1 Time for Disability Studies and a Future for Crips
Queerness should and could be about a desire for another way of being in both the world and time, a desire that resists mandates to accept that which is not enough.
WHAT WOULD IT
mean to explore disability in time or to articulate “crip time”? Temporal categories are already commonly used in formulations of disability; one aspect of cripping time might simply be to map the extent to which we conceptualize disability in temporal terms. The medical field in particular has a long tradition of describing disability in reference to time. “Chronic” fatigue, “intermittent” symptoms, and “constant” pain are each ways of defining illness and disability in and through time; they describe disability in terms of duration. “Frequency,” “incidence,” “occurrence,” “relapse,” “remission”: these, too, are the time frames of symptoms, illness, and disease. “Prognosis” and “diagnosis” project futures of illness, disability, and recovery. Or take terms such as “acquired,” “congenital,” and “developmental,” each of which is used to demarcate the time or onset of impairment. “Developmental” does double duty, referring both to lifelong conditions, including those that develop or manifest in childhood and adolescence, but also implying a “delay” in development, a detour from the timeline of normative progress.1
Temporal frameworks are not limited to the medical field, however. Disability studies and disability movements also draw on discourses of temporality in their framings of disability, often using the same temporal terms mentioned above. Indeed, part of the work of these movements has been to reveal “nondisabled” and “able-bodied” as temporal, and temporary, categories; think here of the “TAB” tag (temporarily able-bodied), intended to remind nondisabled people that the abled/disabled distinction is neither permanent nor impermeable.2
Disability studies' well-rehearsed mantra—whether by illness, age, or accident, all of us will live with disability at some point in our lives—encapsulates this notion, suggesting that becoming disabled is “only a matter of time.” Sharon Snyder, Brenda Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson call this temporality of inevitability “the fundamental aspect of human embodiment.”3
Of course, disability is more fundamental, more inevitable, for some than others: the work that one does and the places one lives have a huge impact on whether one becomes disabled sooner or later, as do one's race and class positions.4
Yet these patterns can also be understood in terms of temporality: frequency, incidence, occurrence
. Familiar categories of illness and disability—congenital and acquired, diagnosis and prognosis, remission and relapse, temporarily able-bodied and “illness, age, or accident”—are temporal; they are orientations in and to time, even though we rarely recognize or discuss them as such, and could be collected under the rubric of “crip time.”
Exploring disability in time also includes speculation on temporalities of disability: how might disability affect one's orientation to time? Irv Zola and Carol Gill were perhaps the first disability studies scholars to mention the temporal orientation of “crip time,” describing it as an essential component of disability culture and community. Tellingly, neither one of them defined the term but rather focused on its frequent appearance in disability communities; they wrote as if the concept would be already familiar to their readers. For Zola, discussing “the intricacies of crip time” was an important act of political reclamation for disabled people; Gill reports feeling pleasure and surprise at discovering “the common usage and understanding” of crip time among the diverse groups of disabled people she encountered.5
By locating crip time in disabled people's in-group conversations, Gill and Zola center community-based temporalities, ones which they equate with disability culture and resistance.
Crip time emerges here as a wry reference to the disability-related events that always seem to start late or to the disabled people who never seem to arrive anywhere on time.6
As one slang dictionary puts it, “crip time” means both “a flexible standard for punctuality” and “the extra time needed to arrive or accomplish something.”7
This need for “extra” time might result from a slower gait, a dependency on attendants (who might themselves be running late), malfunctioning equipment (from wheelchairs to hearing aids), a bus driver who refuses to stop for a disabled passenger, or an ableist encounter with a stranger that throws one off schedule. Operating on crip time, then, might be not only about a slower speed of movement but also about ableist barriers over which one has little to no control; in either case, crip time involves an awareness that disabled people might need more time to accomplish something or to arrive somewhere.8
Recognizing some people's need for “more” time is probably the manifestation of crip time most familiar to those of us in the academy. Disabled students (or at least those with approved paperwork) are permitted more time on exams, for example, or granted extended reading periods. But “crip time” means more than this kind of blanket extension; it is, rather, a reorientation to time. As Margaret Price explains, “[A]dhering to crip time…might mean recognizing that people will arrive at various intervals, and designing [events] accordingly; and it might also mean recognizing that [people] are processing language at various rates and adjusting the pace of a conversation. It is this notion of flexibility
(not just ‘extra’ time)” that matters.9
Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires reimagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of “how long things take” are based on very particular minds and bodies. We can then understand the flexibility of crip time as being not only an accommodation to those who need “more” time but also, and perhaps especially, a challenge to normative and normalizing expectations of pace and scheduling. Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.
