Reflections on the Queer Disability Conference
by Danny Kodmur
BENT Covers the
Queer Disability Conference
San Francisco State University
June 2 & 3, 2002
First times are difficult,
especially where identity stuff is concerned. There's no way to
be prim and proper and controlling, no way to send the message "talk
only about X." If you tell people you are creating an environment,
for the first time, where they can bring all of themselves, then
all is exactly what you'll get. All the resilience, humor, fragility,
sadness, pain, suspicion, anxiety, warmth, and supportiveness. Even
if we wince at conflicts and excesses, I can't imagine we'd really
have wanted the conference any other way.
If people seem to take
issues and terminology way too seriously, it will be correspondingly
easy to make fun of that zealousness. But any issue is easy to ridicule
until it's yours. Accommodating multiple chemical sensitivities
might seem ridiculous to some people, but think about the frustration
and fury you'd feel if you bloody well knew you had a disability,
and no one believed you. You'd think you were stuck in Kafka, or
the Twilight Zone. Think about language here too for a minute. I
am not a terminology cop; I think being one restricts other peoples'
freedom way too much. But I also realize there are two or three
words I never want to see used by anyone ever again in reference
to disability, and I know you have your trigger-words too, so stop
yourself the next time you get on your accessible high horse about
being censored by crazed radicals, OK?
I heard there was some
really crappy performance art at the conference. I wouldn't know
for certain, since the only stuff I saw was good and provocative.
But the arguments I listened to throughout the conference made me
realize the presence of a widening cultural gap. Some people there
articulated a belief in standards, in the production of quality
crip cultural material that had a reason for existing beyond "just
because." For them perhaps, the equal respect and attention given
clearly inferior work must have been galling.
Many artists at the conference
came from another perspective, one which saw the relationship between
identity and culture very differently. For some, especially those
from the women's and trans communities, the primary measures of
artistic quality were aspiration, authenticity, and therapeutic
or political effectiveness. In other words, if you really wanted
to create, and if your creation was a true reflection of your self,
and if that creation helped heal its creator or its audience, or
if it made a strong political statement, you had been successful.
Issues of quality, especially if determined by others, were irrelevant.
This isn't a wrong way
to create; it's just a way of creating that's a direct outgrowth
of feminism and personal psychology, a way that stands in opposition
to the more traditional male model, where standards, gatekeepers,
and mediating forces help guide artistic production benevolently
along. It is countercultural.
As a middle-class white
man, I respect its impulses but don't think I could ever feel creatively
at home there. God help me, I'd feel more validated by having my
work in the New York Times than
by having it as part of some fab underground queer cabaret in the
Mission District. I'm a bit of a snob, and I know I view much of
today's countercultural queerness through binoculars, but at least
I am still intrigued enough to pay attention to it. Hell, I might
have my mind blown when I least expect it.
Speaking of being blown
away . . . Before the conference, a friend and I were dreading what
kind of tedium it might embody. We were frivolously hoping there
might be some cute guys for us to flirt with, just so it wouldn't
all be angst and seriousness. Well, there were some very attractive
and nice guys there, but to quote a lesbian icon, imagine my surprise,
when I discovered that several of the people I was most attracted
to were in fact FTM tranny boys.
Since this revelation,
I've been a real pain in the neck, I'm sure. Finding myself sexually
attracted to people who still had some female, er, attributes has
been confusing. It has not made me doubt my homo-ness, but it has
helped me remember and experience anew the pleasure of company that
is not strictly male. Some gay men I know have told me candidly
that they could not see themselves being sexually attracted to anyone
who did not have a penis.
I guess genitals really
aren't that important to me. Or maybe I don't "privilege the penis"
because I know that with a few tweaks of my disability, I could
have ended up with one that was unreliable or nonfunctional. Were
that the case, I would know that I was still capable of experiencing
pleasure, but I would have to deal with all the guys out there who
would see penis trouble not as a spur to greater erotic creativity,
but as a total and permanent barrier to sexual involvement.
Since I'd hate having
guys do that to me, I'm not about to do the same to some really
cute tranny guy. So maybe I'm rethinking gender. Or maybe I'm just
fed up with men. Or is it that I'm afraid, afraid of the gulfs in
language, in culture, in politics, in perception and awareness,
that I see widening between gay men on one side, and women and trans
folks on the other? Maybe I'm no longer certain what side is mine,
or even that I want to be on a side at all.
You say that's a lot
for a measly two-day conference to bring up in me, especially since
I didn't even go to all of it? Well, you don't know the half of
it. And neither do I. Yet. Check with me in six months. Or at the
next conference. I'll be in my usual spot. In the middle. Absorbing.
© 2002 Danny Kodmur
has contributed frequently to BENT.
His QD Conference presentation can be found here.