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Reviewed by:
  • Sexy Like Us: Disability, Humor, and Sexualityby Teresa Milbrodt
  • Ina C. Seethaler (bio)
Sexy Like Us: Disability, Humor, and Sexuality. By Teresa Milbrodt. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2022. 261pp.

Teresa Milbrodt’s Sexy Like Us: Disability, Humor, and Sexualitymakes a vital contribution to the intersections of humor research and disability studies. Its strength lies in the fact that Milbrodt is a member of the disability community, which helps the book succeed with its stated goal of “expand[ing] the definitions of disability, humor, and sexuality in ways that help us reconsider what it means to be in a body” (xiii). The book thus adds a much-needed interdisciplinary disability lens to scholarly work on American humor as well as on sexualities. Sections of Sexy Like Usare well suited for use in courses in disciplines as diverse as women’s and gender studies, disability studies, sexuality studies, and folklore.

Milbrodt begins her study with a helpful contextualization of disability and humor. She makes important connections between disability, humor, politics, and the social construction of disability by elaborating on the historical exclusion of disabled people—a term I use here in lieu of the people-first term “people with disabilities” because it speaks to the social model of disability that stipulates that people are being disabled by an ableist society—from US society and how disability rights activists have used humor to expose and fight this oppression. She renders the text highly accessible by making jokes about her own situation, for example, when she suggests that she often contemplates carrying an “Apologies: Why I Just Ran into You” informational card with her (7). The introduction also lays the groundwork for how disabled people reclaim their stories via humor and how they push back against negative stereotypes that label “disability as connoting inferiority” to use it as the butt of jokes (55). While celebrating the power of humor to push for social justice, Milbrodt also realistically assesses the reception of jokes about disability in acknowledging their potential—depending on the audience—to [End Page 295]perpetuate stereotypes. Lastly, she emphasizes the importance of sexuality in her research, as disabled people are routinely desexualized.

The second chapter presents helpful information on “crip talk” and language usage around disability, which would make for effective teaching material in a linguistics class on the power of language. Milbrodt defines terms such as “crip,” “cripple,” “handicapped,” and “walkies.” Taking a deep dive into posts and comments on disability community message boards, she argues that disabled people find comfort in reclaiming derogatory words. Having established her theoretical framework, in chapter 3, Milbrodt goes on to analyze different rationales for using humor, for example, to lighten uncomfortable situations, create belonging, and challenge ableism. A methodology of relaying one-on-one interviews enables Milbrodt to illuminate ways of conducting dialogue about disability as “versatility” (81). In chapter 4, Milbrodt moves from a discussion of personally collected testimony to online content analysis, highlighting four blogs by wheelchair users and what the author identifies as a certain transgression they deploy to re/define their sexuality and sexual elements such as touch or sex toys. The creative pieces that appear in this chapter proclaim disability as sexy instead of sterilized. This might be the weakest chapter, though, insofar as Milbrodt relies on a relatively vague conception of “comic,” exhibited, for example, in her mentioning that a blogger turns an “intimate space” into one of “comedy” and represents frustration as “comic” without elaborating on either of these claims, seemingly missing out on tapping into the rich relationship between American humor and social change movements (127).

Chapter 5 builds on the previous chapter’s focus on online content with an investigation of YouTube videos as case studies for the impact of disability and sex jokes on the virtual comedy stage. The strongest element of this chapter is its analysis of the intersection of disability, gender, and sexuality in jokes that celebrate disabled sex, invalidate stereotypes of disabled people as sexually undesirable, and expose the sexual fetishization of disability. Importantly, the author here recognizes and dissects her study’s limitations, since the artifacts she uses were created by white people...