Queer Time in Lockdown

Queer eye for a straight time

Words by Owain Johnson

Queer Time a theory made by Jack Halberstam after the 80s AIDS crisis – predominantly gay men were suddenly and cruelly taken out of society’s accepted life trajectory as their lives were cut short. This caused many to focus on different things of importance. Happiness and life experience over menial labour and the day-to-day. Queer Time then is living outside of the heteronormative timeline and routine.

Queer Time then can be seen as any ‘wasted time’ that is unproductive to heteronormative society, overtly, such as voluntary childlessness, and more subtly: time of experimentation and subsequent failure, time of illness and time of procrastination or spending time on the “wrong things”. Sound familiar to anyone? Anything similar been happening to you recently?

Remember anyone can experience Queer Time - we use ‘queer’ as the term for nonnormative, not just based on sexuality but to what level you do not conform to heteronormativity. The key difference is whether it is done to you actively or passively. The Lockdown is an active agent in creating this distortion. No matter your identity or the multitudes of aspects that inform that; you have been affected by the lockdown. Your day-to-day routine, your outlook on life, your reimagining of what is important to you.

We must not forget that time and space come intrinsically linked as well. Einstein init. The safe place at the end of your working day, the home you return to has warped into the office, the gym, the social meet and the sleeping quarter all in one.

Strange and unprecedented times manipulate the comfortable and the known into the mysterious and the uncanny. We can also go further with this. Have you ever wondered why we order rooms in terms of function, in terms of the acts of spending time within them? The bedroom we spend time sleeping in, the living room we spend time passively ‘living’ whilst we read or watch, the dining room we spend time eating and ritualistically setting up and clearing the table. Why are the rooms in our house normalised into exclusive functions? Whatever the reason, the queering of these spaces occurs when we assign ways of spending time to these rooms that counter their normalised use.

We can see an overlap with this and creatives – no strict routine and have always used domestic spaces against their planned activity, even before the lockdown. Living rooms as studios, dining rooms as production spaces. But we have seen an institutional backlash to this as Tories see them as unproductive: Ballerinas needing to retrain in cyber and all that. Yet how many creative businesses have we seen spring up in the last year? I’m talking garms, embroidery, those naked woman candles and tray bake icons. Perhaps then creatives are seen as useful only when they can further the capitalist machine. Are they selling a product or their time/body/mind? Being worthwhile then comes from tangibility of outcome, how can one quantify imagination if it does not culminate in a product to consume?

Kae Tempest speaks on this in their latest work, On Connection:

“The focus on what I can successfully generate, on what I can monetise, on what I can contribute, is a systemic imprint that enforces a production/consumption mentality and keeps me in the thrall of needing to work to consume to value myself.”

No one is downplaying the fact that creatives need to earn enough to live and fund their endeavours. However, when too much emphasis is put on the profit margin and not on other measures of wealth, e.g. cultural, spiritual and emotional fulfilment – this is an attempt to pull art back into the realm of productivity, of profit and therefore heteronormativity.

We can also pull this back to the glorious ‘normies’, the worker bees, the lifeblood of the economy. Amazon has made billions during the lockdown with purchases being made left, right and centre by people stranded at home. Perhaps though, this isn’t just to buy a product to pass the time - some tat to distract you for another week. Maybe the need to consume constantly is because for quite a while now it was a quick and easy way to feel self-worth.

It is interesting how the prescribed schedule of heteronormativity has slowed but the idea of personal utility and self-worth through consumption has not only remained but grown greatly. Then again, as time comes inseparable from space, heteronormativity comes inseparable from capitalism.

It’s still unclear whether we will come out of this lockdown era with changed minds, perspectives and outlooks. Yet, if we do, one thing for definite will be the renewed importance of friends and family. Let’s waste time then, having quality time with those that matter. The pub, the park and the gig venue will be our new office – the laughs and the memories our payment, meeting the daily quota of conversation and jokes. Let us borrow aspects of Queer Time, and I for one cannot wait to experiment, fail and procrastinate with the world again.