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Micro-activist Affordances meets Disidentification: ACSEXE+ and the Deconstruction of Hegemony

Quinn Valencourt
Biography | Notes

Keywords: Micro-activist Affordances, Disidentification, Crip-theory, Critical Disability Theory

This article advances a critical understanding of non-normative sexuality as experienced by people living with functional diversity. In doing so, it aims to examine the ways in which the merger of queer theory and critical disability theory in communication studies can facilitate the interrogation of processes of ableism that function to desexualize the disabled body.

The Present Trajectory:

As a conceptual study, this article puts Arseli Dokumaci’s work on micro-activist affordances[1] in conversation with Jose Muñoz’s notion of disidentification,[2] in support of forms of disability activism that are more sustainable to a long-term deconstructive-hegemonic project. This article is meant to serve as an intersection between the identity politic of Muñoz’s queer theory and the embodied politic of Dokumaci’s disability theory. The objective of putting these two theories in conversation is to identify how everyday instances of isolation within the lived experience of disability can be conceptualized as part of a universal politic, which is not to be conflated with a politic of universalism. By understanding micro-activist affordances as a form of disidentification—that is, as survival strategies that recycle and rethink the encoded meaning of cultural texts and artefacts—we can identify ways in which the minority subject can transform ableism’s logic from within. As part of a new ecology for critical disability studies, we must consider how anyone can enact permanent structural change while at the same time maintaining the value and recognition of everyday struggles of resistance. Based on these concerns, this article will proceed with two main sections. The first consists of a literature review that elaborates on the concepts of micro-activist affordances, disidentification theory, and the intersection of queer theory with critical disability studies. The second section involves a case study and textual analysis of the Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN) and their multimedia project: ACSEXE+, which addresses sexuality, access, and disability in Quebec. This case study will exemplify both the power, diversity, and world-making capability of micro-activist affordances, as well as the situation of micro-activist affordances and their performative foundations in a complex historicity of marginalization. Accordingly, ACSEXE+ serves as an example of how one can combat systems of marginalization that often degender and desexualize the disabled body. To conclude, this analysis will apply the established body of literature to what is identified here as a universal politic and deconstructive-hegemonic project.

From Gibson to Dokumaci on Micro-Activist Affordances:

Fundamental to Dokumaci’s work on micro-activist affordances is its ecological approach to understanding disability.[3] As a re-theorization of James Gibson’s ‘theory of affordances,’[4] Dokumaci is concerned with the power of everyday performances by disabled people as a form of ‘affordance creation,’ that is, “the multiplications of the conditions of possibility of living, when life becomes devoid of resources.”[5] As she acknowledges in her own research, Gibson uses the term ‘affordances’ to identify a relationship between the environment and the organism “in a way [that] no existing term does.”[6] As an extension to this, Dokumaci states: “The term affordances refers precisely to this single ‘compound invariant’ which emerges through the interlocking of multiple properties of the environment and of the individual. They are possibilities of action ensuing from the reciprocity of organism–environment relations.”[7] To illustrate this concept, Dokumaci uses the example of a surface on which she would be able to sit. Hypothetically speaking, let us assume that this surface is a chair. Based on her subjective relationship to this object, its flatness or height might only render it ‘sit-on-able’ based on her own bodily properties. And yet, despite the chair’s retention of the very same physical properties, this surface becomes ‘bump-into-able’ in relation to a blind person, or ‘climb-on-able’ in relation to a child.[8] Pertinent here is the notion that, although any one ‘thing’ is of the same concrete reality across all subjects, that it can derive a multitude of meanings depending on the subject put into relation with it. As Gibson further suggests, this relational nature does not render affordances as solely a quality of subjective experience. Rather, by being ‘invariant,’ the object is always there to be perceived, whether interacted with or not .[9] In reference to Gibson’s work, Dokumaci states: “it resides neither in ‘the world of matter’ nor in ‘the world of mind.’”[10] What is being outlined here is not the object and its flat, knee-high surface, but the possibility of ‘sitting,’ which is embodied by the chair and its material composition.[11] Considering the seemingly infinite number of affordances in our environment then, Dokumaci suggests that it is worth distinguishing which of these affordances are already being utilized—and those that are not. Or, more broadly speaking, those affordances that are being shared with others—and those that are not.[12] In order to do this, she employs Gibson’s notion of ‘niche’[13] as a means for both historicizing and socializing affordances in our environment.[14]

Enter micro-activist affordances.

