Stephanie Sy-Quia

The fetus in American body politic

The promise of happiness’s pursuit is sustainable only through deferral. This deferral is enacted through the magical, punitive phrase ‘for our children’: our entire society is held in the custody of the perpetually unborn. The promise of eventual happiness yawns out over the horizon: linear, vectoral; leaving us behind.

In his queer polemic No Future, Lee Edelman characterises the ‘queer’ as that which is on the side ‘not fighting for the children’. Those who do not build for the future by amassing wealth, engage in non-generative sex, those who opt out of having children (perhaps because of their sexual orientation), are all ‘queer’. Queerness constitutes not letting the children you haven’t yet had govern your life choices. Queerness is not thinking in the long term: about getting feet on rungs, about who your mountain of things might be for.

Conservative hysteria about queerness in this sense finds its most corporeal embodiment in the abortion debate. A fetus is neither choice nor child, but the future. To some, abortion goes by the name of feticide. The flushing out of endometrium represents the moment at which the transubstantiation of the future is interrupted. To some, this is the single greatest offence.

At the height of the Cold War, the fear of nuclear omnicide was real. After the immediate firestorm, radiation hands out slow deaths to all those who grow and die in the shadow of a single uranial half-life. The government’s response was to churn out propaganda promoting family life. Battle-proven masculinity from World War II was re-purposed for fatherhood. J. Edgar Hoover told women that not only was child-rearing patriotic, but that it helped the war on Communism. Nuclear weapons were defeated by the nuclear family.

Meanwhile, Edelman concludes: ‘Fuck the social order and the Child in whose name we are collectively terrorised’. Maggie Nelson, in her beautiful memoir of queer family-making The Argonauts, picks up where he leaves off:

‘But why bother fucking this Child when we could be fucking the specific forces that mobilise and crouch behind its image? Reproductive futurism needs no more disciples. But basking in the punk allure of “no future” won’t suffice, either, as if all that’s left for us to do is sit back and watch while the greedy and gratuitously wealthy shred our economy and our climate and our planet, crowing all the while about how lucky the jealous roaches are to get the crumbs that fall from their banquet. Fuck them, I say.’

One of the greatest paradoxes of conservatism is that of abortion/climate. The fetish of futurity as embodied in abortion hysteria stands in stark contrast to climate change denial. Through the refusal to see the world as an ecosystem, and individuals’ actions having ramifications within that ecosystem, the only people being harmed are ‘the children’.

Roe v. Wade hinged on the right to privacy. This right is evidently not self-evident, nor is it inviolable. But if private bodies are the fleshly theaters through which America’s drama and anguish of futurism is played out, then I fail to understand why the collective is not to be held to account for the environment. Their hysteria is misplaced, and would be put to better use elsewhere. Meanwhile, a disgusting man gets to preside over the formative years of my pre-teen sister. He gets to do that for the 73 million children in America, and his presence in the White House will leave impressions on billions of others all over our poor overheating world.

Of course I am not suggesting that we all stop having children. But there is something fetid in our body politic. Too long have we been unwilling to understand one another. The work of Americans now is to get to know each other, to make friends with people who do not necessarily share their views, to talk and listen to one another. So throw a party. Hold a barbecue on your block, discuss the issues of our time over corn and coleslaw (in my utopian vision, we have also succeeded in weaning ourselves from beef with lightning speed).

This is a country whose know-your-neighbors mentality comes from being settled by people who cut themselves loose from family and fatherland. The pioneer mentality is one of mutual aid. Those men and women greeted the fierce frontier with ideals of resource-sharing and the lateral pursuit of happiness embodied in collectivity, because they had to.

And now it is we who are the tempest-tossed. We must reach out to one another in the present tense. We must hold on to one another. The time is now. We must guard the fire, and hold the lamp for all others who may wish to gather round. We will fight with grit and with grace. We will do it for our children (born and unborn), but we will do it for each other, too.

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