Introduction:The Biosocial Politics of Queer/Crip Contagions
In this special issue, we chart the limits and possibilities of queer/crip biosocial politics by examining the ways these ideas intersect and commingle with the narratives, practices, and temporalities of contagion. Crip and queer mark out, and indeed, flaunt the failures of normativity. And, in their fierce assertion of the possibility of an outside or more-than-one, crip and queer share a striking range of political and imaginative affinities. Feminist scholars have variously theorized queer and crip as unsettling, strange, twisted, unintelligible, or disruptive (Ahmed 2006; Butler 1993; Kafer 2013; McRuer 2006; Muñoz 2009; Kuppers 2011; Sandahl 2003; Chen 2012; Puar 2012; Johnson 2015; Clare 2001; McRuer and Mollow 2012). Building upon and extending these insights, this issue traces the multiple and unexpected ways queer and crip influence and infect one another.
Drawing on the work of Judith Butler, Alison Kafer notes the twisted circularity of queer. "Queerness," she writes, "is something always to be queered" (2013, 16). It is also something, as Kafer shows us, that can be cripped. In conversation with other feminist scholars of queer and disability theory, such as Carrie Sandahl, Mel Chen, Robert McRuer, and Jasbir Puar, Kafer describes the coming together of queer and crip—or queer/crip—as a provocative coalition: an unstable yet fruitful site of interdisciplinary, relational, and interspecies exposure and exchange. McRuer has issued a resonant call for a "vibrant queer politics," one that incorporates "a vibrant crip politics (and vice versa)" in order to "remake the world" and create novel forms of "crip/queer solidarity" (2012, 1). Yet, as Merri Lisa Johnson notes, despite the fact that crip and queer studies "are hardly strangers to each other these days . . . queer theorists cannot always be counted on to convey crip sensitivities, even when directly asked to do so" (2015, 251–52).
Taking up McRuer's call (and heeding Johnson's warning), we seek to better understand how a queer/crip refusal of closure might provide the grounds for a range of discursive and material forms of contestation and coalition, offering radical alternatives to assimilationist or reformist politics. Thinking along [End Page vii] with Puar, while such affective, theoretical, and political linkages are "not perfectly aligned" and therefore "[do] not always yield immediate alliances," they may nonetheless be "convivial in their mutual resistance to the violent control of populations" (2017, ix). Thus, one of the aims of this special issue is to nurture novel intersectional theoretical assemblages so as to make room for more accessible cross-movement solidarities, political formations that are better able to support and sustain the flourishing of those most impacted by systems of oppression.
The cover image for this special issue gestures toward such a desire for conviviality and coalitional politics. The graphite and watercolor painting was created by Bay Area visual artist Micah Bazant in collaboration with Sins Invalid, a performance group that centers the work of queer and gender nonconforming disabled artists of color. Sins Invalid has been central to the formation of a disability justice politic premised on intersectionality and interdependency, collective struggles for access, and cross-movement solidarities. The cover image centers two disabled people of color who are held, face to face, in almost mirror-like tension. The face on the left has light brown skin that is warm, smooth, and youthful; the face on the right is darker, with deep folds and wrinkles that mark the person's age. Both wear ornate crowns on their heads, one made with organic materials, the other covered in jewels. They are smiling—perhaps at one another—as if in conversation, laughing, close. Their faces appear against a blue background: a night sky interrupted by the glisten of silver and blue stars and raindrops. Two raindrops hang particularly close to the people's lips, as if saliva falling down. Beneath the faces, there is a circle of people. They are gathered and seated, some in wheelchairs, others on chairs. Their bodies are a nexus of multiplicities: fat and thin, black, brown, white, Latinx, Asian, and mixed, mouths and eyes variously open and closed. They are bare chested, femme and butch, covered and exposed. They are reaching up, straining toward the falling rain or fluid. They are holding one another, moving together. They are in touch.
Emanating from a wide range of interdisciplinary fields and geopolitical contexts, this collection of articles is in touch with, and united by, a shared commitment to queer and crip the discourses and practices of contagion itself. Contagion—which animates a sense of both social responsibility and collective action (Pelting 2013; Bennett 2015) and contains notions of "collapse and restoration . . . the liquidation of foundations and their re-foundation" (Mitropoulos 2012, 7)—is a productive site through which to engage a queer/crip biosocial politics. Beginning with the etymological sense of contagion as "a touching, contact" or "touching closely" (OED 2017, s.v. "contagion"), this issue asks, How do queer and crip come into contact? What is absorbed? What is exchanged? And what is or might yet be produced at this site?
