Occult Motherhood, Queer Time, the Oracular Orifice: Excursion & Bullets

by on Oct.12, 2010

The Halberstamatic queer time sits in apposition to heteronormative time, those 9-5, early to bed, early to rise, mama-daddy-brother-sister hours.  The hours marked off by opening and closing of shops, by school and workdays, by morning-evening-nightly news.

Halberstam: “Queer uses of time and space develop in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction, and queer subcultures develop as alternatives to kinship-based notions of community.”

Me: “Question: can queer uses of time and space develop within the institutions of  family, heterosexuality, and reproduction to create opposition to those institutions from within?  Do those institutions in fact necessarily contain their own queer oppositions, and thus part of what’s at risk for the hegemony is sealing the gates on those fractious impulses/phenomena?  And, if so, what sort of subcultures rumble in the leaky gut of these institutions?”

There is an understood moral quality to heteronormative time.  Achewood illustrates (literally):

To be a good mama, I should eat me a garbanzo bean at 6, feed family at 7, shuttle babies at 8, get to work at 9.  Whatevs, breeder town.  I stay awake until 3 am, and don’t get up until 10 if I can help it.  My babies look at me like the apocalypse is upon us if they see me out of bed before 9.  To our great perversion, my schedule (both work and bodily) require my man-partner, the father to get up in the morning and tend the bodily, emotional, and logistical needs of our children, while I lie abed.

So here’s the thing—the daddy-partner was traveling the past couple days and I did the following: wake up, feed, shuttle, AND bump into other parents.  I performed NORMAL.  I was awake in the morning tending to the bodily needs of my babies.  I felt strangely compelled to masquerade in front of the other parents, to demonstrate that this was a NORMAL morning for me, and not to betray the fact that I planned to take a very immoral snooze the moment the baby went down for his nap.

And then I wondered if I wasn’t the only one masquerading.  Because motherhood (and fatherhood, wherein men parents tend explicitly to the physical needs/bodies of their small children and infants) often leads one to keep queer time, or, at very least, makes the keeping of heternormative time distinctly difficult, unpleasant, verging on impossible.

  1. You may find yourself sleeping with a restless little bobcat, who several to dozens of times a night claws you awake for milk or comfort.
    • The pediatrician graciously calls this “not gifted with sleep.”
    • We call it “checking for predators.”
  2. Leaky vessels, orifices, don’t play by business hours.  Even that moral compass, the circadian rhythm is easily disrupted, ever so difficult to reestablish.  I adore Gail Kern Paster’s The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England. It’s brilliant and perhaps more applicable to contemporary, postmodern life than even the author herself realizes.  In her fab chapter on how the maternally controlled bodily functions lead to scatological humor, Kern Paster harkens back to a time when women, mothers “were the primary medical practitioners in their own homes.”  And though she notes that mothers still handle their children’s bodies more often, the suggestion rings clear—contemporary women aren’t as engaged in the bodily fluids, certainly don’t practice humorism, are generally involved in medicalized, not occult practices.  In a footnote, says Kern Paster: “I am assuming, at least for contemporary American child-rearing and pediatric practices, that better health and nutrition for children make the administration of enemas, rectal suppositories, and laxatives on the whole less frequent than was the case in early modern Europe.”
    • Sadly, the contemporary US American child often has as many digestive ailments as the contemporary US American adult.  Processed foods, lack of healthy flora, low fiber intake, lactose issues, colic, IBS, stress related stomach problems, etc.  A great many of us parents are right in the thick (ew) of it.  We’re removing impacted fecal matter, we’re carefully administering laxatives or foods with laxative properties, we’re balancing hydration, we’re checking the saliva to see how hydrated the body is, we’re examining the urine for macro-hematuria or collecting it for the detection of micro-hematuria.  We’re gazing into diapers and toilets to ascertain the color of the urine, the consistency of the fecal matter, what’s been vomited up, and so on.
    • When one so literally handles the abject materials, she enters the realm of the shaman.  The shaman receives hir power from having survived an illness, from having tread so near the mortal line.  Shit treads the mortal line, as do flies on shit, maggots, compostable materials, etc.
    • When one so literally handles the abject materials, she refuses to be alienated from the means of production of life.  Thus, in a very practical fashion, she reclaims some of bodily knowledge and authority that has been hoarded by Western medical institutions.
    • In caring for our children’s bodies, and in caring for the pregnant/post-partum body, many parents find themselves disappointed by the slim range of treatments offered by Western medicine.  Though it’s ethnocentric crapola, one cannot help but feel (if she has been raised in a particularly sterilized Western manner) that alternative medicine is tinged with the occult.  For instance, when I sniff my child’s breath for the odd metallic smell that determines whether or not he is teething, I feel more than a little oracular.
    • More often than not, the bodies most critical leaks and needs occur in the dark of night.
    • The reclamation of one’s shameful fluids has long been on the feminist agenda.  Breast milk isn’t dirty (Kern Paster has chapters on the dug that might as well be set in an episode of Mad Men).  Cervical fluid is not only natural, but immensely informative—able to demonstrate fertile times of the month.  Male or female, one’s urine should be so transluscent that one can read through it (if not by the light of it!).
    • But this is not to say that bodily fluids are the province of mothers exclusively, or even female bodies exclusively!  As it turns out, we all leak (welcome to the brigade!).  Kern Paster on early modern medicine: “Joubert devotes an entire chapter to the question of ‘whether it is true that a woman who has just delivered is able to piss milk’ and decides that it is, ‘as is the case when the parturient woman does not nurse.’  Early gynecologists blieved that women who had never been pregnant could have milk in their breasts, that ‘marriageable virgins full of juice and seed’ could have as much breast milk as wet nurses.”  Kern Paster rightly asserts that these beliefs are the result with a deep-seated cultural association between women and liquids.  However, these fellas weren’t completely off the mark.  A virgin can have milk, an adoptive female can nurse her babe, and beyond that, the male body can also produce milk (heavier on the protein, not quite as chock full of valuable fats).  I would not be surprised to find that in addition to protein and sugar, we could piss milk.
    • I wanted to say something here about lack of fertile cervical fluid, the white of a chicken egg, protein, medicine syringe, witchy procedures, you get the picture.
  3. Is this sort of time anti-capitalist?  Anti-bourgeois?  Perhaps.  A leaky body stands anathema to the corporate.  On the other hand, Marx daydreams that it will be: “possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, cowherd, or critic.”  He may wish to queer the division of labor among men, but he doesn’t wish to engage in queer time.  Capitalism, for its part, will certainly learn to devour queer time as it has hetero time.  This is what the internet is for, yeah?
  4. 9 pm, which means I’ve got to get back to my day job.

