Minus Four

Heidi's thoughts on Bodily Rhetorics

Manifestos

As Sarah has already pointed out, all of our readings this week are manifestos. They also do quite a bit of tying together of theoretical threads we’ve been following throughout the course.

The idea I’ve been stuck on most this week is identity. Lennard Davis argues that because disability is a relatively new category of identity, it might “be the identity that links other identities” (14). This is dismodernism, which concept he aims to see succeed or replace postmodernism. In dismodernism, Davis espouses the idea that “difference is what all of us have in common. That identity is not fixed but malleable. That technology is not separate but part of the body. That dependence, not individual independence, is the rule” (26). The notion that identity is not fixed permeates all of our readings this week — I’ll come back to this later.

But first, an excerpt:

The idea of maintaining a category of being just because oppressive people in the past created it so they could exploit a segment of the population, does not make sense. To say that one wants to memorialize that category based on the suffering of people who occupy it makes some sense, but does the memorialization have to take the form of continuing the identity? Even attempts to remake the identity will inevitably end up relying on the categories first used to create the oppression. 19

There are parts of this sub-argument I agree with, it’s true, but mostly I have to ask: would Davis make this point if he were not white? Or not a man? Maybe I’m overreacting, but to say, buck up, leave your oppressed identity behind, it doesn’t do anyone any good! when you are in visible ways aligned with the oppressors of the world (sorry, I don’t know Lennard Davis at all, and maybe he has all kinds of personal history that might justify these remarks) seems incredibly insensitive (to put it mildly). In a way, I’m doing the same thing by making assumptions about Davis personally, but I found this paragraph a bit offensive in its flipness, although I got a lot out of the rest of the chapter.

To back away from identity for a minute: as I made my way through Davis’s discussion, I paused over this sentence: “On the other side of the disability divide, Deaf parents and hearing parents of small stature have the ability to screen for the birth of a hearing child or a normal-sized child and to abort” (22). Now, I’m not a parent, so I don’t feel especially qualified to talk about genetic testing. But it makes me pretty uncomfortable that a child that may not (and that wording is intentional — as far as I know these tests indicate risk, not certainty) fit the arbitrary, exclusive ideal of “normal” might be aborted for that reason alone. (Don’t get me wrong — staunch pro-choicer feminist type here — I just have a problem with the narrative if a “defect” as always bringing tragedy, never possibility.) What’s interesting here, though, is that the lines are a bit blurrier when it comes to the cases Davis mentions. Should Deaf parents be able to choose to have only Deaf children? Is this different from able-bodied parents choosing to have only able-bodied children?

Tobin Siebers has some bones to pick with Davis in “Disability Studies and the Future of Identity Politics.” Here’s where I realized the idea of identity Davis was working with was rather murkier than I’d thought. Siebers writes, “Identity politics is often associated by its critics with minority groups, but it is crucial to a vision of democratic society in its complex entirety” (70). Davis, I’d argue, positions identity politics as the wielding of needless cultural categories by formerly oppressed groups of people. Siebers points out that grouping-by-identity is crucial to democratic society.

As an aside, this point: “the disabled usually lose their civil rights in the kingdom of the well especially once they enter the doctor’s office” (23) brought to mind a very short interview I heard on the CBC the other day. (It was actually a promo for an event, so I couldn’t find a clip to link to, but there’s more information here.) It was promoting the Gateways Project, which advocates for accessible cancer screening for women with disabilities. The woman I heard interviewed has cerebral palsy, and the hospital she went to for a mammogram could not accommodate her unless she got up out of her wheelchair. She was treated with very little compassion from the medical staff, who spoke mostly to the woman’s mother instead of directly to her. It was awful to hear (and I was surprised, which I suppose makes me naive) that doctors, nurses, and technicians didn’t treat her as a person. This is the inherent danger in the clinical gaze.