Bound by neither body nor border, contagion has become an emergent area of interest among scholars working at the intersections of critical race [End Page viii] studies, transnational feminisms, queer theory, and disability studies. Indeed, contagion frequently incites medical and moral crises and panic through its historical, transnational, colonial, and imperial links to racial, sexual, and ability formations and violence (Wald 2008; Chen 2012; Shah 2001; Kolárˇová 2014; Ahuja 2016; Shildrick 2000; Molina 2006; McGuire 2016; Martin 1994). Puar argues that the lexicon of contagion and disease "suture" together "etymological and political links" connecting racist/orientalist fears of border penetration and infiltration with cultural anxieties around queer, sick, and/or disabled bodies (2007, 52). Neel Ahuja marks contagion through projects of public health intervention and US empire that embed national defense and imperial interests in the racialized, gendered, sexualized, and ableist materializations of bodies (2016, xvi). Scholarship on the ongoing histories and logics of eugenics demonstrates how cultural ideologies of disability-as-threat contaminate and commingle with sexually and racially coded narratives of biological in/security, thus legitimizing a range of neo/colonial and imperial health and hygiene practices in the name of individual, social, and economic development. Theories of queer/crip contagion ask, which forms of embodiment are incorporated into life, and which are put into quarantine or driven out of this vital fold? (Ahuja 2016; Puar 2017; McRuer 2010).
Indeed, contagion most often comes to be associated with danger and undesirability—a racialized, pathological threat to be neutralized, eliminated, or cured. As contagion replicates and spreads through the expanding folds and ever-widening spectrums of illness, threats to our health and to our communities remain elusive and transitory, always eclipsed, always on the future horizon.
Yet, contagion moves in indeterminate ways. Unbounded, intimate, and indeterminate, contagion also provides the grounds for provocative encounters and exchange. Mel Chen describes a queer/crip contagion that "de-territorializes," exhibiting a unique flexibility to move "through and against imperialistic spatializations of 'here' and 'there'" (2012, 167). Working to reorganize and manage both spatial/temporal relations, contagion deregulates categories of health and disorder, while also and at the same time anticipating the increased regulation and surveillance of bodies, minds, and movements; contagion stimulates temporalities of speed, urgency, and emergency, while also producing moments of stillness and suspended animation; at once, the contagion produces pathologies and nurtures communities of solidarity. Traveling along nonlinear, transnational circuits spanning then and now, here and there, us and them, the queer/crip site of contagion provides a unique vantage point for interrogating the violence of global capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and its biosocial economies of human/nonhuman worth and precarity. [End Page ix]
Marking the indeterminacy of contagion, Beth A. Ferri opens our issue by taking up the social and political meanings underpinning the issue's key terms queer, crip, and contagion. Ferri explores the self/other relations of autoimmunity, nation, and internal and external terror in her article, "Metaphors of Contagion and the Autoimmune Body." Mobilizing an intersectional disability studies framework to argue that the spread of disease provokes an intertwining of medical, moral, and political panic that renders visible discourses of war, empire, and self–other relations, Ferri responds by productively offering a renewed ethic of autoimmunity as a way to shift discourses of terror, vulnerability, and attack toward relations of mutual recognition.
Noting how changing forms of securitization construct gender nonconforming homosexuals as perverted and dangerous, Elias Walker Vitulli's "Dangerous Embodiments: Segregating Sexual Perversion as Contagion in US Penal Institutions" marks the relationship between discourses of contagion and state practices of containment. Through a crip trans analytic, Vitulli takes up the history of the segregation of gender nonconforming homosexual prisoners in early and mid-twentieth-century US prisons to show how prison administrators constructed sexual perversion as a kind of contagious disability that threatened both normal prisoners and the security of the prison.
Taking up the relation between queer/crip contagions and immunization, Nicole Charles engages women of color, black, and transnational feminist perspectives to frame her ethnographic research on vaccination hesitancy in Barbados in her article, "HPV Vaccination and Affective Suspicions in Barbados." Challenging vaccination hesitancy through an analytic of affective suspicion, Charles seeks not to circumvent hesitancy but rather to destabilize the dominant knowledge-making practices that underlie global biotechnologies such as the HPV vaccine, offering, as Charles terms it, a generative appreciation for the ways in which suspicion shapes hesitancy as a "fraught departure point" to "reorient our understandings of postcolonial biopolitics."
Exploring new epistemological and political frameworks emerging out of the cross-contamination of queer and crip, Alexander Kondakov's "Crip Kinship: A Political Strategy of People Who Were Deemed Contagious by the Shirtless Putin" challenges and reconfigures received understandings of kinship relations and imaginaries in Russia. Analyzing both the academic literature on queer/ crip kinship and life history interviews conducted with disabled lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex, and queer identified people in Russia, Kondakov marks forms of queer/crip kinship as important political strategies of futurity.
In "Deaf Turns, Beki Turns, Transformations: Toward New Forms of Deaf Queer Sociality," Emmanuel David and Christian Joy P. Cruz explore deaf queer cultures of advocacy in the Philippines. In their analysis of a deaf gay beauty pageant and a series of HIV/AIDS awareness vlogs for and about deaf LGBT Filipinos, the authors mark how transnational feminist perspectives penetrate [End Page x] queer/crip knowledge production and foreground novel kinds of intersubjective relations.
