Part 2: Gender and Disability | Disabled and Queer
Disabled and Queer
In the second part of this series, the focus is on the intersectionality between ‘being Queer and having a disability’. The following quote is from Bob Guter, editor of Bent: A Journal of CripGay Voices.
As we pursue love and work and physical autonomy while being ignored by our nondisabled gay brothers, as we struggle to feel whole in the face of slurs, stares, and outright discrimination, is it any wonder that managing our identities leaves us neither the time nor the energy for activism? Or is that position merely an excuse for ethical sloth?
In an era where identity is a hotly contested issue almost everywhere including Parliament (and its counterparts in other countries), social media, television, film, and music, to be queer and have a disability is to live in a world where being ignored is almost commonplace. A search on Twitter revealed two groups that explore these domains – LGBT Disability @lgbt_disability and Disability LGBT @DisabilityLGBT. Twitter has approximately 300 million registered users, so the fact that only two groups exist (or at least identify) as queer and having a disability speaks volumes for the lack of attention to the needs of this community.
Social Construct of Disability
The social construct of disability has provided a new paradigm for our perceptions of different bodies. Disability becomes the barrier that societies create in order to prevent complete equality and inclusion. Impairment becomes that which is located in a person’s body. To cope with society’s prejudicial beliefs and ongoing lack of complete equality and accessibility is one distinct battle. When you add the issue of coming out to one’s family, friends, colleagues, and others, there are two crucial spaces for understanding and creating one’s identity. Some people come out first as queer, whereas others are more aware of having a disability before any notions of their sexuality.
“Disability came before any kind of sexual awakening, and the only way I can remember certain parts of my life is when I use the awakening of my disability as a checkpoint. I remember I was starting a new school at my church and I was crushing on a female friend who went there. I never told her.” – Chiara
“Queer first. I didn’t know that mental disabilities were disabilities until I was in college. I just thought I was a fucked up person. They are as extricable as any other aspects of my identity.” – billie rain
The intersectionality of being queer and having a disability first became recognized at a San Francisco conference organized by San Francisco State University. Entitled Queerness and Disability, it acknowledged the genuine need of people in these communities in this way: “… a shared understanding of disability as neither tragic nor pitiful, but rather as an integral part of who we are, the social conditions of ableism as big a concern as the bodily, cognitive, sensory, and/or emotional impairments we face…It’s a radical act, a daring act, a brand new act for queer crips to talk about sex. ”
Another powerful statement offers insight into the experiences of being queer and having a disability:
On one hand, as queers, we are perverse, immoral, depraved, shaped as oversexed child molesters or as invisible creatures, legislated out of existence.
Intersectionality of Disability And Gender
When we study intersectionality of disability and gender it offers us a window into the experiences of people who have been shunted to the side even by the very movements which are designed to provide empowerment, connections, brotherhood/sisterhood, and companionship of identity. Both the disability rights movement and the queer pride movement must acknowledge the importance of how these two areas of identity meet and impact each other. People with disabilities continue to deal with societies that do not prioritize accessibility and equality. Even in Canada where we have a Prime Minister who is fully supportive of the rights of people with disabilities and the LGBT community (in fact, he walked in both the Pride Parades of Toronto and Vancouver), the struggles continue for people in their individual lives. Both queerness and having a disability are still stigmatized in our society, as we fight ableism and homophobia.
For centuries people with disabilities have been thought of as asexual and somehow uninterested in the notion of sexual desires, erotica, and sexual intimacy. This ridiculous notion constructs people with disabilities as children who are happy to just be noticed and not have to deal with the complexities of relationships, marriage, partnerships, and sex. People with disabilities must continually educate others on what should be a commonly acknowledged fact – they experience the same sexual needs and desires as anyone, whether or not they are heterosexual or LGBT.
A Queer Disability Anthology
QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology edited by Raymond Luczak and published by Squares & Rebels Press is one of those books that will help to educate people and enlighten them to the reality of being queer and disabled. One of the most poignant quotes from Luczak is this:
Ultimately, QDA is an appeal to the common humanity that binds us all — or should bind us all. We all want love. We all want to belong. As Luczak writes so beautifully in the introduction, “Here we are, coming out not only as queer and disabled but also as human beings in these pages … Stop keeping us at arm’s length. Interact with us. Make friends. Maybe you’ll fall in love. (Hey, you never know!).”
The notion of the able body has historically been linked to industriousness. Able is categorized and connected to the idea of vitality, health, capability, and wellness. Disability has been historically defined as the person lacking something in themselves which prevents them from being ‘fully able’. While this construct is slowly breaking down, when it intersects with queerness which continues to be a topic of debate in many countries, the body disabled and the body queer are pushed together. Whether or not society can ever fully free itself of Middle Age myths and fantasies of what constitutes an ‘able individual’, people who are also queer fight the identity battle on two fronts. One need only look at events in the U.S. today to see how vulnerable the queer community can be even in modern times. As well, the decades-long fight for equality and accessibility is now witnessing an erosion of those rights as the ADA faces strong challenges and funding for much-needed programs will likely be slashed.
Queer—disabled people must have the support of the movements which fight for their rights separately but on a joint platform. Until both of those movements somehow integrate and accelerate their efforts, the people who identify as queer and disabled will be the ones fighting on the front lines.