Resistance is a beating heart throughout Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through, T Fleischmann’s new book-length essay. Both narrator and narrative(s), and the mapping of time through relationships to lovers, friends, and cities resists chronological temporality and commodified definition. As the narrator T resists the limiting inscription of their body and identity from without, the narrative opens apertures for specificity and the unnamable, irreducible vastness of bodily experience to exist. The body, the page, and sex are sites of resistance. Words like “queer” may have had the potential to offer freedom from identity categories and erotic possibilities, but now, “the word often points to a reification of identity, to new rules.” While we cannot escape language, T asks us to see the possibilities that a blank page might present.
The essay elaborates in gorgeous specificity glimpses of lives and communities outside of commercialism and beyond institutions. The essay asserts the meaningfulness and depth of relationships even when not they’re conventionally defined, whether as a connection to a city where the narrator does not live, or a romance and sexual partnerships that are not hemmed in by time or space or even by expectation. Through points of connection to Felix Gonzales-Torres’s artworks, collaborative art-making with friends, and through connections to nature, Fleischmann offers us an opportunity to understand love as “an occasion to know someone else and to learn about their desires.” This book is generous, joyful—and hot!
I recently caught up with T Fleischmann on the eve of their book launch to discuss just some of the riches contained between the covers.
The Rumpus: Reading Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through gave me such a sense of freedom. It eschews the rigidity of language while using language to create an expansive glimpse of the narrator’s life and loves and landscapes. The book also enacts in form what it does in content by insisting upon details and specificity. Will you speak to your process in structuring this book and its sense of temporality?
T Fleischmann: The book is close to its process, with a few different forms taking shape in relation to the autobiographical narratives it follows. So, it becomes and changes, through a kind of journal, an essay-in-verse, a prose narrative, etc. Often, the forms are chosen to reflect something that happened in my life, in relation to a romance or a place. Instead of ordering the book chronologically, those excerpts are arranged by patterns and reflections. This ordering isn’t usually announced in the text, but works by a kind of internal logic instead. Time is really weird and fascinating. Making these patterns is a way to put some of that weirdness in the book, thinking of how past, present, and future can all be held in the body and language at once.
Rumpus: Collaborative art-making with beloveds is such an important part of the narrative. Making art together seems like another way of knowing someone in a moment. Will you talk about the conversations Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through is having with art and art-making?
Fleischmann: The collaboration I talk about in the book is with my friend Benjy, and we put our friendship at the base of the art-making, thinking about joy and all that. Benjy is a collaborative artist, and works with people all the time, but I don’t often make visual art. The other visual and performance work I have made has also been with friends, and the way I learned art was likewise through friendships and reading—I never studied art history or anything like that. Mainly I learned about visual art through poets and essayists. I’m interested in honoring art and art-making from this place, but also in making it feel real and lived, rather than institutionalized. Like how part of what makes reading so freeing is not just reading something but also if you get to connect around the book with another person.
Rumpus: One of my favorite aspects of this book is how it situates trans bodies in the natural world, as not separate from the natural world. Even in urban settings there is connection to nature. There’s a sense of the narrator as a part of the ecology rather than merely an observer of it, such as the passage that describes the human impact on bat colonies. Was this an act of resistance to stereotypes of where trans bodies can and do exist as well as memoir?
Fleischmann: Partially, that’s just because I lived in the woods for a lot of years, including part of the time I was writing the book. I also grew up in a farming town, living there until I was eighteen, and still spend a lot of time in rural areas. I do believe there’s something important, and a kind of resistance, in recognizing the trans body within the places where it has been erased, including rural spaces. Living in the woods, especially, allowed me a different relation to my body and self than I was able to find other places. As an autobiography, the book is also concerned with taking seriously the reality of my body as a white person—the settler, the gentrifier, the arrival of death and displacement. So, I relate to the natural world, but as a person from a settler culture, which means there is something inherently broken in that relationship that I need to spend a lifetime trying to heal. The bat colonies were a thing happening in the place I lived when I was writing that bit, but of course the impact is everywhere.
Rumpus: Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through takes up Gonzales-Torres’s notion that “the uninscribed is a site of change.” The author/narrator bucks against queer as a signifier when queer just becomes another commodified location that exerts limits on what bodies and experiences it can contain. Will you talk about how you crafted the narrative threads in the book in ways that also resist limiting descriptions of bodies and relationships and conventional ideas of temporality?
Fleischmann: The book pivots around two narratives of love. One is a romantic friendship, sometimes sexual, with the textures and rhythms of it unsteady. The other narrative is slutty and fast, a fling that extends, and ends up in a legal marriage for immigration. My romantic relationships and friendships appear certain ways at different moments, although the reality of them is multiple, and I think this is true for most people. In my life, I see a lot of drift—lesbians in sexual partnerships with gay men, straight people who have gay sex, long-term sexual friendships that turn into caregiving relationships, loose networks of occasional lovers, faggots who aren’t men. A sexual relationship can end without the other aspects of that relationship ending, and identity drifts past its own borders. The language of identity can suggest that these transgressions are problems, although they’re actually very liberating experiences, and it’s the framework of binary genders and heterosexual monogamy that doesn’t make sense in the first place. Gonzales-Torres’s idea about the “site of change” was exciting to me in thinking about the many forms love might take, and how that love can initiate change.
