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As it turned out, I spent last weekend in what was quite possibly the best location from which to write a response to Judith Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place, as it both confirms some of her postulates about queer time and space and troubles some of her neat compartmentalizations. So here it is, written in present tense as it was originally conceptualized.

From where I sit, I can see sheep lying down in the grass, and already today I’ve been serenaded by the braying of donkeys, the crowing of roosters, and the squawking of guinea hens. Metronormative, this place is not.

Halberstam wants to contest the ways in which “rural and small-town queer life is generally mythologized by urban queers as sad and lonely, or else rural queers might be thought of as ‘stuck’ in a place that they would leave if they only could” (36), and where I’m sitting right now is a perfect example of the ways in which queer rurality needn’t signify sadness, loneliness, or stuckness.

However, this place also demonstrates the ways in which, for all her critique of others for their lapses Halberstam herself “occludes the lives of nonurban queers” (15)—or at least some of them.

She notes that “until recently, small towns were considered hostile to queers and urban areas were cast as the queer’s natural environment,” wherein “affluent gay populations are often described as part of a ‘creative class’ that enhances a city’s cultural life and cultural capital, and this class of gays are then cast in opposition to the small-town family life and values of midwestern Americans” (15).

Through conflating the small town or rural with the Midwest, Halberstam, much like the “Queering the Middle” symposium held on at the University of Illinois earlier this fall, replicated a pattern of erasure in which rurality is imagined to exist only in the Midwest. Queering the Middle at least had the excuse of being a conference about the Midwest.

Sitting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada on what could easily be interpreted as a ranch—there are lots of animals, lots of land, and no crops, though the people who live here do actually make their living in town in urban-coded occupations of therapist and county mental health program manager—I have no doubt that I am both decidedly in a rural space and decidedly not in the Midwest anymore, Toto.

While the nonqueer people who live around here surely have a great deal in common with Midwestern farmer types in terms of things like “values” and voting patterns, they aren’t the same and deserve to be respected in their specificity. In a book disputing the elision of the particularity of people and places, in which Halberstam troubles so much other received wisdom, this is a particularly perplexing oversight.

Looking around the inside of the house where I’m staying, on the other hand, with its marks of middle-classness and parenthood—and the state-recognized marriage that I know about but can’t actively see at this moment—there are clearly things that are not queer about it, though I don’t have the heart to come in here as queerer-than-thou and tell them that they have succumbed to reproductive time.

I imagine that they’d be horrified to think that they are participating in “respectability, and notions of the normal on which it depends,” even as they are quite comfortable with their “middle-class logic of reproductive temporality” (4). Certainly, this household inhabits “the time of inheritance”—not least because so much of its remodeling after purchase was financed by the wealth of my mom’s partner’s parents.

In a broader sense, however, it clearly functions under a “generational time within which values, wealth, goods, and morals are passed through family ties from one generation to the next” (5). It’s also quite obviously wrapped up in “the kinds of hypothetical temporality—the time of ‘what if’—that demands protection in the way of insurance policies, health care, and wills” (5) that signal middle-classness more than anything.

So, given that the adult partnership in this household is same-sex, is this a queer time, or place, or both, or neither? I think the most fortuitous part of being here while thinking through Halberstam is the ways in which this location and its inhabitants disarticulate metronormativity from reproductive temporality.

Here, more than I have observed even in the drowning-in-corn-and-soybeans Urbana-Champaign, it is clear that the two modes of normalization of queerness that Halberstam identifies don’t have to always go together, even though she seems to think that they do.

Indeed, though Halberstam herself doesn’t quite make this connection, when she points in the cases of Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard to “the complex interactions of race, class, gender, and sexuality that result in murder, but whose origins lie in state-authorized formations of racism, homophobia, and poverty” (46), it begins to suggest that some sort of intersectional analysis is in order if the fullness of these formations is to be appreciated.

Any given person is more or less normative on a variety of axes—with ultimate normativity being, as Butler reminds us, impossible to embody. So my mom and her partner challenge metronormativity, but they reinforce reproductive temporality, and there is no contradiction in doing both at once—however unfortunate the latter may be—because these are formations that intersect in various ways for various people.

After all, not everyone is considered eligible for or the proper subject of the horizon of futurity of reproductive time in the first place, which is why “the abbreviated life spans of black queers or poor drug users, say, does not inspire the same kind of metaphysical speculation on curtailed futures, intensified presents, or reformulated histories” (3) as arises from the deaths of white gay men from AIDS.

We have to reckon with the fact that people who occupy the same place on one axis—queerness or poverty—but differ on other axes—black queers vs. white ones, rural poor vs. urban—can’t actually be understood as entirely the same.

That is, though Halberstam is right to hail “ravers, club kids, HIV-positive barebackers, rent boys, sex workers, homeless people, drug dealers, and the unemployed” as “queer subjects” who “live (deliberately, accidentally, or by necessity) during the hours when others sleep and in the spaces (physical, metaphysical, and economic) that others have abandoned” (10), it is equally vital that we not collapse the distinctions between these groups into one big pile of “queer subjects” in our search for a coalitional politics.

We can have the same interests without reducing our complexities to a single characteristic to organize around, because this sort of reduction inevitably works to establish the interests of those most privileged by other characteristics (such as white, middle-class, homo- and metronormative queers) as universal.

Halberstam’s complication of the rural/urban and straight/queer binaries begins to show a way to think about shared interests in a way that is different from our standard modes, and in so doing she potentially begins to point to a way out of our accidental complicities with heteronormativity.

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