The Medicalised Body - On Illness, Humour, and Sexuality by Carly Jay Metcalfe


Talkin about the thing that stops me writing about the thing Im talkin about: Hacking and Hofstadter on the looping effect of diagnostic labels and writing the strange double by Bianca Millroy


Presented by: Carly-Jay Metcalfe and Bianca Millroy

Date: Friday 15 September 2023
Time: 12-1pm
Location: Online via Zoom and in-person at the SCA Writer's Studio (Level 6, Michie Building)


The Medicalised Body - On illness, Humour, and Sexuality

By Carly-Jay Metcalfe

How do people who live in chronically ill and disabled bodies regain a modicum of control and agency when it comes to claiming their sexuality and identity, and how does humour play a role in survival? In her article Disabled People Are Sexual Citizens Too: Supporting Sexual Identity, Well-being, and Safety for Disabled Young People, Sonali Shah writes that “disabled people are excluded from normative definitions of sexuality. This, coupled with the pervasive societal devaluation of disability and the cultural scripts that portray disabled people as asexual” (Shah, 2017, p. 1) Engaging in practice-led research where I use myself as archive and artefact, I explore the origins of critical disability studies, and its interrelatedness to sexuality and humour. Due to a lack of scholarly inquiry about humour, illness and sexuality, I have had to look beyond the extant research, leading me to people and places who exist on the margins, and ultimately reject the socio-cultural and medical notions that people with disabilities do not deserve sexual citizenship. An exemplar of the subversion of the sick narrative was Bob Flanagan – a writer, musician and performance artist who died of Cystic Fibrosis in 1996. Through his art, Flanagan skilfully rejected and re-contextualised the ‘sick narrative’ through gallows humour and his devotion to his S&M lifestyle. In her paper, “Bob Flanagan: Taking It Like a Man”, Carrie Sandahl writes that Flanagan challenged impotent disability imagery, and that he asserted pleasure and power in unexpected ways and conceived disability as an ongoing source of masculinity, and not a burden (Sandahl, 2000). 

Talkin about the thing that stops me writing about the thing Im talkin about: Hacking and Hofstadter on the looping effect of diagnostic labels and writing the strange double.

By Bianca Millroy

We tend to behave in ways that are expected of us, especially by authority figuresdoctors, for example. Canadian Philosopher Ian Hacking describes this as a looping effect wherein a clinical diagnosis results in neurobehavioural changes that further reinforce that classification. An exemplar of this is multiple personality disorder. In the late 19th Century, it was regarded as a special case of hysteria. Then in the 1970s, a new theory emerged and multiple personality phenomena were causally linked to psychological childhood trauma. Once this connection was made, drastic changes in patients behaviours and self-beliefs were observed, and as a result, the criteria for the disorder were revised, echoing this hollow instability of social construct. This iterative relationship between the recovery of traumatic memories and dissociative states is no accident. The multiple, or double comes to understand that they are who they are now because of past coping mechanisms. A narrative structure can then be filled in... (Hacking, 1995). One of the defects of the socially constructed nature of illness is that diagnosis is a oneway street: society constructs the disorder (This is flawed, writes Hacking, because the disorder does not really exist, or would not exist until so described). But described by who, and how? Picture Eschers drawing of a hand drawing a hand; or the Impossible Staircase. You might think youre ascending, but you find yourself right back where you started. What happens when we apply this to narrative structures? By introducing Convergence Strange Loop Research (CSLR) as a practice-led methodology for writing about ones own illness, this paper examines the potential to bypass the loop and forge a twoway street, or rather a labyrinth of interlocking alleyways where art and science go hand-in-hand.


Carly-Jay Metcalfe is a Brisbane-based writer of memoir, nonfiction, and fiction. She is currently pursuing her M.Phil is Creative Writing, and has been published in Kill Your Darlings, The Guardian, and Cordite Poetry Review.Carly-Jay was the 2022 winner of the UQP Writing Mentorship, and her debut memoir, ‘Breath’ will be published in March 2024 by UQP.

Bianca Millroy is a PhD candidate in the School of Communication and Arts. Her research interests span creative arts and medical humanities with a focus on the intersections between creative nonfiction and functional neurological disorders.


About Research Seminar and Workshop Series


School of Communication and Arts Research Seminar Series

The research seminar and workshop series occur each semester, each with a different topic and guest speaker from UQ or otherwise.

Friday, 23 Febraury

Hybrid: Online via Zoom and in person at the
SCA Writer's Studio
(Level 6, Michie)

The Szondi Test: Mimetic Desire and the Media of PsychiatryDr Grant Bollmer



Online via Zoom and in-person at the SCA Writer's Studio (Level 6, Michie Building)