CFP, special issue of InterAlia: ‘Ugly Bodies: Queer Perspectives on Illness, Disability, and Aging’

InterAlia: A Journal of Queer Studies

Ugly Bodies: Queer Perspectives on Illness, Disability, and Aging

In mainstream discourse, the (physically, mentally, and socially) healthy body is, or by definition ought to be, productive. The heterosexual body must also be reproductive. In line with the widely accepted ideal of liberal LG(BT) politics, socio-economic productivity is tantamount to assimilation and fertility; while Poland is not in the vanguard when it comes to specific legal solutions to aid reproduction, many recognized and influential groups aspire to this Western model. From the healthy position, illness (and old age) can be approached through such politically correct euphemisms as “loving differently” or “differently abled,” terms which have gradually been replaced by “possessing alternative motor and sensory skills”. Illness and aging can also easily be ignored, since the lack of representation or plain invisibility removes the risk of confrontation, allowing the public to remain unaware of the existence of certain postulates or claims.

Within the context of neo-Marxist movements, Judith Butler wrote in Merely Cultural (1997) about the practice of reducing queer activism to demands for the recognition of cultural identity alone, divorced from economic concerns. Political activism on behalf of disabled or old bodies cannot be reduced to such demands, for we cannot ignore the problem of access to life-saving/sustaining technologies and services and various types of infrastructure. There is sometimes no way to eradicate or even alleviate physical pain unrelated to aspirations for change in the social sphere. (Are there any forms of political and socials activism that can or should be reduced to the “merely social”?) Thus activism organized around disability – which cannot, after all, be essentialized as a single identity – constitutes an ideal point of departure for a kind of queer thinking that reaches far beyond issues of identity and cultural representation, focusing instead on the broadly understood distribution of “the good life.”

We hope to encourage reflection on the potential opened up by a *convergence or even an alliance of crip theory and queer studies/practices, popularized by Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (2006). McRuer’s study reaches beyond the social (as  opposed to the medical) model of disability, which has already been recognized within academia. The transgressions laid out by McRuer raise the following issues which we encourage contributors to consider:

  • Is crip & queer a literally and metaphorically desirable alliance against the neoliberal social policy discourse?  How do disability and illness problematize the liberal-humanist subjectivity of contemporary politics?
  • Extranormative sexuality/gender expression, discursivized explicitly or implicitly as disability, whether psychosocial, (re)productive, or other. 
  • Sanonormativity and hygienonormativity: discourses of health as normativizing discourses.
  • Spaces of excess: the promiscuous gay male and the docile invalid? The queer body as hedonistic and the disabled body as subordinated to the rigors of medicine and the expectations of the social security system?
  • The legacy of AIDS. 
  • The Christian view of suffering as ennobling and sublimating.
  • How do the disabled desire and make love? Who looks on and what do they see? The non-normative desire of ill, disabled, and old people as taboo.
  • Fat acceptance. Destabilizing the normative gaze, destigmatizing fatness.
  • The advantages and pitfalls of using specific methodological tools (intersectionality, standpoint theory).
  • The medicalization and mutilation of transsexual bodies – [1] the transsexual body as felt to be at odds with one’s psychophysical needs and desires, and thus “deviant,” in need of minor or major correction (and therefore ill or disabled); [2] the post-transition body as infertile.
  • Parallels between the need for visibility and the denial of visibility: representations of nonheteronormativity and disability as, on the one hand, evoking pity, fear, revulsion, the desire to help, even compassion, and, on the other, as giving strength.
  • “Nothing is obvious”: denormativizing (the notion of) beauty.
  • Disappearance under the sign “queer”: the specificity of women’s experiences of disability.
  • Generating images of disability in the sphere of everyday life. Limiting the representations of disability to several emblematic images (wheelchair, white cane, etc.) and limiting the spectrum of gender/sexual non-normativity to the acronym LG(B)T within the context of political and economic visibility. 
  • The rights of individuals vs. the rights of the public; emancipation within the framework of the system vs. shame (the sanctioning of disability, which is possible only after it is laid bare before the appropriate commission, vs. neoliberal autonormalization in the name of a frictionless adjustment to the system). The possibility of dissent.
  • Telling crip stories: self-narration by nonsanonormative persons. Testimonies, memoirs, art projects.
  • The transfer of life to the internet? Digitalization as a source of change in the functioning of ill and disabled people.
  • “I just don’t know what the right term these days is” (McRuer 41). What governs the ethics of speaking about illness, disability, and old age? Where do euphemisms originate? How can we tell the difference between words that wound and fighting words?
  • Improvement [1]. Nonhuman disabilities – deliberately produced mutations and deviations (for instance by breeding companion animals or livestock), and those that constitute the side effects of the environmental impact of human practices.
  • Improvement [2]. Attempts to defy the limitations of age and physical health in liberal political discourses. Contemporary eugenics.
  • Transhumanist utopias. 
  • Relations between the disabled and the able-bodied: between desire and care.

The above references to specific publications (Czesław Robotycki, Nic nie jest oczywiste [Nothing is obvious]; Cheshire Calhoun, The Gender Closet: Lesbian Disappearance under the Sign ‘Women’; Kenneth Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds) are not intended as bibliographic prompts.

Editors of the issue: Paulina Szkudlarek, Dominka Ferens and Tomasz Sikora (with the help of the whole editorial collective).

Deadline for abstracts: 31st December 2014.

Deadline for manuscripts: 31st May 2015.

The issue is scheduled for the end of 2015.

Email address:

Guidelines for contributors to be accessed at

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