- Queer Intervals
In “How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay,” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick pointed to the mangling effects of our ambivalence (even outright hostility) toward “protogay” youth.1 For gay adults, that ambivalence — as she implied in Touching Feeling — is rooted at least in part in the uneven temporalities of human development. 2 The triumphalism of coming out attempts to suppress not only the shame attributed to one by homophobia but also the more elusive shame of inhabiting a cognition out of synch with itself. Even as post-Stonewall culture has allowed kids to come out at younger and younger ages, that potential shame remains, and it is not merely the belated elders of those ostensibly liberated youngsters who seem haunted by the specter of wasted time and wasted youth. For those elders, to experience resentment may be only natural (however mixed, as it no doubt must be, with emotions more pleasant to confess) when confronted with the spectacle of a new world of gay visibility that — made possible by one’s own long drawn-out agonies and uncertainties insofar as they rhymed with those of one’s generation — makes that long latency, and the rich forms of consciousness its torture produced, look like matter merely for the dustbin of history. But it may mitigate against resentment somewhat to reflect that the experience of queer latency is not, after all, a function of chronological age. One must become gay, and, whether one does so at twelve or at thirty-five, one is confronted with a gap or interval between incommensurate identities. Normalization, celebrations of gay pride, rituals of coming out, the sanctification of gay marriage: whatever else they do, these aspects of contemporary gay politics are regrettable to the extent that they allow us to evade confronting that interval.
Such an interval may characterize human cognition and meaning “as such,” and it certainly characterizes all human “identity” insofar as people cannot originate themselves. The beginning is always elsewhere, in an interval irrecoverable to the one originated. Dwelling on the queer potential of this interval, Stockton’s [End Page 438] Queer Child builds — “laterally” — on exciting recent work in queer theory more or less obliquely addressing queer childhood: one thinks, among others, of James Kincaid, Lee Edelman, D. A. Miller, and Michael Moon.3 More directly, she takes up territory surveyed by Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley’s Curiouser and (most important for Stockton) by Sedgwick’s writing.4
Builds “laterally”: if, for example, Kincaid has taught us to see the eroticization implicit in the forcible de-eroticization of children, the disavowed gratifications of making childhood nothing but a screen on which to project adult fantasies and desires, Stockton brings out the queer potential of (and for) childhood in that forcible erasure. Likewise, Stockton’s thrilling concept of “sideways growth” perhaps allows one to glimpse a possible “future” unassimilable to what Edelman calls “reproductive futurism.”5 The gay child, Stockton writes, “makes us perceive the queer temporalities haunting all children. For no matter how you slice it, the child from the standpoint of ‘normal’ adults is always queer” (7). The gay child is the quintessential child, she brilliantly suggests, because it inhabits an “interval,” a state of delay or suspension, and is a ghost that appears only as a linguistic haunting she calls a “backward birth”: the gay child “has been . . . unavailable to itself in the present tense. The protogay child has only appeared through an act of retrospection and after a death,” a predicament that creates “an asynchronous self-relation” (6). The child arrives too early and too late: “I was a gay child. This has been the only grammatical formulation allowed to gay childhood . . . . by the time the tombstone is raised (‘I was a gay child’), the ‘child’ by linguistic definition has expired” (7).
Stockton’s beautifully articulated description of childhood’s queerness poses a fascinating paradox: how can one make “the queer child” an object of inquiry if, strictly speaking, it does not exist? “How do we see a sexual child as being...