Disability/Queerness Programming (CLAGS Launches)

CLAGS kicked off our initial year of Disability
and Queerness: Centering the Outsider
programming on September 22nd with an
evening celebrating the release of Desiring
Disability, a special issue of GLQ on disability and
Disability Studies, and Haworth Press’s
forthcoming Queer Crips, a collection of essays and
stories by disabled gay men. The event gathered a
variety of voices speaking about the intersections
between sexuality and disability as identities, as
well as Queer Studies and Disability Studies as
disciplines and intellectual enterprises. A
roundtable of speakers was supplemented by the
screening of Carmelo Gonzalez, Ted Hinojosa, and
Diana Naftal’s video, One Night Sit, which explores
the subtle and explicit ableism disabled gay men
face in queer communities, particularly around
sexuality and dating.
The opening roundtable represented an
impressive array of perspectives on sexuality and
disability. Several of our participants were
involved in Desiring Disability or Queer Crips: Robert
McRuer of George Washington University, was one
of the editors of the GLQ issue, and Michael
Davidson, University of California San Diego,
contributed an essay; poet/filmmaker/Deaf activist
Raymond Luczak and Kenny Fries, the poet and
disability rights activist whose groundbreaking
memoir Body, Remember has recently been
reissued, appear in Queer Crips. The panel also
included CUNY Law Professor Ruthann Robson,
who has written extensively on lesbians and the
law, and most recently about her own experience
as a dyke with cancer, and was moderated by me.
The panel provided the audience with a rich
and textured sense of the conversations already in
play between and among queer/disabled people,
and the possibilities of interconnections between
the often overlapping fields of Queer Studies and
Disability Studies, as well as the discontinuities and
cultural specificities of both sexuality and disability
as categories of identity. Kenny Fries’s comments
on his experiences living in Japan provided a
striking contrast to U.S. models of identity and
self-definition. Given the low birthrate, a high
percentage of the Japanese population is aging
and in need of disability accommodation. Japan’s
recent history, particularly in terms of marginalized
groups, is very different from that of the U.S., even
as accommodation is becoming an increasingly
important part of rethinking design for disabled
Japanese. Ruthann Robson discussed a different
process of recontextualization: using the lessons
she had learned from being a lesbian in relation to
a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Her experiences of
resisting authoritative narratives, challenging
expert opinion, and forging a community out of
adversity were, she commented, literally life-saving
when it came to working out a way to survive.
Gonzalez, Hinojosa, and Naftal’s One Night
Sit was an eye-opening analysis of the struggles of
disabled men within the gay community. With a
sly wink to the obstacles many disabled gay men
face even in the pursuit of a “one night stand,”
the creators of the video challenged the ableism
absorbed by much of gay male culture, particularly
in choosing sexual partners. The men
interviewed for the video spoke honestly and often
painfully about the masculine body ideal they
found prevalent among gay men that so often
relegated disabled men to the role of second-class
queers. After the screening, Gonzalez and Naftal
led a spirited discussion of the issues the film
raised, particularly the ways in which non-disabled
people, queer and not, infantilize and desexualize
people with disabilities.
It would be hard to imagine a more
engaging and thought-provoking kick-off to the
Disability and Queerness series. Many thanks to
Kim Christensen, Jim Davis, Amber Hollibaugh,
Simi Linton, Peter Penrose, David Serlin, Alisa
Solomon, and Becca Widom for organizing such
an exciting evening.

Sarah Chinn is Assistant Professor of English at Hunter
College, CUNY, and is currently a resident fellow at
the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center,
CUNY.