Taking a Moment: Embodying Temporality and Finding a ‘Queer Sense of Belonging’ through Live Performance
Despite what appears to be the contemporary burgeoning of mainstreamed queerness, I find myself, as a queer subject, searching for a moment in time and space that allows my embodied tension to dissipate. I contend that queer subjects feel an embodied discordance in the face of chrononormativity. I borrow the term “chrononormativity” from queer temporal theorist Elizabeth Freeman, to explain how temporality is valued in our Western context. This definition undergirds my claim that a capitalist and heteronormative society can manifest in queer embodiment through the extra work required by queer subjects in order to adhere to these expectations. Following this, I reflect upon a personal encounter at a “queercore” concert of the band Hunx and His Punx in Brooklyn, New York, in 2019. During this live performance, I felt a queer moment of ease and comfort. Through an unpacking of the multifaceted components of the performance, I argue that the concert fostered a temporal space to allow the embodied tension and discordance of queerness to dissipate: thus offering what I call a ‘queer sense of belonging.’ The performance achieved this sense of belonging through the illumination of components that revalue our notions of temporality by eschewing Western chrononormativity. I use this experience as a case study to show how live performance has the capacity to become a space that revalues temporality in a way that can be coherent and meaningful to queer subjects. This paper begins by unpacking the notion of temporality as valued in North American as heteronormative and capitalist and how this is uniquely embodied by queer subjects. An autoethnographic description of my encounter shows that through DIY (do-it-yourself) punk aesthetics, the temporality of live performance, ‘inefficient’ body language, and narration of past trauma, this particular performance was an opportunity to rid participants’ bodies of the bind of chrononormativity and momentarily feel at ease: to take a moment for a queer sense of belonging.
My discussion rests on the notion of queer bodies feeling the visceral implications of temporality. When I use the terms ‘queer bodies’ or ‘queer subjects,’ I am referring to an identity or mode of being that can be described as non-normative with particular reference to gender and sexuality. I posit that queer subjects experience embodied discomfort due to the prevalence of contextual chrononormativity and thus show how chrononormativity has an embodied valence. Freeman’s text Time Binds: Queer Histories, Queer Temporalities conceptualizes chrononormativity as the dominant temporal measurements within which our social and political contexts are structured, giving value to specific temporal rhythms. Weekdays and weekends, the calendar year, prescribed holidays, and the amount of work scheduled in a day are all organized through temporal rhythms. Chrononormativity encompasses the socially reinforced expectations and norms of how we spend our time. In a North American capitalist context, for example, an individual is expected to work at least forty hours per week. Any time spent outside of these work hours is time to rest in order to return to work. I concede alongside Freeman that chrononormativity has visceral profundity as it binds our very flesh. Bodies in this temporal structure are expected to adhere to these rhythms; rhythms that prioritize the capitalist work schedule and thus their capacity for labour. Through this chrononormative context, subjects must spend their time in ways that continue to value production, and thus, I argue, a linear and forward-looking timeline. Subjects are constantly expected to produce, signifying that there is no reachable end at which point goals of production are definitively met. Perhaps the imagined end of this work is, like Lauren Berlant suggests, a cluster of promises that we never achieve in order to keep workers as docile citizens, in a capitalist time of “not stopping”.
The incessant expectations of forward-looking capitalism continue to increase rapidly, binding bodies to a hyperproductive context. Freeman writes “in the eyes of the state, this sequence of socioeconomically ‘productive’ moments is what it means to have a life at all.”Value is attached to bodies that move through time efficiently to maximize production. This expectation is heavily related to productivity in labour forces, but is also expected through many, if not all, of the capitalist subject’s activities outside of work. We are expected and encouraged to have a teleology of something we can achieve or overcome: the ideal body, the perfect family, the job promotion. Our respectability and participation in society is framed by how much we are contributing economically. North American time, then, is always forward-reaching and goal oriented. As the gap of economic distribution widens and the cost of living continues to rise, not only are we valued by how much we can contribute economically through our labour, but our survival is often dependent on it. As the North American capitalist context is inextricably cisnormative and heteromasculine, any negation of this temporal valuation, then, is undeniably queer. Furthermore, to work to adhere to the illusory “natural” temporality in order to survive in this context is then a site of visceral discordance for the queer subject.
