Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies: Disability and Queerness

Clare, Eli. "Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies: Disability and Queerness." Public Culture, vol. 13 no. 3, 2001, p. 359-365. Project MUSE

Clare writes that, historically, separating the disability movement from the body has served the movement well, as treatments of disability have located dominant paradigms of disability in the body. He defines these paradigms as medical (disability as a disease), charity (disability as a tragedy), supercrip (disability as a challenge to be overcome), and moral (disability as a sign of moral weakness). These paradigms also intersect and overlap.

In response to these paradigms, the disability community has placed an emphasis not on disabled bodies, but on “the material and social conditions of ableism” (pg. 360). It is not the disabled body that needs curing, but society and its ableism. He argues this has been necessary and powerful for disability advocacy, but at the same time, the body is a crucial component of oppression that should be addressed. He writes:

“For several decades now, activists in a variety of social change movements, ranging from black civil rights to women's liberation, from disability rights to queer liberation, have said repeatedly that the problems faced by any marginalized group of people lie, not in their bodies, but in the oppression they face. But in defining the external, collective, material nature of social injustice as separate from the body, we have sometimes ended up sidelining the profound relationships that connect our bodies with who we are and how we experience oppression” (pg. 359).
He discusses his own body as a queer disabled one, writing that his first interaction with queerness was located in his experiences with disability. Much like queerness in sexuality and gender is portrayed as broken, bent, and different, he experiences his disabled own body through the lens of others in this way. He also describes coming to know his gender identity in relation to his body, as a trans person.

He highlights that it is not solely oppression, but identities, that define bodies:

“But it isn't only oppression that lives in my body, our bodies. The many experiences of who we are, of our identities, also live there. I know so clearly that my queerness, my disability, reside in my body--in the ways that I move, dress, cut my hair; in who I am attracted to and who's attracted to me; in my tremors, my slurred speech, my heavy-heeled gait; in the visceral sense of muscle sliding over muscle as I lie with my lover; in the familiarity of tension following tremor, traveling from shoulder to fingertip.”
He imagines “irrevocable difference” as an opportunity to be celebrated, but in a world of white supremacy, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia, the cost of difference is high. That cost is often centered on the body, through shame, suicidal and self-harming thoughts and actions, and violence. He discusses the marks of injustice on the body---from environmental poisoning and exploitative labor injuries to hate crimes---how these bodies were stolen. Reclamation accompanies the stealing of bodies, through vigils and quilt making and mourning that strengthens the will.