Queer Utopia in This Lifetime
How do you find joy in life when the everyday feels like a hopeless cycle of work, rent payments, and depression? While in the psychiatric hospital, Phoenix Danger reads José Esteban Muñoz and devises a new strategy for happiness.
There’s a corner in Soho that I hate. It’s right by the train, and it’s busy all the time. The foot traffic rushes in from Canal Street, known for its knockoff bags and kitschy wares, and when I’m rushing through there it’s always because I’m late for work. The corner has had its redeeming moments, though. Occasionally, I’ll be on time, or even early, and in two particular instances I ran into two of my favorite people. Favorite is not an exaggeration: these are people who I love, who I wonder about each day, who I miss when they’re gone, and who I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to find on my way to work of all the damned places in this damned city.
My job is okay, and by that I mean I hate it even though it’s a dream retail job (if such a thing exists). I’m one of my only friends who gets to work with all queer and trans co-workers, and I love our union. I remember when I was interviewing for the job, I asked a sales associate if she liked it. “I really like working with the merchandise,” she said before immediately adding, “but all work is hell.”
It’s true. Work is hell, being on the subway during rush hour is hell, our political climate is hell, housing is hell. Everything is a struggle: student debt kills, this city kills, most people I know are about a paycheck ahead of ending up on the street if they’re not already.
My friends and I, we tell each other that our survival is a sign of resilience, and that’s true, but it’s something more than that: an active persistence towards something else. Resilient is a descriptor that relates the survival of our bodies in relation to the passage of time. Persistence is a continuous act of doing and making rather than simply being. Resilience is what allows us to remain in this world; persistence is the pressing idea that this world is bullshit – it’s a rejection of grinding poverty, deadly transmisogyny, the scourge of anti-blackness, the impossibilities of physically navigating this city if you can’t walk, run, and climb. Resilience says we survive these conditions; persistence says we will outlive them.
“Queerness is not yet here,” claims the late José Esteban Muñoz in the opening of Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. For Muñoz, the pull forward exists, the persistence exists, but for him, queer persistence isn’t one of mere survival in the now; it contains a desirous element that propels the feeling away from the present into a yet unnamed place where queers of all natures thrive:
“The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there....Queerness is a longing that propels us onward, beyond romances of the negative and toiling in the present. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing.”
As I recognized my friend’s face I felt the then and there that Muñoz so longs for – a time in the future where one is free to indulge in the affection of an intimate without having to worry about the slow grind of meaningless labor. I loved and despised running into this friend in Soho. Loved: in the midst of bracing myself for the weather, the train, the strangers, the labor, I was pulled suddenly and unexpectedly into a moment of intimacy. Despised: the moment was temporary.