I’ll leave of Siebers with another question. When discussing “the politics of injury attached to minority identity” he writes, “One of the ramifications of this model is the fear that identity of any kind oppresses the self” (94). What, then, is the difference between identity and self? What Davis calls identity might be more aptly called identification with a group. And although Siebers sees the importance of a diversity of identities, he seems to understand it in a similar way. The difference seems to be that the self is not socially constructed in the same way identity is — but it isn’t clear in what other ways these two might be separate. I had never considered them as such, so I’d be curious to know what others think about this distinction.

Robert McRuer’s epilogue to Crip Theory proposes the idea of global bodies, positioning it in five different contexts, including Davis’s dismodernism. The nugget I want to extract from the epilogue is this: “we need a postidentity politics of sorts, but a postidentity politics that allows us to work together, one that acknowledges the complex and contradictory histories of our various movements, drawing on and learning from those histories rather than transcending them” (202, emphasis added). Here, McRuer articulates my problem with Davis’s argument: we can’t divorce ourselves from our histories and cultural identities, nor should we. As Butler says, nothing can ever truly be reappropriated; the original meaning is always there, even if it’s buried under something new. And that’s not a bad thing! Perhaps what they say about Those who cannot remember the past… I don’t think becoming liberated from the history of an identity is any kind of liberation at all.

I’ll pull a few bits from Donna Haraway as I did from the McRuer, because I think it’s useful to group together some of the points I underlined and drew stars (and wrote WHAT?) beside. Granted, there is a lot in this manifesto I’m just not going to address. I’m not sure I’ve anything useful to say about whether or not the phrase “genetic engineering” connotes “the triumph of phallogocentric lust to recreate the world without the intermediary of fleshy women’s bodies” (4), so I’ll leave that alone. I think the idea of “partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves” (1) is so important. This sums up quite a bit of what bothered me about some of the other readings this week: they positioned the self as static rather than mutable and context-specific. I like this about Haraway, but if I’m honest I find the militance of her writing quite off-putting. I also like Haraway’s discussion of genetic engineering’s effect on our understanding of where our bodies end and everything else (not-our-bodies) begins. We have talked about this before, I think: is the voice part of the body? Should personal space be included in the field of one’s body? And her point that we are one with our technology is a good one: we are, as Stiegler would say, always already reaching beyond ourselves, supplemented by some technical (inorganic) prosthesis.

I’ll end with a quick comment on the Wilson article about the genome. There has been so much hype about this idea in my lifetime, and I’m fascinated by our obsession with reducing humanness to a string of code. We want to make ourselves readable: “Digitalization/alphabetization of the genetic body-text has fostered the much used analogy of DNA as a molecular language where the “letters” are bases, the “words” are genes, and the “book” is the complete genome” (25). When we understand the body this way, the idea of making “corrections” becomes quite easy to swallow. If we think of altering or deleting genes as fixing typos rather than as fundamentally changing a person, or obliterating human variation — great idea, evolution will work really well that way — it seems like no big deal. What I find so interesting about the genome hype is that really smart people don’t see the problem in separating DNA from the rest of the body and from the environment (Wilson cites Richard Lewontin on this front). And of course, it’s a problem. Now if Humanities grad students had been working on mapping the genome, we could have saved everyone a lot of time. Because we know better than anyone that context always, always matters.

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Sins Invalid

Nomi Lamm of Sins Invalid. (c) Richard Downing

This is a bit of a non sequitur, but some of you might find this interesting. I came across a link to this project on the AGO website the other day. Here’s their mission statement:

Sins Invalid is a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized. Our performance work explores the themes of sexuality, embodiment and the disabled body. Conceived and led by disabled people of color, we develop and present cutting-edge work where normative paradigms of “normal” and “sexy” are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities.

We define disability broadly to include people with physical impairments, people who belong to a sensory minority, people with emotional disabilities, people with cognitive challenges, and those with chronic/severe illness. We understand the experience of disability to occur within any and all walks of life, with deeply felt connections to all communities impacted by the medicalization of their bodies, including trans, gender variant and intersex people, and others whose bodies do not conform to our culture(s)’ notions of “normal” or “functional.”