By mapping Gibson’s affordances onto critical disability theory in the conceptualization of ‘micro-activist affordances,’ Dokumaci stresses that rather than fitting into a prescribed environment that already exists, the subject bends the environment in ways that makes it fit themself.[15] Such processes reject the notion of fitting—or ‘misfitting’—in favour of retrofitting the environment in a way that carves out a niche for the disabled subject. From this perspective, Dokumaci repurposes the negative connotations of ‘lack’ or ‘tragedy’ that is often coupled with disability[16] in favor of a concept that is aligned with Alison Kafer’s work on “‘reckoning’ with loss, limitation, inability, and failure.”[17] For Dokumaci, this takes the form of people’s repurposing of tools and existing materials in a creative choreography that enables the completion of the ‘simplest’ of daily tasks. These are micro-activist affordances; “ongoing, and (often times) ephemeral acts of world-building, with which they [the disabled subject] make the world offer affordances that are otherwise unimaginable.”[18] Crucial to distinguishing micro-activist affordances from other theories of disability that address the subject’s ingenuity, namely ‘crip technoscience’[19] or ‘engineering at home,’[20] is that micro-activist affordances embody a creativity that is situated directly within the temporality of the performance itself. In Dokumaci’s words: 

The microactivist theory of affordances, lying at the crossover between disability and performance, is concerned less with what is given durable form than with the dissolution of that fixity toward new horizons of possibility […] Microactivist affordances point to how action-possibilities can be exponentially multiplied rather than how they become ossified in the seeming fixity and inanimacy of things. Either because of the ephemerality of an action (as in the dance of buttoning a shirt), or because of how solid things are gradually unmade over lengthy performances, affordances created in and through performance remain in a perpetual state of creation, making the concretization of any form, action, or claim impossible.[21]

Important then for Dokumaci is this shift away from matters of disability that have been overtly concretized to differentiate her understanding of micro-activist affordances from crip-technoscience. If crip-technoscience proposes taking a sledgehammer to the concrete curb, then micro-activist affordances propose a new way of using that curb altogether.

            In this context, Dokumaci advocates that her work is not merely a convalescence of Gibson’s existing theory of affordances; rather, it is the development of an entirely new critical disability theory that effectively queers our understanding of affordances. Pivotal to Dokumaci’s ecological approach to disability then is the reciprocity that exists between the subject and their environment and how this relationship can be reformulated into new combinations that maintain their own unique potentials. Through this more nuanced ecological understanding of disability, one can begin to understand “how lives experiencing a contraction of the environment and its affordances fall into the zone of disability.”[22] Through this lens, micro-activist affordances are not exclusive to disability. As Dokumaci proceeds to outline in her latest work on this theory, micro-activist affordances also exist in people’s on-going lived experiences of war and its subsequent fallout,[23] racism and colonialism,[24] and the production of inequity and political-economic disparity through global capitalism.[25] In proceeding with this analysis, some examples of what Dokumaci identifies as micro-activist affordances will be useful here.

            In her most recent work on micro-activist affordances, Dokumaci’s ethnographic study involves a number of examples drawn from everyday lived experience. These experiences range from her interlocutor’s affordance improvisations with buttons, shirts, and their fabrics, their ability to twist and remove caps from bottles, and lastly, the production of more comfortable and safer shoe soles in relation to the surface of a bathtub.[26] This last example is of particular interest as a micro-activist affordance that was more effective for its performer than their medical prescription counterpart. Whereas this person’s experience with using the recommended orthotic insoles failed to provide them with comfort and a limitation of pain while walking, their self-engineered insoles made from two-dollar flip flops were noticeably more effective. In light of these examples, Dokumaci is aware that potential critics may attempt to undermine their conceptualization as a form of activism. To this potential critique, she responds:

If we limit our understanding of activism to the hyper-visible, intentionally engaged political actions pursued by self-identified minority groups, we cannot understand what is activist about buttoning a shirt differently. But if we define activism not by who engages in it, where and how, but by what activism does and what it affords, then disorienting buttons, twisting bottles, and transforming shirts into pullovers can also count as activism.[27]

Micro-activist affordances are a form of activism in that they enable one to repurpose the materials of the world in which one inhabits. This perception becomes even more striking when considering that these materials are oftentimes the product of the very same institutions that actively work to marginalize people living with disability—that is, under the guise of inclusion where ableist assumptions of disability conflates ‘compensation’ with ‘accommodation.’[28] To this effect, recognizing the political power of micro-activist affordances involves an expansion of both what ‘disability’ and ‘activism’ mean. This entails an ecological understanding of the contemporary moment. One that acknowledges the complex interconnectedness of all our mediated and physical environments (and their relation to disability in particular) that hybridizes peoples’ ritual performativity of everyday life with instances of “anarchic spontaneity” and “dances of labor.”[29]

