Edited by Raymond Luczak $30, Handtype Press, 356 pages
The best anthologies are open invitations to learn—the stories accumulate for a purpose greater than themselves. In his introduction to "QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology", editor Raymond Luczak calls out a genre of disability representation called "inspiration porn" where disabled people are shown to overcome whatever ails them. His premise, and that of many of QDA's writers, is that the disabled "are a nagging reminder that not everyone is welcome into the open arms of the LGBTQ community." Yet the collection presents disability and queerness as naturally linked, and if QDA performs as a service piece, it's the service of collecting a stunning array of writers whose words are sharp and searing and real.
Diversity is QDA's hallmark, with fiction, poetry, personal tales, and polemics with the occasional illustrated moment. The contributors are gay and trans and nonbinary and sapiosexual, ( or straight if they have a story that needs telling ). It seems gauche to comment on the range of disability, but it is gratifying to have neurodivergent writers included alongside physically disabled ones. Resonances between pieces are not notable on a conscious level—there's no attempt to separate pieces by genre or sexuality or disability and that feels like a statement in itself. Even works by the same contributor aren't necessarily bound together. Yet Luczak's feel is unerring, and QDA ushers readers powerfully through singular experience of both body and mind.
While LGBTQ individuals somehow become sexualized by definition, the disabled have sexual innocence dropped like a bell jar dropped over their bodies. For disabled queer writers, cultural consciousness collides. Many pieces aggressively confront the metaphorical neutering of the disabled by eroticizing and engaging the disability and its observation. Coupled with stellar sensual imagery and poetics, the readers is often caught in the erotics of the moment as well. Jax Jacki Brown crows thrillingly about liplocking her girlfriend in public as the public gawks at her wheelchair. In both her fiction and poetry, Kristen Ringman's deafness is a come-on, part of the indelible haze of seduction, and Kenny Fries approaches his body both through an account of modeling sex for an artist friend and through finely wrought, tense verse. He concludes the former essay with an extended imagining of his body like the Venus De Milo, missing limbs but still an epitomization of beauty. In her first published piece ever, Nola Weber stands out for her incisive coupling of her queerness and her vaginal pain, admitting, "I do not yet know...whether mine is an identity or an ailment. It can be hard to draw a line between the two."
Other pieces achieve similar release through expressing difficult truths, which often fall into two categories: the accumulation of challenges, or community rejection. Both Donna Minkowitz and Barbara Ruth offer fine contributions to the first category, Ruth's an hour-by-hour account of her day as part of a disabled queer couple. Tak Hallus and Christopher Dempsey, both gay men, write about the moment their disabilities becomes visible to others and the consequences thereafter. And Carl Wayne Denney, a Deaf and straight man, narrates the slow acceptance of his transgender daughter by both the Deaf community and himself.
Only one piece might violate the others' confidence. In "A Girl For Us", John Whittier Treat tries to inhabit the mind of both an intellectually disabled man and his parents as they search for an acceptable lady friend for their son. Hal, however, is gay, and wants no part of this woman. While "A Girl for Us" falls in line with the reclamation of queer sexuality that QDA excels in, the story itself is a curious problem. It's laudable to see intellectual disability represented, and the conversations Hal's parents have with each other and their son about his romantic life might well be had among caregivers for the intellectually disabled. ( And it may be hard to find an intellectually disabled individual who could speak to these issues. ) Yet Treat's contribution doesn't work for a different reason: it doesn't appear to be either his truth or even his character's. Hal's narration relies on what feels like cliche in terms of his comprehension and his experience—for instance he's a bagger at a grocery store. Still, in an anthology with over 60 pieces, only one misstep is remarkable and forgivable.
Collections like QDA often demand to be valued because of the voices being amassed. QDA does not need to be judged on that rubric. It's a triumph of writers using their voices to illuminate what another might never fathom. It's a triumph of art.