I think it’s interesting that this group includes in their definition of disability people with chronic illness. We’ve discussed this before in terms of people with HIV/AIDS being denied a disability identity. Generally, I’m curious about how groups like this work in practical terms: can an arts organization specifically for people with disabilities help normalize disability, or does it contribute to the marginalization of its participants by adhering to the normal/other binary? If you’re interested, learn more about Sins Invalid here.

Lack

For me, each of this week’s articles is about something that’s missing from a particular critical landscape.

Corker and Shakespeare: postmodernism is largely absent from disability studies

The summary of the postmodern in this piece made me think of a discussion we had, weeks ago, about how late capitalism and disability studies might fit together. I’m reminded of early definitions of disability as a lack of earning power, as an inability to participate in a market system. Modernism’s “capitalist underpinnings mean that inequality often manifests itself in terms of a divide between the rich and the poor across these axes” (2). I found this chapter rather militant in tone; still, I don’t disagree that the kinds of conversations we have been having about disability are better served by the postmodernist theories Corker and Shakespeare outline here than by modernist ones, which have not done us much good so far. The authors argue that “disability theorists have proved reluctant to take on board new perspectives” (13). I’m not sure what to make of this because from the work we’ve been doing together, that’s not true at all. The book in which this chapter appears was published in 2002: did Corker and Shakespeare jump the gun in lamenting that no one had done this work yet? Or did this text, which runs disability through the works of postmodernism’s heaviest theoretical hitters, empower other disability studies scholars to do the same? This chapter ends with a call for caution: if we get too theoretical, “moving further into post-structuralist and postmodernist territory” (14), we risk alienating the activist communities who contribute so much to the discipline. I found this chapter ended on a deeply patronizing note, although they seem to be trying to say, postmodernism is for everyone! But in the same breath they say also that disability activists are likely to turn tail and run at the first mention of the name Foucault.

Butler: when reassigning meaning, we tend to ignore both words’ genealogies and the power of performativity

This is on the obvious side but I was thinking, as I read this, about how some people with disabilities are reclaiming the word crip. Butler says we sometimes run the risk of separating a word from its history. I don’t know if that ever happens: there’s no erase-and-overwrite function in vocabulary. Actually, Nietzsche’s phrase “sign-chain” is such a perfect way of visualizing linguistic meaning. We see most readily the top link in the chain, because it is nearest to us, but there are infinite links descending away from that top one. Like Foucault, Butler argues “Discourse has a history” (227) we can’t ignore.  And it is “never fully owned” (228), we just perform it in different ways. So what does this mean for the word crip? As Butler points out, self-identifying matters. But is that only true when a term is recast for the first time? I’m a straight ciswoman but I use the word queer because it seems the most inclusive option, one that is widely used by queer people and straight people and academics and advocacy groups. Is it then conceivable that crip might follow the same trajectory and become the preferred term for people with disabilities? I don’t think that’s likely, but I’m not sure why. Is crip something a person can identify as/with, but not a word someone else can use to identify that person? Do we all have the right to decide for ourselves what words are used to describe us? I’m thinking of a friend of mine who identifies as queer, which means this friend prefers to be referred to with a gender-neutral pronoun. As Butler points out, gender identity might have nothing to do with sexuality, which is true in this friend’s case. It is about identity, not sexuality. Not everyone accepts this friend’s pronoun request of they/them (not ideal, grammatically, but). And some people aren’t able to make such a request at all. There’s more than one question tied up in this discussion, so I’ll just reiterate the one I’ve already set out: do we all have the right to decide for ourselves what words are used to describe us?

