Dec 212015

“An unexamined public kiss is a privilege, enjoyed by those who are not marked out as the “other” by a stranger’s gaze. For me, a kiss is a political act of lustful resistance, whether I want it to be or not because it highlights those things people don’t want to think about let alone talk about—that people with disabilities are sexual and that some of us are gay.”

— Jax Jacki Brown | The Politics of Pashing from QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology

A kiss as resistance – For queer people who have so often had to hide who they are so they could exist safely in the world. For disabled people who just want to be seen in public spaces without being stared at. For disabled queer people who are so often doubly erased and doubly objectified at the same time.

I think QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology is like that kiss, unapologetic, brave, and beautiful. It’s like that kiss, bringing LGBTQ disabled people’s beauty out to shine. This anthology fits snugly in the intersection of disability, sexuality, and gender.

QDA is exquisite! It’s politics, passion, and really good writing all rolled into one.

I knew we were getting something beyond amazing when I saw author and editor Raymmond Luczak named as the editor for this book. I’ve read several of his previous anthologies, cried tears of self-recognition in public while reading Eyes of Desire II: A Deaf GLBT Reader.

Now, he’s pulled together stories, essays, and poems from forty-eight writers (including his own explicitly honest poetry) – forty-eight writers living in different places, with different disabilities, having diferent gender identities and sexualities, and, sometimes, holding diverging goals and desires – and he’s made the work fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

I really enjoyed the contrasts, and outright surprises, in this anthology, such as contradictions placing a lyrical poem about pain and love (D. Allens Posession) right before a snark-filled personal essay on erectile dysfunction (Gregory Villa, Limp). Meg Day’s poem On What I Didn’t hear you Say is full of nonsense words showing how complex language is for people who struggle to hear or speech-read another person’s spoken word, while Whittier Strong’s On Inheritance uses clinical-sounding quotes about mental health as structure for a story on child abuse and emotional pain. The contrasts and surprises continue throughout the book, which, by the way, includes some of the best poetry, nonfiction, and short story writing I’ve seen in years. Because disabled people are so often seen as less capable, or as living less full lives than nondisabled people, I think works like this, that showcase disabled writers’ artistry and skill, are extra important.

Maybe the best part of this writing is the richly textured portrait of queer disabled people’s lives, from the work they do, to the sex they have (or want to have), to the yoga classes they attend and the bars they hang out at. When I read this, which I’ve done about four times now, I can almost see, hear, smell and taste the experiences held in the words of these pages.

For the rest of this review I’ll be looking mostly at how QDA’s writers tackled the themes of sexuality and relationships. But, I do want to mention a couple of points that really made me sit up and take notice.

1. Liv Mammone has some advice for nondisabled participants in a disability-related poetry workshop. This is, I think, the best list of advice (with plenty of examples that should make people cringe, and laugh) for both respecting difference and accepting that people with disabilities are still people, and that, overall, disabled participants are there to discuss poetry.

Some of the advice:

  • When asking about my disability, please remember you have Siri at your beck and call, and that what you really need to know will come up in the poems.
  • Your head had best be a microscope. Ask yourself why you’re here. But question my motives, too. Slam your hand hard on my buttons.
  • Speak for me, not over me.

2. InDisability Made Me Do It or Modeling for the Cause, Kenny Fries finishes with the observation that The Venus de Milo, with all her scars and missing body parts, is considered beautiful; people with scars and missing parts are rarely looked at with wonder and admiration. That brought me up short. Why do we accept, even celebrate, something in art that we reject in flesh and blood people?

— — — —

It’s a strange irony that disabled people are assumed to not think about, let alone want, sex, while queer people are stereotyped as thinking about nothing else. Where does that even leave queer disabled folks?

Luckily, the truth is far more complex – and beautiful – and QDA is here to help us see that.

In Vagina Resigning, Liv Mammone shows us that the sexual part of herself is so much more powerful, so much more eager, so much more reliable and pleasurable, than the rest of her disabled body. Andrew Morrison-Gurza and Ashley Molion both write about how they desire passionate abandon, not the careful treatment or chaste touches they get from most people, even lovers.

Barbara Ruth’s poem 8 Ways of Being Disabled in Love speaks to a reality most nondisabled people don’t think about and probably couldn’t imagine – a world where couples keep on touching, keep on loving, even with medicines, hospitals,and pain that won’t go away.

IN Possession, D. Allen puts this in poetry:

Often I confuse pain with a poverty
of love. I don’t have hands today
means I can’t use them to touch you.

