Polio & Repro-Time

I never expected my Epidemics in History class to have anything to do with this class.  And then I was reading primary source documents for my final paper and as the patients were explaining how they contracted polio and then how it affected their lives I just kept thinking about repro-time.

The document I was reading is “Polio Voices: An Oral History form the American Polio Epidemics and Worldwide Eradication Efforts.”  Essentially it is a compilation of firsthand accounts of polio victims.  After writing my history paper I went back and looked at the narrations to look at how polio affected repro-time or how the victims said polio affected their lives in terms of repro-time.

Samuel McKnight was born with polio because his mother contracted it while she was pregnant.  His mother eventually died of the disease.  McKnight was raised by his grandparents and his father left because of the damage caused by polio.

Priscilla Dewey Houghton sent her children away after she contracted polio in the hope that they would be spared the disease.  Later he son said he felt deprived by having his mother taken away from him at that stage of his life.  The boy was five when he was sent away.

Fred Bloom built a house for his family and his brother’s.  Specifically the house had a level that was wheelchair accessible for his quadriplegic brother.

Carol Cox was denied enrollment to public school in the first grade because she had suffered from polio.

Edward O’Connor said “you lied a lot because you couldn’t tell potential employers that you had polio – you would never get hired.”

Judith Ellen Hewmann said that the disability she suffered because of polio was worse than the disease.  She was disabled before there was any kind of legislation in our government and she also suffered a lack of employment.

During one of our class lectures my professor stated that during the highpoint of the polio epidemic marriages often suffered.  Specifically she stated that women who suffered paralysis to their arms were more likely to have their marriages end and/or it was rare for them to marry or remarry.

It isn’t groundbreaking to say that illness affects lives in a critical way but I thought it was really interesting to see how drastically polio influenced changes — particularly if you had to live the remainder of your life in an iron lung.   While reading this document I started to think if there was ever a time when repro-time actually existed.  All throughout our existence there has been disease to disrupt our lives so maybe that’s all the more reason to ignore repro-time because it is legitimately just in our heads.

Silver, Julie, and Wilson, Daniel. ”Polio Voices.” London, England: Praeger. 24-91.


— Megan Hruska


Falls City

Living in a rural community probably made it easier for Brandon to pass as a man initially, but it set him up for a difficult experience after being ‘found out’. Falls City, Nebraska is a small, homogenous town, any difference was seen as wrong and cast out. Members of the community were not used to being around a racially or sexually diverse population, so when they met Brandon Teena they were not alarmed because they did not have previous experience with people of differing sexual identities. There was never really a need to question whether a person in the town was gay or not because it was assumed that everyone was heterosexual even if they were a little effeminate or butch. The town didn’t even have the vocabulary or social awareness to understand Brandon’s explanations, which might be why he tried to explain through words like “hermaphrodite” and “sexual identity crisis”. They only seemed to take into account a black-and-white difference of male or female genitalia as the deciding factor, everyone besides Lana. Lana knew it wasn’t her business to demand an answer or a peak below the pants, and even if she did want to know she had the respect not to show it. The huge scandal became whether or not Brandon was a man, instead of whether or not Brandon was raped and by whom. Tom and John seemed to feel violated by the fact that they were being ‘fooled’ the whole time and had a right to do whatever they wanted now that Brandon was a girl. Lana’s mother said that she told the police nobody had the right to rape Brandon, but yet she felt as though she had the right to force Brandon to drop his pants and prove his sexual identity to her. 

-Annie Grant


Jenna Talackova

On Tuesday, March 27th CNN posted an article about Jenna Talackova.  She is a Canadian beauty pageant contestant who had been selected as one of 65 finalists to compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant.  However, organizers of the competition have disqualified Jenna because she is transgender and they claim that rules state that contestants must be naturally born females.  The article states that upon the “discovery” the organizers decided that Jenna had lied and no longer met the requirements of the competition.  

The article also states the Jenna sees her disqualification as an act of prejudice and there might be legal action on her part.  Also, the article says that the Facebook page of Miss Universe Canada has been flooded with comments, one in particular stating that the “Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.” 

The timing of this event/article is really interesting considering our Halberstam reading and the viewing of The Brandon Teena Story.  As I read the article and the comments on the article I kept relating the situation with Jenna to some things Halberstam wrote.  Halberstam writes that Brandon’s masculinity posed a threat to male masculinity and I was thinking that perhaps a reason Jenna was disqualified was because she also posed a threat.  Maybe to other people Jenna is a threat because she doesn’t possess the masculinity they are demanding of her or that they would make them comfortable.  

“As so many transexuals will attest, the voice can be a powerful gender marker for the person trying to pass, and the ‘wrong’ voice can confuse or even anger an unsuspecting listener who may have already made a confident gender attribution that must not be reversed” (108).  This quote stuck out to me because it sounds exactly like what happened to Jenna.  The people she had “fooled” are now angry and her disqualification is their backlash.  Perhaps that is not true and they actually think they are following the rules but the defensive comments on the article nearly all have an angry tone and are from people sticking up for the organizers.  No matter what happens, Jenna’s life is completely different depending on how much attention this story gets in Canada/abroad.  


— Megan Hruska

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Reading


This week in class we talked about the Butler and Halberstam’s critiques of Paris is Burning. With respect to relationships between drag contestants, Butler clearly outlines the difference between seeing and reading; seeing is accepting something/someone for face value without questioning their representation or reality, while reading is presuming a gap between representation and reality. This argument is similar to Halberstam’s explanation of realness and real in which those who aspire to obtain realness (aka passing or appearing authentic) may not always want to be real. More specifically, those who participate in ball culture and dress as women may not always desire to fully become women.

Halberstam also points out the importance and function of houses in which contestants garner identity based on competition. This competition may take the form of reading other contestants, which allows them to demonstrate loyalty to their houses while showing off their own skills at pointing out the flaws of others. In RuPaul’s Drag Race, contestants were required to read each other during one of the competitions. The video I included is a clip of that episode in which you can see the dynamics present during a reading as well as the differences between reading another contestant and being hurtful or mean, a line that is often blurred in instances such as this. Personally, I find the process of reading others to be an entertaining event, but I wouldn’t want to be the one being read.

-Krystal McKenzie