5 comments for this entry:
  1. adam strauss

    I love this post–it never even occured to me to “queer” time, and so I’m now galumphing to myself well that’s a huge oversite on my behalf! Thank you, via a take-off from Halberstam, for writing this post!
    Delighted that you include the link!

    Whatevs, breeder town. I stay awake until 3 am, and don’t get up until 10 if I can help it. My babies look at me like the apocalypse is upon us if they see me out of bed before 9. To our great perversion, my schedule (both work and bodily) require my man-partner, the father to get up in the morning and tend the bodily, emotional, and logistical needs of our children, while I lie abed.

    Is it crazy to state that the timeline you write above is only queer if it’s comparatively being deemed wrong? I see nothing wrong–and instead see a rightness–with the schedule above (well nothing automatic; if parts seem off to you, then sure there’re issues). Your inclusion of the word “breeder” disarms me in the best way. My general reaction is that that word is wretched, but your usage–for me–begins something else: a great reclamtion of a hideous epithet; but more than a reclamation; the redefining seems more dynamic, and to have the ghost of women as slaves which seems–pun not intended but there anyways–productive.

  2. Monica Mody

    How brilliant! In a particularly queer/immoral year, with no leaky family or children around, I can make only my own body/self/world responsible for having a particularly leaky notion of time, for failing to fit into heteronormative time. Everytime my cats wake up, it’s a new day for them. There they come, half-closed eyes, to rub their fur into my face, or mawling. Pet me. Which is not to say I don’t deliberately leak time in grooming them and entertaining them. But the failures, lapses, temporal leaks that come out of (and go towards) my own body (etc) are something else.

    Then – thinking about Joyelle’s post above – what generic temporality would (should) this experience frame, or work with? Would an accounting/hack accounting lead to the same old queer time, always?

  3. Danielle

    Omygoodness, Monica, how did I fail to make the literal connection between leaking bodies and leaking time? I was just yakking about those two as cause/effect/parallel phenomena, when they are *literally* the same thing. Female bodes-leaking time-flex time-corporate world-something-something-something more…you’ve got me thinking!

  4. megan m.

    hi danielle,
    awesome post! i love your engagement with halberstam here. w/r/t this idea of queer motherhood, have you read edelman’s No Future? i bet you could do something fun with his rejection of reproductive futurism and The Child.
    the Paster book looks fascinating – i’m glad to have it on my radar, thanks!

  5. Rudy Gelhar

    LOL at that pic. There are some good Boudreau gifs being posted over at the HF forums.