excerpt from “Sex, Celebration & Justice”

(from a keynote written for the Queerness and Disability Conference, 2002)

small square of portrait of Eli by Riva Lehrer, a hand grasping a shirt

First, an introduction:

In the last three decades disabled people and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peoples have taken to the streets and entered the academy. We’ve built movements for social change, created culture and community, and shaped our own theory and analysis. But the issues, concerns, and experiences of queer disabled people have rarely been placed front and center.

With these thoughts about marginalization, identity politics, and community building, a small group of organizers–myself included–created the first-ever Queerness and Disability Conference, which happened in 2002 at San Francisco State University. We envisioned bringing together artists, activists, and scholars to explore a whole host of issues, ranging from the medicalization of bodies to queer crip relationships, from using personal attendant care to queer performance, crip style. And what came to be was an incredible, high energy, two day gathering of three hundred people where the sparks of connection and challenge, community and conflict, flew.

Those 48 hours were fueled by the explosion of energy that often happens when peoples who have lived in incredible isolation first find each other. There were readings, presentations, and performances that left everyone in tears or excited or wanting more. Many of us felt relief not having to explain homophobia to straight disabled people or ableism to non-disabled queer people. The sheer, stunning variety of bodily differences was both ordinary and awesome. And yet intertwined with this energy were huge challenges. The conference was very white, largely ignoring race and racism, problems articulated well by the people of color and mixed race caucus. People with psych disabilities and cognitive disabilities were once again marginalized. Read the important and powerful statements from the psych disability caucus and the people of color and mixed race caucus at the Queer Disability Conference website.

Let me set the stage. The room is jammed, full of people using wheelchairs, crutches, ventilators, canes, service dogs, full of queer crips and our friends, allies, and partners. There’s a team of people doing real time captioning and another team sign language interpreting. Whatever our differences, most of us bring a shared sense of queerness as familiar and good; 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. This is the roomful of people for whom I wrote this keynote.

Now, for the excerpt:

….First, a challenge about sex. And when I say sex, I don’t mean a code for queerness. You know. When those straight, well-meaning college professors ask me ever so politely to come to their schools and talk about disability and sexuality, they aren’t requesting a presentation about heterosexuality, much less the whole universe of sexual possibility. Rather they mean that other sexuality, that exotic sexuality, that queer sexuality. Or I get asked by nondisabled queer activists to be part of panels about sexuality and disability. I never know if they’re really serious about doing anti-ableism education or if truly they just want another believe-it-or-not freak show, a tell-all about what crips do in bed.

But here in this room when I say sex, I’m not talking code. Rather, I mean the steamy, complex, erotic, sometimes pleasure filled, sometimes mundane, sometimes mystical, sometimes painful, sometimes confusing behaviors, activities, and fantasies we call sex. It’s a radical act, a daring act, a brand new act for queer crips to talk about sex.

On one hand, as queers, we are perverse, immoral, depraved, shaped as oversexed child molesters or as invisible creatures, legislated out of existence. And on the other, as crips, we are entirely desexualized or fetishized or viewed as incapable of sexual responsibility. What a confounding maze of lies and stereotypes. We are the wheelchair using fag quad who can’t find a date, the bi woman amputee sought after, pursued, even sometimes stalked, by devotees—those mostly straight men who fetishize amputations—the cognitively disabled dyke who is told in so many ways that she’s simply a sexual risk to herself and the world. Never are we seen, heard, believed to be the creators of our own desires, our own passions, our own sexual selves. Inside this maze, the lives of queer crips truly disappear. And I say, it’s time for us to reappear. Time for us to talk sex, be sex, wear sex, relish our sex, both the sex we do have and the sex we want to be having.

I say it’s time for some queer disability erotica, time for an anthology of crip smut, queer style. Time for us to write, film, perform, read, talk porn. I’m serious. It’s time. I want to get hot and bothered: I want to read about wheelchairs and limps, hands that bend at odd angles and bodies that negotiate unchosen pain, about orgasms that aren’t necessarily about our genitals, about sex and pleasure stolen in nursing homes and back rooms where we’ve been abandoned, about bodily—and I mean to include the mind as part of the body—differences so plentiful they can’t be counted, about fucking that embraces all those differences. It’s time. I want to watch smut made by and for queer disabled people and our lovers, friends, allies, our experiences told from the inside out. I want plain old rutting and one night affairs, but please don’t leave out the chivalrous romance. Let’s face it: I want it all. It’s time. I want us to turn the freak show on its head, to turn away from the folks who gawk and pity us, who study and patronize us, who ignore us or fetishize us. I want us to forget the rubes and remember each other. It’s time.

In the past several years, there’s been an outpouring of identity-based erotica anthologies. On my bookshelves, you can find Best Transgender Erotica, Bearotica, and Zaftig: Well Rounded Erotica, all these books declaring and creating sexuality for people whose sexualities have been marginalized. And now it’s time for some sizzling queer crip stories. And if we don’t write them, then who….

copyright 2002, Eli Clare