From Pêcheux to Muñoz on Disidentification

Similar to Dokumaci’s theory of micro-activist affordances, one of the key pillars to Muñoz’s theory of disidentification is its examination of activism through the lens of performance. Muñoz’s theory builds on Michel Pêcheux’s work through an understanding of subject formations that assess the minoritarian subject’s negotiation of identity within a dominant ideology that attempts to systematically erase their existence in favor of a normative subject. From this perspective, Muñoz extrapolates heavily from Marxist theorist Louis Althusser’s subject formation and interpellation found in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.”[30] In reference to Martinez Guillem’s summary of Pêcheux’s work, disidentification operates as a third modality between the subject and discourse.[31] Crucial to this third modality is the ability to see new possibilities as necessarily stemming from selective processes that are “experienced and built into our living,” thus acknowledging both the promise and the difficulty of undoing hegemonic forces.[32] To this effect, disidentification is different from ‘counter-identification,’ which still inadvertently confirms dominant ideology by reifying the very categories it works to negate. In contrast, disidentification is concerned with rethinking encoded meaning[33] in a way that constitutes a reworking of the subject form and not just its abolition.[34]

Enter Muñoz and the application of queer theory

The language Muñoz uses to describe his theory of disidentification necessarily outlines the ways in which it extends from Pêcheux’s concept. Within the context of the present analysis, this conceptual extension more accurately speaks to the contemporary moment. For Muñoz, disidentification is “descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere.”[35] This recognition of such theory as a ‘survival’ strategy is a consistent theme that Muñoz returns to in his writing, and one that helps relate his work to that of critical disability studies. Disidentification is a survival strategy capable of working both within and outside the dominant public sphere simultaneously.[36] As an extension of Pêcheux’s concept, disidentification means one neither opts to assimilate to ideology nor directly opposes it. One that disidentifies neither collapses under the pressures of ideology’s assimilation nor attempts to break free of its seemingly in-escapable sphere in favor of some form of utopia. As a form of hermeneutics, it is both a process of production and a modality for performativity.[37] Disidentification “is a strategy that tries to transform a cultural logic from within, always laboring to enact permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local or everyday struggles of resistance.”[38] However, that is not to say that a theory of disidentification is an apolitical ground. As a means for contesting the paradoxes of power, disidentification theory’s political agenda is deeply indebted to antiassimilationist thought with discourse that is neither uniform nor stable.[39] Furthermore, while disidentification theory rejects the notion of a ‘utopia,’ it still inherently values a sense of utopianism in its world-building project. For Muñoz, and in reference to Osa Hidalgo’s Marginal Eyes (1996), this kernel of utopianism entails looking into the past in order to critique the present as a means for imagining a better future; as one that points to the what ‘should be’ of this world with “elegance, humor, and political ferocity.”[40] Essential to disidentification is an ambivalent modality; it is a survival strategy that is engaged by the minority subject in order to resist socially prescriptive modes of identification.[41]

            Based on the elements of disidentification that have been outlined thus far, one can observe both the power and the complexity of Muñoz’s theory as grounds for a political project in world-making and the imagining of a better future. Yet, it is based on such complexity that this analysis must hand over the task of a final synthesis to Muñoz himself, for no subsequent taking up of his theory can truly describe its potential:

The process of disidentification scrambles and reconstructs the encoded message of a cultural text in a fashion that both exposes the encoded message’s universalizing and exclusionary machinations and recircuits its workings to account for, include, and empower minority identities and identifications. Thus, disidentification is a step further than cracking open the code of the majority; it proceeds to use this code as a raw material for representing a disempowered politic or positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture.[42]

In light of this passage, we must now turn to the points of intersection that make a dialogue between Dokumaci and Muñoz’s work crucial to understanding activist projects such as ACSEXE+ and the intersection of disability and sexuality.