In order to analyse how the Hunx concert performance offered a ‘queer sense of belonging,’ I take how bodies are bound by chrononormativity alongside Jose Esteban Muñoz’s discussions of the “utopian performative.” Particularly relevant is Muñoz’s discussion and usage of the “ornamental” in aesthetic modes as the ornamental “has an indeterminate use value that challenges the protocols of capitalism.” Unlike maximizing bodily efficiency for production and contribution to capitalism, ornamental aesthetics challenge “use” and “efficiency.” A body moving through time without an explicit capital goal is queer. Freeman also follows how chrononormativity deeply affects queer subjects to the point of asynchronicity. When these temporal rhythms are expected to feel “natural” through social discipline, queers tend to fail when attempting to fit into gender/heterosexual/capitalist expectations. While the queer does not often line oneself up for traditional familial linearity, they start to veer away from the expectation of maximum labour and maximum efficiency in a capital context. My point, along with Freeman, is that queers still tend to stutter in the face of chrononormativity. Persistent chrononormativity such as this was challenged directly through the live performance, providing a queer reprieve, which I refer to as a ‘sense of belonging.’
Like Freeman, Sara Ahmed references the linearity of a heteronormative world. This is echoed through the use of the term “straight,” as it refers to sexual orientation by evoking the embodiment of a straight line. Ahmed writes that the spatiality of the term is not coincidental: “bodies are sexualized through how they inhabit space. The body orientates itself in space, for instance, by differentiating between ‘left’ and ‘right,’ ‘up’ and ‘down,’ and ‘near’ and ‘far,’ and this orientation is crucial to the sexualization of bodies” [emphasis in original]. A straight line is a straight path. For Ahmed, a body on this straight path does not take any detours; it does not stumble away or stutter here and there, ideally it does not look backward either. This path dovetails with the linearity of chrononormativity, as Ahmed also writes, “In other words, to be ‘in line’ is to direct one’s desires toward marriage and reproduction; to direct one’s desires toward the reproduction of the family line.” Both capitalism and heteronormativity, then, encompass future-oriented temporal rhythms.
To emphasize the embodiment and physicality of this straight path, Ahmed argues that by virtue of living in a heteronormative context, heterosexual objects and pathways are made readily available to us. Continuing down this straight path is made accessible and easy. The world is curated in such a way where we do not have to search for straightness. Yet, queerness necessitates looking elsewhere. For Ahmed, this is a “turning away” from the straight path, finding things oblique or aslant from the linearity we are taught is the only option. Queers must seek out options that are sometimes hidden, sometimes ephemeral. Nonetheless, I suggest that trying to adhere to a chrono- and heteronormative path when you no longer are attuned to it, by virtue of a consistent stepping “offline” into queerness, becomes a physical moment. Working to orientate yourself toward heteronormativity when you tend to veer off into queerness is a physical effort. Many queer theorists reflect on this idea by addressing the stuttering or stumbling, or even failure associated with being queer, the moment we try to return to the norm, we have lost our skill of adapting to it.
In my view, this visceral discordance is further exacerbated when being queer in a labour-centric world of hyperproductivity and capitalism. The intertwining of these forces strains the queer body. I think of this when queers must take on the world of customer service. Customer service positions in the hospitality field exemplify the multilayered experience of a queer subject stumbling throughout chrononormativity. Emma Dowling provides an analysis of her embodied experiences working as a server through a methodological use of affect theory. She accounts for the various ways that working in customer service requires a certain type of performance—the balancing act of the expectations from her managers, the level of personal attention and authenticity expected from the customers—with the reality that her paycheck is very much dependent upon how smoothly she manages these elements. Describing a trial shift at a new restaurant she writes, “I feel the multiple gazes of management, of the male and of the guest, fall upon me and bring me into existence, validating my body and its affective resonances.” Her level of success rests upon how she manages her embodied actions under the scrutiny of a fast-paced business. Much of these expectations as a server include performing femininity through flirtation and possessing awareness of the femininity of her affective labour. She provides sympathy and care to the demands of the customer, but as a strong server, also works to cultivate a certain experience: “I perform for you, yet I am not simply on display. I create in you not just a state of mind, I create a feeling in your body, invoking or suppressing my own feelings in order to do so.” The server works beyond moving through the appropriate steps of service by attending to the affective moments in order to create a comfortable atmosphere or feeling for the customers. She is also hyperaware of the realities of employment in the hospitality industry, especially under the demands of capitalism, as being in a position where she is dispensable to her employers. If the server fails to provide the comfortability to the guest, efficiency to the managers, and comradery with co-workers, then the server is of no use to the company. Her performance is constructed to fulfill these criteria, because as she concedes, she is there for the paycheck.
