Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Gray Bus

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Gray Bus

Article excerpt

Disabling Logic

Recently, half a year before the 2010 midterm elections in the United States, Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican running for the Senate, told a reporter that he thought requiring elevators to accommodate wheelchairbound disabled employees was an "unfair" financial burden on employers. The comment was meant to amplify Pauls view that, in general, the Americans with Disabilities Act (as it happens, signed into law in 1990 by George Bush Sr.) was a bad idea, an overreach on the part of the federal government. The "right or wrong" of such matters should be handled locally (McMo rris -Santoro 2010; Sonka 2010). Several months later, with the election only a few weeks away, a video surfaced showing Sharron Angle, also a Republican candidate for the Senate, in Nevada, at a Tea Party rally the previous year, raising her fingers in the air and making sarcastic scare quotes around the word "autism" as she rallied the crowds against a Nevada state bill (which had passed both houses of the state legislature with strong bipartisan support in 2008) that had mandated insurance coverage for medical care for individuals with autism: "You're paying for things that you don t even need . . . . That s a mandate that you have to pay for," she told the audience, the quotation marks implying that autism was merely a scam condition invented to drain cash from a beleaguered citizenry (Siegel 2010; Raban 2010). These would be semi -benign instances of insensitivity to the physically and cognitively disabled were it not for the fact that they quite deliberately play to, and aim to exacerbate, constituencies' potential resentments about the special costs that disability inevitably produces. In this scheme of things, disabled people are aggravating burdens weighing down a hardworking and healthy populace.1 What a change of course from the both sentimentalized and instrumentalized way Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin incorporated disability into her stump speech in 2008, repeating her story of pain and triumph as she and husband, Todd, chose to carry to term a son with Down syndrome as a prime example for why every American should take a principled position against abortion rights for all women.2 (And yet the rhetorical remarks of 2009-10 came together with a broader trend in which budget cuts implemented and proposed by Republicans directly curtailed special education in both local contexts and nationwide.)3

In both the Tea Party-entranced United States and in Europe sixtyfive years after the defeat of fascism, the physically and cognitively disabled have good reason to feel unsafe and afraid, not just spatially, but also existentially and emotionally. Disability rights proved a latecomer to the postwar human rights agenda, and globally, its hold remains tenuous. This has much to do with the difficulties (and oftentimes impossibilities) of selfrepresentation for many of the cognitively disabled. It has much to do also with long-lasting legacies of contempt for the disabled manifested with such singular brutality under Nazism, but whose roots in eugenic thinking preceded Nazism by several decades - and whose influence spanned the Western world.

Queer theorists have been at the forefront of theorizing the simultaneously illogical and overdetermined pliability of antihomosexual hostilities, and their conceptual grappling has great pertinence also for understanding the discomfort with the physically and cognitively disabled that continues to fuel a climate of existential and emotional unsafety even in twenty-firstcentury Western cultures, in which both gay rights and disability rights have overall become more secure than ever before. Afsaneh Najmabadi has perceptively charted the efforts of scholars to discern the reasons for the preoccupation with male anal intercourse in the self-consciously modernizing sexual politics of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Middle East. She notes that the cultural understanding of the body, of acts, identities, and relationships, was not only different from that existing in Europe at the same time - although there too homophobia was emerging as a cultural force to be reckoned with - but was itself not reducible to any one explanation. …

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