For our latest blog, Joseph Morgan Schofield discusses the parallels between queer and climate survival in our capitalist and neoliberal society.
Here Comes The Sun is a promise, an inevitable destination. It’s a work which puts non-binary politics into adjacency with climate catastrophe and populates the gaps with fantasies, desires, memories and dreams in ways that are hopeful and pessimistic, sarcastic and sincere. It’s not, contrary to some, a Beatles Jukebox Musical – sorry.
The 15 million degree question at the heart of this work is about survival. Within contemporary discourses around environmentalism and gender, we noticed a striking (and troubling) parallel between twin narratives of ecological and queer survival and the societal imperatives attached to them.
There was some uproar on Twitter recently, because BBC Question Time posed the question: Is it morally right for 5 year old children to learn about LGBT issues in school? A direct line can be traced between the insistence of the BBC to ‘represent all sides of the issue’ and the normalisation of all kinds of intolerant discourse. The clear rebuttal to the BBC is that LGBT (note the dropped the Q) shouldn’t be an issue – our rights aren’t up for debate. The brazen way in which this question has been asked, publically, in a period where, following marriage equality and now 15 years on from the repeal of Section 28, many LGBTQ* people felt that this ‘issue’ had been settled speaks to the ways that change or progress can very swiftly be culturally and politically reversed, and that, in times of political uncertainties, marginalised people are the first to get it in the neck.
For trans* people and their allies, this hostility isn’t just unsurprising – it’s part of everyday experience. Trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people are familiar with having their existence and visibility questioned as a moral issue. The UK media have an infatuation with trans exclusionary radical feminists, whose bile has repeatedly been given airtime, hijacking political campaigns for rights and visibility.
In the face of this hostility, queer people are often faced with the imperative to tone it down – to lessen our visibility, to reduce ourselves, to be quieter, or smaller, or to assimilate.
The dominant narrative surrounding the survival of climate change – and to speak of this, or think of this, you have to first accept the realities of climate disaster, which many don’t – is one of reduction – to lessen production, to reduce consumption, to be more local, to turn inwards and away from the world…
This reduction is understood first and foremost on a personal level – as if individual consumption was the real problem – if only we used less plastic, if only we drove cars less etc. This obsession with the self is a clear strategy within the neoliberal wet-dream of individualism, where the problem begins and ends with YOU. If you want to be rich, you can be – just work hard! If you want to survive climate change, you can – just take responsibility for yourself!
This rubric of individualism perpetuates lies around individual agency and obscures the hard truths: that this climate disaster is a side effect of the unrestricted pursuit of profit; that this climate disaster is already and will continue to disproportionately affect poor black and brown people in the global south; that industries and governments will need to change on a global scale; that the problem is MASSIVE AND STRUCTURAL rather than individual; that the world we share has become a sacrifice zone for the rich and powerful, and to survive, we’ve got to mobilise around a radical political alternative, the ultimate goal of which is to tear it all down.
Here Comes The Sun refutes these narratives of reduction, using image making, poetry, story telling, materials and landscape to imagine futurities outside of these enforced disaster narratives.
I read in David Farrier’s book Anthropocene Poetics that the proliferation of the anthropocene(s) has necessitated a cultural shift. It is no longer possible, says Farrier, to speak of a lyric ‘I’ or ‘We’. Experiences of climate disaster (and attached socio economic injustices) are so different, that poets can no longer make claim to a universal subjecthood. YAWN. This has been clear to those who experience marginalisation for a long time.
To this end, Here Comes The Sun has been a space for me to reflect on my gender, memory, desires and relationship to particular places. Autobiography has an important role, but more than this, the work is a space through which all kinds of time, on all kinds of scale, can be brought into relation with each other. Time is made thick and rich and gloopy. We speak of tectonic time, of the AIDS crisis, of landscapes which exist beyond the boundaries of the known, in the realm of the imaginary, and of the possibilities of the future – a future where queer excess is celebrated and recognised as a survival strategy.
photos by Jemima Yong