Under the threat of capitalism, there are particular and heteronormative ways queer workers must act in order to keep “stuttering off-courseness” to a minimum. For example, workers will often feign friendliness in the face of queerphobia at the risk of being reprimanded by a supervisor. When the other option is being unable to survive due to income loss, the worker’s power is deeply compromised. Contorting one’s body in order to fit into capitalism’s—and the greater public’s—expectation of normativity has an added layer of labour for queers or people who tend to deviate from the linear path of capitalism and heteronormativity. The worker must provide a smiling face to a customer, alongside presenting as non-controversial, or perhaps even neutral. I consider here Muñoz’s discussion of “Gesture, Ephemera, and Queer Feeling” in Cruising Utopia. He writes about growing up queer as a constant policing of his own actions and states: “I was a spy in the house of gender normativity, and like any spy, I was extremely careful and worried that my cover would be blown.” For a queer proletarian subject, this is not an easy task. When a fellow server makes a homophobic comment, the queer server is expected to ignore this (or perhaps respond in agreement) and continue to bring the table of hetero couples their desserts, and revel in their engagement celebration, or baby announcement, or job promotion.
I argue, then, that the pressures of trying to maintain this supposed “natural” temporal rhythm is unique extra work for those of us who are queer. This might be evidenced through the reality of social stigma and minority stress that further exacerbates mental illness in LGBTQIA folks, and that barriers for us to seek help are often greater. We spend a great deal of time trying to keep up with everyone and everything under the threat of cisnormative and hyperproductive capitalism. I yearn for the possibilities to exist in a queer time of our own, to feel rather than straining and discomfort, a sense of belonging.
A ‘Queer Sense of Belonging’ in A Queer(core) Time
Muñoz reflects on a punk show he attended whilst discussing the queer potentialities of stage performances and art. Expecting to feel as though he was not a part of the ‘proper’ crowd gathering at the shows, he was moved by another feeling. Muñoz writes:
I remember the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and seeing my favorite bands there during the relentless social tedium of graduate school. That is where I started to feel too old to go to shows yet nevertheless felt the show and stage, the transformation of time and space offered by the performance, as forgiving and still permitting me access to this network of queer belongings. [emphasis added]
Rather than feeling too old, Muñoz felt that he belonged in this setting. He credits his ability to access this “network” as a result of the performances’ shifting of temporalities. I suggest that this feeling of “belonging” is the possible reprieve for which I, as a queer subject, have been searching, and ultimately found through attending and participating the live performance of Hunx and His Punx. In this quote, Muñoz mentions that the performance transformed “time and space,” and as a result, not allowing his age to become a barrier for participation. A traditional temporal measurement, such as age, was not a hindrance to his inclusion in the space. Rather, this space was “forgiving.” Through art, members of the audience had access to a different value of time, likely outside of the chrononormative ideal. Freeman argues that “the discipline of ‘timing’ engenders a sense of being and belonging that feels natural.” In his expectations of the performance, Muñoz was expecting to feel out of place, unnatural in that time and space. Muñoz’s experience was made comfortable by reframing his relationship with time. Had this not occurred, he might have indeed felt “too old.” But this queer time offered him a comfortable fit. A queer sense of belonging is thus connected to existing on a different timeline where we do not value time for a linear futurity through heteronormativity or through maximizing our labour and efficiency. In these spaces, perhaps we feel our bodies—always at the mercy of trying to “keep up” with chrononormativity—ease a little.
