Too much is enough: On queerness, violence and new worlds

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Photo: flickr/Victoria Pickering

I wanted to spit in his face. And when he told me "sorry," I very nearly did. He'd treated me poorly -- taken my trust for granted, tried clumsily to spin gold out of straw. I told him to his face, sheepish and knowing, that there was to be nothing more between us, and with a sense of conviction I hadn't known before, I turned on my heels and stormed away.

It was mid-summer in Vancouver, when the air hangs heavy over the city, pressing up against your skin, beading on your brow and rolling down the back of your neck. Home was only a short walk away, and it was calling me. But just as I started off into the night, I thought better of myself. I decided that all his poor decisions, all the ways he'd chosen to make a fool of me, were not my own. I decided that his callousness would not shut me up.

Instead of hurrying off, I marched back through the doors of The Cobalt -- the place I'd come to understand what it meant to build a queer family -- and rejoined my friends, all of them beautiful and glistening in the lights. The music was loud enough to drown out his stumbling words, the bass strong enough to match the thumping in my chest, the air thick enough to disappear in, to drink down in big, voluptuous gulps.

All my embarrassments melted off me and turned to steam, rising to the ceiling where they mixed with a thousand other insults and injuries, now forgotten. We cheered to the point of worship as the drag queens took the stage, blazing in their sequins, shouting down a world that wasn't enough, a world that told them -- told us -- that we were too much.

Like many queer people I know, when I was young and in the closet, I learned to keep very still and very quiet. Do not protest when you hear something that upsets you. Do not make up stories that might come undone. This was my best shot at avoiding trouble.

The affective and cultural freight that accretes to "coming out" narratives can make this sort of quietude look like cowardice, turning silence into acquiescence. This is a fiction of which we would all do well to disabuse ourselves.

When you are young (or not) and in the closet, silence is not necessarily how you turn away or retreat from the world. Just the opposite: it can be the way you move into it, the way you make it yield to you. It is deeply insufficient, and it is difficult, but it is a way of making-do, of quite literally getting by.

Silence can be how you take and hold place in a hostile room.

It can be how you keep on living when you hear not just preachers and politicians, but sometimes even your closest friends and relatives talk about how gays are like a disease that ought to be killed.

It can be how you keep yourself together when the same people eventually lament the violence that surely follows; when they claim it as an attack "on us all," crying out for a humanity whose shape you do not know because it has been kept from you; put at a distance and emptied out by casual insult, by shifting discomfort, by laws passed or unpassed.

It can be how you persist with the knowledge that all these ways of speaking and acting are probably unthought but never exactly unknowing, never exactly ignorant. Always authorized.

Silence is a terrible load that can, perversely, make it possible to keep on bearing an otherwise unbearable world. It is a way of getting on that requires that you get on with(in) relations that might be truly wretched, a way of stitching a world together with threads that are constantly snapping. It means trying to make decisions about how to live while never feeling like those decisions are truly your own (Or, if you are, like me, taken to believe that no decision is ever strictly one's own, put it this way: it means taking decisions that, to whatever extent they are or are not your own, do not finally assemble themselves into a life that seems worth living).

This is a way of living that wears a person down. It makes the world feel very small, and very quiet. Terribly quiet.

It means something, then, to know that there are different kinds of worlds, and that you can make them. It means something to know that there are places you can go where the jubilant, luxuriant too-muchness of queer life flourishes.

It means something (and at times that something can seem like everything) to know the fury of betrayal, the thrill of refusal, and the pleasure of sweating it all off.

It means something to know that you can be together differently with others, in elation and heartbreak, rage and delight; to know a fullness you never thought would be yours you know, let alone have. These places -- clubs, bars, living rooms -- matter because they make it seem possible to live in a world you weren't ever sure you would survive, and that sometimes you still fear you might not.

And for this reason, they might matter all the more to those queers who, unlike me, are not afforded the privileges that attend whiteness and cis-maleness; queers whose experiences of homophobia may be tightly coupled with experiences of racism, misogyny, transphobia, and ableism; police brutality, incarceration, and impoverishment; colonialism, displacement, and deportation.

Remember: nearly all the victims of the Pulse Nightclub attack in Orlando this week were Latinx or Black, and at least three -- one deceased, two survivors -- were undocumented migrants.

They were killed by a man who once worked for GS4, the world's largest private security firm and a global engine for the displacement, incarceration, and expulsion of vulnerable populations.

They were killed by a man carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle -- "America's Gun" -- obtained legally in a state whose governor and representatives have in recent years passed and proposed a raft of pro-gun legislation.

They were killed by a man who may have imagined himself to be part of ISIS, that network of violent mercenaries pretending hideously to ideological and spiritual purity, nourished on the global economy of immiseration, weapons, and capital that we call the War on Terror.

They were killed by a man known to abuse his ex-wife.

They were killed in the midst of a vile election cycle in which the bodies of people of colour, of migrants and refugees, and of women and queers, have by turns become battlegrounds, tokens, scapegoats, and scrims.

They were killed, in other words, by a man fully of his world -- of this world. And as such, his was a violence that queer people, and especially queer people of colour, know well.

This is the violence of being forcibly unhoused and multiply exposed to a life that seems unlivable. It is the violence of finding oneself thrown (back) into that world that does not seem to want you, that will not sustain you, that will disparage you -- and your loved ones, and your desires -- in life only to claim your body in death, crassly marshaling it as "evidence" of whatever mythic hobby horse happens to carry the day: "radical Islam," the "threat" posed by immigrants, global terrorism, Western beneficence, ad nauseam.

When we gather and dance and celebrate, we are dreaming of alternatives to this world. When we revel in our different ways of being queer, wherever and however we might do it, we are living in a world that does not assemble under a flag perpetually flown at half mast. Because to do so is not enough. It has never been enough. It will never be enough.

We will mourn, but we are more than our mourning. We are hurt, but there is more in us than our pain. Glistening in the lights and drinking down the night sky, we build worlds that are more. Much more. Enough for all our too-muchness. 

As José Muñoz says, queerness "allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present...Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds."

Tyler Morgenstern is a PhD student at the University of California, Santa Barbara

Photo: flickr/Victoria Pickering

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