A Guide to Queer Time

A Guide to Queer Time
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash
Hannah Dickson | Erika Della Cioppa

Have you ever felt like your life doesn’t follow the same timeline as that of your straight friends or family?

Western culture often defines a life as successful and satisfying if it follows a specific timeline of events and milestones: having your first romantic experiences as a teenager, going to university at the age of eighteen and immediately transforming into an independent adult, entering into the workforce after post-secondary education, getting a grownup job, getting married, having children then grandchildren, etc. But what about queer people who don’t or can’t follow this timeline? Are they simply doomed to lead unsuccessful and unsatisfying lives? Of course not! This is where the theory of queer time comes in.

In 2005, author and queer theorist Jack Halberstam coined the term “queer temporality” to refer to the idea that queer uses and experiences of time are often very different from those demonstrated by straight people. Different priorities or desires can change how a person lives in and interacts with the world around them. Halberstam’s theory offers queer people the freedom to exist outside of the traditional gender roles, familial expectations, and life milestones of society, which are often based in capitalism, cis-heteronormativity, and patriarchal values. While queer people might still choose to follow this timeline and might want to get married and have children, this path isn’t (and shouldn’t be) inherently expected of them by societies and communities that prioritize cis-heteronormative values above all others. Nor, it should be said, will queer lives ever perfectly mimic traditional timelines regardless of their proximity. Queer temporality offers an alternative to the obligations and expectations of how you live your life. It can allow for a new form of autonomy and independence to take root and allow you to live in a way you might not have otherwise considered.

Queer people often come out later in life, meaning they might have those formative experiences like a first kiss or a first love later than their straight counterparts. They might have non-traditional or chosen families rather than strictly biological ones; many people choose to not get married or cannot get married depending on where they live. Queer people, in general, experience these key milestones in different ways and at different times than straight people.

Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I’ve been reflecting on where I am in my life compared to other people my age. Many of the people I went to school with are married or moving in with significant others, and some even have children. As many women my age experience, I’m often asked, “when are you getting married?” or “when are you going to have kids?” and I can’t help but feel like I’m behind. Not only do I not want these things yet, but I also don’t feel like I’ve lived enough of my life to be ready for those things. Queer time gives me the freedom to understand that my timeline might just be different; that it’s not weird or bad but that, as a queer person, how I experience time and space might be different from those around me, and therefore cannot and should not be compared to others.

So, now that you know what queer time is, do you have to live your life in a radically different way, outside of cis-straight expectations?

No. But you can if you want to! One of the most amazing things about being queer (at least in my opinion) is the freedom it offers. The concept of queer time offers the freedom to live your life in the way you want to, on your own time and at your own pace. There’s no reason to compare yourself to others because you exist in your own version of time and space.