Independent Living Institute


Book Review

Looking Queer: Body Image and Identity in
Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Communities

by Kari Ann Owen

Dawn Atkins, Editor
Published by The Haworth Press
10 Alice Street
Binghamton, NY 13904-1580

This anthology is a ground-breaking work about surviving the Great American Slave Market of impossible demands of physical perfection amid a confusing and wonderful sea of human variety... in other words, of realities of physical appearances versus a continuing bombardment of media-generated illusions.

Those realities include genetic factors influencing body size and body type as well as environmental factors such as the effects of diseases like AIDS.

And, of course, one factor -- an often dreaded factor -- in this infinitely varied and wonderful universe of physical appearances is disability.

Author Kenny Fries has written an essay entitled "The Imperfections of Beauty: On Being Gay and Disabled" for Looking Queer. He speaks of negative status within the perfection-seeking gay community, and how the gay community lags behind the need for confronting and accepting the facts of disability, particularly those incurred by AIDS.

He speaks of misunderstandings and lack of consideration familiar to most if not all disAbled people: lack of access to bookstores and conferences where he and other disAbled persons are featured speakers; a sense of invisibility amid the daily media bombardment of impossibly "perfect" male bodies; the oft-repeated struggle of dealing with others’ sense of him as a disability rather than as a man.

Mr. Fries also recounts some of the odder presumptions about the origins of his sexuality: "a common misconception is that a disabled man is attracted to other men because he couldn’t 'make it with women'." This curious presumption, made by none other than Mr. Fries’ dad, "a generous, loving and supportive father if there ever was one," will almost certainly sound familiar to many gay, Lesbian, bi- sexual and transgendered persons who have also been confronted with the mistaken idea that there sexual choices are based on rejection rather than affirmation.

The recurring theme of Mr. Fries’ essay and Looking Queer is the price of prejudice as well as the origins of prejudice.

Disability and infirmity suggest the death which at some point awaits us all. The rejection of the physically "imperfect", particularly within an embattled community like the gay community, undoubtedly frightens those who have sought shelter within said community from a sometimes violent and sin- and guilt-obsessed mainstream which is also sex-obsessed and frightened of emotional expressiveness... all at the same time!

How horrible that at this time of need, when many gay men are living prolonged lives with AIDS, acceptance of difference within the gay community, including disability, has a long road to travel... as does the American community at large.

Mr. Fries says that he "impatiently awaits the maturation of gay men as they learn to further embrace physical difference". How long must they, and all of us, wait? Will a liberation of attitudes emerge now that the children of the fifties and sixties are becoming middle-aged and beginning to recede in some places and widen in others?

For the sake of all people, it is time to tear down the Great American Slave Market of constant judgment against a set of impossible physical standards and begin to accept all persons as children of the Creator.

About the author: Dr. Kari Ann Owen, Ph.D. is a produced playwright and published poet as well as a modern dancer, singer and digital illustrator. She has often lectured in her academic area, Holocaust studies.

Please visit my web site at Enjoy my plays, art work, information about colloidal minerals as a help with diabetes and... a fantastic low-fat lasagna recipe!