Drawing on her interviews of queer parents of disabled children, Margaret Gibson's article "Subtle Neglect and Yuckiness: Queerness, Disability, and Contagion in Mother Narratives" reveals the logic of contagion in notions of reproductive risk. As they negotiate, disturb, and contest normative social understandings of what and who ought to be reproduced, the parent narratives showcased by Gibson offer a glimpse at the ways queer/crip kinships work to reorganize modes of relating and, in so doing, anticipate a politic of interdependence.
Tracking the queer/crip contagion as it traverses cultural text, Hannah Ebben's "The Desire to Recognize the Undesirable: De/Constructing the Autism Epidemic Metaphor and Contagion Language in Autism as a Discourse" turns toward the popular metaphor of the "autism epidemic" and its attendant characterization of autism as a threat of excess, a spreading pathology to be contained and neutralized. Provocatively repurposing this metaphor, Ebben uses the idea of epidemic to study discursive practices surrounding the term "autism" and theorizes how the spread of autistic relations might work to dissolve and disturb clinical and positivistic understandings of autism.
Ally Day's article, "Zika: Grappling with Prognostic Un/certainty and Open Normativities" focuses on four defining media moments that took place in the months leading up the 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil. Day demonstrates how the Western moral panic surrounding Zika as a kind of "foreign invader" triggered a rash of public health interventions reliant on the logics of prognostic certainty as a means of securing the reproduction of a nondisabled citizenry. Instead, proposing a theory of prognostic un/certainty, Day seeks to make room for a crip futurity where notions of future can neither be presumed nor ensured.
Michael Gill, too, follows the transmissions of contagion by taking up saliva, allergens, germs, and other matter. In "Precarious Kisses and Risky Interactions: Allergic Reactions through Fluid Exchanges," Gill marks new trajectories that open up through interpersonal interactions and moments of close contact. Gill questions how everyday expressions and exchanges of affection, love, desire, custom, duty, and the like are altered and mediated by food allergens, challenging individualized accommodation as the only response to allergic exchange by taking up the practices of access intimacy.
In the issue's final article, "Feels and Flows: On the Realness of Menstrual Pain and Cripping Menstrual Chronicity," Ela Przybylo and Breanne Fahs draw on queer and crip approaches to explore through autobiography the temporality and chronicity of menstrual contagion. Turning to a cyclic menstrual time that is at once individually and collectively experienced, the authors envision new grounds for coalitional, relational, social, and political approaches to menstrual pain. [End Page xi]
The four books reviewed in this issue are bound together by a shared desire for a queer/crip politics of impurity. Julie Passanante Elman reviews Eli Clare's Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure. David R. Anderson reviews Donna Haraway's Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Nirmala Erevelles reviews Eunjun Kim's Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea. Finally, Sunaura Taylor reviews Alexis Shotwell's Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times.
Our Poesía section features the work of Qwo-Li Driskill. In keeping with the special issue theme, Driskill's poems, "Sick T'ang Poems" and "They Think They Can Tell by Looking," weave clinical detachments with bodily intimacies. Drawing from hir experiences of inhabiting disability at the interstices of Cherokee, Two-Spirit, and Queer, Driskill's poems mark out the violent dispossessions born of a (colonial) medical industrial complex, while also bearing witness to queer/crip modes of survival and continuance.
Tracking queer/crip contagion through various discursive regimes and affective registers associated with viral diseases and fluid exchanges (e.g., Zika, HPV, HIV/AIDS, allergies, menstruation) and through the epidemicization of social phenomena (e.g., autism, queerness, criminality), the articles in this issue collectively work to center critical conversation across queer theory, disability studies, transnational feminist scholarship, feminist technoscience, and critical race and ethnic studies. Extending the biosocial turn in queer theory and disability studies, this special issue examines the limits and possibilities of queer/crip biosocial politics of contagion, so as to expand our understanding of the intersection between queer and crip biosocialities and convivially remake the world. [End Page xii]
Kelly Fritsch is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Her research develops the emerging field of crip technoscience by engaging with the politics of community accessibility, the production and circulation of body enhancement technologies, and the biosocial politics of risk and personalized medicine so as to contest the ways neoliberal practices impact disabled communities and disability politics. She is coeditor of Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle (AK Press, 2016) and was a 2015–2018 Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Women & Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto.
Anne McGuire is an assistant professor in the Equity Studies Program at the University of Toronto. Her teaching and research draw on interpretive perspectives in disability studies and cultural studies and focus on questions of human vitality and precarity. McGuire's monograph, War on Autism: On the Cultural Logic of Normative Violence (University of Michigan Press, 2016), was awarded the 2016 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities. Her current research project traces the emergence of broad-spectrum approaches to health and illness and reads these against the backdrop of neoliberal social and economic policies.