that would be kind of awesome actually”

          • I would love to seem more about queer domesticity, what it looks like and the forms it takes, what it means to people.

  19. A timely read! I’ve been thinking about whether or not we can change how we experience time – I’ve been reading about language and one of the things that came up is languages with different vocabularies for time. I won’t bother summarizing it all, but it’s made me want to try to shift how I understand past, present, and future. Not because any one is objectively better, but because I can see how it might be better for me right now to approach time that way.
    Thanks for showing I’m not alone with all this.

    • I’ve read things about that too! It’s so fascinating how the constructs of our languages can shape the way we perceive things like time, spatial orientation, and colors!

  20. At the Brava Theater that night, the time of queer permittivity was picked up pace again. I’ve been thinking recently that queer time for me is a self-declared snow day. A chance to stay in bed and explore ourselves unhindered by the outside world.

  21. This is a strikingly beautiful, accurate piece about late-blooming, slow-moving, reveling in the fullness of every moment, every change, every truama, every growth. Through my tears, I thought it was a Melanie-thing. It is a queer thing too. I’m glad to know that. Thank you.

  22. “trajectory of constant reinvention”

    I cannot think of a better way to describe the course of my adolescence even up til a couple years ago. Even now at 36 I’m still making adjustments and finding new understandings of who this person that is me is.. It feels good to have the understanding and acceptance of myself that I’ve finally earned but I wouldn’t call the journey anywhere near done.

    It helps to know that others like me have felt the same and had similar struggles. It makes it feel less like I’m alone on this island.

  23. Still thinking about this. A more expansive take on the matter could consider things like rates of AIDS, lifespans of TWOC, etc. I suspect this piece resonates so deeply with me because I am a young, white, AFAB queer who can ultimately feel comfortable assuming that college, home ownership, etc. are givens in my future, it’s just a question of when.

  24. Just come across this post. It fits so well right now, and is so beautiful. I love it.

    I’ve had people put me on a planned-out life since I was little, and now I’m starting to rebel. This post just…fits. The whole ‘I dunno what Uni/Degree/career I want to go into’, the rapid career/ degree idea changes… It makes more sense.

  25. “And recently I’ve been seeing images, though they feel like memories: S filling out a crossword puzzle in the beige comfy chair at my family home in western Massachusetts, or S walking with my sister through our overgrown pasture. These are places S has never been, and for a moment I get confused, as though what is yet to come has already happened. As though being in love means everything: the past, the current, and the future, are all touchable, all at once.”

  26. Just discovered this website and this post today. I was searching for some type of site to read articles because I’m finally starting to admit that I could be bi or queer but unfortunately am surrounded by a conservative catholic family and know very few people that have come out themselves.
    Being able to read posts like this that really resonate with how I always feel is so helpful, thank you

  27. This is so beautiful, thank you for posting. A good reminder to myself to not be so harsh when things don’t go as planned (they never do) and to find my own way through the brambles. Love!

  28. I just keep coming back to this — re-reading and then sending the link to new people each time. It’s so illuminating to look at my meandering life through this lens. Thank you!

  29. I keep returning to this article, because I keep tossing and turning in my head about the idea of settling down with a guy and making a family like my relatives did or are doing, and how I feel like I’m drifting further and further from that kind of reality in a bunch of different ways. Discovering yourself as queer in a heteronormative environment is like hearing the call to some hero’s journey, where you’re innately different somehow and you know the day where you’ll cause a permanent rift between you and the straight world you grew up in will have to come. At least, that’s how I’m coming to understand it.

    This article is a work of art, and I even mentioned it to my other gay friends over some cheap wine. So thank you for such an interesting read.

  30. this article is certainly thought-provoking…i used to be so queer, just naturally. then i had my daughter and suddenly i look at myself and see that i´m trying to fit everything inside a more stereotypical lens–wtf? i think i´m afraid of others judging me as a mom for not having the housecarjobretirementplan, as though i´m not a good mom for not providing these things for my daughter. but this article helps rearrange my insides. what could possibly be more important than giving my daughter the gift of uninterrupted quality time with people who are utterly present, living this very moment right here, creating a new & more fulfilling reality together? so why the heck not drift where the wind blows us, if we are following our hearts and living the present to the fullest???

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