I suggest that I was a participant of a similar queer space-time as that of Muñoz’s through my attendance of a “queercore” concert. Hunx and His Punx played a sold-out show at “Elsewhere” concert space in Brooklyn, New York in the summer of 2019. Multiple elements of the concert reflected Muñoz’ discussion of ornamental aesthetic forms, thus directly challenging north American chrononormativity and fostering a ‘queer sense of belonging.’ These elements, however, were apprehended through my own embodied subjectivity as a queer participant and researcher. My perspective is singular and incomplete. As such, I provide an autoethnographic retelling of my encounter through my own embodiment as a queer academic whose whiteness allows me to move through many spaces with ease. Consequently, I outline aesthetic and performance elements that fostered a temporal experience that defied any chrononormative logics and linearity for my own personal subjectivity. Reflecting on these moments allows me to use my experience to “engage with [myself], others, culture(s), politics and social research,” while allowing room for shifting perspectives and reinterpretations.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the ways in which enjoying a concert space in a heavily gentrified area is relevant to my experience. The performance, while showcasing a DIY, punk, ethos, also consisted of a band with white members taking up space in a venue in Brooklyn, New York notoriously known for displacing People of Colour. Gentrification is a capitalist and colonialist tool that is not negated by virtue of the space being ‘queer.’ Dereka Rushbrook argues that cities will flaunt their “diverse” neighbourhoods in order to attract tourists by prioritizing ‘queerness’ as an example of diversity. Scholar Rae Rosenberg also notes how queer spaces can often be unsafe and explicitly exclusionary for LGBTQ People of Colour. White queers become objects of consumption for tourists further vilifying and displacing racialized LGBTQ populations. Thus, my whiteness indeed plays a role in my feeling of comfort in this time and space. Nonetheless, I want to emphasize the importance of shifting temporalities in the face of capitalism. Perhaps the modes of doing so at this time were not resonant with all subjects in attendance present, yet I am showing that live performance has the potential to do so in important ways for deviant and queer bodies. In response to Lee Edelman’s “No Future,” Muñoz argues for the importance of futurity for queerness. Queer utopia is futurity, according to Muñoz, because the present moment of racist colonial heteropatriarchy creates a framework within which utopia cannot exist, and that a future for queers of colour is resistant to the status quo. As such, I do not claim that this instant encapsulated a moment of utopic anticipatory illumination for futurity, but rather a momentary reprieve for particular bodies (namely, my own). Like Muñoz, the time and space contexts were shuffled, but they are imperfect and partial, not offering a prescriptive ideal for queer utopian performance, but an analysis of elements that allowed me to ‘take a moment.’
As a member of a sweaty and animated crowd, I absorbed the live performance of the band fronted by queer multimedia artist, Seth Bogart. We watched Bogart make his way to the stage in full pleather and black sunglasses. His jacket had been hand-painted: a large emblem of a wildcat and the words “man-eater” covered his back. His “Punx” were in similar outfits that also included lots of p/leather, patches, and refashioned garments with painted-on anarchy symbols. Bassist Shannon Shaw was crowned with an extravagant platinum bouffant updo and bold winged eyeliner visible from the back of the venue. Erin Emslie drummed to the fast-paced instrumentals in a patched vest with Winehouse-esque beehive hair. Audience participants screamed alongside one another, singing along to the campy lyrics. Between songs, we cheered for Bogart as he finished a can of beer and stripped off his pleather pants to reveal a leopard-print thong. Feeding off of the excitement materializing between the audience and performers, Bogart yelled to the crowd: “who here is queer?” which was met with uproarious and affirmative hollers. Seth effeminately floated and danced around the stage in his thong singing and showcasing his bandmates. The set-list included the simple yet queerly poignant hit: “Everyone’s a Pussy, Fuck You Dude,” in which the lyrics only contain the title scream-sung multiple times. Although this is but a fraction of the event, I engage with these elements of the performance as I personally found them to be especially resonant. In my view, these facets facilitated stepping outside of the friction felt by queer bodies in the face of chrononormativity.