How might thinking about time open new perspectives on and for disability studies? Or how might observations on “crip time” lead to more expansive notions of both time and futurity? Questions about time, temporality, and futurity continue to animate queer theory, but this work has yet to have much of an impact in disability studies, and disability studies scholars have rarely been participants in these discussions.10
In articulating crip temporalities, then, I am calling for a mutual engagement in these discourses: What can disability studies take from queer work on critical futurity and, simultaneously, how might attention to disability expand existing approaches to queer temporality? How might our understandings of queer futurity shift when read through the experiences of disabled people, or when interpreted as part of a critique of compulsory able-bodiedness or able-mindedness? What does it do to queer time to place it alongside crip time, or queer futurity alongside crip futurity? Can we crip queer time?11
In offering these questions, my call is not only for disability studies to enter into theoretical discussions about time, temporality, and futurity, but also for us to wrestle with the ways in which “the future” has been deployed in the service of compulsory able-bodiedness and able-mindedness. Ideas about disability and disabled minds/bodies animate many of our collective evocations of the future; in these imaginings, disability too often serves as the agreed-upon limit of our projected futures. This book is about imagining futures and futurity otherwise.
My understanding of crip time and my desire for crip futurity exist in stark contrast to the temporal framing more commonly applied to disability and disabled people, what I call “curative time.” I use “curative” rather than “cure” to make clear that I am concerned here with compulsory able-bodiedness/able-mindedness, not with individual sick and disabled people's relationships to particular medical interventions; a desire for a cure is not necessarily an anti-crip or anti-disability rights and justice position. I am speaking here about a curative imaginary, an understanding of disability that not only expects and assumes intervention but also cannot imagine or comprehend anything other than intervention.
Futurity has often been framed in curative terms, a time frame that casts disabled people (as) out of time, or as obstacles to the arc of progress. In our disabled state, we are not part of the dominant narratives of progress, but once rehabilitated, normalized, and hopefully cured, we play a starring role: the sign of progress, the proof of development, the triumph over the mind or body.12
Within this frame of curative time, then, the only appropriate disabled mind/body is one cured or moving toward cure. Cure, in this context, most obviously signals the elimination of impairment but can also mean normalizing treatments that work to assimilate the disabled mind/body as much as possible. The questions animating a curative temporality include: Were you born that way? How much longer do you have to live this way? How long before they invent a cure? How long will a cure take? How soon before you recover?13
In this chapter, I engage in the process of articulating other temporalities, other approaches to futurity beyond curative ones. I do so by speculating on the possibilities of cripping queer time. First, I briefly summarize Lee Edelman's infamous queer polemic against the future. Although my larger project is concerned with how notions of the future have been used against disabled people, I argue that abandoning futurity altogether is not a viable option for crips or crip theory. Second, I read queer temporality through the lens of disability, exploring how illness, disability, and crip time are always already present in queer time. Third, I continue this reading of queer time through disability to pinpoint places where disability seems to exceed queer time. My interest is in how we might use these points of disconnection to expand both queer and crip time. Finally, I close with a few reflections on thinking disability in time. As critics of utopian thinking have long argued, the futures we imagine reveal the biases of the present; it seems entirely possible that imagining different futures and temporalities might help us see, and do, the present differently.
No Future for Crips
Lee Edelman has famously argued that queers and queer theory would be better off refusing the future altogether. (“Fuck the Future,” as Carla Freccero puts it.)14
Building on Lauren Berlant's work on the figure of the child in American politics, Edelman argues that futurity—an investment in and attention to the future or futures—is almost always figured in reproductive terms: we cannot “conceive of a future without the figure of the Child.”15
As a result, the Child serves as “the telos of the social order,” the one for whom we all act, “the fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention.”16
He offers as an example abortion rhetoric, noting that both pro-choice and antiabortion activists frame their fight as on behalf of the children.17
Patrick McCreery traces a similar parallel among both opponents and supporters of gay marriage: depending on one's stance, gay marriage either destroys children's well-being or enhances it, but both sides agree that the future of children is what is at stake in the debate and therefore what should guide our decisions.18
For those in both fights, then, the struggle becomes no longer about rights or justice or desire or autonomy but about the future of “our” children. Both of these examples show the slipperiness of arguments based on the Child and reproductive futurity; one can mobilize the same rhetoric toward mutually opposing goals. What Edelman draws out is the coercive nature of such frames: it is not only that we can
use the “future of our children” frame but that we should
use it; politics itself is and can only be centered around the Child, foreclosing all other possibilities for action.
