Drugs, Utopia and Queerness: Reconciling Indestructible and José Muñoz.

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From Indestructible, chapter ten, by Cristy C. Road:

“That year I learned to understand substance addictions. They weren’t the choice we consciously made to promote self-help. I learned to understand how drug culture is implemented in cast-aside groups; the people with ‘problems.’ Drugs had terrorized young people who didn’t have an alternative to help them cope with their own difficulties… I saw kids my age in dire need of that outside substance – in need of mind-altering answer to self-love, fascination, and impulse… I liked the way everyone looked like an alien… Then, I would remember why we started chugging, snorting and toking at that age – why we hurt so bad and why we searched for that temporary numbness.”

After our class discussion of José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications, I wanted to know more. I explored his book, Crusing Utopia, in order to get a better grasp on the idea of queerness as concerned with the present vs. hetero culture focused on the eternal. Muñoz closes the book with a conclusion entitled “Take Ecstasy With Me:” “We must vacate the here and now for a then and there…” he writes. “What we need to know is that queerness is not yet here but it approaches like a crashing wave of potentiality…Willingly we let ourselves feel queerness’s pull, knowing it as something else that we can feel, that we must feel. We must take ecstasy” (185).

Throughout Indestructible, Road includes pointed accounts with her own substance abuse, particularly of speed. True; speed isn’t quite the same as ecstasy, but in the above quote, Road seems to be arriving at a similar conclusion as Muñoz: members of “cast-aside groups” latch on to something mind-altering in order to compensate for that missing part of self-actualization.

So, my question is: how do these two authors’ arguments mesh?

Whereas Road is of course talking about actual substance and Muñoz is using the effects of the drug, ecstasy, as an allegory for the state of mind of utopian queerness, the sensations that both are evoking are where I’m finding compelling common ground.

Road discusses her bouts with speed particularly as a catalyst for self-exploration and a means for coming to terms with difficult questions: “I found a slight grip to answers… Sprawled in this chemical escape, I digressed” (VII). It’s striking to me that Road’s accounts concerning speed is the singularity of the experience – in trying to compare the states of mind illustrated by the two authors, this seems to be the glaring contradiction.

Muñoz writes, “Take ecstasy with me thus becomes a request to stand out of time together, to resist the stultifying temporality and time that is not ours, that is saturated with violence both visceral and emotional, a time that is not queerness. Taking ecstasy with one another is an invitation, a call, to a then-and-there, a not-yet-here” (187). Is it too much to speculate that Road, in her adolescent explorations, was missing this critical factor of solidarity? Certainly, a memoir, a graphic novel written and illustrated only by one person is an exercise in selfhood, not of a group therapy – it functions in the same ways that taking speed and answering difficult questions in the dark do.

In the above quote from Indestructible, Road also posits that substance addictions are not a conscious choice in order to “promote self help,” but a factor of necessity. The very language of Muñoz’s conclusion implies a willingness and a conscious choice: to take ecstasy in the ways described in the chapter stand opposed to the drug-culture “implemented” onto groups that Road evokes.

Road: “‘Here’s to feeling like shit tomorrow,’ I celebrated. ‘Isn’t living fast your only option sometimes?’ he said to me and smiled. ‘We’re all gonna die anyway, right?’”

So where Road shares a last experience of taking speed and then supposedly leaves it behind her, Muñoz seems to be advocating for just the opposite – the state of ecstasy revealed by such a drug offers a glimpse into a utopian space – the type of non-reality that Muñoz argues propels the performance of queerness – the “rejection of here and now” in order to establish the possibility for a different and better future.

Both authors are acknowledging practices that do so – using mind-altering substances offers an escape into a space that gives way to different realities. I feel a bit like I’m chasing my tail; this may be an exercise in futility attempting to compare drug effects in order to understand two very different authors’ perspectives on such states of mind, but the direct focus on drugs is difficult to ignore.

Muñoz finishes the book with this: “From shared critical dissatisfaction we arrive at collective potentiality” (189). Whereas Road attributes substance abuse to numbness, Muñoz seems to see the opportunity for togetherness. But maybe he means doing so without drugs. If Road and Muñoz met in a bar, [how] would they arrive at a conclusion for what role substance abuse and reality-altering play in queerness/utopias/coming-of-age?

TL;DR: Two different authors evoke effects of mind-altering drugs. Both illustrate that the space of such states of mind give opportunity for queer world-making. The question is: what’s the difference between speed and ecstasy, or in other words, self-exploration and group solidarities?

Video: “Take Ecstasy With Me.”