A pandemic is not queer.
Subversions of oppressive norms, expressions of wild desire, revolutionary rejections of the codes that bind our limbs and gag our tongues: the praxis arising from queer theory and lived experience is active. Passivity and complicity to lingering and resurgent injustice is not queer, no matter the label applied to you. Solidarity with the suffering, even in the midst of your own, is what gives queer activism its queerest quality: in decision over submission. With that basis, queer theory and praxis spreads itself to multiple fronts, fighting for justice in housing, income, legal status, land ownership, anywhere injustice can be queered. Coalitions can form; action can be organized, and progress can be won.
But crisis is not queer. Crisis upends the capitalist, heteronormative, patriarchal, colonial institutions that queerness opposes, but by straining them to their breaking points and taking lives and livelihoods when they break. It reveals what and who is really queer, as its severity is unevenly felt and every societal privilege is magnified. It may feel queer, but this coronavirus outbreak, the first 21st century global plague, is not queer, because it is not liberating or just.
Maybe some of the upheavals brought by the emergency can be queered, or lend themselves to being queered more easily. Capitalist cycles of labor and production have been disrupted. Offices and campuses are empty, their regular inhabitants moved into their homes and their labor online, where possible. The movement of education and swaths of white-collar labor to online work offers a positive queering of their labor for some who take to it better. It can be freeing to have more control over your workflow and pace, and you can tweak your environment to suit you.
Heteronormative scales of time are being cancelled. Nothing like a pandemic to relieve the outside pressure to have cis, straight children in a cis, straight way. Any plan to fit a heteronormative schedule of life has to halt now, no matter how inevitable its natural burnout may be. The impulses and desires that make us friends and lovers are morphing, adapting to virtual spaces and new ways to express affection. The borders and roles of the body and its presence in relation to others and the space it inhabits are all different when we are socially distanced.
Yet, the moments of queer positivity, or queering the pandemic, are only available to those with the privilege to be able to do so, without risk to their lives or prosperity. Working online from home can be a great queering of the capitalist eight-hour day and refusal of the heteronormative beats of life, if your job can be done remotely. Your friendship and intimacy can be novel and take on new dimensions online, if you have equal access to the necessary technology to do so.
Your relation to physical space and your body within it can be radically changed, if you’re secure in your ability to self-quarantine and eventually leave your home. Essential health and service workers, the immunocompromised, the homeless and food unstable, those already hounded and harassed for who they are or where they come from: they aren’t experiencing a radical queering of their lives. They’re experiencing a natural disaster, exacerbated by systemic injustices. Often, they’re also the ones already queered by their society at any number of intersections, and new burdens on them alienate them further.
I understand that right now, everyone is anxious, restless, and tired of this seemingly endless parade of tragedy. I am, too. After a month of the world turning inside-out, I get that we need every silver lining we can grasp. However, I strongly caution against viewing this pandemic as a great queering moment. Because crises and disasters are not queer, not when their shocks to hegemony come suddenly, without the consent of those whose lives are changed, and with a body count. Not when that hegemony is rearing its head and feeling threatened. Not when those bearing the brunt of the plague with the fewest defenses are seeing shuttered their immediate avenues for change and pleasure. Not when queering this pandemic comes with privilege.
The time will come when the pandemic is over, and we can go back outside, and every injustice deepened by the crisis can be radically refused, opposed, and subverted. Those campaigns will be queer; queerness will sprout from all this; it must. But suffering is not queer. Crisis is not queer. A pandemic is not queer.