Regular readers of this webzine
know by now that "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories,"
an anthology derived largely from writing in BENT, will be published
by Haworth Press in November.
My co-editor John Killacky and
I knew all along that one of the most challenging aspects of this
project, in the works for more than two years, would be designing
an effective cover. The nature of the challenge involved not only
aesthetic considerations (the cover should be beautiful)
and marketing goals (what kind of design will prompt buyers to pull
the book off the shelf?), but, we realized, political considerations
What's so political about cripgay
writing? In the broadest cultural senseeverything. The fact
that "Queer Crips" will be published at all suggests that gay
disability culture might be coming of age, driven by the force of
our collective intelligence and our willingness to write emotionally
candid accounts of our lives. The fact that the manuscript was rejected
by dozens of prominent publishers with queer and gender-studies
lists before being welcomed by Haworth tells us that our concerns
are still thought saleable to no more than a niche market. Thus,
how we present ourselves becomes important not only to all of us
queer crips ourselves but to the larger audience we seek to address.
In writing about our lives in
"Queer Crips" we are depicting them, of course, picturing
them for each other and for that great crowd of nondisabled readers.
The function of the book's cover is to picture what's inside in
a more obvious sense. But how do we go about choosing an image that
pictures gay disability?
Kenny Fries, in his contribution
to "Queer Crips," titled "Modeling for the Cause," dismisses the
clichéd guy-in-a-wheelchair image. Even before reading Kenny's piece
we, too, knew that that was not the image for us. There are plenty
of gay guys in chairs, you might be thinking, so what's wrong with
splashing one of them across the cover? For one thing, the chair
image can be reductionist, since it serves as the only image of
disability many nondisabled people know. In symbolic terms it risks
substituting in the viewer's mind a piece of machinery for the person
using it. Its not-so-subtle message may be that the man is nothing
more than his disability, by virtue of the assistive device he's
The wheelchair symbol points to
another problem in depicting disability. John and I worked hard
to find a selection of writers whose lives, outlooks, and, yes,
whose disabilities represented the broadest possible range of experience.
Any cover design that suggested only one particular disability could
turn out to seem exclusionary. We worried about reducing an entire
community to what might read as a single "impairment."
You may begin to see the challenge.
Not until we had a trial design in front of us, however, did we
fully understand its implications. We suggested to our cooperative
Haworth Press designer that the image of a Kourosan ancient
Greek statue of a nude youthmight work, especially since most
examples have come down to us with one or more limbs damaged or
missing. Might the homoerticism implicit in such a statue, coupled
with its damaged state, imply some of the issues our book was raising
about sex and disability, and do so symbolically, without suggesting
any one disability?
When the designer delivered the
first try, beautiful on its own terms, we circulated it to our own
small focus group. Only then did the real fun begin. The range of
responses went like this:
¶ I think it's very cool.
Of course, I usually go for anything that has a male butt on it.
¶ That cover says "This is
a snooty academic tome about the cultural implications of traditionally
accepted notions of sexuality and it's affects on people afflicted
with disabilities blah blah blah blah blahbitty blah. This book
is ground-breaking, and it's about sex, fer chrissakes! You've gotta
do better than this!
¶ In particular I like the
photo of the statue. I like the boldness of the overall look, and
the photo. That alone would attract me as a buyer.
¶ I think it's cliche and
predictable (classical statue = gay, broken statue =crip). I almost
laughed when i saw it. But I can't think of anything better. It's
a beautiful design, attractive, and has sex appeal. the naked butt
will help sell the book.
¶ If you put a real
crip on the cover . . . who would you choose?
Talk about conflicting messages
sent and received! The comments above, and others like them, made
us realize that the idealized Kouros image, despite the provocative
implications of its missing parts, might fail to embody for many
potential readers our book's sexy, brash, cutting edge content.
And while the Kouros may read as erotic to one generation of gay
men, might it lack the same iconic value for men in their 20s and
30s.? Hadn't we better make sure that "Queer Crips" is as attractive
as possible to this age group if we want to make Queer Studies and
Disability Studies programs take note? And on and on . . .
We're still struggling with what
"Queer Crips" will look like, but the issues it raises
transcend the question of a suitable book cover. Depicting disability,
picturing gay disability, is a challenge that goes straight to the
heart of who and what we are: how, after all, do you depict a developing
© 2003 BENT
Bob Guter has
been a bilateral amputee since the age of six as the result of
multiple birth defects. His writing has appeared in The New York
Times, Stagebill, and other publications. He lives in San Francisco
where he publishes and edits BENT.