Critical Disability Theory Meets Queer Theory: Revisiting Crip-Theory

In accordance with Egner’s analysis of neuroqueer disidentification, it must first be noted that queer and crip theoretical perspectives are not synonymous.[43] The use of crip-theory specifically here (as opposed to the blanketed notion of disability theory) is important because of its recognition of how these interdisciplinary concepts and their respective fields of research can help inform one another. It would be a disservice to both the identity politic of queer theory and embodied politic of disability theory to conflate the two or suggest that they are wholly interchangeable; they do, however, have intertwined histories and applicability.[44] Both queer theory and disability theory challenge reductionist understandings of human experience and interrogate the utility of binary understandings of normality versus abnormality.[45]

            When defining disability and functional diversity outside of critical disability theory, the term generally refers to a “discrepancy between the capabilities of the individual and the functions demanded of him by the environment.”[46] Yet, as Moser proceeds to identify, this relational definition is problematic because it attributes the ‘misfitting’ of the subject to their strictly individualized loss or lack of function. It identifies disability as “a condition in the individualized body, rather than as a problem with the standards or requirements of the environment.”[47] From the perspective of disability and functional diversity, it is with the problems that this misconception manufactures that critical disability studies and its theory are concerned. However, this still does not bring us to the more focused application of crip-theory that is being mobilized in this article.

            To a different effect, queer theory provides “other perspectives for understanding different realities and help legitimate different expressions and ways of being.”[48] ‘Queering’ refers to the practices in which one alters mainstream modes of representation in order to reveal latent queer subtexts. As a modality for contesting normative structures of knowledge, queer theory interrogates hegemonic circulations of power and affords potential for sites of resistance based on new and alternative ways of “knowing, being, and acting.”[49]As Sandhal articulates, it is a process of appropriating representation for one’s own motivations, thus compelling it to afford new meaning in an ongoing act of deconstructing heteronormativity.[50]

            While only brief in their description, Sandhal’s analysis utilizes these aforementioned understandings of critical disability theory and queer theory as the logical steppingstones for conceptualizing ways in which Dokumaci’s micro-activist affordances and Muñoz’s disidentification can intersect; ways in which theorizing their combined power can help one envision a deconstructive-hegemonic project. Accordingly, one may conceptualize this proposal as a form of crip-theory if this merger of Dokumaci and Muñoz’s work is accepted. Understanding this merger is important because of the inherent rejection of disability hierarchies that crip-theory maintains. This rejection of hierarchy is a crucial component of advancing this article as contributing towards a universal politic, namely because crip-theory formulates its resistance with an active concern for futurity in mind. As such, crip-theory can speak to aspects of activism and intersectionality that critical disability theory (broadly speaking) cannot.

            As previously stated, both critical disability theory and queer theory have an intertwined history. Therefore, it is not illogical to put the two into conversation, particularly when the form of activism they conceptualize involves a similar process of negotiating ideology from within. Both disabled people (or, in the context of this given reference, people with ‘functional diversity’) and queer people have been, and still are, subject to processes of marginalization and stigmatization.[51] Additionally, and as Garcia-Santesmases et al. note, these shared experiences help formulate a sense of intersectionality that:

understands and denounces the relations between ableism and heteropatriarchy to propose joint alternatives […] what crip-queer alliances have contributed to this intersectional reality is a discursive framework of collective politicization which has named individual experiences that tended previously to be conceptualized as independent. What is not named does not exist, and what is named in a certain way, is constructed on that framework of possibility.[52]

Through these processes, both queer identity and disability are continually constructed from the view of normalcy as an ‘other,’ as exotic or monstrous. As polarities to the accepted status quo, both queerness and disability are cast as “the fruit of sin and meat for diagnosis […] where the rejection of these collectives is generated not by hatred, but by fear.”[53] Aside from theoretical unity, this shared history between the two theories speaks to a unique form of oppression. People living with functional diversity usually grow up in isolating socio-cultural settings where few people, if any, share their lived experience.[54] Both queerness and functional diversity have been “pathologized by medicine; demonized by religion; discriminated against in housing, employment, and education; stereo-typed in representation; victimized by hate groups; and isolated socially, often in their families of origin.”[55]

            This synthesis between critical disability theory and queer theory, the ways in which Doukmaci’s and Muñoz’s work connect becomes evident. One of the key benefits in ‘cripping’ queer theory, or vice versa, is how their fluidity provides new forms of insight into negotiated identity politics. In the context of this article, the performance as of micro-affordances can serve as a site for world-building and a means of altering ideology from within.

