[I am finally working my way through the reflections and responses that I drafted throughout March. These next few posts will be a loose processing of a series of incredible events (talks, meetings, lectures, performances, collective celebrations) which unfolded over the last month and to which I alluded in a post in early March. The notes, responses, reflections, and questions that I will post in the coming days/week emerge from of a series of events which have not only moved my ‘actual’ (i.e. institutional) PhD process along, but, more importantly, have witnessed the beginnings of an engagement with the community/collective of incredible folks at YorkU Faculty of Environmental Studies, as well as people located institutionally and geographically ‘elsewhere’.
The day following my first comp defense, on which I immediately, and exhaustedly/briefly reflected (below), I was honored to participate in a panel called “Doing (and Being) Queer in Environmental Studies: Research and Visibility.” For me, this was the ideal follow-up event to the more theoretically and individually inclined comp defense. I felt, as I did many years ago when I over-eagerly volunteered to discuss the history of my neighborhood association based on my very emergent experience,
a bit out of my depth. Nevertheless, I tried to listen more than speak. I will reflect more deeply on that event in another post, but say here that it marks, in very concrete terms, a distinct moment of politicization, becoming-collective, and reflexivity in my thinking and doing as a PhD student (in general) and as a queer PhD student at York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (more specifically).
Up to that point, I had been longing for a collectivity; I was very much missing the political community of the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association (see above), where I first participated in anti-racist community/collective organizing. I had been feeling isolated and uncertain about being in Toronto, but aware that there was much missing from my narrow view, framed as it was by the dashboard of the first year of a PhD in an unfamiliar city and institution.
Over the last month, I have finally begun to feel at home here: in Toronto, at York, in FES, in my apartment. But home is, as Loree Erickson explored in her contribution to “Doing (and Being) Queer…”, a contingent and complex form of ‘coming alive in our bodies,’ of reconciling the ideology of “you can do anything [in FES]” with the material realities of what ‘fits’ and ‘is needed’. As Loree explored, our survival depends deeply on making FES fabulous. This means we need to care for, accommodate, listen to, work shit out with, and also just be around each other. Radical care and support is not an option, but a necessity.
And yet, writing from my particular experience, I am aware that I don’t want to fetishize or exploit other people’s struggles for home; I especially don’t want to colonize someone else’s home. Nevertheless, at least in Canada, I am implicated in the latter even though I want to reject it, which is why decolonizing not only my thinking, but also my actions, has become and will remain an imperative. I want to be aware of the conditions under which my various movements and displacements – themselves often elaborate schemes to avoid my educational debt, to attempt to build this future-oriented structure called ‘a career’, to escape failing temporary arrangements – are undertaken. To this end, I am beginning to work on becoming a responsible and engaged ally to the many communities of which I am not a member but to which I feel an obligation and for which I hope to be a useful ally.
All of this grows from finally arriving, from allowing myself to be in
one this particular place for an extended period of time; from feeling it as a new home, even if it isn’t the only one. I haven’t been very established in once place for the last few years, so I am very much looking forward to cultivating the relationships, commitments, responsibilities, and engagements that (should and do) come along with the bizarre privilege of doing a PhD.
As this series of posts will explore, my own scholarly interest in displacement, invasiveness, nomadism, and the ethics and politics of queerness are beginning to react to/situate themselves in the settler colonial country in which I reside as a temporary and conditional guest. I am trying to come to know the history and ancestry of the occupied territory which I too have come to occupy as a scholar, a queer, and an able-bodied white guy. I am trying to navigate the the various forms of institutional support, from which I sometimes benefit, and to identify, understand, and resist the violence that often comes with it. This violence is something I unambiguously oppose, but something which I cannot always figure out how to act against.
All I know is that I cannot do any of these things in isolation, which is the first thing so many people told me a PhD would be. I hope these posts speak back to the assumed inevitability of that condition by highlighting the many collectivities, dependencies, and entanglements that present themselves as evidence – and not necessarily always positive – to the contrary.]
Today March 4, 2013 was rare magic. I successfully defended my first comprehensive examination as a PhD student. The topic was queer theory, so ‘defensive’ isn’t exactly the most appropriate mood. Let’s say I embodied a version of the knowledge-object which was the focus of my first comprehensive examination. I also accounted for the extensive amount of writing I had done and listened attentively to the insights and critiques of my advisor and committee members. The discussion I had with my committee was spirited and, at times, toasty. I mentioned Cleveland more than once; this was surprising. I talked about my personal past in ways I didn’t anticipate doing. I wore a (used) suede jacket; the lining was more than a little moist after two hours. The four of us discussed two pieces of my writing – one whose title is too long to reproduce here and one called “Ec[o]topia Remixed” – and a list of 30 texts constellated around themes of time, subjectivity, sexuality, (meta)feminism, trans history, and space. I spoke at length about concepts of sexual difference, the histories of feminism and queer theory, vegetality and displacement. I’m not sure that I feel any more qualified to ‘think’ or ‘do’ queer now, but I do feel a distinct sense of what happens when certain knowledges are formally tested, acknowledged, and represented and I definitely have a greater sense of the differences and entanglements among my scholarly, activist, personal, and emotional work.
First of all congratulations on your successful ‘defence’. I’m so looking forward to your upcoming posts, all the while struck and intrigued by the language you couch them in.
All best, Brian