Reading from a queer crip perspective, I can easily see the ways in which “the future,” especially as figured through the “Child,” is used to buttress able-bodied/able-minded heteronormativity. First, the proliferation of prenatal testing, much of which presumes that all positive diagnoses will be “solved” through selective abortion, is a clear manifestation of compulsory able-bodiedness and able-mindedness. As we will see in the following chapters, pregnant women with disabilities and pregnant women whose fetuses have tested “positive” for various conditions are understood as threats to the future: they have failed to guarantee a better future by bringing the right kind of Child into the present.19
Thus the idealization of the Child as the frontier of politics, the framing that troubles Edelman, should concern crip readers as well; discourses of reproduction, generation, and inheritance are shot through with anxiety about disability. These sites of reproductive futurity demand a Child that both resembles the parents and exceeds them; “we” all want “our” children to be more healthy, more active, stronger and smarter than we are, and we are supposed to do everything in our power to make that happen. The Child through whom legacies are passed down is, without doubt, able-bodied/able-minded.
Second, a politics based in futurity leads easily to an ethics of endless deferral. “We're held in thrall by a future continually deferred by time itself,” Edelman notes, and this deferment serves to consolidate the status quo.20
Focusing always on the better future, we divert our attention from the here and now; “We are rendered docile,” in other words, “through our unwitting obedience to the future.”21
This phrasing is telling: “held in thrall,” “rendered docile,” “unwitting obedience”—each phrase signals stagnation and acquiescence, an inability to move in any direction because of a permanently forward-looking gaze. This deferral, this firm focus on the future, is often expressed in terms of cure and rehabilitation, and is thereby bound up in normalizing approaches to the mind/body. Disability activists have long railed against a politics of endless deferral that pours economic and cultural resources into “curing” future disabled people (by preventing them from ever coming into existence) while ignoring the needs and experiences of disabled people in the present.22
This kind of focus on futurity does disabled people no favors, yet it is one of the most common ways of framing disability: we must cure Jerry's kids now so that there will be no more Jerry's kids in the future. Moreover, everything from sterilization to institutionalization, from bone-lengthening surgeries to growth attenuation, has been justified on the grounds that such acts will lead to better futures for the disabled person and/or for their communities. Within these discourses, disability cannot appear as anything other than failure.
Third, eugenic histories certainly bear the mark of reproductive futurity. Even keeping only to the United States, and only to the past one hundred years or so, examples abound of how concerns about the future of the “race” and the future of the nation (futures often depicted as intertwined) have been wrapped up in fears and anxieties about disability. Tens of thousands of people diagnosed with various “defects” were targeted by eugenic professionals and policies for the first half of the twentieth century, classified, and managed in order to contain the alleged risks they posed to public health. The category of “defectives” included not only people with disabilities but also people from “suspect” racial, ethnic, and religious groups as well as poor people, sexual “delinquents,” and immigrants from the “wrong” countries. All were united under flexible concepts of degeneracy, defect, and disability, with “feeble-minded” serving as one of the most effective, and expansive, classifications of all. People placed into one or more of these categories might be tracked by family records offices, institutionalized and segregated from the public, sterilized against their will, barred from entering the country, or, in extreme cases, euthanized. Schools and universities included the study of eugenics in their curriculum, both disseminating and reifying these concepts of degeneration and defect. In many states, sterilization came to be seen as a necessary means of protecting the health of the race and the nation from further degeneration; as Oliver Wendell Holmes asserted in the infamous 1927 Buck v. Bell
decision upholding Virginia's compulsory sterilization policies, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”23
While many overtly eugenic policies began to wane in the 1930s and 1940s, eugenic ideologies and practices did not fully disappear but rather flourished well into the Cold War and beyond.24
Virginia's sterilization law was not repealed until 1974, and coerced or forced sterilization of women of color, poor women, indigenous women, and disabled women persisted throughout most of the twentieth century; even today, under certain circumstances, disabled people can be sterilized without their consent, and poor women, immigrant women, and women of color continue to have their reproductive futures curtailed by the courts and the legislature.25
Institutionalization remains a common response to disabled people, particularly those with “severe” disabilities; despite the Supreme Court's 1999 decision in Olmstead
, which affirmed the right of disabled people to live in their home communities, many states continue to prioritize funding for institutions over funding community-based care.26
State governments acr...