Bordo: we’ve left feminist perspectives and social forces out of discussions of eating disorders in favour of a (limited, limiting) medical model

The first few pages of this chapter had me asking: what about men? Why does this author assume only women have eating disorders? But she gets to that on p. 50. (I do wonder, though, if that stat about 90 percent of people with eating disorders being women might be skewed or out-of-date. Men, I would imagine, are much less likely to report having an eating disorder just like they are less likely to report sexual abuse. This doesn’t mean it is not happening.) I don’t have too much to say about this except to agree that a medical model (i.e. pathologizing eating disorders) oftentimes completely overlooks the cultural values and representations that might affect how we understand our bodies. Exclusively medical approaches to disability have the same effect of not seeing the forest for the trees, I think, which mistake disability studies is actively trying to correct. Disabled bodies differ from the norm and so are seen as defective or wrong. Most women, according to this chapter, believe their bodies differ from the norm (or, I suppose, the ideal) and so see themselves as defective and wrong. The value judgment on PWDs comes from outside, but what about the judgment on body weight? The medical model sees it as psychological (internal) when in fact, Bordo argues, it comes from the world as well. The idea of specifically female understandings of the body makes me think about our discussion of Murderball and how the film might be different if it were about women. Are we taught more readily and rigidly how to read female bodies than male ones? Is this a cultural remnant of the female bodies historical position as property, as a machine? “In the medical model,” Bordo writes, “the body of the subject is the passive tablet on which disorder is inscribed” (67). I would argue that this is truer for visibly female bodies than for visibly male ones.

Tremain: where’s the Foucault? 

I’ll add to this later and may have more questions after we’ve talked this chapter through. I will say, though, that both chapters from Disability/Postmodernity show how quickly the field of disability studies is evolving. If our course is any indication, the critical gaps they identify are not so vast anymore, after only ten years have passed since the book’s publication.

Questing

Photo by CliNKer, licensed under Creative Commons.

Much of the research I’ve been doing so far has not been about disability studies per se. Because I’m currently focusing on transability, and because transability is more commonly understood as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), the texts I’ve been engaging with (and finding helpful) so far are not about disability studies. They are not explicitly about disability at all; rather, they are about a) psychology or b) the body.

I have actually found that coming at disability studies this way (that is, from outside it and in some cases prior to it as a discipline) has been very useful, because I can begin quite broadly and progress towards disability studies as my project narrows, and also because it helps me understand why we need disability studies at all. There is a lot of not-disability-studies scholarship I’m finding pertinent to this project, which I’m sure is true for most of us in this course.

Casper, Monica J. and Paisley Currah, eds. Corpus: An Interdisciplinary Reader on Bodies and Knowledge. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Lemma, Allesandra. Under the Skin: A Psychoanalytic Study of Body Modification. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Both of these were found in the TUG catalogue using the broadest of search terms, something along the lines of “body and identity.” For me, it has been important to understand how we humans conceive of our bodies and why we sometimes aspire to modify them.

Bruno, Richard L. “Devotees, Pretenders and Wannabes: Two Cases of Factitious Disability Disorder.” Sexuality and Disability 15.4 (1997): 243-60.

Davis, Jenny. “Prosuming Identity: The Production and Consumption of Transableism on Transabled.org.” American Behavioral Scientist 56.4 (2012): 596-617.

These articles both discuss the kinds of disorders transabled people are often diagnosed with, which perspective is crucial as we consider how transability might fit not into the DSM, but into a spectrum of ability identity.

I also found a few useful articles in The American Journal of Bioethics, which might be worth a look for anyone interested in how bodies and ethics (and law) intersect. (If you’re looking for specifics, the January 2009 issue is of particular relevance to me.)

In order to move towards understanding what transability means, though, I need to know what disability means. And I need to know how each relates to the other. I can’t really do that without the tools disability studies has created.

The article “Interrogating Transability: A Catalyst To View Disability As Body Art” is one I’ve linked to before. It is published in Disability Studies Quarterly and is the only piece of scholarship I have found that takes a disability studies approach to transability. This journal and of course the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, which Jay edits, have been among the most useful starting points for different threads in my research. (I’m sure I won’t be the only one to have mentioned these, either.)

