Alex Blaze

Queering time

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 26, 2008 12:44 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement
Tags: epistemology, eschatology, France, Paris, queer

I lived alone
So I took him home
He doesn't love me
But he keeps me company
Everything's alright
-Kimya Dawson

You know those criticisms of gay male culture that chide gay men to see the big picture, think about their greater happiness, and settle down with an appropriate life-partner to experience the joys of quieting down and familying up? Surprisingly, I haven't been thinking about those lately. (No, this post isn't a three-decades-too-late response to Larry Kramer's Faggots.)

What I have been trying to do is find meaning in this mess, what it's all about, what it isn't about. I figure, in all my analytic glory, that if I figure out the meaning of life right now, then everything else is just strategy.

But I do wonder how much my posing the question has to do with my perception of time granted to me as a child of Western Civilization, if somehow the fact that I see time as linear, as something that progresses and builds, as something that has a terminus (Armageddon, nuclear winter, the sun going supernova, take your pick), that I even think that I can begin to think backwards. How in the world can I look to the end for meaning in the now if there is no end?

So I'm writing this on vacation, one of the many that the French public school system ensures so that children don't have to suffer through going to school for anything more than six weeks together. I just came up to Paris this morning to hang out with a guy I just met this weekend. We aren't going to ever get married and settle down, but, hey, it's been a lot of fun already (the fact that I'm finishing this post notwithstanding).

On the other hand, there's my brother's desire to marry. He's a couple years older than I, straight, and with a stable job for the past several years (he's such an adult compared to me). The last time I visited him I think I heard him mention that he wanted to get married half a dozen times a day. He's a family man, definitely, and he doesn't like living alone. And there isn't anything wrong with that.

But there is definitely a goal in his mind, a goal for his personal relationships that sounds like he believes that everything will be just that much easier once he gets there. He keeps on trying to meet that special woman, trying to find someone with whom he can relate and build a life. I have to wonder if such a goal devalues what happens in the present, since it seems to value the assumed eventual happiness of permanent couplehood over the pleasure of personal interactions in the now.

I once heard this sentence in someone's wedding vows: "Through you, I marry the world." What an interesting idea, to think that the present, contextual circumstances of a relationship are less important than what it can do for someone's relationship with the universe. And by tearing down some of those artificial boundaries raised by context, what an interesting way to attempt to make the relationship timeless!

I think that my brother and I stand in contrast as many in the gay community do over the possibility available in queer relationships. Should we adopt for ourselves a more traditional model of courtship, marriage, children, then death, or can we develop something that works better. (And I'm completely aware that the question doesn't matter insofar as it'll change people's behavior; they're going to keep on doing what they think works for them.)

And all this is going through my mind as I think about the resurgence of barebacking in the US as HIV infection rates continue to grow. Speaking of the larger goals people attach themselves to in relation to time, what are the larger goals behind taking a risk for the sake of pleasure that have a chance to reduce the amount of time one lives?

I think that often the way we think about such risk-taking as a direct result of one's lack self-esteem speaks more to the anxiety many Westerners (yes, I'm totally included here) have with regards to death. What if realizing simply living isn't of the same value as something else isn't a lack of self-worth? What if someone simply has a different way of expressing their self-worth? What if they've decided that trying to add as many years as possible to their lives isn't as important as the pleasure of barebacking? What if a good life could be measured in something other than the raw number of years she lives?

I'm not advocating that people stop using condoms, but I'm trying to sort out the existential crisis such activity presents. There are definitely times when our culture valorizes those who don't seek to live as long as they possibly can (soldiers, martyrs, heroes who risk their lives), and no one questions their self-esteem in not doing so. Is it that one can only stop obsessing over the number of years one lives if she is concerned with a larger abstract goal, like Joan of Arc, Jesus, or Dr. Martin Luther King?

I'm thinking that the answer lies somewhere in beginning to queer the nature of time, to stop seeing it as a strict progression to an inevitable end, and to start to think of the ways in which events at one point in time can become "timeless" by our understanding them as such. I haven't thought much about the ways that challenging Western Civilization's epistemology regarding time can open up possibility, but I'm thinking that the queers are already part of the way there by way of our inherently challenging the value of a typical post-Industrial goal of a Norman Rockwell-esque family and life-style. By at least making such goals fuzzier in terms of their universality, we've opened up the doors to deeper criticisms of the social constructs that uphold them.

Either way, I plan on enjoying my week in Paris, my week away from France's own Rust Belt.


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Have fun in Paris, Alex. Send me a postcard! (And a cute Frech guy too!) *grins*

Michael Bedwell | February 26, 2008 6:45 PM

Alex, we have crossed the proverbial verbal swords on more than one occasion, so I hesitate to write this because you might “see” it containing snarkiness when none is intended:

Read less and live more.

