Breeding “Debilitating” Blood and Bodies: Building Bridges Between Queer and Disability Studies By Comparing Voluntary HIV Acquisition and Voluntary Disability Acquisition

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:05
Location: Seminar 52 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Alexandre BARIL, Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada
Cross-analyses of sexuality and ability in queer and disability studies/movements are under-theorized (Clare 2009; McRuer and Mollow 2012; Kafer 2013). This presentation, anchored in the sociology of the body, health, and deviance, hopes to encourage alliances between queer and disability movements and create more inclusive activist spaces by comparing two cases of “extreme” body modification: voluntary acquisition of a disability (transability) and of HIV (bug chasing). Transability, or Body Integrity Identity Disorder (First 2004), is the need of a person identified as able-bodied by others to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment/disability. Bug chasing is practiced by men who have sex with men without condoms with the intention of contracting HIV (Dean 2009). While most researchers in sociology, criminology, and psychology interpret these practices as forms of mental illnesses and condemn them as deviant, destructive bodily practices to be prevented, I present a comparative analysis of the two phenomena from a non-pathological perspective. Although bug chasers and transabled people share the desire to transform their bodies in ways that modify their ability or health, the phenomena are never discussed together. Research on bug chasing ignores transability and studies of transability neglect voluntary HIV acquisition. This presentation explores what makes this so and asks: What are the possibilities opened up by combined analysis of bug chasing and transability? Without denying the specificities of these two practices, I argue that placing them on the same continuum has heuristic value. I examine academic works addressing bug chasing or transability and maintain that the “impossibility” of their continuities relies on ableism in queer studies/movements and heteronormativity in disability studies/movements. I suggest that under-theorized links between bug chasing and transability prevent us from analyzing the interconnections between ableism and heterornormativity that remain poorly documented in intersectional works on stigmatized groups.