‘In dealings with letting agents one must project perfect affluence and ease, however bitterly one might be feeling, just then, the limits of one’s power. The strain of the performance feels cruel; deliberate.’
Late last year I published an essay in online lit mag The Junket in which I attempted to unpack the anxiety of looking for a flat to rent in London. I’d noticed that the anxiety didn’t decrease when my boyfriend and I were greeted with approval by letting agents and other intermediaries – it just took on a different tenor. As I said in the essay, ‘respectability politics of any stripe gives me the cold shivers these days – especially when I’m its beneficiary. It only reminds me of the times I was outside the magic circle of protection, and how many people are outside it right now.’ And that fear didn’t feel like an accident of personal politics – it felt like part of a bigger plan. Like it was a kind of ideological discipline that I was obligingly inflicting on myself. I felt certain that I was being strongly encouraged to forget about all the people outside the magic circle, under threat of being put out in the cold with them. But that, at the same time, I was meant to feel the tenuousness of the ‘respectability’ (and therefore, the access to stable housing) that supposedly set me apart from them. Divide and conquer.
So – did I resist the violent logic of buy-to-let and find another way to house myself? In thought, sure. In action, no. I didn’t dare. I pressed every unfair advantage to the hilt, and secured a roof over my head for a few months. Maybe longer, if the landlord doesn’t raise the rent and I don’t break up with my better-paid, permanent-contract-having partner. And the next step in the eternal gavotte of complicity and resistance was to try and write about it. How successfully, I still haven’t made up my mind, which is why I delayed linking to the essay from this blog. But I figure I’m here to be challenged – that’s what makes writing a conversation, which is what makes it worth doing at all.