The future. We all think about it. Maybe it’s all we think about. Maybe 75% of our days are spent dreaming up what-if scenarios, imagining tomorrow night’s drink-date, or preparing for a job, a vacation, a life. But what if planning is actually the thing that holds us back from living our lives? What if we are so concerned with the future; we let go of the present entirely?
Have you read No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive by Lee Edelman? If you aren’t in graduate school for literature or fluent in theory-speak, chances are your answer is No.
Edelman’s main concern is repronormativity and reproductive futurism. A dissertation could easily be written on each of these words, in fact, someone is probably writing one as I type this sentence. But what I want to talk about here doesn’t trend into the murky depths of literary obscurity. There are lots of nuggets worth noshing on in No Future, but the most provocative point Edelman argues is this: queer people scare those in the dominant paradigm, especially Christian conservatives, because we can’t, by ourselves, make babies.
We don’t hold salvation inside us. There’s no blueprint on how to build a better world in our wombs; at least not in a way that’s obvious to mainstream America. Edelman would say this is fine, that in fact, queerness should stand in opposition to these manufactured ideals of family and future and possibility. He’d ask us, maybe, not to beg our way into acceptance through conforming.
In today’s America, where so much pressure is placed on looking ahead, on what the next generation can do for us, for our world, for our salvation, being queer is a complicated social location to hold. It is especially complicated, terrifying even, for people who identify as pro-life, or more accurately, anti-abortion. They don’t know what to do with folks who can’t biologically advance the human race. As far they are concerned, it’s a dead end street.
In my observations, the pro-life movement “loves life” not because of the actual child that is born, but because of the potential the unborn fetus holds.
Any woman in want of an abortion can find a dozen crisis call lines that will happily talk her out of terminating her pregnancy. They will warmly point her in the direction of anti-abortion resources. The woman, pregnant and potentially unprepared to be a mother will feel supported, guided, cared for. Here’s the clincher: as soon as the woman gives birth to her baby, the resources fall away. The support lines disappear. Head Start gets defunded. Basic medical care for the child becomes off limits. For pro-lifers, success has been achieved. The fertilized egg wasn’t terminated. Another human entered the world. Ah, possibility.
But what if this human smokes marijuana, injects heroin, has sex with animals, needs to be on welfare, is schizophrenic, does not have a home, is jobless, or is the offspring of non-US citizens? They’re a drag on the economy, another in need of social services. What happens then? What’s the plan to “pro” this person’s life?
As I sit on the brink of my post-graduate existence, my tongue raw from licking the seals of envelopes filled with fellowship applications, NPR calming rehashing the last political scuffle in background, all I can think about is the future. My reading of Edelman makes me realize, horrifyingly, that the future is the main place of value in my world. I live for it.
I have a planning problem. I’m constantly throwing my hopes and dreams into cover letters with a SASE and hurling manila folders out into the world. I live with my foot in next year’s door. It doesn’t matter if I’m harvesting coffee beans in Costa Rica or waving a rainbow flag at the dyke march in San Francisco, in my head I’m onto the next thing already. I’m busy making a mental pro-con list: teach English in Korea or take a bike trip down the Danube in Germany? Become a broke Ph.D. student or live as a starved, artist-waitress until I can beg myself into a book deal? I plan the present away. So do most people in my generation. But maybe this attempt at saying yes to life, to the future, is really saying no to life, to the present.
This is about more than Edelman. This is about more than my planning pathologies. It’s about being part of a queer community in a society where productivity, possibility, and futurity are of prime importance. It’s about living in an America, where queer people seek acceptance by mimicking heterosexuals and their relationships and their family structures. It’s a system that’s set up to fail: Love us we’re just like you. We can have a family and we can make adopt babies — there is a future for us.
It is degrading, as a queer person, to pander to a system that continually rejects my lifestyle, and it’s even more embarrassing to try and conform to the dominant culture’s way of being in the world simply to be told that my way of loving is not valid.
I understand planning is part of being human. We make lists, schedule meetings and fill out applications, but maybe there is a way to do this that doesn’t link our potential to last, procreate, and endure with our ability to lead positive, engaged lives. After all, what does a legacy matter really? All we have is the right now, so let’s get a little queer and change today, not tomorrow, not the future, but this afternoon.