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Awaiting Middle Ground: Black Feminism, Disability, and Intersex in the American Biomedical and Literary Imagination

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Abstract

Awaiting Middle Ground contributes to Black feminist scholarship with respect to the medicalization of disability, gender, and sexuality in American biomedical and literary discourse. By shifting Disability Studies and African American Studies’ attention to sexology archives in the post-World War II era, this project provides a historiography of intersexuality as a racial project that resonates in the contemporary moment. Following the intersex protocols put into motion by sexologist Dr. John Money, I argue that Dr. Money championed patients’ narratives that disavowed embodied difference. Essentially, patients’ bodies and behaviors were medicalized and regulated toward whiteness, able-bodiedness and able-mindedness, and heterosexuality, and away from Black, disabled, and intersex difference.

Simultaneously, I examine intersex representations and disability metaphors in fiction, including Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex (2002) and Alexis De Veaux’s Yabo (2014). I contend that the novels are intersex counternarratives to those produced within American biomedicine in the post-WWII era. I utilize historian Miriam Reumann’s notion of “American sexual character” to argue that dimorphic genitals and gender normativity were aspects of an American reinvestment in sexual and racial morality and able-bodiedness and able-mindedness in the face of foreign and domestic adversaries. I attend to the interrelated archives, pathological representations, intersectionality, and alliances between Black, intersex, and disabled people and fictional characters, by joining in on the conversations in Critical Intersex Studies from scholars David A. Rubin, Morgan Holmes, and Hilary Malatino; in Disability and Crip Studies from Robert McRuer and Alison Kafer; and in Black feminist disability studies from Moya Bailey and Sami Schalk.

This interdisciplinary project draws from American medical archives, the history of science and medicine, queer theory, Black feminisms and Feminist Science Studies, and African American literary criticism to offer another interlaced genealogy of Blackness and disability. As an invitation to African American Studies, this dissertation presents a pedagogical and methodological account of other, peripheral, Black bodies and minds.

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This item is under embargo until August 5, 2023.