Queer Intimacies at the End of the World: Disability, Sex, and Zombies in The Walking Dead

Queer Intimacies at End of the World

Book Chapter (pdf)

ABSTRACT: Since its 2010 debut on AMC, The Walking Dead has garnered vast popular and critical attention. Reflecting a cultural obsession with a zombie apocalypse as people navigated an imploded capitalist system that many felt was “the end of the world,” the show raises questions about post-apocalyptic racialization, kinship ties in the absence of social institutions to finance them, and intimacies that include feeding on flesh, disembowelment, and homosocial/homoerotic zombie orgies. Bringing queer disability studies to bear on the show, I ask how intimacies involving live, dead, and living dead bodies—that embody various forms of impairment and disability—can animate queer bonds in excess of hetero- and homonormativities. Little work has examined how popular representation of zombies reflects norms of ability and disability, though zombies embody the gait of cerebral palsy, the communication practices of various cognitive disabilities, and the verbal practices associated with autism and other social/emotional impairments. Simultaneously mapping disability onto the living dead, and mapping death-in-life onto people with disabilities, zombie culture contains some troublingly ableism. However, I read the various intimacies at work in The Walking Dead as also illustrating Mel Chen’s concept of “animacies” in which matter considered dead or insensate (often due to ableism) actually animates various forms of sexual sociality. Ultimately, this essay asks what queer potentials there might be in a cultural form presenting an array of embodiments and intimacies that trouble social boundaries of gender, race, and life itself.

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  • Published:
    Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead. Edited by Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. 106-122.