Finally, I have spent a bit of time poking around the Canadian Disability Studies Association’s site, which has an excellent list of key disability studies texts. This site has helped me think through the different kinds of resources we use as we explore disability studies and bodily rhetorics. We need texts about disability  (and about psychology, anthropology, political science, cultural studies…) to broaden the conversations that take place within texts about disability studies specifically. I was worried, at first, that many of the resources I’m working with now aren’t actually about disability studies. But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? It’s a discipline that’s still being built.

Honesty

Some of the questions I asked today, or wanted to ask but didn’t, for your consideration:

  • How might the definitions or connotations of transability change depending on how we understand our relationships with our bodies (being/having/inhabiting)?
  • Is it significant that such an active, diverse community of transabled people exists only online, where bodily markers are often absent or invisible, and identity can be fluid? How might our identity-performance choices differ in online versus offline space?
  • Are “pretenders”  victims of a double-barrel othering because they present as always-already-othered PWDs and they desire bodies we typically abject?
  • Why can we readily understand the position of a disabled person who wants to become able-bodied, but not that of  a non-disabled person who wants to become disabled? (Compulsory able-bodiedness means the only desirable body is an able/normate one.)
  • And by extension: would we empathize with an able-bodied person whose desire for a disabled body  causes such psychological and emotional torment that s/he considers suicide in the same way we do with a PWD who can never be “cured”?
  • Is it useful to compare or liken transability or BIID to body modification, to being transgender, to anorexia? Or does attempting to classify it as akin to something else only limit the ways we can conceive of it (per Foucault)?
  • Is the idea of undue “special treatment” for transabled people (often originating from people with disabilities) working to hinder any progress we have made towards reinscribing disability as an identity?
  • What is the significance of my usage of the pronoun “we” (by which I might refer to myself, our class, the culture I inhabit) in these questions?

For a disability studies approach to transability, have a look at the Bethany Stevens article I linked to in this post.

For another, very thoughtful take on Body Integrity Identity Disorder, go here.

Dictionary

From Codes of Social Conduct by Darren Saravis.

Body The physical form of a person, animal, or plant. (OED)

Rhetoric The use of symbols to shape or alter human beings and their contexts. (Kenneth Burke via James Herrick)

Bodily rhetoric The (natural or purposeful) positioning and interpretation of physical form, features, and  presentation as communicative representations (symbols) that influence perception and understanding of personhood, identity, [position in/relationship with] the lived world.

We use the rhetoric of bodies to ascribe meaning to elements of material being. By extrapolating from those elements, we make meaning of the person in entirety that [is/possesses/inhabits/manifests in] a particular body.

The study of bodily rhetoric is a kind of epistemology because it asks us to question how and why we know what we think we know about how bodies are systems of symbols, what they communicate, and what changes they can effect. As a student of bodily rhetoric, I consider the fact that I often project myself onto other bodies, Other other bodies,  make meaning of other bodies in ways that may have nothing to do with the selves who are [in] those bodies.

Undesirables

More than Medicare: Tommy Douglas’s MA thesis was titled “The Problems of the Subnormal Family.” Sterilization and segregation of “the defective,” he wrote, would protect and improve “normal” society.

I think it’s really interesting that we’re seeing mainly a North American perspective here, with the exception of the necessary references to Germany and a few comparisons to England. Colonies like the US and Canada were in something of a unique position during the heyday of eugenics because they had to be more concerned with national identity, I think, than many old world countries whose identities had more time to develop. In a young country, is it easier to define a national or genetic ideal (because there’s less baggage, more self-authoring of identity) or harder (because there is no single point of origin everyone shares)? I wonder also how these early 20th century attitudes towards national hygiene and fitness might differ in terms of the general approach to immigration and integration. I’m thinking here of the American melting pot versus the Canadian mosaic. Does Canada see itself as comprising individual pockets of culture and origin (which might have, historically, made it less concerned about “purity” and more concerned with keeping those separations intact)?

