Friday, 19 June 2009

It's Still Rock and Roll to Me

I'm turning 30 in a little under two months. I'm looking forward to it. My main concern at the moment is whether my party will kick enough ass and involve enough champagne. (Or other, cheaper, bubbling options. I'm not hating on cava, spumonti, or prosecco here.)

When I was a child, I felt old. Or rather, I never felt the way I imagined a child was supposed to feel, and I often didn't act that way, either. I was quieter and more cautious, wary of revealing too much and never trusting too soon. I always felt large and clumsy and deep-voiced. (I consciously changed my voice in my adolescence to sound more light and feminine, which has now become an ingrained habit that I'm slowly and painfully trying to unlearn. It's a process, rediscovering your own voice twenty years on.) People described me as serious and mature, always.

In many ways I feel younger now than then. I am much less burdened with the weight of shame and fear. I think so many fewer things are impossible or off-limits, and so slowly I'm learning, for the first time, the spontaneity and enthusiasm that one is supposed to lament losing at my age.

In other ways, of course, I feel ordinarily chronological. My insights feel more saturated with context and history than the quick, sharp observations of people ten years younger than me. And I don't have quite the manic Gumby-flexible energy I did as a teenager, though I'm physically stronger now than I was then, by a long shot.

I wonder in what ways being queer shapes our experiences of chronology and life stages, beyond the obvious questions of access to marriage & reproduction milestones. My thoughts on these lines are shaped by Jack Halberstam's 'In a Queer Time and Place'. Halberstam argues there for a kind of prolonged adolescence as being characteristic of queer subcultures, which reject the reproductive calendar of their straight counterparts.

Sitting in the library the other day, I was staring out the window, as you do in libraries after a while. And I was watching a middle-aged man have a conversation with a police officer. It looked like they were probably friends. The man was wearing a polo shirt and khakis; he was solid, beer-bellied, and ruddy, and I imagined him as the respository, in a way, of all that was respectable, normal, and, in the words of my youth, as it should be. I wondered about the burden that must be, carrying all that legitimacy around, maybe watching out worriedly for transgressions, maybe just carefully ensuring that the rounds of barbeques and high school graduations and conservations with your pal the cop went on in perpetuity, preserved for the next pillars of society.

And that got me wondering if that burden and those immense privileges that accrue to carrying it are, in the end, what really growing up and being mature are about in our world. Maybe that is why queers seem like eternal adolescents: by the very nature of our lives, we are never going to ascend to that level of legitimacy.

A colleague recently remarked to me that rock and roll is dead, which he then amended to the observation that rock and roll dies for everyone at a different moment, because it is the music of youth and rebellion. But maybe, I thought, youth and rebellion are ultimately the same thing. And the reward that we get, the queer and the marginal and the deviant, is that for us, rock and roll lives, like Frodo, for ever.


QueerRose said...

Wonderful post Leo. What do you think about eternal / prolonged adolescence and butch vs femme? Do you think it's more a butch thing?! Just asking! QRx

LL Cool Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LL Cool Joe said...

Sorry I made so many typos!!

Yesterday I was out looking at tiles with my mother. How un-rock and roll right? This black guy rushed up to me and said "Wow you look so good! Just check you out man! I bet your record collection is full of J-Zay and stuff." He gave me a massive high five, and he commented on my bling, and what I did for a living and introduced himself to me. I was gonna write about this on my blog actually.

We chatted for ages, with my Mother standing there grinning. I reckon this guy was at least 15 years younger than me, from Brixton, had gold teeth and was about as muscular as LL Cool J. He asked me for my business card.

I walked out with my boring black tile, and realised that would never had happened to me if I was normal. I mean, being trans has some how allowed me to keep my youth. How weird is that?

Same thing when I dj, as a transman I get away with stuff I'd never ever get away with if I wasn't.

So yeah, I hear you.

Janet said...

I've always felt like an outsider.

In regards to growing older and maturity I am of the "grow down" theory of maturation.

Forever young! Forever looking at the world with a more childlike innocence.

Blazer said...

I think that early onset maturity might be a result of realizing at a young age that we are on the "outside". I know that I felt that way from a very early age. Looking at the world from that perspective led to an innate sense that I needed to take responsibility for and care of myself. I have often wondered if this was so for others who came to terms with their sexuality when they were young.

I also think that the hiding of ourselves, which we all do to some extent (to protect our emotional and sometimes physical wellbeing), is a serious business that other kids never have to dwell upon.

I feel that each step I have taken in coming out and living more openly has taken away a weight that I had carried and yes, a granted me sense of new found youth.

B said...

nothing to do with your post, but i thought of you today. my friend had a baby boy, and guess what she named him? LEO!!!! said...

I don't know that I agree that we don't eventually arrive at that "normalcy".

We do eventually have to go to those BBQs and graduations. Though, often, much later than our straight counterparts.

I just think that because of who we are and what we go through that our minds are open to far more options in life than just the checklist of what it takes to get to die.

Rock on my friend.


p.s. Jess and I BETTER get an invite my young friend. lol

e said...

How philosophical you become in your aging!

Like Janet, I've always felt a bit of an outsider. Definitely an observer more often than a participant. And I don't know if that is related to being queer or if it is simply my nature. I know I have felt "other" most of my life.

Being outside gives us a different perspective on what things like entitlement really mean. And, wariness and caution build a skill set that our straight brothers and sisters don't own for a long time. We may seem adolescent on some levels but living queer in a hetero world grows us up in alternate ways.

Jess said...

Leave it to you to always make me think. :P

I was just telling Tina that I feel so young again. When I came out as butch I felt like a teenager. Now coming out as trans I'm back to feeling like a teenager. I love being queer. It's like being a cat with nine lives.

Rock on, Leo and I second my sexy wife- we'd BETTER get an invite.

Anonymous said...

That people are often very surprised by my age has me thinking that it might be less about my physical appearance but maybe more about how I carry myself. I feel so young and full of life - I think that makes you look different.
For me, I don't think that being queer is so much the reason, I think it might be b/c I value life so much more now that I've had a second chance at it. Appreciating every single day makes this femme very youthful. Having a young chick at home waiting for me doesn't hurt either. :)

Eli said...

this is a great theory...i've always thought about how queers seem to age slower than straight folks, but never really come to a conclusion. i've thought about it being because more of us live outside the normative structure of getting married, having kids, settling down. yet obviously there are plenty of lgbt people - i'd say increasingly more and more - who do go that route, which is fine too...

as for me personally, i feel very young right now. maybe because i still haven't landed my first full-time job. maybe because i'm dating someone 3.5 years younger. but largely, i think it's because of coming out as genderqueer/trans. i never had a boyhood, so this is kind of it. and while i feel like a boy, i don't see myself ever feeling like a man.

also, i would like to drink sparkling beverages with you.