restricted access Libertine Sexuality and Queer-Crip Embodiment in Eighteenth-Century Britain

This essay explores the vital role that disability plays in the history of sexuality and posits a pre-history of queercrip theory. It argues that Restoration and early eighteenth-century poems and letters from William Wycherley, from the Earl of Rochester, and from Colley Cibber depict people with physical disabilities as incapable of heterosexual sex. In these representations, libertine sexuality serves as the apotheosis of manhood. Ableist constructions of deformity, as these sources also suggest, shore up gender and sexual codes. In Deformity: An Essay (1753), William Hay, a self-proclaimed “deformed” writer, responds in a curious way to the mockery typical of his day by likening himself to various kinds of animals, including the lapdog. In so doing, he articulates a version of male sexuality that reconfigures the dominant libertine model of Restoration and early eighteenth-century England. Hay proposes a radical alternative to standard heterosexual practice of that time, in which robust male subject penetrates immobile female object, to a more expansive eroticism in which women play an active role. Hay’s peripheral post-postscript offers a glimpse into what this essay calls “hetero-deformity,” a significant re-imagining of the way that heterosexuality so often relies upon able-bodiedness for its coherence.