Reflections on the Queer Disability Conference

by Danny Kodmur

BENT Covers the
First International
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.


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/July 2002