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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 9.1-2 (2003) 25-56

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Queering The Crip Or Cripping The Queer?
Intersections of Queer and Crip Identities in Solo Autobiographical Performance

Carrie Sandahl


As the interdisciplinary field of disability studies develops its own theoretical paradigms, it necessarily borrows from various sources. Such borrowing means that disability scholars have not had to reinvent the wheel but have been able to build on the conceptual foundations of identity-based theories that have grown out of other interdisciplinary fields, such as gender studies and critical race studies. But disability studies offers as much to its predecessors as it borrows from them. This essay explores the productive reciprocity between queer theory and disability studies, queer identity and crip identity, queer activism and crip activism. 1

Those who claim both identities may be best positioned to illuminate their connections, to pinpoint where queerness and "cripdom" intersect, separate, and coincide. Crip, queer, solo autobiographical performance artists, who explicitly identify themselves as both crip and queer in their work, provide us not only with a verbal articulation of these issues but with an embodied text. The theater scholar Jill Dolan notes that live performance offers a forum for "embodying and enacting new communities of performers and spectators, by actualizing the potential of well-meaning political buttons that two-dimensionally purport to 'celebrate diversity.'" She reminds us that the theater is a "place to experiment with the production of cultural meanings, on bodies willing to try a range of different significations for spectators willing to read them." 2 The four solo performances that I discuss in this essay—Greg Walloch's White Disabled Talent, Robert DeFelice's Crippled, Queer, and Legally Blond(e), Julia Trahan's Nickels from Heaven, and Terry Galloway's Out All Night and Lost My Shoes—experiment with the cultural meanings of crip and queer in theory, practice, and representation; [End Page 25] these performances are therefore ideal sites at which to tease out the tensions and affinities between the two. 3

As academic corollaries of minority civil rights movements, queer theory and disability studies both have origins in and ongoing commitments to activism. Their primary constituencies, sexual minorities and people with disabilities, share a history of injustice: both have been pathologized by medicine; demonized by religion; discriminated against in housing, employment, and education; stereotyped in representation; victimized by hate groups; and isolated socially, often in their families of origin. Both constituencies are diverse in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, and other respects and therefore share many members (e.g., those who are disabled and gay), as well as allies. Both have self-consciously created their own enclaves and vibrant subcultural practices.

Perhaps the most significant similarity between these disciplines, however, is their radical stance toward concepts of normalcy; both argue adamantly against the compulsion to observe norms of all kinds (corporeal, mental, sexual, social, cultural, subcultural, etc.). This stance may even be considered their raison d'être, since both emerged from critiques levied against the normalizing tendencies of their antecedents. 4 Queer theorists critiqued feminist, gay and lesbian, and even gender studies for excluding various sexual constituents (transsexuals, bisexuals, transgendered people, S/M practitioners, nonheteronormative straights, etc.) and for advocating inclusion and representation in, rather than replacement of, existing social structures. Disability scholars critiqued the fact that disability had long been relegated to academic disciplines (primarily medicine, social sciences, and social services) that considered disabilities "problems" to be cured and the disabled "defectives" to be normalized, not a minority group with its own politics, culture, and history.

Because of these similarities, it may seem that disability studies has little to add to queer theory, and vice versa; indeed, some may assume that disability studies is a subset of queer theory. Consider, for example, how the term queer has been defined by some of its proponents. In The Queer Renaissance Robert McRuer describes queer as a fluid designation for identities that "are shaped and reshaped...