Rumpus: The essay pushes back against a mainstreaming of queerness that that controls our bodies and our sexualities now and in the future. Hormones are discussed not as a way to enter a narrative but to have more control over a future body, which is such a beautiful notion. This echoes so much of how I felt when embarking upon hormones more so than the narrative(s) I sometimes allow to be assumed about me that is so oversimplified and reductive because it is so exhausting sometimes to always have to keep identity complicated. Our human brains have a powerful default toward heuristics and oversimplifying patterns—that thing Mephistopheles tells the student: “everything will be simplified once it is properly classified.” Do you think the drive to simplify trans narratives and bodies by dominant culture as another form of mainstreaming and gentrification or is it an effect of human laziness?
Fleischmann: Well, there’s the trans narrative as it is used for currency in mainstream culture, and the narratives and lives of actual trans people. People in the media, the arts, healthcare, and so on all exploit trans lives and the cultural value of a trans narrative in order to profit, and also specifically to harm trans people. So, there’s something inherently resistant in trans people telling our stories and shaping conversations ourselves. I just saw a weekend of performance and visual art in Chicago that the artist Sofia Moreno put together, for example, this brilliant and varied moment of collective resistance and life, titled Broken English. The conversations I hear trans people having are about resistance to SESTA/FOSTA, challenging the reach and attacks from this administration, accessing healthcare, building models of collective care, resisting the police. Those conversations, art like Moreno nurtures, these aren’t as easily exploited by capitalist institutions. Anyway, the New York Times is kind of trash; they only seem to care about promoting war and war criminals.
Rumpus: You write “in the illogic of orgasm, my body became multiple, too.” Pleasure is described as a site of expansion rather than one of fixed singularity. There’s a fantastic passage where you write about how we no longer touch without talk, but tap, and talk about touching, often without ever touching. There’s much to be lost through constant “access” to each other. Is mapping out moments of pleasure a push back against conformity or an opportunity to just tell one’s own story in all of its multiplicity?
Fleischmann: I sometimes think I just have this interest in sex stuck in me because of the cultural moment I grew up in, and the way a kind of punk/anti-assimilation radical sex idea influenced me when I was young. With the Internet now sex seems different, and also, I don’t understand the Internet, so I feel like a grandma about it, and the ways sex seems to be changing. I do think sex and pleasure are fascinating, and sites where a lot of healing, growth, and change can happen, so I’m interested in sexual autobiography also for that reason.
Rumpus: The prose sections of the book feel so intimate and familiar, like a dear friend catching you up on their life since you last saw them. The verse parts are also intimate but spare and ekphrastic. Will you talk a bit about how you conceived of the essay-in-verse sections? How do enjambment and broken lines impact voice and memory and the rendering of experience differently that the prose parts for you as both writer and narrator?
Fleischmann: The essay-in-verse sections had a loose rule that every “line” would just be a sentence. And then I broke this rule constantly for no reason. But the idea at first was just to make a unit that was a combination of sentence and line, stanza and paragraph. The sparseness also has to do with that section being most concerned about Felix Gonzalez-Torres, or more explicitly than the prose narrative at least. I liked thinking of the sentences as takeaways, and trying to give them the feel of something you could pick up and walk away with. The prose narrative is just hornier, and more outside, which I thought paragraphs were good for.
Rumpus: The book challenges us to account for what it means to escape the multivalent violence of small hometowns and “the violence and displacement that arrived with us.” You write about some steps white people can take toward accountability, such as paying reparations or paying rent to the indigenous people whose traditional lands we live on. Is it possible for any of us who are white settlers of queer, trans, etc., experience to exist outside of (or to not replicate) colonial practices, which long have been invoked as mechanisms for survival for some at the expense of others?
Fleischmann: One reason I pay reparations is to recognize that the work of living and building outside of colonial practices is already being done by many black and indigenous people. I benefit from this work, like we all do, and I should pay for it. It’s been important for me to claim some personal responsibility by giving money directly to individuals, as well as organizations lead by black and indigenous people, on a regular monthly schedule. Of course, reparations should happen from the state and corporations as well, but there’s something important about a person or a small group committing to monthly transfers of wealth and remembering that we don’t need to rely on the state to begin contributing to that change. So, as a white settler, I can long for a life outside of whiteness and colonial practices, and I should fight for that, even if I can’t myself totally abolish whiteness and the systems that perpetrate it. What I can do is to take the resources I have access to through whiteness and give them to the people who are already doing the important work you ask about, already building and living outside of those practices. I’d especially encourage white people who haven’t started this practice yet to set up a monthly transfer to black and indigenous trans women, and to organizations like Brave Space Alliance in Chicago.
Photograph of T Fleischmann by May Allen.