In this article, Robert McRuer compares compulsory able-bodiedness to compulsory heterosexuality, an idea popularized by Adrienne Rich in her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”. Compulsory heterosexuality is the assumption that it is natural and “normal” for men and women to be attracted to each other and any identities outside of this system are “alternatives.” McRuer suggests compulsory able-bodiedness (the idea of an able-bodied norm) as a parallel to this, claiming that the two are “thoroughly interwoven” with each other. One similarity he points out is that ideal able-bodiedness and ideal heterosexuality are both things to be striven for but are impossible to achieve. “Able-bodied identity and heterosexual identity are linked in their mutual impossibility and in their mutual incomprehensibility…each is an identity that is simultaneously the ground on which all identities supposedly rest and an impressive achievement that is always deferred and thus never really guaranteed” (93). He also states that there is no such thing as true able-bodiedness. To further this parallel, he takes a passage from Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble” and replaces words like “heteronormativity” with “compulsory able-bodiedness” and refers to it as “ability trouble”.
A related point McRuer makes is that compulsory heterosexuality creates queerness and compulsory able-bodiedness creates disability (even though society likes to pretend that it’s the other way around). These “alternatives” are reminders that there is still a superior “norm”.
In the second half of the article, McRuer makes the connection between being queer and being disabled, rather than just paralleling them. He states that if you are heterosexual, having a disability queers you. If you are able bodied, then being queer disables you.
Last, he discusses the difference between virtually vs. critically/severely queer/disabled. Virtual queer identity is “experienced by anyone who failed to perform heterosexuality without contradiction and incoherence” (95). In other words, everyone. Similarly, McRuer says that everyone is virtually disabled, both in the sense that able-bodied norms are ‘intrinsically impossible to embody’ fully and in the sense that able-bodied status is always temporary” (96) (age will eventually disable you).