The reading this week that focused on Canada (McLaren) discusses only sexuality, not immigration. It’s interesting to consider that in light of recent headlines about the necessity of boosting Canada’s immigrant population. (But only certain kinds of immigrants: highly skilled English speakers … sound familiar?) Some of the language I’ve been seeing in the news lately resonates with the Nancy Ordover chapters (specifically in terms of literacy and linguistic proficiency). She provides a brief history of eugenics in the US in the 20th century, and one of the things I found most useful is how eugenics makes racism into science, which both legitimizes and perpetuates it. The medical gaze (Foucault would say) allows for distancing and categorization; likewise, spinning eugenics as a scientific (rather than social) project makes it sound logical and necessary. Eugenicists, then, appealed to society’s logos by relying on “scientific” (sorry — I can’t let that go without scare quotes) methods. They also made canny use of language, aligning the “new” undesirable person with other, established ones. As Ordover writes, the use of figurative language “was a recurring tactic in the eugenicists’ arsenal: using one despised group to denigrate another. … Eugenicists were extremely agile in the strategic use of metaphor” (26). The idea that “feeble-minded” people were more sexual than “normal” people is a good example of this, where one negatively perceived group (promiscuous women) is mapped onto another (cognitively disabled people of both genders). Mitchell and Snyder also point out that “feebleminded” women were thought to be hyperfertile. (I admit, I laughed at this. I think it speaks to the fact that scientific rhetoric can be as convincing, given the right circumstances, as actual science!)  Angus McLaren points out that “feeble-minded” women were more likely to be prostitutes. I’ll have to give some more thought to how this fits in with our discussions about disability and sexuality (i.e. how people with disabilities are so often portrayed as either asexual or as sexual victims, and how that compares to the (hetero)sexual language we heard so prominently in Murderball).

Mine

“Tattooist: piercing” by Chris Willis, licensed under Creative Commons.

Ways I can change my body:

  • orthodontics
  • teeth bleaching
  • weight loss, gain
  • surgical alteration, augmentation, removal
  • hair cutting, colouring, removal
  • makeup
  • tattooing
  • piercing
  • skin tanning, whitening

People can change their bodies in more transgressive ways like tongue splitting and ear shaping.

They can change other people’s bodies in the name of traditions like foot binding and female genital mutilation.

Is a body something I am, something I have, something I inhabit? Can the body I have/inhabit be the wrong one? What if the body I think I should have is one with a disability? I had never heard the word transability before today, but it is something I am already exploring further and may pursue in my project for this course. I’ve started here, with Bethany Stevens’s “Interrogating Transability: A Catalyst To View Disability As Body Art.” (Stevens is a policy analyst, academic, activist, and sexologist. Her blog hasn’t been updated for a while, but is worth a read. She also tweets.)

Onscreen

After I wrote this post about characters with disabilities being played by actors without, I tried to think of television and film actors with disabilities and wasn’t able to come up with many. (And of those, not many were especially contemporary.) A bit later, though, someone helpfully pointed me towards RJ Mitte. Mitte, like his character Walt Jr. on Breaking Bad, has cerebral palsy. He is also a spokesperson for the organization Inclusion in the Arts and Media of People with Disabilities, whose goals are action, inclusion, and accuracy.

Categories

Here is an obvious observation: one of the major projects of disability studies is working toward definitions of disability. I think it’s impossible to do that in a singular way that satisfies everyone; instead, I suppose, everyone must understand and define disability in a way that applies most accurately to her or his own body and way of being in the world. Susan Wendell asks us to consider how our definitions change if we include aging and illness in the category disability, which question is complicated by others like, aging where, in what social context? and what type of illness? If person with a disability is a self-applied term, a chosen part of an identity, then these questions are moot. But that doesn’t help us come to the type of definition any government or an organization like the UN can use to provide support and resources for people with disabilities. If we consider societal responses to all kinds of disabilities as an “inclination” to keep people “hidden in the private realm” (20), then it makes sense to me that aging and illness should be included in the category disability if the aging or ill individual self-applies the term.

