The Anxiety From Which I Speak – Thinking After Butler

I have been thinking about the ideas Judith Butler presented when she lectured on 31st January 2020 at TU Berlin. Firstly, although it happened a seemingly off-the-cuff moment, they asserted their preferred pronoun as “they” (I found this quite historic) while speaking of the phantasmagoria of gender and the question of the pronoun (I responded to this in greater detail in a separate essay).

Secondly, they spoke about trying to “understand the anxiety from which they speak,” the “they” being those who would desire to eliminate gender studies from the academy, as well as others who form coalition around actively working to undermine the rights of LGBTQ++ communities.

For all my Girl Scout interest in “trying to understand the enemy” (or so-called enemy), I feel, lately, that my interest in trying to “figure out” the so-called “Other,” is waning. Not because I’m disinterested in ideas that differ from mine. Also not because I don’t see these problems as real or imminent (after all, our neighbor Poland has decided to allow hateful self-declared “LGBT-free zones” to proliferate throughout the country).

I’m just not interested in hearing so much speculation from voices I know and understand. I’m tired of my podcasts being saturated with leftists trying to pick apart why exactly The United States voted for Donald Trump, when really they mean those other Americans who live in the “Red States,” whom they may secretly (or not so secretly) consider deplorable. Leftists who are being platformed in order to understand conservative voices. There is part of me that cringes at that kind arrogant psychoanalysis, as I would from a movie entitled “What Women Want”–or conversely, “What Men Want.”

I’m not so interested in continuing to frame each other as the “Other,” when Leftists apparently believe they have dismantled this kind of thinking thirty years ago. Essentially I feel more drawn to understanding the ways in which we—we who coexist on this planet—are already the same. I am interested in trying to understand the ways in which two sides of an issue have a similar value or a similar anxiety that ultimately leads them to extrapolate and act on that value or anxiety in very different ways.

As Judith Butler points out as well, while delivering some anecdotal stories from those who have expressed anxiety in regards to the rights of LGBTQ++ communities—we would do best to listen to those voices we disagree with and try to hear them, to try to hear what they are saying. I agree. I would like to hear more what they are saying, less what we are saying about them, and more what we are trying to understand about ourselves.

In this spirit I’d like to think about the anxiety from which I speak, as a queer person, as a assigned-female-at-birth person, as a feminist, as an intersectional body allied with other intersectional bodies who are different from mine. From what anxiety do I speak?

Apparently, ventured Butler, it is the fear of annihilation from which they speak. Gender is a cipher of societal anxieties. Annihilation as workers in a precarious economy. Annihilation of traditions. Annihilation of ways of life which one understands as survival.


In what way is the anxiety from which I speak related to annihilation?

I’m spending time with this word since Butler spoke it, thinking about it. I suppose, as a person who, for fifteen years has lived and worked in a precarious economic condition, living month to month without being able to save, living without permanent residency status and in fear of the State kicking me out, I understand well what it is to survive precariously. And I would argue that what the precariat knows best is how to survive, like cockroaches, like rats, like hyenas. We know how to create informal economies. We know how to recycle trash left in the street. We know how to live off the bits that no one else wants. We know how to make due. We know how to spend less, and then, how to spend even less. And then, how to scrape together the cash.

Annihilation? Physical annihilation? I mean—yes—eventually, either my own mortality or the destruction of the earth. War, perhaps, random violence, epidemics. But my own ability to survive, to make due, to struggle. I don’t fear that.

But I do fear the survival itself, the task of the surviving. The physical pain in the body, the mental health tolls. I fear that struggle. I fear anesthetizing with Netflix after working too many hours. I fear not seeing my children, or not seeing them and being present with them. I fear not being happy, the looming state of depression. I fear not being fulfilled by the act of survival. I fear anesthetizing with alcohol and drugs, drowning myself in social media and CONtent. Losing time lost in screens. I’m not afraid of the violent death, I’m afraid of the violent life.

I fear that somehow I have spent my life fighting for my right to speak, for my knowledge to be taken seriously as a woman, as a child to my parents, to the professor, to the art word, to all the theoretical institutions who would be my employers, who would be the basis of my sustainability … and feel—somehow—I still have not found my voice. I fear that I have not found the uniqueness of my voice in a public context, and as time proceeds, the less unique that voice becomes. I am not special and not different. And voices and information keep piling on, a whole world of speakers, each holding our beautiful microphones. I am talking about the real idea that if I stop Tweeting—or some equivalent—I cease to exist. If there I nothing to tweet about I cease to exist. This is actually somehow terrifying for me/us? So many of us may fear our destruction, deep down, in terms of “being relevant” “being In” “ having something to feel pride about” “someone to celebrate.” In the context of queer: Who cares if I lick pussy? This is nothing to celebrate in and of itself; only in the face of resistance does it have reason to be celebrated. Without resistance—do we cease to be special?

I face a variety of responses to who I am on the street– skepticism that I am an actual parent, genderism, lookism, skepticism that as a sex worker I am a responsible citizen, a real feminist, an intelligent person. Smart enough to be an artist. Sane enough to be anything but an artist. Together enough to join the workforce. I presume.

And yet I persist and I mine myself–as many of us do–for these lived experiences of exclusion. And on some level this is so self aggrandizing and ridiculous. The artist should take a hard look at herself and see … there is nothing all that unique about me, not more unique than anyone else.

And there I annihilate myself again.

When I really think about future, when I think about annihilation, both of those words bring forth paradox. It seems that all signs point to survival and yet all signs point to death at the same time. Nothing, essentially, could be more true. We will survive—for some time—and what we do in this time …

Because in this time, the struggle is real. The struggle against annihilation and towards VOICE is REAL–even as we come closer to our ideals! I feel certain that we can celebrate the fact that the whole world is becoming browner—it is not Whiteness that will survive. Yet still it is Black Life, and more specifically Black Life in poverty that remains at the front lines as we march together towards a more diverse, more vibrant and beautiful future.

For certain we can celebrate the fact that the whole word IS becoming more queer, even if anxiety about gender exists and persists. Queer sex and gender is winning (I firmly believe that) and yet—sex radicals are at front lines, still. Not at every front line, because there are so many, so many different contexts of conflicts. But still, standing there. Trans-sexworkers living in poverty are at the front lines. And what do the rest of us, those who are not standing at the front lines, have to risk from our own futures?

We run the risk of losing our identities, our sexual passion, our identities as fuckers, as sexual outlaws. We may lose the sense that we are unique—and this thought keeps us alive!

Yes the present we are struggling inside of, until the imagined future arrives–that’s scary. It ain’t gonna be easy.

But this future, both presently lived and in formation, is real and encroaching for all of us.

What shall we do?

Gather near and huddle.