26% of the United States population and 16% of the entire world’s population has some type of disability–born with or later acquired in life. That makes disability the largest minority. Yet, so often it is forgotten, especially when discussing topics of sexuality. Despite the lack of discourse around disability, there are some scholars that choose to examine disability through a disability studies lens or through crip theory. According to the University of Minnesota, crip theory is “a blurring or merging of queer theory and critical disability studies. Crip theory explores how the social pressures and norms around ability intersect with the social pressures and norms around gender/sexuality.” In the book “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” by Jane Gallop, crip theory is utilized to examine the intersections of disability, sexuality, and disease.
Rather than making an argument in “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus,” Gallop instead chooses to explore the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging through anecdotal theory. By doing that she hopes to share her experience of sexuality, while aging with a disability.
Jane Gallop was born in Duluth, Minnesota and went to Cornell University for her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Now she works at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a professor in the English department–specializing in feminist, queer, and critical theory alongside academic writing. Gallop, a long-time feminist, is known for her writing on feminism, and is credited for writing ten books. Gallop developed her interest in disability from her own physical disability. She was born with her disability, flat feet and weak ligaments, but its symptoms did not start to manifest themselves until her late 40s. As her foot pain started to progress into chronic pain, she began to walk less–eventually using a wheelchair as her primary source of aid. Claiming her disability identity was not easy for Gallop, as she struggled with feeling invisible and unattractive. As time went on she began to explore the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging, which is what prompted her to write “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus.”
The book opens with Gallop saying that “This book is, first and foremost, rooted in the way crip theory resonates with my own experiences” (Gallop 2). That sets the tone for the rest of the book. Gallop then proceeds to explain where she got the ideas for the different themes of the book. When discussing aging she says, “The swath of experience that can be understood either as disability or as aging” (Gallop 5) suggesting that as we age we develop more disabilities. Then she believes that sexuality and disability are so intertwined that both topics are wrote about together, saying, “I immediately loved the attitudinal kinship of ‘crip’ with ‘queer’ and felt that was the direction I wanted my theorizing to head’” (Gallop 1). Lastly, she explains where she developed the idea for the phallus. Initially she was unsure if she should include phallus in the subtitle, as, “Someone who contributed to the feminist critique of the psychoanalytic concept of the phallus, I feel sheepish indeed to return here to the phallus as a term for thinking about sexuality” (Gallop 14). Yet, she does acknowledge the phallus is male centered. There are only two chapters within the book. Staying true to her anecdotal theory, she opens each chapter with a personal narrative. The first chapter’s narrative is about her discovering her disability and how she associates it with castration, but then she discovers how to navigate it and it becomes phallus for her. The second narrative is about her discovering her sexuality after her husband discovers and is treated for prostate cancer. There, castration is used to describe her husband’s illness, and phallus is used when they become sexual again.
The main strength of “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” is the way Gallop’s personal narrative is used throughout the entire book. Each chapter opens with a story of Gallop either realizing her disability or learning to navigate it then for the rest of the chapter she uses the different themes of her story to discuss the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging. The great amount of personal narrative used helps the reader sympathize with Gallop’s experiences, and better comprehend the investigation within the book.
The overarching weakness of “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” is the lack of accessibility of the content to the general reader. Throughout the book Gallop references different theories–temporality theory, crip theory, queer theory, decline theory, and psychoanalytic theory, to name a few. Gallop mentions and refers to these theories without explaining them or defining them. The lack of detail makes much of the content difficult to understand. I have had to look up many of the terms myself, causing the reading to be extremely tedious. It makes it very obvious that the intended audience is not the everyday reader, but rather other scholars who are already familiar with the topics.
In conclusion I thought “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” by Jane Gallop was extremely interesting. It gave me another perspective on the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging that I did not have before. Yet, the inaccessible nature of this book was very prominent. I believe anyone would benefit from reading this book, as the topic is almost never talked about. However, the lack of details when stating different terms or theories used makes it quite challenging for someone not well-versed in these theories to truly understand the full message behind the book. Overall, “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” by Jane Gallop is an interesting, well-written and extremely informative book, especially for someone already familiar with the theories underpinning it.
Gallop, Jane. Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus. Duke University Press, 2019.