Race and Queer Time
This week in my feminist theory class we’re reading Jack Halberstam’s new book The Queer Art of Failure. This book builds on Halberstam’s earlier work, In A Queer Time and Place. Both texts argue that discourses and models of “maturity” and “adulthood” assume/are predicated on hetero-reproductive “timelines.” In these timelines, adulthood means settling down and reproducing. Because, Halberstam argues, queers often do not have children, or if they do have children, often don’t “settle down” in a white picket-fence sort of way, queer lifestyles often never appear “grown up” in the traditional, mainstream sense. Queer lives mark time, progress, and accomplishment by different markers. Thus, for example, queers often keep going out to clubs, even late into middle (and old!) age. Or, they may not “get a real job,” but involve themselves in low-wage or low-prestige work, like artmaking or activism. So, measured according to mainstream het-reproductive models of “maturity,” queers appear to never really “grow up.”
I was thinking about class as I was driving to school today; then, a commercial came on the radio for a “Grown & Sexy” club night. “Grown & Sexy” is an idiomatic expression in African-American communities. It refers to “refined” pop culture: it’s not for teenagers, and it’s not ghetto. “Grown & Sexy” means “refined connosseurs of black culture.” So even more than being an age distinction, “Grown & Sexy” is a class distinction within African-American communities.For example, Urbandictionary.com defines “Grown & Sexy” as:
Ebonics for:”Don’t even think of showing up at my function in
in baggy jeans,Air Jordans,platinum chains,bandanas,and 3x white t-shirt.If you’re not custom tailored,Armani or Versace-stay your ass home!…Also unless it’s neo-soul,rare groove,or old school-you won’t hear it here.Want radio hip-hop?Go to that white kids’ club in the suburbs…And approach a Sista’with a little finesse.Leaning up against your homies’ Escalade does not constitute “having game”…feel me?”
RADIO ANNOUNCER: “FUNK JAZZ WEDNESDAYS at the ICE HOUSE LOUNGE
in downtown.Doors open at 10PM.This party is for the GROWN AND SEXY.”
I think the “Grown” in “Grown & Sexy”—and perhaps even the “Sexy”—is decidedly not the same as what Halberstam means by mainstream models of maturity and adulthood. In Halberstam’s view “grownups” don’t go to clubs, so the idea of a “Grown & Sexy” club night is paradoxical. Also, given the way that terms like “boy” have been used to enforce the racialization of black men, and the way that white racism constructs black heterosexuality as somehow inherently “broken” and “immature” (i.e., incapable of “settling down” into nuclear families), beign “grown” means something different when it applies to African-Americans than when it applies to white breeders.
Obviously this is something I need to think about further, and with more care. But I do think that Halberstam’s idea of “immature queers” does need to be problematized by race (among other things), and “Grown & Sexy” might be one way to trouble that idea.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Critiques?