1 The Queering of Time
On paper, a formal complaint appears as a straight line, pointing the complainer in the direction they need to go, the „path of complaint as laid out by the institution“ (p. 265). Procedures created by the institution itself tell you when and where you have to be, to submit forms or give testimonies. The process of complaint is not linear. There is no definite starting point nor an end. It starts long before reaching the point of even expressing a complaint, at some point in the past. Maybe it starts with a vague feeling that something isn‘t right or with the questioning of your own perception until you slowly realize what is actually happening. In order to understand what is happening in the present, you have to reflect your past experience.
Ahmed describes complaint as immanent. Complaints „are about what precedes them, even if it‘s ongoing“ (Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy, 2021). To reach the point of complaint, you have to go back in time: „immanence as presence or even the present, but it can also imply what remains, immanence as what carries on from the past, what has not been transcended or what we are not over“(p. 101). To go back over your experience, telling your story over and over again, „looping and folding, zigging and zagging“ (Erin Grogan, 2020) in time. The process of Complaint has a queer temporality because „Going back can mean going all over the place.“ (p. 101).
The end of a formal complaint is not the end of a complaint. A complaint becomes a file. Even if it is filed away in a cabinet, it becomes part of the institution. A body can also be a file cabinet holding „what remains“, „what we are not over with“ (Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy, 2021). Even though your complaint does not visibly transform the institutions, it is still going somewhere. It becomes data we leave behind, testimonies of what is happening to us, what is happening in the institution. It becomes a record, like the complaints which came before ours and those which will come after. To leave our record behind is „to leave trails behind us so that others can find us.“ (Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy, 2021). A complaint becomes part of the institutions‘ history. It becomes part of a complaint history. Making a complaint means digging up past complaints. „After all, as we have learned, a complaint in the present can lead to an unburial of past complaints.“ (Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy, 2021). Complaints open „the door to what came before“ (p. 303). A door becomes a portal through time. „Complaints in pointing back can also point forward, to those who come after“ (p. 300). Complaint is a legacy we inherit. We inherit the work of past complainers. The impact of our complaints is not yet tangible in the present. „Impact is a slow inheritance“ (p. 310). With each generation of complaint piling up, digging up, we weaken the structure of the institution.
Complaints are messy. They linger hidden in file cabinets and institutional closets to remind us of what happened and what is still happening. Complaint can offer a transgenerational intimacy, to go back, to go over, as to go toward.“ (p. 295). In order to transform the future, we need to challenge the present. In order to challenge the present, we need to learn from the past.
2 The Queering of Space
Complaints contained in file cabinets and bodies, in the same spaces in which they were formed. Institutions are build around bodies. There are those bodies which the structure is shaped around them and there are those who don‘t fit in. Ahmed draws an example of a post-box. The small slit of a post-box is constructed for letters to get in. A sign: „birds welcome!“, does not change the fact that the space was intended for a different body, a different purpose. The space was never intended for birds, only for letters. The body of a bird will not fit. „A misfit occurs when the environment does not sustain the shape and function of the body that enters it.” (Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, 2014, n.p.). Like a bird, we can not get into a house that was not build for us. Institutions are houses build around specific bodies and to enable specific bodies. Institutional houses often are already occupied by those bodies.
We learn how spaces are occupied when we learn by whom they are occupied and by whom not. As a disabled person, for example, you learn how spaces are occupied when the room you need to be in is not accessible for your type of body. In this case, the structure is build around an able-bodied person. Ableism is part a structure.
This „incongruous relation of your body to thing or body to world“ (p. 140) makes you work harder than others to fit in. Birds can work to turn the post-box into a nest, turning the slit into a door, „a queer door perhaps“ (p. 137), but not without transforming the whole purpose of a structure. To accommodate the bird‘s nest we need to stop the letters coming in, we have to stop „what usually happens in that room.“ (Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy, 2021). Structures reproduce the same structures if we do not interrupt them, which means transforming a space in ways it was not intended for, open it up for bodies for whom it was not intended for, therefore „queering a space“. Complaint can mean queering a space. (What’s the Use?, 2019)
Complaint teaches us how houses are build. For some bodies to get into a house „often requires a world-dismantling effort.“ (p. 137). This can mean dismantling structures to open up the space for more people or even „bringing the house down“. Both, dismantling and modifying spaces can be threatening for the ones already occupying that space. For others, it might be necessary to get in.
Complaints are messy. They are „looping and folding, zigging and zagging“ all over the place. They affect those who they come in contact with, involving people at different times and in different places. Complaints are what we leave behind. They become part of the history of the institution, and they become part of its future. Even if they end up hidden in file cabinets, in the „shadowy corners of the institution“ (p. 276), we learn how institution are inhabited. Often, complaining means „inhabiting the institution all the more.“ (p. 276).
Ahmed, S. (2021). Complaint! (1. Aufl.). Duke University Press.
Ahmed, S. (2021b, Juni 16). Complaint as Feminist Pedagogy, 06.12.2021 on https://feministkilljoys.com/2021/06/16/complaint-as-feminist-pedagogy/