(Time out! An unrelated question: Wendell discusses the change in identity that might occur when people become disabled (rather than being born with a disability) and points out that such changes come from the relationship with their “new bodies” (26). Her language here implies to me that in this case she sees the non-disabled “birth body” as fully differentiated from the disabled body of later life. How does her wording here play into our earlier discussion about having vs. being vs. being in a body? Would Wendell talk about her body in terms of possession, if she, as a person with a disability, sees her present body as new and separate from the body she was born with?)

Now, back to the task at hand. One of the key questions I see in Wendell’s chapter, and one I am working through as we proceed in this course is: how can disability be an umbrella category applied to so many different experiences when so far we had seen hardly anything to unify it except the category itself?

Wendell talks a bit about gender, which for me is a useful parallel category for thinking about disability. In many of our readings, I have seen parallels between narratives of people with disabilities and narratives of transpeople. This is something I plan to address more later, but I’d like you all to consider how gender categories work in some of the same ways we’ve been exploring. We’re all familiar with the initials LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) and often in Canada this also includes a second T (two-spirited) and a Q (usually queer, but can also stand for questioning). Now, I have a friend who does not feel that this set of initials (sometimes umbrella-d just as Queer) applies to him. He is gay, and does not think it’s appropriate for these disparate groups to be lumped together because their experiences are so different. In particular, he does not feel that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people should be categorized in the same way as transpeople, because transpeople often see themselves as being in the wrong body whereas, he says, “there is nothing wrong with me.” So should transpeople, by virtue of their particular set of experiences, be categorized differently from lesbian, gay, and bisexual people? (A related question, I think, to the ones Wendell asks about aging and illness. Are transpeople more disabled than queer, if  they are marginalized by virtue of being in bodies they see as not belonging to them?) Do we even need an umbrella category for any person who isn’t heterosexual? We do, just like we need an umbrella category for disability. As clumsy as these categorizations are, they are what we’ve got until we come up with something better, and access to resources and services depend on them.

Which brings me quite neatly, to Robert McCruer. He too makes a link between queerness and disability as something “wrong” that can and should be “healed.” His brief discussion of the ex-gay movement brings a different timbre to my point above, because for some groups, homosexuality is perceived as a “disease.” The introductory chapter, I think, speaks to the need to consider disability in the context of other paradigms, like queerness, because they do inform each other and often work towards the same things. The chapter “Queer Eye for the Normate Guy” gets at a lot of the issues I’ve been thinking about here; McCruer points out that the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy shows only one (normative) way of being gay. And that’s the whole problem: there is no single way to be queer. There is no single way to be a person with a disability. But our culture wants there to be, which is why we are looking at so many representations and finding them lacking (stereotypical, two-dimensional, playing into the rhetoric of cure…).

Finally, Adrienne Asch, who also asks us to consider resonances in disability studies emanating from critical race theory and feminism. I think Asch sums up my issues with categorization quite nicely, and reflects my discomfort at the fact that it is necessary because of the way society and government work. She suggests ending the debate about who has a disability and who does not, and proposes instead that we “consider which people cannot perform which activities in given environments and question how to modify the environments so that they are not disabling” (169). But this approach doesn’t seem to change anything; it is still asking us to divide people into those who can and those who can’t. Her concerns early in the article are about policy. Here’s a thought: isn’t it more useful to think about disability as a factor of identity than an infrastructure problem? This is where she goes later in the piece, in section VI. Asch imagines a world where ethnicity, gender, and disability are just about identity, and not about “life options” (175). Is that the goal we are aiming for? Is the ideal situation one in which disability is part of identity, but does not affect or limit one’s choices? I realize this is something of an oversimplification (and oops, my idealism is showing), but I like the idea that how we choose to understand and present our ethnicity, gender, and dis/ability can be about how we see ourselves and the world and not about how our options might be limited by categories. (Addendum: I’m curious also about how this relates to the distinction between impairment and disability. A body can be impaired, but it is a society that is disabling.  In this context, is my entire discussion here not only ableist but also completely naive? I struggle to find a way to talk about disability that isn’t Pollyannaish and potentially offensive to a person with a disability.)