Sarah Ibrahim goes deeper into this as she explores how one person’s pain can bring lovers together and tear them apart. D. Allen spells out, in prose this time, this deep relationship between bodies, pain, and lovers:

You rub my back during a pain flare and I remind you to avoid the spine. Often you remember on your own, now. I say the spine because it is easier than saying my body feels broken and your touch makes it real.

Because we really can’t untangle relationships, of any kind, from the ways we feel about ourselves, from the ways we live in our bodies.

It’s complex enough to sort out relationships with lovers and partners. When we throw family into the mix, it often gets positively messy.

Many of QDA’s writers share the deep conflicts they’ve had with family. Joel Gates starts his essay Outcast: Deaf, Gay, Christian: “All my life I could never fit in anywhere.” The only way he could literally survive this isolation was to finally tell his family and friends that he’s gay. Joel has payed a big price for that: He and his family are “drifting apart” and he’s had to build a family of his own, with his fiance, and new friends at his new church lead by a gay pastor.

Disability is an isolating experience. As is having a gender or sexuality people don’t understand. harder still when people who claim to love you blame your queerness on your disability.

Brenna Syr captures this in a way that makes my heart ache every time I read it:

I called my sister for comfort. I spoke to her of my pain: the physical and the relational.

“Brenna, don’t you think your arthritis might get better if you stopped deciding to be gay?”

…I live in constant pain, and a part of me will always believe that it is caused by a God who cares not for my happiness, but for the genitalia of my partners.

But there’s laughter mixed into QDA, if not from family, than from and with lovers and partners.

Larry Connolly thinks he must be The Worst Husband You Can Imagine. He loses patience with his husband John’s slowness and limited mobility, noncompliance with medical instructions, and, worst of all, his habit of leaving dirty clothes and dishes all over Larry’s nice neat house.

Finally, he goes too far, and there I am standing in the kitchen doorway, in an apron, brandishing a rolling pin and screaming, YOU LEFT YOUR GODDAMN WHEELCHAIR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LIVING ROOM.
Silence covers the earth. We know a line has been crossed.
It doesn’t really matter what straw broke this back, or how exactly we got to this place on this day, but we look into one another’s eyes, catch the tail end of whatever soul dares to remain, and begin to laugh. And laugh. And Laugh.

Enough said.

There’s a theory that queer people and disabled people share a common experience, that these two groups are united by having experienced rejection from their families. I have no idea how true this sense of connection between the communities actually is.

Writers in QDA have not found queer communities welcoming or accessible.

Kit Mead hasn’t been able to find their queer community. They’re autistic, and the fast paced noise and chaos of clubs, pride parades, and campus LGBTQ student meetings causes too much sensory stimulation, meaning that Kit shuts down and can’t interact. Not being able to access queer community makes Kit feel invisible as a queer person, especially since their queerness has been discounted as “symptoms” of autism, not expressions of queer identity.

Maverick Smith, Invisible Within the Ten Percent, spells out what is happening behind this lack of accessibility in queer spaces:

Pride is a rainbow blanket smothering difference
it makes words palatable to diverse communities
but even as folks’s lips shape these verbs for others’s ears
ableism & audism are omnipresent during Pride

I loved and learned from every piece in this book, but the one that gives me chills, the one that keeps pulling me back to read it again and again is John Whittier Treat’s fictional short story A Girl For Us.

Hal is in his mid-thirties, works at a grocery store, loves going to the planetarium, has a best friend named Stan, and has intellectual and cognitive disabilities. Without asking what he wants, his parents decide to put out a personal ad to find Hal a girlfriend. Maybe no one is really interested in what Hal wants, or thinks he can even know what he wants, but Hal is the only character in this story who knows or acknowledges that something is wrong with this set-up. In fact, Hal understands almost everything that’s happening around him.

“Hal, how are we doing?”
“Well, this is our second date, isn’t it?”
Hal thought, I haven’t ever asked her on a date. Mom and Dad have.
“I guess.”
Carolyn put both her hands flat on the tablecloth.
“Do you like me?”
Hal panicked. He wasn’t sure how to answer. If he said no, she might get mad. If he said yes, she might think I want to marry her or something. It was only then that Hal thought to answer truthfully.
“I don’t know you, Carolyn.”
Carolyn smiled. “That’s right, Hal. We don’t know each other. But everyone has first impressions.”

You’ll need to read the story to find out what Hal’s first impressions are, and what he’d tell people if only they asked. Like all well-written fiction, the big picture is slow to emerge, and is like a slap in the face when it does.


Thank you to Raymond Luczak for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

We need more books like QDA, as starters for conversations, as works of art, as resources for people trying to survive and love themselves.