Disruptive dialogues: queerness and crip as discomforting and connecting political tools
Report on Conference Queer dis-eases: Disruptive Histories, Politics, and Bodies (EUI – 22-23 may 2023), by Mónica Morado Vázquez and Riccardo Bulgarelli (EUI)
On May, 22nd and 23rd 2023, the EUI Queer and Feminist Studies Working Group organized the international conference Queer Dis-eases: Disruptive Histories, Politics, and Bodies. Activists, artists, and researchers reflected on how queerness generates discomfort but can also become political tools for collective action.
The body, the self, and the collectivity were common themes amongst the voices coming together at the Badia during the two days of Queer Dis-eases: Disruptive Histories, Politics, and Bodies. Through a dialogue structured in multidisciplinary panels, the richness of perspectives coming from different parts of the world and a variety of fields queered normative and fixed notions of time and space. This productive and inter-active work followed three main lines of conversation:
Tensions were explored in their complexity and capacity to generate something new. The understandings of space and linear time, for example, were often questioned by the participants. Arthur Davis was one of them, raising our awareness for the temporal dimension of queer migration. The experience of queer migrants can destabilise biomedical risk categories. Sofia Varino used Peggy Munson’s autobiographical narrative to illustrate how multiple chemical sensibilities can create errant and embodied temporalities. Similar ideas shaped Mara Pieri’s keynote speech. She questioned the abelist and cis-heteronormative conception of linear time and challenged existing chronopolitics with the tools of queer and crip theory. Criticizing hegemonic understandings of reproduction, productivity, and happiness, Mara Pieri highlighted how normative conceptions of time «fail to align to non-conforming subjectivities». Such contributions pinpointed tensions between grand-narratives and marginalized voices, and they opened up multiple possibilities for doing and thinking otherwise.
These starting points allowed for the creation of new narratives that empower individuals and produce inclusive as well as dynamic representations of personal and collective experiences. Maya Lane discussed chronically ill vulvas as multi-species entanglements and showed how one can approach the genital microbial multiverse from the point of view of not-only-human ecologies and notions of care. A similar post-humanist approach inspired Janek Scholz’s analysis of queer Brazilian art that uses slimy bodily fluids to disrupt hegemonic aesthetics and traditional understandings of subjectivity. And Mat A. Thompson proposed epistemological approaches that emerge outside of normative structures to understand autism and other marginalised ontologies.
Along these lines, the embodied subject became something undefinable and «slimy» – the opposite of the allegedly stable and modern (white/able/cishet) ’normal’ person. The present of this elusive subject is neither defined by an identifiable past nor by a promising future. Subjectivity is thus constantly living in tension with what aims to define it. Narratives, experiences, and bodies generated a play in which tension and being in tension appeared as something performed and active, able to generate intellectual potential and political collectivities.
The understanding of such trans-individuality started from a deep and nuanced consideration of violence and power in their different forms and meanings when observed from intersectional points of view. Due to the intrinsic violence of categorization, naming subjects and creating clear-cut boxes for each and everyone reinforces power structures that overlook and oppress crip and queer experiences. During our conference, the violence of medical categories was reflected upon several times. Genevieve Smart introduced us to Enif Robert and her futurist autobiographical account on how sick, queer, and unruly bodies can destabilize and resist the disciplinary power of institutionalized medicine. Juan Pedro Navarro Martínez brought us closer to the corporealities and violences faced by individuals who were accused of sodomy in early modern Spain. Their bodies were perceived of as carrying the marks of both physical and moral disease. Discussing the film “Kalel 15”, Juan Miguel Leandro Lim Quizon explored the consequences of social stigma and the entanglements between different kinds of dis/empowering viralities – social media and AIDS – in today’s Philippines. Moving on to Pakistan, Khurram Saleem and Arsam Saleem brought us closer to how queer bodies can be disabled by hostile cis-heteronormative environments.
Given the complexity of intersectional situations, a simple anti-normative stance is not sufficient. Expanding the range of intersectional perspectives brings ever more previously invisible forms of power into view. Various communities can have an oppressive and violent impact on individuals’ lives. Liv Izgi analysed social media usage in Turkey and showed how essentialist cisheteronormative discourses conceal the bodily realities of certain people.
Creating connections based on healing and care is a counter-strategy relying on dialogue and empowerment, rather than on imposing definite categories on others. Elise Alkemande looked at self-medication as a lesser known side of the transgender experience that is however based on informal networks of support, knowledge, and affect. And Carlie Pendleton discussed the London Fat Women’s Group (LFWG) as a catalyst for fat activism, and for queering sexuality politics.
All these dynamics could be framed in terms of disruption or transformation. In many cases, narratives and subjectivities resisted clear-cut identification. Living and acting outside and against normative categories, as well as outside of conventional frameworks of space and time was described as an empowering practice. Dorota Sosnowska analysed the boredom many critics claimed to experience when watching Polish theatre plays about AIDS in the 1990s as a from of queer disorientation, a reaction to something that could not yet be fully understood. Rocío Simón and Javier Galaso, on the other hand, talked about the queer art of failure, especially in relation to heartbreak and political struggle in the work of Chilean author Pedro Lemebel, and showed how losses can resonate in unexpected ways. Through an autotheoretical approach, Samuel Ludmila Feline Constantin explored the affective and sensorial bodyscapes of queer anorexia and their potential for queer (un)becoming. Is there a tipping point, when such more quiet and slow transformations turn into fully-fledged, sudden and loud disruptions? Or are the transformative and the disruptive rather two registers along which certain dynamics can simultaneously unfold?
Such in-between moments can also be fun! We experienced that first-hand when we changed the lecture room for the Fiasco couches to attend Mayra Jenzer’s performance. Through their art, Mayra helped us question the relationship between queerness and the ableist, colonial, and cis-heteronormative character of most city planning, and even gave us a chance to imagine our own queer city!
All in all, Queer Dis-eases showed that these practices of becoming are political, as they are able to resist disciplining and teleological discourses, and instead produce transformations in society, care, and research. Producing new epistemologies that shape reality in different ways can create connections and disruptions in which experiences do not tend towards a pre-established goal, but stay and live in the colourful shades of openings and potentials.