What do we want from each other
after we have told our stories
—Audre Lorde, There Are No Honest Poems About Dead Women
If all those hours I spent watching Tujuane could yield anything, I’d wonder about how—in the words of Keguro Macharia—the problems of the nation become reduced to the problems of heterosexuality. And not just because (as Michael Warner has stated, & yes I know I’m being overly citational) the desire to be seen as always already heterosexual is a heterosexist position, but especially because Tujuane highlights the gendered neoliberal anxieties at the very heart of our nation-making.
I’m thinking here of the common Tujuane script: upwardly mobile woman from Westlands who only speaks English (& works in the formalized economies) gets matched with a “hustler” man from Eastlands who only speaks Sheng (“ile ya ndani”) & works in an informal or pirate economy so shadowy as to render itself illegible, unspeakable even (several episodes include men who flat out refuse to delineate what sort of hustling they do, & understably so). And because we’re in the terrain of nation-building here, one might wonder how Wanjiku—with all its ethnic problems—was replaced by ma-hustler—with all its gender-work & gender problems.
I’ve been wondering how these gender constructions are read by the general public, especially in light of high unemployment & the moral panic over masculinities in crisis (the boys left behind discourse). And how does one read all this against the widely(?) held belief that when people from different ethnic communities marry, it fosters national unity? (Apparently marriage will save the nation!)
What do any two people on a date on Tujuane want from each other after they have told their stories? Granted they can understand one another—what with one only speaking posh English & the other speaking a Sheng that registers only as noise to their interlocutor? Do all these people just want to get married & have the kind of heterosexual sex that safeguards the nation? (Is this why our politicians are on record referring to queers as terrorists?)
I watched a livestream of the inaugural The Black Outdoors event today. Hours later, I’m still processing, still listening, still learning from it & from all who spoke & all who were present. I was, in part, watching the bodies of the interlocutors, trying to tune in to the embodied work of wrestling with difficult concepts. I couldn’t help notice Dr. Sarah Jane Cervenak’s right foot gently tapping the floor at the beginning. Then Fred’s (to me, at least) rarely changed, hardly changing posture during the talk, along with that “I’m just tired” that he uttered in response to a question, & that I still can’t or won’t stop hearing. And I was watching what passes for quiescence in Saidiya’s body language (I really do love the look on her face when she’s listening-thinking). Judith Butler says somewhere—& we know from blackness, from those telling us to “keep the peace” when we protest, when keeping the peace means living under the conditions of black killability that white supremacy wants us to accept as our everyday—that peace is hardly ever a quiescent state. So I’m trying to contend with Saidiya’s body’s mode of listening, which I am mistaking—yes I know the danger of mistaking a black woman’s body, those who are routinely mistaken—as quiescence, but only because by quiescence I mean something else I still don’t have my finger on. That silence she has/is when she is listening. It’s like what Eve K. Sedgwick called “non-interference”. I’m still listening to her body listening. Listening to & for her lack of compulsion to answer questions in synchronous relay, the way she leans into a question, silently at first, before replying.
This here (sic) is just to say I heard someone say “the government is not doing enough for men” while I was watching Kenyan television, and I have been reeling ever since. I wanted to write about this claim that a government for men, by men, and of men is not doing enough for men simply because women’s empowerment discourses are so pervasive in development work, but ain’t no one got time for dat.
Concerned that I do not have enough staying power, I am now forcing myself through Gender Trouble. It is not that I do not “like” Butler—I do. It is that this is not what I need right now, especially not in the way of sensation. Reading Gender Trouble right now makes me unhappy. Or sad. Or morose—yes, morose. I simply need other sensations to take me to other elsewheres.
I am trying to remember the last thing I read that gave me good sensations. Perhaps Mark Rifkin. I always like his stuff.