In queer culture, silence has been equated with voicelessness, complicity, and even death. Queer Silence: On Disability and Rhetorical Absence (U Minnesota Press, 2022) insists, however, that silence can be a generative and empowering mode of survival. Triangulating insights from queer studies, disability studies, and rhetorical studies, J. Logan Smilges explores what silence can mean for people whose bodyminds signify more powerfully than their words.
Queer Silence begins by historicizing silence’s negative reputation, beginning with the ways homophile activists rejected medical models pathologizing homosexuality as a disability, resulting in the silencing of disability itself. This silencing was redoubled by HIV/AIDS activism’s demand for “out, loud, and proud” rhetorical activities that saw silence as capitulation.
Reading a range of cultural artifacts whose relative silence has failed to attract queer attachment, from anonymous profiles on Grindr to ex-gays to belated gender transitions to disability performance art, Dr. Smilges argues for silence’s critical role in serving the needs of queers who are never named as such. Queer Silence urges queer activists and queer studies scholars to reconcile with their own ableism by acknowledging the liberatory potential of silence, a mode of engagement that disattached queers use every day for resistance, sociality, and survival.
J. Logan Smilges is Assistant Professor of English Language and Literatures at the University of British Columbia.
Sohini Chatterjee is a PhD Candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Western University, Canada. Her work has recently appeared in Women's Studies: An inter-disciplinary journal, South Asian Popular Culture and Fat Studies.
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