Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 6, Issue 1
fall 2015
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History

by Caroline Lieffers

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“My world is multicultural,” writes Corbett OToole in her new book, Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History (Autonomous Press, 2015). “In the mainstream world, I am a fat cripple. In the disability activist world, I am a queer. In the queer world, I am a dissatisfied disability activist. I am all of these and often none of these.”

I can think of few better testaments to the complexities and intersections of sexuality, disability, and identity. Last month, Yale was privileged to welcome Corbett to campus, where she generously shared her first-person knowledge of queer disability history in a formal talk, a Pierson College Tea, and a guest lecture in Professor Karen Nakamura’s course, “Anthropological Approaches to Sex.” O’Toole’s visit was sponsored by the James C. Mandelbaum and Steven M. Byrnes Fund for LGBT Studies, LGBTS at Yale, and Pierson College. A powerful educator with forty years of activist experience, Corbett participated in the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley and the 504 Sit-In in San Francisco (1977), helped to organize the International Disabled Women’s Symposium in conjunction with the United Nations NGO Forum on Women in Beijing (1995), and was central in planning the first Queer Disability Conference in San Francisco (2002).

Corbett’s extensive experience makes her a unique repository of a largely undocumented history. While her lecture in Professor Nakamura’s class challenged students to consider societal assumptions about sex, disability, and bioethics, her other presentations also drew attention to the fault lines in the histories of queer and disabled activism. She commented thoughtfully on the disability rights movement’s ambivalence toward hemophiliacs exposed to HIV in the 1980s, and explained her surprise at the 1992 National Council on Independent Living meeting, where she learned that most independent living centers in the United States still refused to serve people with HIV/AIDS. The Queer Disability Conference emerged as a way to bring together a queer disability community, creating a place of vibrant acceptance and joy.

“My life spills in too many directions to be contained,” writes Corbett. This passionate abundance and its warm provocations are everyone’s gain.

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