You have quite enough polysyllables for now; you need more experiences. I grant that you definitely seem to be pursuing them, but I keep perceiving from a far, and this essay very much reinforces it, that you don’t get as much out of them as you would if you’d just stop subjecting them to psycho-philosophical assays. However much you’ve been enjoying your time with your companion, even you apparently sense that you might have gotten more out of it by being in it than writing about it. The time that you spent composing this is time lost from him, or another person, that you will never get back.

You often seem like the tourist who often experiences his travels only through the lens or LCD screen of his camera, missing the three-dimensional wonder of the actual all around him. The number of people who always have camera cell phones has only worsened this phenomenon. Whether it’s a concert or a political rally or a ballgame, it sometimes appears as if a third of the people are only experiencing it through that little metal thing they’re looking through. And this despite the fact that, due to the limits of the technology, 99% of the pictures that will be their only real memorialization of the event [because they didn’t experience it directly through their eyes] will be a lousy, partially blurred, under/overexposed photo. Not, I admit, because of the sensory and existential self-deprivation, but because the tourist photos I took never adequately captured the wonderful things I was seeing and experiencing, except for pictures of friends or people along the way, I long ago starting buying postcards with professional photos which left me with far more time to concentrate on experiencing whatever it was directly.

I also repeatedly sense your need to define yourself first in terms of opposition to what you’re not. I’m not straight, I’m gay. I’m not gay, I’m queer. I’m not simply human, I’m an inherent challenger “to the value of a typical post-Industrial goal of a Norman Rockwell-esque family and life-style." No, you’re just Alex. And, really that’s not just enough, it’s good. The longer you live the more battles you’ll discover Life has in store for you beyond your control. Why look for them? Give your force field the day off and you might be surprised who or what wanders in.

I know next to nothing about your own life to date, but, and, again, I mean no disrespect, but if you’d lost as many loved ones as some of us you might not consider quantity of life so, what, expendable. Even before I lost so many older family members simply through cancer and heart disease and Alzheimer’s, I began to bury friends more or less my own age. AIDS washed upon us so quickly that it was some time before we realized we were unwilling participants in a kind of perpetual funeral cortege, floating on canals of shit and blood. Interferon didn’t help. The help from AZT didn’t last. And the “miracle drug” made from Chinese cucumbers was nothing but a mirage.

There was only one treatment, and rather than a treatment really it was merely a bridge to get us from here to There. A few years before the tsunami hit, I interviewed for a DC gay rag Liza’s ex, singer/Oscar-winning songwriter Peter Allen [marrying closet queens was a Garland family tradition]. Neither of us knew then that one day his huge “I Go To Rio”-laughing audiences would grow as quiet as a cathedral when he sang:

“Love don't need a reason;
Love is never a crime.
And love is all we have for now.
What we don't have
What we don't have is time.”

Most of those thousands upon thousands lost in at least the first decade were infected and already destined to die before they even knew they were sick. So bear with me if I have no patience, no understanding for anyone who gets infected through sex today in “the West.”

Also, you write, at least here, about quantity of life without writing about quality, which, as well as quantity, you might well be sacrificing if you whirl again into the bareback shuffle. At the same time, you speak of intercourse only in terms of the way it affects, might affect you which, I’m sure, isn’t only what you care about. I believe suicide, even suicide pacts, should be legal and know they are the right choices for some people. It can be an act of sacrifice such as when one’s family cannot afford your care or bear to see you suffer from whatever. But, please, there is nothing noble about slow suicide by barebacking.

Another song, from 1968, produced by Paul McCartney. New English lyrics of an old variously Russian/Ukrainian song, and sung by Welsh singer Mary Hopkin, it went:

“Once upon a time, there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two.
Remember how we laughed away the hours,
Think of all the great things we would do?

Chorus:
Those were the days, my friend!
We thought they'd never end.
We'd sing and dance forever and a day.
We'd live the life we'd choose.
We'd fight and never lose.
For we were young and sure to have our way!

Then, the busy years went rushing by us.
We lost our starry notions on the way.
If, by chance, I'd see you in the tavern,
We'd smile at one another and we'd say,

Those were the days, my friend!
We thought they'd never end.
We'd sing and dance forever and a day.
We'd live the life we'd choose.
We'd fight and never lose.
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days!

Just tonight, I stood before the tavern.
Nothing seemed the way it used to be.
In the glass, I saw a strange reflection.
Was that lonely woman really me?

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we'd choose
We'd fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days!”

According to Wikipedia, “On Christmas 1975, the President of Equatorial Guinea, Francisco Macías Nguema, had 150 alleged coup plotters executed to the sound of a band playing Mary Hopkin's tune ‘Those Were the Days’ in a national stadium.”

Carpe diem! [but don a condom]

I guess what you're saying is: VIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT! VIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!

Yeah, don't worry about me, I'm having a great time. But carpe diem exactly how? :)