No Future

By Os Keyes

Lastnight I did a guest lecture for my department’s inclusive design class, and a student asked a question that left me entirely nonplussed. To paraphrase it from memory, it was something like:

Having read a bunch of your papers on gender, disability and technology - is all this work an effort at imagining queer crip futures?

It’s not an exaggeration to say this framing of what I do has…literally never crossed my mind. And I was up all night thinking about and expanding on my response, which was: no, and I can’t imagine saying yes.

When I think about my work and how it relates to futures, the only interaction I can see or flatter myself to hope for is that my work makes space for futures. What I do is often critique - critique for the purpose of clearing out or calling into question bits of the present, or already-advocated futures, and maybe (on a good day) sensitising people to things they might want to look for in futures they see. To a certain degree there’s some imagining present in this - kicking existing ideas implicitly requires a belief and a hope that there is a shape they could take but aren’t, a better shape - but the idea of imagining futures as a dedicated activity or outcome feels very alien to me.

Part of this is that it feels hubristic. Imagining futures means imagining or accepting harm - there are no futures that come with clean hands. If doing historically-oriented work teaches you anything, it is that our pasts and presents (all of which were imagined futures to someone at one point or another) are littered with the corpses of people whose only mistake was that they happened to be standing next to some smartass at the moment they insisted that this time, for sure, they had the perfect solution. I’m not looking to be that kind of smartass because I’m not looking to make any corpses.

The bigger problem, though, is not the hubris but the feeling that to imagine futures for “us” I’d have to be able to imagine a future for me. What I flippantly said in class was that most days I’ve only got as far as imagining what I might have for dinner. And it’s hard to imagine further than that. Part of this is, you know, “the world”, and all the difficulties that mark the interaction of queerness and time. But part of it is the sense that I, in particular, do not have a future. That I was dealt a mediocre set of cards, have played them badly enough to worsen my hand (and piss off a lot of the other people at the table, to boot) and am just treading water until the dealer throws me out.

How do you imagine futures, plural, collectively, when you shrink from imagining your own? And/or: how do you come to be able to (re)imagine your own future, to enable that broader work?