You can livestream this ‘sickness and sexuality’ conference to your bed

Bringing together disabled and sick academics, artists, activists and writers
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Publicity poster for the Sick Theories conference. The image is of a pillow covered in roses, and the headline text reads: 'Sick Theories: A trans-disciplinary conference on sickness and sexuality

We only just found out about Sick Theories, a conference at the University of Toronto that brings together 40 chronically ill/disabled activists, academics, writers, artists and educators who will discuss ‘the relationship between sickness and sexuality’.

Aiming to be fully accessible, tickets for the conference (now sold out) were free and open to non-academics. And you can still listen in from your front room or bed via YouTube livestream. But be quick – it’s on today and tomorrow (lucky the UK is five hours ahead of Toronto).

The idea for the conference came to PhD student Margeaux Feldman when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and found the pain and fatigue left her ‘isolated and alone’. Wanting to explore the issues arising from her illness with other likeminded people, she enlisted her friend and colleague Lauren Fournier and used her passion for community building to launch the project. The response was overwhelming (there are currently over 90 people on the waiting list to attend in person).

‘What does it mean to be sick, as opposed to being ill?’

“In Sick Theories,” say Margeaux and Lauren, “we take up this word ‘sick’ and the ways in which it is different from and/or similar to ‘ill’ or ‘disabled’.

“As a word, illness operates to make the realities of sickness more palatable for the neoliberal, capitalist world that depends upon the oppression of the sick body and labels it as unproductive.

“Sickness demarcates the messiness, ugliness, and inexplicable nature of disease, bringing us back to the original meaning of disease as dis-ease. What does it mean to be sick, as opposed to being ill? What directions might critical disability studies, mad studies, sexual diversity studies, and queer theory take us as we reconsider what it means to be sick?”

While we use the word ‘sick’ a little differently in the UK, we’re familiar enough with the North American usage to understand what this is all about (well, just about – we’re brain foggy).

The conference schedule features contributions from people from varied backgrounds considering topics such as performance and art from sick perspectives, representations of sick people, matters of care, sick pleasures and sick futures.

Sick Woman Theory, the eroticism of suffering and living your best slut life

The conference’s keynote is a discussion with contemporary artist and author of Sick Woman Theory Johanna Hedva on their new book On Hell. Panel and workshop topics include: Renee Dumaresque’s “Queering Chronic Vulvar Pain: Erotic Potentialities Cited in Suffering”, “Calling in Sick” with Taraneh Fazeli, and Clementine Morrigan’s “Fucking Crazy: On Complex Trauma, Surviving Sexual Violence, and Living My Best Slut Life”. 

We’re particularly interested in the ‘matters of care’ panel on Friday at 4.15pm UK time (11.15pm EST) because the issue of care as a chronically ill person – ideas about who ‘deserves’ it, how you can go about getting it, and who should provide it – is one we hope to look at more in the magazine.

You can also still donate to their crowdfunder, which aims to meet the costs of full accessibility, including the livestream.

The crowdfunder has a flexible goal of $5000 (which it has nearly reached), and the page offers gifts to donors, including Sick Theories tote bags with illustrations by Sabrina Scott, a “Sick Babe” necklace made especially for Sick Theories by Fierce Deer (made with a 14k gold-filled chain), and book bundles, which includes a signed copy of Johanna Hedva’s On Hell, Hana Shafi’s poetry collection It Begins With the Body, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book of essays, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice.

The YouTube link for the livestream of the conference is here.

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