There were many similarities in our journeys, with repeated meetings across time and place, first at Rutgers University, New Jersey, then London and then Oakland: our queer community – and queer cares – kept bringing us together it seemed. ‘Queerness’ exists in these shared encounters and in the familial and societal demands made and refused as we inhabit our spaces carefully and with care.
We met again in Oakland with Kim, my friend and colleague, signposting vital differences between Oakland, where she temporarily resided, and Berkeley, where I visited as a Beatrice Bain scholar at the University of California. I’m from Glasgow, Scotland and paralleled a similar story about class divides across the city, with racial lines also being drawn out across these respective borders. Kim had suspended her research job, put her academic progression on hold, and travelled East Coast to West Coast, from New Jersey to Oakland, to convince, cajole and collect her gran in the return back West-East. No surprise that this is ‘women’s work’… In the UK I’d spent four years travelling from Newcastle to Glasgow to care for my granny (while she was ‘cared for’ in hospital and then a hospice): the distance was smaller, but the emotional pulls back and forth, in roundabout care circuits of negotiation, maneuvering, presence – and absence – echoed as I listened and watched Kim do the work of returning her gran back home… It was that ‘return’ that I, ultimately had failed to deliver (Taylor, 2010).
Much is said, idealised, desired and even lost in our conversations about the differences between the UK National Health Services (NHS) system of public provision, seemingly necessitating a sense of public care and welfare to all, and the US system of privatised health insurance. Both systems come with their own controversies, disputed via Obama’s proposed Health Care Law and the onslaught of Conservative-Liberal cuts in UK Welfare provisions generally (and faced by the most vulnerable people and communities specifically). It is these disputed drives to expand – and condense – health care which often fly in the face of public and personal cares, producing generational and geographical (dis)connection which we both differently negotiated in claiming our grandparents as still present, still alive, still worthy of care; not yet in a ward labelled ‘gerontology’ (the destiny of some, if they’ve paid the bill). I tell Kim of the UK ‘lottery system’ of care where public provision depends on where you reside; where ‘general’ services are fractured by local funds, local ‘choices’, local priorities – so much for the ‘National’ in ‘Health Service’, the ideal of ‘universal’ provision. Kim tells me more about the seductiveness of medical ‘choice’ (and the ‘boldness’ in choosing to refuse general provision/compulsion as all-knowing-self-regulating American subjects…). Our cares connect, and they collide.
Kim phones. She will scoop me on the corner of University and Shattuck, one of the main drives through Berkeley; she’d been borrowing friends’ cars since her arrival and it is in one of these varied cars that I am to be scooped. As an ex-soccer coach she is used to motivating, she is used to delivering on physical – and emotional – labour, and, as she scooped me, she re-told her improvised gym session that AM (it was still only 10am), which involved pushing a car uphill. But she was frustrated and the car pushing was more than a ‘keeping in shape’ exercise. Her 82 year old gran, after agreeing to be cared for in the only way possible, back home in New Jersey had, as Kim’s stay came to an end and their journey back East booked, changed her mind. The shifting contours of someone living with Alzheimer’s was again recognised and shared across distances and times. More difficult than pushing a car uphill.
How can ‘connecting the cares’ here attend to emotional, geographical and temporal collisions in doing family, friendship, care and home, across these places? What (im)mobilities are re-produced here as travelling granddaughters make these trips, connect their cares and hope for emotional, societal returns and recognitions? As a loyal, tough friend – someone who can always ‘scoop’ me, I still worry and, more broadly, fear for who cares for these carers? How do loyalties to families transmit to friends-as-family; and what efforts (car pushing, solicitor chasing, professional-personal pursuits) are required as we intervene in housing situations, medical complexities and legal requirements? In New Jersey I present a talk on ‘queer suicide’ and the ‘life and death’ of LGBT community as we hear that ‘It Get’s Better’, that queer cares can travel and be recognized; I critique the narrative of futurity and protectiveness, bestowed on some lives (white, middle-class youth) and denied to others (Black and Minority Ethnic working-class youth) (Taylor, 2011). Ultimately, though, it is my conversations with my friend Kim that have me asking – whose welfare do we guarantee and fail in these queer moments of caring across time, where family, friendships and home are constrained and compelled? Who will be ‘scooped’, picked up or removed, excavated or returned to family, care and home? In the flights and drives from one place to another, cares are connected, condoned and condemned: are you ready for the journey?
Yvette Taylor, LSBU