Baking in Queer Time

In this blog post, I am going to be reflecting on my relationship to time as a queer-identified baker.
Photo by me – 3:13AM in my room, the downstairs light barely illuminating my aluminum foil covered windows through my open door

I’m not a UFO conspiracy theorist, but the windows of my room are fully covered in aluminum foil (shiny side facing out, of course). I covered up my windows because I started working at MarieBette, an award-winning gay-owned bakery in Charlottesville—you can read about Jason and Patrick’s story here. I would be lying if I said that the business being gay-owned had nothing to do with me seeking employment there. Actually, it had everything to do with it. I wanted to work in a homopositive environment as someone who recently came out, and I was also going through a post-academic career shift into culinary when I landed the job towards the end of June. I’m over the culinary phase, as evidenced by this blog, and am not starting a career as a baker. Nevertheless, I’ve been having a wonderful experience working at MarieBette so far.

In this blog post, I am going to be reflecting on my relationship to time as a queer-identified baker. I’ve been thinking a lot about temporality as someone who came out later in life because my relationship to conventional life schedules, both gay and straight, is out of sync. LGBTQ+ youth often have a “delayed adolescence,” which refers to a life phase induced by closeted experience that entails sexual exploration and self-discovery after one’s actual anatomical adolescence. I like to joke that I’m currently going through a delayed delayed adolescence since I was still in American evangelicalism’s celibate closet throughout undergrad, a time when most college-educated LGBTQ+ youth escape, to varying degrees, the social worlds of their oppression (assuming their hometowns were such places [which is not to say that college campuses are not free of homophobia and transphobia]).

In one of the first monographs on queer temporality, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (2005), Jack Halberstam explores “the potentiality of a life unscripted by the conventions of family, inheritance, and child rearing” (p. 2) through which a “normal” life schedule is construed. While Halberstam doesn’t use the term “straight time,” queer scholars have come to use this term to signify the interlocking themes of youth, maturation, adulthood, marriage, capital accumulation, reproduction, child rearing, and inheritance that temporally structure our society’s notion of a successful and fulfilling life. In contrast, queer time designates the kinds of life narratives that fail to keep up with the tempo of straight time.

Consider my friends, Alex (23 y/o) and Emily (25 y/o), who have mastered straight time down to a tee. Seriously, they’re killing it right now. Alex and Emily dated throughout college and they got married in 2016 after Alex graduated a year early (Emily had graduated in 2015). After selling a chocolate business he created as an undergrad, Alex started working for an evangelical campus ministry organization and Emily started working for a marketing firm. They’re very financially savvy (one of the reasons why we get along so well) and are doing phenomenally well in terms of saving for the future. The two of them recently moved to Richmond VA so Alex could start a new job managing the customer service team at a custom apparel company. They also just bought their first house and it is fucking gorgeous. It won’t surprise me at all when, let’s say in a year or two, I see a Facebook post announcing that they’re expecting.

One of Halberstam’s motivations for exploring a notion of queer time is to disrupt the adult/youth binary that structures straight time by privileging an “epistemology of youth” (p. 2) that makes room for the ‘stretched-out’ adolescences of queer people—stretched-out adolescences like the delayed delayed (which we should critically interrogate: “delayed” on whose schedule?) one I’m currently going through. “The notion of a stretched-out adolescence,” Halberstam elaborates, “challenges the conventional binary formulation of a life narrative divided by a clear break between youth and adulthood,” which “charts an obvious transition out of childish dependency through marriage and into adult responsibility through reproduction” (p. 153). Halberstam’s exploration of queer time, as an alternative temporal mode that departs from straight time, offers one way to think about the “late” life schedules of folks like myself who are positioned to fail at the game of heteronuclear capitalism (i.e. Life).

Beyond making sense of my experience of fully coming out at age 23, I have been especially interested in time as a medium for queer expression. I’ve noticed that most recently-out LGBTQ+ young people find gender as the stage upon which to enact their newfound queer agency. Nevertheless, my experience of gender, though all garbled up in Asian American racialization, has never been the primary axis of my slant relation to the world–it’s always been temporality (more can and should be said about this later). Pursuing a job as a baker is how I am currently leaning into my queer embodiment with relation to how I occupy time. Hence the aluminum foil on my windows.

I already had a lot of these thoughts in mind when I took the job at MarieBette. Since I was already thrown into a precarious relationship to straight time—and, to a certain extent, what queer film studies scholar Hoang Tan Nguyen dubs in a roundtable discussion on queer temporalities (2007) a “homonormative time line” (p. 183) by which “[w]e pity those who come out late in life” (p. 184), and which is certainly shifting with the current cohort of LGBTQ+ youth born in the mid- to late- 2000s—by merit of coming out after graduating college, poking at “the artificiality of our privileged constructions of time and activity” (Halberstam 2005, p. 5) felt like a natural progression. But it was by no means an easy transition.