One Present Issue

Based on their condition, living with disability can impact multiple aspects of people’s lives. When confronted with the subject of disability, the non-disabled community has a tendency to automatically think of extreme cases, namely the ‘tragedy’ (used speculatively here) of someone ‘stuck’ in a wheelchair. And yet, disability exists across a range of different physical and cognitive spectrums. This is why the term ‘functional diversity’ has been used increasingly in this article. Functional diversity includes everything from conditions made apparent by the presence of assistive technology to invisible disabilities such as chronic illness or pain that, while not immediately clear to the observer, can still significantly influence the way in which someone lives their everyday life. In returning to Dokumaci’s ethnographic examples, this applies to everyday and seemingly mundane tasks such as putting on a shirt or undoing a bottle cap. However, despite this diversity, a consistent issue that pertains to virtually all people living with disability are the systematic processes in which the disabled body is frequently degendered and desexualized. These processes exist in media representation, the popular imagination, and even academic research,[56] particularly in relation to the medical model of disability.[57] In reference to Cheng’s sociological theorizations,[58] Egner goes on to suggest: “scholars taking up disability and gender together have pointed to social assumptions that contribute to the construction of gender and the consequences disabled people experience when they are unable to meet typical performative expectations.”[59] As a product of ideology then, the harmful process of desexualizing the disabled body is rife with potential for both practical and theoretical critique. As such, recognizing the sexuality of disability is a powerful discursive tool. From one perspective, this analysis can identify the ways in which people with a disability have sex, masturbate, and participate in kinks, which can be recognized as a series of micro-activist affordances in and of themselves. From another, more theoretical level, this recognition holds a political power in its forcing of ableism’s ideology to witness the very things in which it deems alien. Yes, disabled people have sex. Perhaps it is about time that everyone recognizes that. With this, the article will now turn to its analysis of ACSEXE+ as a site of combatting systems of marginalization that degender and desexualize the disabled body.  

ACSEXE+ Case Study: Sex, Masturbation and Disability

Founded in 1972, the Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN) is a feminist network of popular education and advocacy projects that specializes in issues related to sexual and reproductive health. Its primary objective is to: “raise awareness, inform, and foster critical thoughts on sexual and reproductive health as well as to promote freedom of choice with a social justice perspective.”[60] By extension, ACSEXE+ is a bilingual multimedia project created by the FPQN in 2015. More specifically, this project’s objective is to develop spaces in which people can discuss sex positivity within the context of disability. To quote their page directly: “Whether it’s discussing assistance in physical sexual settings, or stereotypes and confidence, or getting down to practical things like sex positions and where to meet potential romantic partners, nothing is taboo for our collaborators.”[61] A majority of the content on their website consists of blog posts and articles written by members of the community and the project’s collaborators. Unfortunately, this project’s activity went silent in November of 2017, but this does not deter from the political power that their initial dialogue possesses. To provide an idea of the conversations in which this project is engaged, a list of some of their most recent posts is listed as follows: “Dealing with Rude Non-disabled,” “Wheelchair, Bound? Kink and Disability,” “Sick People Have Sex, Too,” “Taking Your Body for a Ride: Masturbation and Disability,” “Playing the Online Dating Game, in a Wheelchair,” “Disability Sex Yes!” and “Mixed Messages: Ableism in Dating.”[62] ACSEXE+ speaks to a wide range of topics pertaining to physical disability and sexuality. What is of particular relevance here are the multiple ways in which these articles identify a series of micro-activist affordances that are deeply embedded in processes of queering the environment, technology, and media around the disabled subject. Underlying the thought processes behind each of these articles are notions of surviving ableism, sexual performance, and acts of world-shaping. The article “Taking Your Body for a Ride: Masturbation and Disability” is an excellent example of these very processes.

            As the title suggests, this article addresses the challenges functionally diverse people face in relation to masturbation. From its outset, the author, S.E. Smith,[63] acknowledges that “because disabled sexuality is a source of so much pointed silence, it can be hard to think of yourself as a sexual being […] you have a right to be sexually autonomous, no matter what messages you might be getting from media, pop culture, and society.”[64] After coaching the reader through any potential feelings of embarrassment for wanting to explore themselves sexually, the author then encourages them to ‘think big;’ to consider masturbation as not just genital stimulation, but also as a form of ‘sensation play’ that, for example, takes advantage of one’s skin as an erogenous zone for pleasure. For ACSEXE+, this ability to ‘think big’ is made possible because “we’re [the disability community] so used to adapting things to make the world work for us, that we tend to be pretty creative when it comes to sexuality […] while some sex stores sell fantastic props and tools for solo and partnered sex, you can also easily improvise, and in the case of some specialty items, you might actually be better off with improvisational work.”[65] Already one can begin to recognize the similarities between this discourse and the examples Dokumaci uses in her own work. Given this introduction, Smith then launches into the various props one might require to engage in a do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) culture form of sexual embrace. These D.I.Y. innovations are addressed in the order in which they appear in the article.

