Frontiers Augmented highlights selected authors from our issues to create a means for deeper engagement with the content published in the Frontiers Journal. The most recent issue 44.1, edited by Frontiers Co-Editors Darius Bost, Wanda S. Pillow, and Kimberly M. Jew, highlights author William Mosley, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, who contributed to the issues’s special section “Pandemic Time.”

Arriving Late to NWSA

In my article, “On the Lateness of Pandemic Time,” I theorize “lateness” as a set of “actions, behaviors, and postures that can be interpreted as anachronistic or politically myopic considering the space and the people such qualities impact negatively” (159). In Black queer vernacular English, “late” conveys a sense of time that runs counter to the survival of those for whom whiteness, heterosexuality, and cisgenderism are inaccessible. Across various scenarios in culture, politics, and social media, I measure the difference between when a crisis starts and awareness of said crisis to determine the applicability of “ontological lateness” to a person, event, or institution. For example, discounting the history of HIV/AIDS, socializing before vaccination, or refusing to wear face masks at the beginning of the lockdown all qualify as late behavior. However, my article’s ultimate concern is with the Black queer commitment to life beyond the lateness of others, and play amidst catastrophes—the dancing, pageantry, risk-taking, and sex that was observable during the pandemics of COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS. In his critical introduction to this special issue, Darius Bost describes one such experience of his own. After years of successfully not contracting coronavirus, he attended “one of the most popular gay-male festivals in Chicago” and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 (112). His illness notwithstanding, Bost feels lucky to not have been hospitalized for a condition that killed millions. Rather thoughtfully, he narrates his experience by juxtaposing his consciousness of the uneven distribution of care globally and his desire to socialize during a pandemic, which is precisely the dilemma behind the central question of my article, “if play is worth the risk of incapacitation, what are we failing to prioritize in these conversations on Black queer life” (165)?

Before the 2023 National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) Conference, my article was nearly titled “On the Lateness of White People.” As my fellow panelists were setting up, the first-presenting scholar alleged their co-author was “trapped” in the Middle East to explain this person’s absence. This tone-deaf comment discounted the mechanisms by which the US influences the free movement of people, including academics, by animating ethno-centric protocols against racialized nations, including those in the Middle East, in the name of ‘national security’ and in this case against the spread of COVID-19. If that faux pas was not enough, this panelist went on to share data collected on gender-based inequality from dozens of countries across Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe, but applied the same definitions for race and ethnicity to each context. The audience became even more uncomfortable when the panelist suggested predominantly Black and brown countries were not as progressive or “feminist” as whiter ones. During the Q&A portion of the panel, they were asked about the limits of their data since it did not account for anti-Blackness. Instead of seeing this opportunity to nuance their argument, this panelist took this question personally, grew defensive, and dug further into their narrow ideologies of difference. The spectacle was highlighted by the work I shared immediately after: my theory on the consequences of the hubris of those who can afford to remain unaware of their arrogance, even as their ignorance adversely affects others.

Ontological lateness reinforces the neoliberal white supremacist power dynamics that free its beneficiaries from the burden of responsibility that comes with knowledge something bad has already happened. For the queer, trans, and scholars of color in the audience of my panel at NWSA, there was a cost to not addressing the lateness of certain threads of feminism on my panel. Historically, NWSA has been a site of contention for the various waves of feminisms under its umbrella. Those struggles notwithstanding, to have been part of a similar debate in women studies, in real time, and at our flagship conference, instantly expanded the application of my theory of lateness beyond people to include data, institutions, and the future of feminist research. I could no longer theorize “ontological lateness” as a pathology of whiteness alone. It was also informing my perception of women studies, the ways neoliberal feminism can cohere around itself as fully formed, render others as lacking, and in the process miss the chance to expand, cite, and commune with the changing face and politics of women, gender, and sexuality studies.

During my NWSA panel, two approaches to research in women studies met in incredible, fantastic, awkward, late, but ultimately enriching time. I wish my fellow panelist would have listened when called out for the dearth of critical race theory in their findings. But lateness, the tick and tock of its desperate cling to existence, is not the only time of women studies. For the communities I study, the cost of the lateness of other people is sometimes to be avoided, while at others one must address the problem with strategy and finesse. And as the saying goes: broken clocks are right twice a day. While this moment in women studies can be characterized in part by late qualities, it is where generations of queer and/or scholars of color have challenged the myopia of women studies and where some risks have paid off. So, the next time ontological lateness strikes in women studies spaces, it can rely on the graceful responsiveness of scholars who take issue with late feminisms, by scholars who choose women studies as our space, as our home, time and time again.

William Mosley is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Mosley’s research on Black queer expressive culture addresses the feminist and political implications of transgender and genderfluid art, activism, and literature. The scope of Mosley’s work is captured in their current book project which explores tenderness in culture, history, and the national imaginary, and how Black, queer expressive culture can disrupt exclusionary definitions of tenderness in favor of radically inclusive alternatives.

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