Queer Silence

On Disability and Rhetorical Absence

2022
Author:

J. Logan Smilges

READ THE INTRODUCTION

Championing the liberatory potential of silence to address the fraught disability politics of queerness

While silence is often linked to voicelessness, complicity, and even death in queer culture, Queer Silence insists 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. 

"J. Logan Smilges’s Queer Silence attends to that which remains unspoken or silenced in queer history. Through a series of brilliant rhetorical readings, Smilges critiques the silencing of disability that has been structural to queer theory. Simultaneously, this indispensable book points toward new ways of conceptualizing those who cannot or will not speak."
—Robert McRuer, author of Crip Times: Disability, Globalization, and Resistance

In queer culture, silence has been equated with voicelessness, complicity, and even death. Queer Silence 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, 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.

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Cover alt text: Background detail of a painting on canvas shows a partial view of the upper body and face of a figure, bearded and naked; title in painted script.

J. Logan Smilges is assistant professor of language, culture, and gender studies at Texas Woman’s University.

J. Logan Smilges’s Queer Silence attends to that which remains unspoken or silenced in queer history. Through a series of brilliant rhetorical readings, Smilges critiques the silencing of disability that has been structural to queer theory. Simultaneously, this indispensable book points toward new ways of conceptualizing those who cannot or will not speak.

Robert McRuer, author of Crip Times: Disability, Globalization, and Resistance

Queer Silence is a groundbreaking book that makes concerted interventions in the fields of queer studies, trans studies, disability studies, and contemporary rhetoric. Profound in its insights, incisive in its analysis, and gorgeous in its style, this book takes up cases of queer silences for analysis, attentively engaging the ruptures and omissions through which queerness, race, and disability co-emerge.

M. Remi Yergeau, author of Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness

This important study probes the nature and the ramifications of silence on differing aspects of queer culture.

Bay Area Reporter

Smilges takes the topic of Queer Silence and applies it broadly, describing not just the ways that queers are silenced, but what we do in that space, and how silencing does or doesn’t work, what it produces and what other ways we speak—and it ranges widely.

Xtra Magazine

Smilges first explores the history of many negative attitudes towards silence, then invites one to explore what people “whose bodyminds signify more than their words” convey through silence.

Lavender Magazine

Contents

Introduction: Unspeakably Queer

1. To Speak of Silence

2. White Squares to Black Boxes

3. Queer(crip) Masquerading

4. Disidentifying Silence

5. Neuroqueer Intimacies

Epilogue: Shameful Disattachments and Queer Illegibility

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliography

Index