Queering Temporality and Productivity: A Post-Pandemic Projection

The loss of familiar routines and conventional temporalities is a pertinent phenomenon that marks the experienced reality of a COVID-19 world. This loss is laced with discomfort and a desire for the restoration of the ‘old normal’. To resign to an ‘old normal’ sense of being is to embrace the age-old surveillance of clock-time on our routine and developmental realities; a time that is intertwined with ideas of certainty, progression, linearity and productivity.

However, what do these shifting frames of normality in a pre-and-post pandemic world implicate for non-normative body-minds (persons with disabilities, alternate gender/sexualities)? In ‘Our Pandemic Summer‘, Ed Yong insightfully points out how the idea of a ‘new normal’ incidentally coincides with the old normal of disabled lives marked by ‘spatial confinement, unpredictable futures, social distance.’ This then raises the question, can there be scope for unlearning familiar ways of doing in the ‘new normal’ and in the process, critiquing familiarity (‘the normal’) as a reference point in itself?

The post-pandemic ‘new normal’ incorporates uncertainties of erratic routines, topsy-turvy work-life balance, diffused personal-professional boundaries, forced leisure etc. that flesh out an idea of time that is not progressive, linear or ‘productive’ as capitalists would have it. Though capitalism has been quick to hijack even erratic routines with promises of productivity and healthy lifestyles, they still sit uncomfortably in people’s minds.

It is important to let this discomfort rest so that it can be used as a tool to challenge the matter-of-factness of clock time. This article is an attempt to look at documented experiences of non-normative body-minds to realise how our hegemonic temporal imperatives fail their situated subjectivities time and again. I attempt to make scope for being kinder to our temporal subjectivities and counter the surveillance of clock-time on our routine and developmental realities.

In favour of queering temporal vernaculars to embrace a more inclusive post-pandemic world, my article is divided into three sections:

  • The first section shall talk about how COVID-19 time can be utilised as a tool to challenge dominant organisational practices, and how to push for more inclusive work-cultures for persons with disabilities.
  •  The second section shall reflect on documentation of queer lives during the lockdown and attempt to understand queer temporalities.
  • The third section shall briefly focus on an auto-phenomenological account of my own queer COVID-19 time as a trans-feminine person.

I. Crip insights from COVID time: towards inclusive work-cultures

In Crips and COVID in Canada published in iHuman, Ignagni brings public attention to how COVID time has offered the world an opportunity to reimagine the script of looking at temporal uncertainties, challenging the normalcy of scheduling and pacing work in a linear and progressive manner. It is unfortunate that it must take a pandemic to spark conversations on structural barriers to maintaining clock-time that is given a matter-of-factness in our daily realities.

Can there be scope for unlearning familiar ways of doing in the ‘new normal’ and in the process, critiquing familiarity (‘the normal’) as a reference point in itself?

Professionalism is invariably substituted with adherence to clock-time, performance efficiency and productivity of normative body-minds and built on a politics of exclusion. Katzman, Kinsella and Polzer in their article ‘Everything is down to the minute’: clock time, crip time and the relational work of self-managing attendant services mention how a wry conventional understanding of professionalism runs the risk of depersonalising the situated temporalities of the workers with non-normative body-minds. It does not recognise that non-normative body-minds operate in professional-competitive environments with inherently inequitable distribution of temporal and allied resources. As an alternative temporal window, crip time helps re-align “our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies”, as Kafer elaborates in Feminist, Queer, Crip.

In fact, according to recent research, disabled work seekers and employed workers greatly benefit from an organisational accommodation of modified or flexible working hours. Moreover, research also suggests that the provision to self-schedule the work reflects positively on the employer caring about the non-working life and well-being of the employee. This, in turn, can manifest in increased job satisfaction and organisational commitment leading to reduced absenteeism, employee turnover and increased productivity.

A post-pandemic takeaway would be to look beyond productivity and democratise the ideas of work time and workspace: to let the employee choose at what time, how much time, and from which place to work. This can go a long way in the reshaping of many organisational climates, making scope for ‘unpredictability’ as a valid layer of human experience, consequently fostering organisational sensitivity towards it.

Most commonly, employers associate people with disabilities with poor performance, absenteeism, lateness and slowing down work. However, in COVID time, formal work seems to have been personalised (in the form of ‘work from home’) and relaxed to a great extent, incorporating a spirit of tolerance, cooperation and contextual situated-ness that is often missing in the production-frenzy of organisations operating in industrialised societies. Yet, production-frenzy is such a deeply embedded capitalist virtue that it was not long before homes were translated into 24*7 inescapable workspaces. Setting up of boundaries in work-from-home time is therefore important so that it does not usher in a fresh set of lifestyle difficulties. It is crucial that we carry these learnings into a post-pandemic reality so that we can critically engage with clock-time and focus on being inclusive of situated subjectivities.

