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Out of sync, life out of the closet; a basic intro to Queer temporality

Written by Mo Hofstede

Would you believe me if I told you that queer people experience time differently?

Let me explain what I mean by that. I don’t mean that queer folks are able to see the future or travel through time like something out of a sci-fi novel. I don’t even mean that queer people perceive the physical passage of time differently, like when time flies or drags. Instead I mean that we live outside of the chrononormative standard.

Chrononormativity refers to the way in which our experiences conform to certain normative patterns and milestones over the course of our life. Chrononormativity is, among other things, constructed through the framework of heteronormativity. You’ll probably recognise many heteronormative life milestones such as: your first crush, your first boy/girlfriend, losing your virginity, getting married, having children, possibly getting a divorce and having grandchildren. These milestones are associated with stages of life as a relative measure of personal and social success. If you miss these milestone people might tell you that you’re “too old to have children '' or that you should, quite literally, "get straight and settle down”.

Queer time and temporality therefore, resists what we might call normative time. Either by completely deviating from normative milestones, or by experiencing them at different points in life. For example, due to myriad of factors including: lack of representation, homophobia, and lack of immediate community, queer people often start dating later than their straight peers simply because they have more obstacles to over come. On top of that, queer futures are uncertain by nature, as the heteropatriachal family standard is so enforced that imagining a future that deviates from that is neigh impossible. I know many queer people that don't know how to envision their future because there is so little representation of queer families in later stages of their life.

Of course, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the intersectional factors that affect normative time such as gender, race, class, wealth and ability. Normative time also includes milestones such as, getting a steady job, a house, and a mortgage, going on vacations and subsequently retiring. Queer time resists the normative institutions of family, heterosexuality, labor, reproduction and success. It carries different rituals of social belonging, intimacy, adulthood and grief. Institutions like marriage, while now no longer impossible for queer people, do not carry the same connotations as they do in heteronormative society.

Now that we’ve gotten the most of the theory out of the way we can start exploring some of the things that distinguish queer temporality. Some elements of Queer time are:

  • Time in the closet, when you might still adhere to normative time.

  • Something that might be referred to as promiscuous time, describing post teenage sexual exploration prevelant in the gay scene. It is sometimes described as a second youth

  • Queer death, or the concept that, queer men in particular, stop being desirable or sexually fun once they reach 30. Queer death sometimes also propogates the nomative concept of settling down, often from within the community.

  • Exploratory time, when exploring our identity and finding our place in the world and our community.

  • Voluntary childlessness is the active rejection of reproductive milestones central to heteronomative time.

  • Or conversely, alternative parenting, including queer parents who adopt or live in unconventional familial structures, often becoming parents later in life compared to straight peers.

Additionally Trans time including experiences of trans and non binary people also covers

  • Dysphoric time spent, grappling with ones own identity

  • Time in transition including both physical or social transitions

  • Time of second puberty, apart from the general queer experience of delayed youth puberty blockers which may literally delay physical puberty and hormones can induce a second or delayed puberty.

  • Time passing, when after transitioning when ones gender identity and presentation align resulting not being misgendered.

  • And finally, Folding time when during both binary and non-binary transitions one reconciles their experience being perceived as different genders.

Now then, what does this actually mean? Queer temporality is a covert reason for homophobic and transphobic rhetoric used to marginalise the queer community. Many parents for instance have certain expectations for their children pressuring them to fall into heteronomative systems. One example of this is the expectation for grandchildren, by coming out as queer these expectations are being rejected, and because many still see it as an active decision, this is often judged as a selfish act. Additionally, despite queer temporality the overwhelming pressure of chononormative thought causes many queer people to feel like they are late bloomers, behind schedule or catching up to their cis-het contemporaries.

From a more positive point of view, queer time allows queer people to live outside of the pressures of a heteronormative society. Being separate from the expectations of society queer time is flexible and highlights important differences between the experience of queer people and the rest of the world. Queer time can be libarating as the it releases us from forces of temporality which are neutral to those it privileges within heteronormative society are oppressive to those excludes.

Some interesting literature:

​​Freeman, Elizabeth. “Introduction.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies,

Halberstam, Jack. “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies.” In a Queer Time and

Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York University Press, 2005.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres – Untitled (Perfect Lovers), 1991, clocks, paint on wall, overall 35.6 x 71.2 x 7 cm, photo: MoMA

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