            The first item Smith suggests is a wedge. A wedge can be used to find a more comfortable position and support one’s body. Considering that the cost of wedges from a sex store can be quite high, Smith recommends using folded blankets, towels, and sturdy cushions as a substitute. Importance is placed on wedges in this context because they provide a more immediate way of coping with one’s limited mobility or lack of dexterity. In proceeding with their outline, Smith references Sam Wall and Isabella Rotman’s article: “D.I.Y. Sex Toys: Self-Love Edition”[66] in order to highlight common household appliances that can be involved in sexual gratification. These objects include an electric toothbrush or razor, back massager, removable shower head, and essentially any phallic object that can be covered by a condom and used as a dildo. In returning to their own work, Smith then outlines a number of safety precautions for the reader, some more obvious than others.

            While Smith continues to explain the various ways in which existing sex toys can be used differently by someone with a disability, their most striking advice is tailored to people who use an electric wheelchair: “If you’re a wheelchair user, one of our sexy crip experts tells me you’re in luck: Your wheelchair can be a tool for sexual expression too.”[67] Smith then proceeds with this description:

Explore the tilt function to get your body in a comfortable position for self-exploration. Depending on your mobility, explore the sensation of shifting or rubbing your weight on the seat. Go for a jiggly, bumpy ride on a rough surface. Play around with the position of your belt and/or straps if you want to see what light bondage feels like. But remember to wash your seat cushion on a regular schedule![68]

Based on this description, one can begin to recognize the ways in which such discourse and its application to people’s lives embody the politic of micro-activist affordances and identity politic of disidentification. Readers are encouraged to repurpose the raw materials of the worlds in which they inhabit. In doing so, they not only deconstruct the meaning and application of a number of mundane household objects, but they are afforded an outlet through which they can engage their sexuality while retaining their sense of disability pride. To this effect, they are imaginatively engaged in ongoing processes of queering and cripping everyday objects. The presence of this discourse online and its role in a larger activist project only adds to its political power. There is an anarchic spontaneity to these performances[69] that reconstructs the encoded message of these objects in a way that empowers the disabled subject’s minority identity.[70]

            ACSEXE+ is encouraging readers not to ‘fit in’ to normative ideas of sexuality, but to retrofit their environments in a way that carves out a niche for the disabled subject to fully embrace their own sense of sexuality. Additionally, ACSEXE+ serves as a platform for dialogue on topics from which people living with disability are often simply excluded. At first glance, the allure of their website stems from a humorous approach to sexual exploration, but ACSEXE+ also houses an abundance of material that helps readers navigate basic anatomy and sexual education regardless of their functional diversity. In returning to Muñoz’s work, disability activism helps readers realize new possibilities in their negotiation of identity under circumstances that attempt to systematically erase their sexuality in favor of a normative subject and more ‘accepted’ notion of disability-sexuality. As “Taking Your Body for a Ride” concludes:

Your aide (or family member) may decide that they should be in control of your sexuality — and that specifically, you shouldn’t have any. That’s not actually their call to make, but you may have limited options when it comes to things like firing them, especially if you’re a minor. Or you may feel too uncomfortable to have a discussion about it right now, in which case safe workarounds may be your best option […] If your aide isn’t supportive of your needs, it’s time to get crafty, and think about requests that would give you a little private time to explore paired with the tools you need without being explicit about what you’re doing.[71]

Whether by encouraging the reader to explore their own sexuality through the use of everyday household items (the ‘raw material’ of the majority) or by encouraging productive dialogue between the reader and their family, friends, or care-workers, ACSEXE+ affirms the positive representation of a positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture.

A Part of a Universal Politic

As stated in this analysis’ outset, the motivation for putting Dokumaci’s theory of micro-activist affordances in conversation with Muñoz’s theory of disidentification is to conceptualize a more effective and sustainable form of long-term activism that strives to reach a more universal scale in the dialogue it can initiate. Everyday instances of living with disability engage in a world-making process that subtly alters dominant cultural logics from within. Particularly powerful are cases such as ACSEXE+ that not only incite change in people’s lives at the micro-level, but actively contest dominant ideologies such as ableism through the lens of sexuality. Notably, these processes are deconstructive in their specifically anti-hegemonic logic. By adhering to any political theory of a counter-hegemony,[72] this activism would run the risk of reifying the unequal power binaries of which it contests in the first place.

