I’d been preparing to start teaching portions of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia (2019) as news about the March 16 shootings here in Atlanta unfolded across social media and local networks. For those who might not have heard or remember very clearly, a white man attacked three different massage parlors and killed eight people, including six Asian women. It was surreal to be thinking about the radical potential for a kind of queer optimism while the shootings crystallized an unrelenting year of violence against Asians. This turned me to moments in the text I hadn’t really paid attention to before: the interplays of hope and disappointment stand out to me now. I’ve been thinking about what it might mean for disappointment to be a utopian feeling.
Truthfully, I’ve spent much of the last year thinking about disappointment. It’s a topic that comes naturally to me. 2020 was supposed to be the year I fully came into my own as a slut—until the pandemic hit. The uprisings after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others were supposed to change the conversation on policing—until liberal pseudo-pragmatism reasserted itself. Even in writing this, I’m confronted with the disappointment of not writing what I thought I was going to because anti-Asian violence has consumed my attention.
Disappointment comes naturally to me. My transition has been marked by it. I don’t mean that I’m disappointed to be trans—nothing could be further from the truth—but that my being trans has disappointed others. Coming out as trans to my Japanese-and-Korean-in-Hawai’i family wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped. My auntie and grandmother, the two women I’ve modeled myself after, did not approve. I don’t know if they do now and that disappoints me, and I think about how maybe we at least have our mutual disappointments in common.
Despite this estrangement, I’ve spent much of the last year having never felt closer to them. Since the uprisings began last summer in Atlanta, I’ve become more enmeshed in organizing communities than I have been in years. This has often looked like inhabiting the roles my grandmother and my auntie occupy in our family. I’ve spent much of the last year doing care work for those closest to me, cooking and comforting (and berating) my friends and now family after they or we have been battered by militarized police. It’s an art of home-making, one that I’ve never really appreciated until now. I’ve been thinking a lot about a different March, the March when my father died over a decade ago, and how my grandmother and auntie kept everything and everyone together. Channeling them this past year is no small part of why I’ve made it through the year.
There’ve been so many disappointments, but the ones standing out to me now are coming from listening to other Asians call for police as the solution to anti-Asian violence. I am desperately hoping and working against this, but I expect to be disappointed. I expect to see Asians used once again as a cover for white supremacy.
The last year has taught me that I can live with disappointment, that it can be reworked again and again. There’s an art to being at home with disappointment that I’ve been cultivating over the last year, a continual process of home-re-making that I’m coming to understand more and more as the work of maintaining utopia in the midst of continual disappointment. Learning to inhabit the world more like my grandmother and auntie has made me appreciate this as a personal practice. Muñoz ends his text with failure, and it reminds me that the work of justice is working with failure.