T. Fleischmann’s essay, Time is the Thing a Body Moves Through, is a balancing act of various genres. It’s non-fiction piled on top of an art critique balanced on photographs and spun around by poetry. The narrative, however, keeps a consistent thread of hunger and searching that is never frustrating and always disarming. The author’s quest to assert their existence and their right to belong brushes against questions of love and loss, violence and courage, gender and sexuality, art and perception.
The reader is immersed in a book that is refracted, but two focal points anchor the essay, sidestepping the risk of the narrative unwinding amongst so many sections: a lyric-essay on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ artwork and a chronicle of a sometimes romantic friendship with Simon. Gonzalez-Torres’ pieces involved tasting of candy, walking through curtains of blue beads and standing in front of mirrors, all demanding an active participation of the body in order to experience the art. This interaction between physicality and perception was the same T.Fleischmann experienced when trying to figure out their relationship to gay masculinity, society and self. The narrative that deals with Simon introduces us to the author’s psyche and the friendships that are a part of their world. Simon and the author chase after each other in Berlin, New York City, Chicago and Buffalo as they discuss everything from Thule, a city of ice that could not be found, to bars with pink fuzzy walls and sex mazes.
In the scattering of anecdotes and thoughts that make up Time is the Thing the Body Moves Through, there are many sections where T. Fleischmann just invites us to their experience. Two episodes that are so painfully sincere they stand out over the rest: the story of how their acne dictated the way the narrator treated sex and other intimacies (hugging, kissing, caressing, small-talk after sex) and the thoughts that arise when they are near someone else. To the author, “I’m not supposed to be next to anyone, in the sense that I never knew people like me existed…Being a person next to someone is precious, especially when so many forces in the world work with such violence to make sure I am not next to so many people…”
The political and social commentaries don’t feel saturated, even though they are a great part of what the author wanted to stress with this work, “using love and beauty to open sites of radical, political change.” The author compels us to recognize contemporary trans life, and the way it doesn’t always align with “familiar ideas—the personal is political, representation as a tool of inclusion, the body as a site of theory—”. Controversies and conflicts are present but T. Fleischmann speaks very naturally about them, regarding them as just another part of day to day life, and not dwelling on the topic.
As a matter of fact, T.F. doesn’t dwell very much on anything, other than their love of ice. This juxtaposes itself with T.F. insistence that sometimes words are just words, people are just people, not everything has to be a metaphor: “I’ve decided I don’t like them because one thing is never another thing, and it’s a lie to say something is anything but itself.”
In the same way I ended up looking up the artwork of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, I searched for images of T. Fleischmann. What does their voice sound like? Why do I need to encase them in an image? Why can’t I just live with their words, their language? Then I come across a photograph of T.Fleischmann smiling, and I’m happy for them, a sign that the author is very adept at creating connection with readers. We end up cheering for their resilience and esthetic stamina, their contagious impetus that exhorts us to go out and change the world. Or at the very least, try to.