            Therefore, the vision of a universal activism that this analysis provides is not the ascription of various qualities across ‘all’ subjectivities in the name of equality. Rather, it is a bottom-up approach in which all instances of micro-activism—all performances of everyday life—are invited onto a global stage that invites more progressive conversations of equity and its subsequent projects. The accumulation of individual cases of activism in everyday lived experience at a universal level is a more productive form of universal politic than what previous theorists have conceptualized as a ‘politic of universalism,’[73] in which individuality and unique subjectivity is jeopardized. Through instances of micro-activism in the home to the workplace, experimental practices of knowledge production and world-making can challenge hegemony and power relations within issues of not just accessibility and design in terms of disability, but in terms of representation and recognition at the level of identity politics as well. In doing so, expertise is shifted to those people with lived experiences of disability in a way that can potentially promote a more productive dialogue, that is, a form of access intimacy, on a larger scale.[74] Access intimacy here refers to what Mia Mingus describes as an elusive feeling one experiences when someone else ‘gets’ their unique accessibility needs. Or, by extension, the feeling of intimacy one experiences with other disabled people who share in an understanding of access needs out of their shared living experiences and encounters with ableism.[75] Access intimacy is not necessarily a form of charity. Rather, it is a feeling of genuine solace in having established a connection with someone that lives a different experience than you. By extending such alternative ways of thinking onto the everyday lived experience of disability, we can begin to envision a more productive form of universal politic; one that includes all subjectivities in its contestation of existing knowledge-paradigms and construction of a more equitable future.

            At the very least, it is the intention of this article to have contributed to a form of progressive dialogue that combats systems of marginalization that degender and desexualize the disabled body. Notably, placing Dokumaci’s theory of micro-activist affordances in conversation with Muñoz’s theory of disidentification is one instance of crip-theory at work. Although the project concluded in 2017, ACSEXE+ and its progressive agenda are rife with potential for both theoretical unpacking and practical application. For these reasons, I am confident further research in crip-theory will benefit from additional exploration of ACSEXE+’s (or similar projects) teachings in practice.    

[1] Arseli Dokumaci, “Vital Affordances, Occupying Niches: An Ecological Approach to Disability and Performance,” Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 22, no. 3 (2017): 393-412; Arseli Dokumaci, “A Theory of Microactivist Affordances: Disability, Disorientations, and Improvisations,” South Atlantic Quarterly 118, no. 3 (2019).

[2] José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and The Performance of Politics, vol. 2 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

[3] Dokumaci, “Vital Affordances, Occupying Niches,” 394.

[4] James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1979).

[5] Dokumaci, “Vital Affordances, Occupying Niches,” 395.

[6] Gibson, “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception,” 127.

[7] Dokumaci, “Vital Affordances, Occupying Niches,” 397.

[8] Ibid, 397.

[9] Gibson, “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception,” 138.

[10] Dokumaci, “Vital Affordances, Occupying Niches,” 397.

[11] Arseli Dokumaci, “On Falling III,” Performance Research 18, no. 4 (2013): 108.

[12] Dokumaci, “Vital Affordances, Occupying Niches,” 398.

[13] Ibid.

[14] To illustrate her point, Dokumaci quotes Gibson directly in stating: “There are all kinds of nutrients in the world and all sorts of ways of getting food… All kinds of locomotion that the environment makes possible… These offerings have been taken advantage of; the niches have been occupied. But, for all that we know, there may be many offerings of the environment that have not been taken advantage of, that is niches not yet occupied.” Dokumaci, “Vital Affordances, Occupying Niches,” 398.

[15] Dokumaci, “Vital Affordances, Occupying Niches,” 404.

[16] Dokumaci, “A Theory of Microactivist Affordances,” 492.

[17] Alison Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013),141.

[18] Dokumaci, “A Theory of Microactivist Affordances,” 491.

[19] Aimi Hamraie, Building Access: Universal Design and The Politics of Disability (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).

[20] Sara Hendren, “Notes on an Inclined Plane–Slope: Intercept,” in Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader, ed. J. Boys  (Philadelphia: Routledge, 2017), 278-286.

[21] Dokumaci, “A Theory of Microactivist Affordances,” 151.

[22] Ibid, 498.

[23] Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of The World (New York City: Oxford University Press, USA, 1987).