I thought about quitting after my first week at MarieBette. My body was so used to sleeping at 11PM and rising at 7AM that the 4AM to 12PM baking shifts killed me. Furthermore, it felt intuitively and unquestionably natural that one’s circadian rhythm should be in sync with the diurnal risings and settings of the sun. After all, aren’t all of our endocrine systems wired to take temporal cues from the presence or absence of sunlight? Perhaps, but one could also follow a similar line of argumentation around the supposedly self-evident anatamo-facticity of heterosexuality, penis-in-vagina sex, and procreation. Adjusting to baking time necessitated a degree of denaturalization very similar to my divestment from the common sense of a gender dimorphic, heteronormative, bioprocreoideology.

Nowadays, I fall asleep around 7PM and rise at 3AM sharp, and by doing so I am coming into an oblique relationship to our society’s chrononormative order. In her book, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (2010), UC Davis Professor of English Elizabeth Freeman develops the idea of chrononormativity as a way of describing how “naked flesh is bound into socially meaningful embodiment through temporal regulation” vis a vis organizing “individual human bodies toward maximum productivity” (p. 3). Freeman has both capitalist and procreative productivity in mind. Chrononormativity, then, operates both at the microtemporal level of an individual’s day-to-day schedule and the mesotemporal level of life schedules that Halberstam writes about.  It is this microtemporal level that I’d like to reflect on here.

“Chrononormativity is a mode of implantation,” Freeman writes, “a technique by which institutional forces come to seem like somatic facts” (p. 3). By describing chrononormativity as an implantation, Freeman is evoking Michel Foucault’s longstanding interest in discursive speciation. Nevertheless, Freeman turns to Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus to analyze the experience of ‘somatic facticity’ associated with certain forms of temporal embodiment. She writes:

 

“For Bourdieu, cultural competence and thus belonging itself are matters of timing, of coming to inhabit a culture’s expectations about the temporal lapses between getting and giving such that they seem inborn … Bourdieu alone allows us to see that subjectivity emerges in part through mastering the cultural norms of withholding, delay, surprise, pause, and knowing when to stop—through mastery over certain forms of time. In temporal manipulations that go beyond pure repetition, his work suggests, institutionally and culturally enforced rhythms, or timing, shape flesh into legible, acceptable embodiment.” (p. 4)

 

In other words, cultural norms surrounding the mastery of time (when to work, when to sleep, when to relax, etc.) produce particular modes of temporal embodiment that are deemed valid. Furthermore, the more one is able to master these norms, the more one comes to experience their temporal embodiment as a somatic facticity, as the way our bodies simply and maximally are.

Evoking Foucault once again, Freeman increases the scale of chrononormativity to the level of population. “In chronobiopolitics,” Freeman writes, chrononormativity “extends beyond individual anatomies to encompass the management of entire populations: people whose individual bodies are synchronized not only with one another but with larger temporal schemae experience belonging itself as natural” (p. 4). Hence, the implantation of particular temporal selves occurs in relation to a society’s population level norms around time. Self and society are mirror time-images of each other, the former a kind of microcosmic instantiation of the latter. Worded differently, the temporal utterance of the individual person occurs within the temporal grammar of the population.

Let’s consider Alex and Emily once again. Both are working typical Monday through Friday 9-5 jobs. 5PM onward, for Alex, Emily, and the rest of America, is understood as either family time or leisure time. Indeed, evening after-work activities, along with weekends, make up the bulk of their social lives as a young married couple living in the city. Not only are their lives synchronized with each other, but also with the rest of their social network and the normal operating hours of society’s many recreational institutions (restaurants, theaters, concerts, workweek church activities, etc.). And once they start having kids (on schedule with the rest of the straight married Christians in their mid- to late-20s, I might add), their chrononormative lives will easily adjust around school time insofar as education and child care institutions too are temporally organized in accordance to the work-leisure/family logic of the productive population.

What I am trying to point out (perhaps rather sloppily) with the typicality of Alex and Emily’s temporal embodiment is the way in which they paradigmatically exemplify the life schedules of straight time and the chronobiopolitics of the current US cognitive capitalism. They are the poster couple-soon-to-be-family of chrononormativity, the spitting image of what I have been socialized to desire but systematically hindered from accomplishing. In terms of life schedules, having a stable and long-term committed spouse by one’s mid 20s is most accessible to those who have the sexual privilege of starting their partnership quest during their biological adolescence. How might I denaturalize the desirability of Alex and Emily’s life and critique the ways in which their successful life narrative is propped up by a temporal regime that enacts a symbolic violence on bodies like my own?

In seeking to answer this question, I have turned to the microtemporality of the everyday as a training ground of sorts to reconstruct my relationship to time in a way that is more amenable and authentic to my lived experience. Perhaps my queer life, too, can be fulfilling in its own way, however illegible to the chronodenizens of straight time. By embracing baking time, which I am arguing is a form of queer time, I am synchronizing my microtemporal somatic rhythm with my oblique relationship to straight time. By reorienting my life around my 4AM baking shifts, I am reclaiming the anomic disorientation of being thrown out of the temporal mis en place of heteronormativity and chrononormativity, two not necessarily coextensive phenomena that are emulsified together via capitalism into the bedrock of our social order. By baking in queer time, I am cultivating a counter-hegemonic form of temporal embodiment that resists the tardy shaming of someone else’s schedule.

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