Against a lavender fabric background stands a cylinder filled with a clear liquid and bulbous shapes that appear to be bloody and tissue specimen-like.

Queer, Chronic Illness & Photography

By Donna McCormack

Queer and illness go hand in hand for me. I tend to think queerness through a lens of health, illness and disability, as well as the bodymind through desires, pleasures and changing ways of being in the world. Indeed, living with chronic illness can often feel queer and that can be in a negative way in that we may feel out of time with other people and/or out of place. So, we don’t always fit in because we can’t structure our days to schedules because our health, illnesses and/or disabilities may mean we’re ‘unreliable’, often cancel and are too unwell to attend the things we’d love to be a part of.

Having said that, queer and chronic illness are also about the pleasure of forming communities in ways that differ from those who can get out of bed, go to work and socialise in the outside world. Queer and chronic illness, for me, has been integral to my teaching, including Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s A Dialogue on Love where she speaks of her sexual fantasies during cancer treatment and Audre Lorde’s beautiful exploration of masturbation while in hospital and how one’s sense of sexuality is integral to a changing healthy/sick body in The Cancer Journals. How one’s body changes – whether that be because of pain, an inability to move, surgery and more – is for many of us central to what it means to desire and be desired and how sensuality may be experienced when we may be too unwell to be touched or to reach out to an other.

Capturing Chronic Illness has chosen Justin J Wee’s photograph as our main image because we feel he captures many of these issues that I’ve raised above. He brings queer, community, disability, health, illness, pleasure, sensuality and more into his photos. We chose the photograph entitled ‘Chronic Back Pain’ from his series How I Hurt.

In this series, Wee captures experiences of disability, illness and embodiment that may be considered less apparent, often ignored or even stigmatised or deemed not real. Here, he doesn’t use portraiture, and while we both value portraiture very much, we also wanted an image that shows how the body and its changing experiences may be captured through other materials. This image is visceral – that is, it seems as if there is flesh in there, almost as if we can feel the crushing of body parts, almost as if pain may be something we can communicate with and between others.

It’s an image that may disturb, but also comfort insofar as it may show that we can get close to what an other experiences and may grow to understand and support. If it disturbs, then I can only think that this is also important: pain does disturb. Pain is disruptive and hard to look at, and many of us do want to see it represented in its unbearable ways. We hope visitors to the website will visit Wee’s work and see the amazing photos that continue to move us in queerly, unpredictable ways.

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