this was originally a post i made on tumblr which i transported to here bc i feel like tumblr is becoming less and less focused on essay-kinda stuff!! never did finish it but it's kinda interesting! (fun fact: my favorite novel is Democracy by Joan Didion!!)

Ancient fountains once worked, and drowned out that very silence we have come to expect and want from the past.
Joan Didion, The White Album (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1979).

Logged into my old Notion and found this quote which I like a lot. Reminds me of why I felt so passionately about making the study of history such a major part of my life. I’m not interested in studying history as a textbook presents it: facts and figures lined up in a pleasing order, disguising the internal rhetoric and complexity of the narrative. Hayden White is controversial but I think he was right to place such emphasis on the narrative style.

I was asked to talk on queer history and queer archives recently and I’m really struck by the necessity of developing and funding archives. What is preserved today will be history tomorrow. We imagine queer pasts in the incomplete and flawed ways we do not (only) because queerness is new but (also) because the historical record of queerness is incomplete, flawed, and largely a product of cishetero intellect.

On the newness of queerness: I get the sense, though I’m not really well read enough in Marxist thought to ground this in any other text, that capitalism entails the development of dichotomous hierarchies. E.g, white:black, straight:queer. In this sense, the construction of “queerness” developed from the same origin as “straightness.” Human history generally demonstrates that the concept of “straight” is extremely new. Moreover, “queer” has historically not been used equally across identities. Definitely something I’d like to research more and am not an expert on, but it seems like if you’re a historical subject it’s much easier for historians to label you queer if you’re already associated with some other subaltern identity than not.

Sort of in the other direction, yet also somewhat in the same token, I’m thinking of Eric Cervini’s Book of Queer TV series which—to me—reflects the intense need for more queer historical studies. The figures he presents are essentially modern stereotypes mapped onto historical figures, which is not necessarily a problem (that’s basically Shakespeare’s M.O.). But I feel like the series as a whole is reflective of a tendency to view “queer history” as simply reaching back into the past and dissolving the complex existences of queer subjects into digestible labels and fragmentary identities. Greta LaFleur kinda covers this instinct with the term “whiggishness” and I think she’s right.[1] In doing so, practitioners of this method assume that modern labels and identities are superior to those of their subjects. It’s not dangerous until you begin to call it genuine history—as Cervini does—because then it becomes distortion ignorant of the fluidity and multiplicity of queer pasts.

I have (WAY) more thoughts on this subject, will post later. The above is just a general sketch of one of the major issues I feel with modern historical practice and queer subjects. I have other problems generally with how our society conceptualizes queerness which I’ll be sure to type up eventually. :)

1: here referencing Greta LaFleur's conclusion to Trans Historical (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), a book you should definitely read every page of!!
november 2022