I consider the genre of music to be pertinent to this temporal discussion and to provide a foundation for many of the relevant threads I reflect upon. Queercore developed as a reaction to the evolution of the punk music movement in the late 1980s. Punk began as a movement against any type of establishment, including gender, capitalism, normativity, and corrupt governing bodies, but eventually became saturated with white heterosexual men who quickly took the message of punk for their own gains. Further subcultures of punk diverted into white nationalist and masculinist movements making certain streams unsafe for women and queer people. As a result, ‘riot grrrl’ feminist punk bands emerged, such as Bikini Kill and L7. Concurrently, an intersecting but different project took form: queercore. Much like “punk” more broadly, queercore scorned industrialism, capitalism, authority and mainstream success. However, queercore artists and their projects specifically targeted heteronormativity and normative gender roles. They prided themselves on DIY (do-it-yourself) culture, “regardless of skill and resources,” making the means of creation and publishing available to the masses. Music was self-produced and visual art and writing were distributed through homemade zines. Queercore clothing and art embraced the “salvaging and repurposing refuse of the working class” to reuse the waste of capitalism and create modes of “low-barrier participation.” Thus, the aesthetic of queercore reaches beyond barriers of accessibility to wealth and skill to pointedly defy capitalist elitism. During the concert I attended, Hunx and His Punx encompassed many of these values through both their visual presentation and their music. This specified genre also plays a role in uniting a crowd containing many subjective threads of experience; indeed, these attributes of a queercore band likely attracted the attendance of the concert goers. This suggest a personal resonance to many audience members as well, a point to which I will return.
A live performance offers a unique embodied experience in the interaction with other participants as well as a visual spectacle. The band’s DIY and “punk” aesthetic, I argue, is not only anti-capitalist in its message, but in the nature of its production. Handmade decorated pieces, such as those worn by Hunx and His Punx, discourage buying everything brand-new, the logic often touted in this hyperproductive capitalist world. Simultaneously, valuing a DIY aesthetic, such as brandishing hand-painted, stitched, patched garments, encourage spending more time on a single item than ought to be allotted in a chrononormative context. Rather, the performers are repurposing old items. Unethical fashion production is practiced for the purpose of turning over as many items as possible. An original design, however, painstakingly done by oneself or a friend is defiant against the forward march of hyperproductivity. The audience, then, has the opportunity to savour in taking “too much time” to create something. This is an example of how the performance challenged a traditional temporal framework, therefore, the deviant queer might find a little wiggle-room to pause in this moment and space. Not only is time not capitalized, but enormous wealth is not necessary. Creating these outfits and art does not hinge on one’s social status or monetary ability to buy one-of-a-kind pieces. Rather, you are making these pieces yourself with the materials you already have. This aesthetic requires little money or skill. Thus, the queercore fashion flaunted by the band in the particular live performance created a space that valued a timeline outside of chrononormativity; defying the linearity that so often causes embodied tension in the queer subject.
The genre of music also converges queerly with the unique temporality of a live performance. Perhaps all members of the audience identified with queerness in some way and were attracted to the ‘queercore’ potential of the concert. Although I can infer this might be likely, I cannot say this with certainty. Jill Dolan writes of “Utopian Performatives” arguing “that live performance provides a place where people come, embodied and passionate, to share experiences of meaning-making and imagination.” In these moments, whether we are all “queer” or have a shared history or intent, in our participation, our interactions with one another and the performers indicates and forms what is valuable at the time. While we all come from undoubtedly different subjectivities, there is kernel of connection bringing us together. Through the embodied and physical excitement performed by the crowd, I felt at this time that the participants were valuing a time and space that makes room for the extravagance of a queercore band. The concert is occurring immediately, and all the present members of the performance—both the performers and the audience members—are participating at once from various perspectives. There is also an emphasis of audience participation as part of the art form; this is seen as the performers engage with the crowd, by asking questions like “Who here is queer?” In the venue of the concert, the bodies present are converging on one timeline, coming from various threads and places. Discussing queer subjectivities and live performance, Lisa Blackman highlights this unique element to performance, “the shows are live and take on characteristics of liveness, which might include their immediacy, their ephemerality and irreproducibility.”  The concert is immediate. I suggest that this situates all participants in the same time, a specific time that is queer. That is, we are all immediately absorbing the band’s performance through the music and sights, and our bodies are relating to one another as we dance and sing along to the vibrations. The art is subjective, but we all become participants in its co-creation and work to create a meaning together at this time. Grounding and connecting participants in the ephemerality of a moment resists the ever-forward march of linear chrononormativity again. Live performance allows participants to pause and take a moment; in this moment participants create new meanings and new values.