Shew outlines some of the disability rights activism-driven hacks and hard-won infrastructure that has ‘normalised’ work from home, flexible schedules, redundancy of excessive and demeaning documentation, sharing and celebrating creative adaptation and working with the knowledge that all schedules can change. In an interview with Yong that features in the article ‘Our Pandemic Summer ‘, Shew states:

Everything I enter in my calendar has an asterisk in my mind…Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, depending on my next cancer scan or what’s happening in my body. I already live in this world when I’m measuring in shorter increments, when my future has always been planned differently.

What is usual for Shew may seem like a provocation to some but it sheds a light on how exclusionary we have already been with respect to enforcing ‘clock-time’ on lives that do not fit into it.

As an alternative temporal window, crip time helps re-align “our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies”, as Kafer elaborates in ‘Feminist, Queer, Crip‘.

II. Queer temporalities, COVID-19 and resilience

COVID time is also invariably associated with spending time at home and with family. Since the lockdown, there has been a focus on quality time with family that addresses mental health during the lockdown. But what about people from gender and sexual minority groups who are most often at odds with their natal families? Home for these individuals is a site of routine violence and self-erasure, of putting up with toxic familial interactions that often involve verbal, physical and sexual abuse. The state-enforced lockdown measures block in-person interaction between community peers who often function as sources of moral and social support for many queer people. Some forms of support may be available in the form of virtual support groups, social media, tele-counselling etc, however, questions of access to these resources are deeply intertwined with issues of class, socio-economic disadvantages and the digital divide.

In a situational assessment interview of the sustenance and survival priorities of queer communities in West Bengal during and after lockdown enforcements, most of the respondents that included trans-women, trans- men and gender-queer individuals reported family apathy and violence. Several respondents had to reportedly discontinue gender affirmative procedures, which led them to spiral into severe depression.

Here, it is essential to notice how educational and/ workspaces seldom take cognizance of these temporal subjectivities when they talk about an individual’s productivity. Santa Khurai has come up with a proposal of continued online education for trans students even post-lockdown as it shields them from the usual transphobic environments and socio-structural barriers they face in schools and colleges. This once again raises a question on the homogeneous understanding of ‘good, old school days’ and what it might mean for individuals with non-normative body-minds.

As argued above, COVID time is associated intrinsically with home-time and natal homes may be a site of violence and oppression for queer/trans individuals. What is interesting though is how queer resilience brings forth unique ways of negotiations from the margins. These new ways of doing within constraints set the tone for a queering of time that also offers ‘an alternative framework for the theorization of disqualified and anticanonical knowledges of queer practices’.  Majumdar notes how individuals with non-normative gender identities can adorn themselves at a discrete hour in the night in case they feel stifled in a non-accommodating home environment. Therefore, night time that is conventionally reserved for sleeping can become a time for unrestricted self-exploration.

In essence, queer temporalities question our complicity in the hegemony of clock-time that is also used as a weapon of social control for those who do not take recourse to a normative timeline of being. Perhaps it is in our best interest to unlearn and appreciate diverse timelines, and diverse contexts in which these timelines may be rooted.

 III. Auto-phenomenological underpinnings: 

To write from an auto-phenomenological lens of a trans-feminine individual, I must say that I technically had a rebirth during the lockdown. I disclosed my gender identity in my household and had to rework my relationship with my family all over again on that note. I have pervasive discomfort centring my ‘male’ body that is incongruent with my gender-identity. This often leads to ruminations which preoccupy my mind and do not allow me to be ‘productive’. Dysphoria creeps in when I cannot express myself the way I want to in virtual spaces. My wardrobe revolts against my identity. Each day without affirmation seems like a drag. Thus, days are most often laced with self-doubt, self-erasure, compromises, feeling dissociated from my body, contemplating an uncertain future that will certainly not evaporate post-pandemic.

It’s a wrap: A summary of reflections 

COVID time is emergency time, during which we have made drastic accommodations in our routine realities, often new and uncomfortable ones. As a ‘new normal’ is in the process of getting shaped, it is time we sit back and reflect on the idea of ‘normal’ in itself.

Who gets a space in constituting this ‘normal’? Who is left out of the discourse? Can non-normative body-minds and their situated temporalities lead us to a new normal or better, diverse possibilities? Can we queer/crip the clock instead of trying to bend non-normative body-minds to it? How can we open dialogue between temporal subjectivities of lived non-normativity and matter-of-factness of routine realities? Can we challenge the routine surveillance of clock-time on our notions of productivity, of developmental goals and outcomes, of lives that cannot afford the clock? Can we queer our own clock-time? I shall leave the reader with these questions.

Aritra Chatterjee is a trans-feminine trainee in Clinical Psychology in Kolkata, India. Their interest lies in cripping conventional systems of mental healthcare and unsettling complicit stakeholders.

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