[24]  Nirmala Erevelles, Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Enabling a Transformative Body Politic (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

[25] Helen Meekosha, “Decolonising Disability: Thinking and Acting Globally,” Disability & Society 26, no. 6 (2011): 667-682.

[26] Dokumaci, “A Theory of Microactivist Affordances.”

[27] Ibid, 516.

[28] Tom Shakespeare, “The Social Model of Disability,” The Disability Studies Reader, ed. Lennard J. Davis, (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2006), 197-204.

[29] Dokumaci, “A Theory of Microactivist Affordances,” 509; 511.

[30] Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays,” trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971). [31] Susana Martínez Guillem, “Precarious Privilege: Indignad@S, Daily Disidentifications, and Cultural (Re) Production,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 14, no. 3 (2017): 243.

[32] Ibid, 250.

[33] Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding,” in, Culture, Media, Language, eds. S. Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe, & P. Willis (London: Hutchinson, 1980),  129.

[34] Martínez Guillem, “Precarious Privilege: Indignad@S, Daily Disidentifications, and Cultural (Re) Production,” 245.

[35] Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and The Performance of Politics, 4.

[36] Ibid, 5.

[37] Ibid, 25.

[38] Ibid, 11-12.

[39] Ibid, 17-18; and Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction,trans Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage 1990), 33.

[40] Muñoz, 25.

[41] Ibid, 28.

[42] Ibid, 31.

[43] Justine Egner, “‘The Disability Rights Community Was Never Mine’: Neuroqueer Disidentification,” Gender & Society 33, no. 1 (2019): 128.

[44] Ibid, 128.

[45] Justine Egner, “A Messy Trajectory: From Medical Sociology to Crip Theory,” in Sociology Looking at Disability: What Did We Know and When Did We Know It, eds. Sara E. Green and Sharon N. Barnartt (Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2016), 161.

[46] Ingunn Moser, “Disability and the Promises of Technology: Technology, Subjectivity and Embodiment Within an Order of The Normal,” Information, Communication & Society 9, no. 3 (2006): 374.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ryu P. Cheng, “Sociological Theories of Disability, Gender, and Sexuality: A Review of the Literature,” Journal of Human Behavior in The Social Environment 19, no. 1 (2009): 116.

[49] Shinsuke Eguchi and Godfried Asante, “Disidentifications Revisited: Queer (Y) Ing Intercultural Communication Theory,” Communication Theory 26, no. 2 (2016): 173.

[50] Carrie Sandahl, “Queering the Crip or Cripping the Queer?: Intersections of Queer and Crip Identities in Solo Autobiographical Performance,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 9, no. 1 (2003): 38.

[51] Andrea García-Santesmases Fernández, Núria Vergés Bosch, and Elisabet Almeda Samaranch. “‘From Alliance to Trust’: Constructing Crip-Queer Intimacies,” Journal of Gender Studies 26, no. 3 (2017): 269.

[52] Ibid, 274-275.

[53] Ibid, 270.

[54] Ibid, 274.

[55] Sandahl, “Queering the Crip or Cripping the Queer?,” 26.

[56] Egner, “‘The Disability Rights Community Was Never Mine,’” 125.

[57] Shakespeare, “The Social Model of Disability,” 197.

[58] Cheng, “Sociological Theories of Disability, Gender, And Sexuality.”

[59] Egner, “‘The Disability Rights Community Was Never Mine,’” 125.

[60] FQPN, “About ACSEXE+,” last updated in 2017, http://www.fqpn.qc.ca/acsexe/en/about/.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] No further information on the author’s identity is given.

[64] FQPN, “About ACSEXE+.”

[65] Ibid.

[66] Sam Wall, & Isabella Rotman, “D.I.Y Sex Toys: Self-Love Edition,” June 17, 2014, http://www.scarleteen.com/article/sexuality/diy_sex_toys_selflove_edition.

[67] FQPN, “About ACSEXE+.”

[68] Ibid.

[69] Dokumaci, “A Theory of Microactivist Affordances.”

[70] Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and The Performance of Politics, 31.

[71] FQPN, “About ACSEXE+.”

[72] Karen Mogendorff, “Constructive Counter-Hegemony,” Disability Studies Quarterly 37, no. 3 (2017).

[73] Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994).

[74] Mia Mingus, “Access Intimacy: The Missing Link,” Leaving Evidence 5 (2011).

[75] Ibid.

Quinn Valencourt is a PhD candidate in Communication Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. This article is a product of studying under Dr. Arseli Dokumaci in the spring of 2019.