As the audience and performers bring forth their subjectivity to the live experience and converge to create new meaning, we are bodies that interrelate to one another creating a new meaning from a shared history. I argue that this was emblematic during the performance of the Punx’s song “Everyone’s A Pussy, Fuck You Dude.” I am interpreting its meaning through my own partial lens, but this was not a meaning I created alone. Blackman also writes that “the performer is not simply expressing their own ‘symptoms’ but is connected to a shared history or counter-memory that exists inter-generationally and is felt inter-corporeally. The art produced by the band and co-created with the audience members, while working to form different webs of temporalities, is still a ‘symptom’ of lived experiences. Bodies valuing queerness at this time are still emerging from a queer history, whether or not it is personally shared between attendees. The music and the visual aesthetics work together to create a feeling within the present bodies, or, perhaps, an affective moment. Siegworth and Gregg write: “At once intimate and impersonal, affect accumulates across both relatedness and interruptions in relatedness, becoming a palimpsest of force-encounters traversing the ebbs and swells of intensities that pass between “bodies.” As the participants sang along and laugh defiantly to the “in-your-face” music and lyrics, I interpret this encounter to be a re-imagining of a past moment of queerphobia, presently being enacted on a different timeline with a different valuation.
I attach a meaning to the performing of this song that comes from my own relational knowing and experience as a queer person. I understand and have felt the monitoring of gender-non-conformity on a visceral plane, all too frequently in our chrononormative context. I can imagine Bogart walking in a queer manner, speaking with a feminine lilt, being the object of bullies, at any age. He walks similarly across the stage but instead, he is screaming in the foreground of a punk song claiming a queerphobic slur in the imagined face of his bullies whilst embodying effeminate body language to a crowd of queers delighting in this moment. Embodying this movement in a space where it is valued by participants works to reconstitute a relationship with our bodies and one another. As we create this new meaning, we might feel at ease. We realize that we can strut in a way that defies expectations of gender or sexuality. This embodiment also has a temporal valence, in that when we stutter and flit around, we do not walk on a straight line. Thus, Bogart is also challenging bodily efficiency along with challenging gender norms. Again, this is a step defiant to chrononormativity, but also mirrors Ahmed’s image of deviating from the “straight” path. To move excessively and with exaggeration is to deviate from the norm of straightness and onto another queer path. This, again, provides for the participants a new opportunity to where our bodies do not feel contorted into heteronormativity.
To further reflect on the temporal nature of the content of this song, I want to bring forth the work of Heather Love. Discussing “camp” Heather Love writes:
Many negative or stereotypical representations from the past have been reappropriated through the mode of camp…images that have been reclaimed tend be those that reflect, in an excessive or ambivalent way, values that are acceptable or even desirable in a contemporary context.
As we can imagine a time of marginalization for being too effeminate, this same characteristic has become celebrated in an excessive way as Bogart himself sings those words, dancing across the stage in only a thong. In the context of this concert, a venue full of queers embraces an effeminate man prancing around the stage. Therefore, by recreating these characteristics of the past in this moment through this exaggeration, effeminacy is being reclaimed and a new narrative occurs presently. Acknowledging the “present” moment in opposition to reflecting on the past or looking to a future, means to dally or linger. Not only do we connect to one another by being on the same timeline, but we are recreating a moment for now, one that does not have an expectation for our future productivity. Dolan further writes, that the performance-based “performative is not a metaphor, it’s a doing” that “construct[s] a temporary public.”. In this specific moment amongst one another, we are working to co-create a moment of meaning, where performing this effeminacy is real and valued in a way that is not done within the constraints of chrononormativity.
Throughout this paper, I have argued that elements of the live performance that I experienced as resonant worked to revalue and reshape our embodied relationship with temporality. As such, the discomfort felt by virtue of working to keep up with capitalist and heteronormative time was given a moment to dissipate. By valuing “taking too much time,” defying the forward-march of productivity, and dwelling by looking backward and inward, I argue that this performance palpably concocted a queer timeline outside of chrononormativity. Rather than contorting to fit into the constraints of conventional temporality, this sense of relief through the celebration of these elements provides for its queer participants a potential sense of belonging. We are enacting a shared history by taking part in and relating to the band’s attire, and Bogart’s songs and body language. Therefore, we are all participating, and despite our differing subjective threads, there are symptoms that we share and meanings that we create in that moment. An embodied sense of ease was palpable, and queer bodies belonged. As I have also stated, I acknowledge that this perspective is derived from my partial subjectivity and is open to being revisited through the affective and temporal experiences of others.