Home » Queer Families » Queer Time and Space: Family Structures and Kinship

Queer Time and Space: Family Structures and Kinship

Erin, London, 2009   By Julie Fogarty

Erin, London, 2009
By Julie Fogarty
In a Queer Time and Place
a reflection on work by J. Halberstram


Throughout the 1990s a plethora of anthropological research was conducted on the shifting structures of families in the United States. Kath Weston, a queer ethnographic anthropologist, published an extensive amount of work on the subject of alternative kinship. Weston’s book Gender in Real Time, and Families We Choose were both published in the 1990s and were groundbreaking for the subject of queer studies. Families We Choose is an anthropological study of lesbians and gay men in the San Francisco area and portrays an exploration of how lesbians and gay men were building their own kinship networks outside of the traditional nuclear family structure. In this work she examines how kinship discourses invest in normative temporalities which privilege longevity over temporariness, and permanence over fluctuation. These normative conceptions of time and relation give permanent connections a higher importance than  random association. In this effect the queer family may be defined as a model outside of the general heteronormative understandings of time, space, and kinship.

Catherine Opie, Self Portrait / Nursing, 2004.

Catherine Opie, Self Portrait / Nursing, 2004.

Judith or Jack Halberstam, a queer studies academic, provides definitions for queer, queer time, and queer space as well as discussing how other theorists conceptualizes these ideas in their book ‘Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives’.

Halberstam writes,

“Queer uses of time and space develop, at least in part, in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction. They also develop according to other logics of location, movement, and identification. If we try to think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices, we detach queerness from sexual identity and come closer to understanding Foucault’s comment in “Friendship as a Way of Life” that “homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex” . In Foucault’s radical formulation, queer friendships, queer networks, and the existence of these relations in space and in relation to the use of time mark out the particularity and indeed the perceived menace of homosexual life”(Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, Halberstam).

Queer time can be defined as a way of being that exists beyond the linear and conventional notions of familial institutions and biological reproduction.  It allows for a reinterpretation of family and a radical reformulation of kinship.

Catherine Opie, Mike and Sky, 1993

Catherine Opie, Mike and Sky, 1993

For a biography of Catherine Opie and more of her work check out the link below,



The Structure of the Family

Throughout the history of western civilization, the law has always been used as a means of defining culture. The nuclear family has been a structure defined by lawfully recognized unions, economic benefits, and cultural visibility since the formative years of the United States.

The nuclear family has historically been anchored to financial security and therefore has socially evolved to become the desired affair for relationships. Since financial security is the desired state for most people in the US, this standard indirectly compares itself to the feared welfare state of non-marriage. In this way, the non-nuclear family has historically been made invisible in the cultural, political, and economical arenas of US society.

However from the 1970s to present day huge changes in the status quo of family structures has evolved in the US. The nuclear family continues to be the most widely visible image of family in US culture, however other family structures have made great precedence over the years.

The Two-Parented, Nuclear Family Ideal

The two-parented, mother-father family ideal has been ingrained in social thought and familial beliefs for hundred of years. This ideal is derived from religious, scientific, medical, and economic histories that promote the image and standard of a two-parented family. Recently this ideal has been challenged at a greater degree as family structures have steered away from this model steadily since the 1970s.

The following website gives an interesting perspective on the various reasons why the author feels the nuclear family won’t, and shouldn’t survive, in the coming decades.


Below is a chart that shows the living arrangements of children in the United States from 1970-2012.

census households

This second chart depicts living arrangements of children by race and Hispanic origin in 2012.


Multi-Parented Family

Recently in California news, a bill passed that will allow up to four parents to be on a child’s birth certificate. The passing of this bill reveals a larger societal shift that is currently occurring in terms of the common thought on what comprises a family.

Here’s an article from the Huffington Post delineating the bill:


Thoughts on Queer Family

Throughout browsing the internet for modern media addressing queer families I came upon a website called ‘I’m From Driftwood’ that interviews queer people across the United States on a variety of subjects. In the following video a queer couple from New York speak about their understanding of and relationship to the term queer family.

It was exciting to find some modern, relatable media about the structures of queer families in the US. The protagonists of the video speak about how they have created a queer family that nurtures friendship, loyalty, support, and safety for each of them. Their understanding of family is completely defined by their needs and wants, and not by larger societal standards. Shawnta speaks about the home itself being the foundation of their family and how the queering of the home space gave way to a queer family structure.

The take away is that Queer family is infinitely definable. Shawnta and Jazmine relate to the term as a way to form connections, provide support, and create a home that is in line with their needs. This can translate differently on a family-by-family or individual-by-individual basis. Queer families exist everywhere in that they are outside of the mold of the expected relationship to time and space. Unlike the gay/straight dichotomy, queer exists in a boundless space of non definition.

To check out more videos on the ‘I’m From Driftwood’ site, check out the link below!


Work Sited:

Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York UP, 2005. Print.

Sankin, Aaron. “California Multiple Parents Bill Passes Assembly.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Aug. 2012. Web.

“Families and Living Arrangements.” Main. US Census Bureau, n.d. Web. http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/

“We’re From New York, NY – Video Story. « I’m From Driftwood – Daily Gay, True Stories.” Im From Driftwood RSS. N.p., n.d. Web.


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