Tag Archives: disability

bodylandhome

drawing of heart over red grid linesIf you asked it, this body would tell you that it is tired.  That i run it harder than i should.  That i don’t take care of it the way it deserves.  It would tell you about sterile white lights and sterile white voices beaming in on it from every direction.  Demanding results, scouting for hidden keys.  It could show you the places that were dug up, the pieces of it that were taken, the scars on the bodyland that will never fade.  It could show you where tendons were moved, sensation was stolen–a casualty of a battle lost long ago by both sides.

It would show you how i have my sister’s laugh, my father’s face, my mother’s hands and spirit.  It would tell you that there were memories past on that only exist in feeling, color and dreams.  It could recount the strength of my mother’s arms, the way she cried and her pain in letting me go, passing me on to my mother’s joy and oblivion in taking me in. It would tell you that i was already gone.  It would tell you that maybe i was never found and that i am still finding.  It would tell you that it loves me, even though i don’t know how to love it.

If you asked it, it would tell you that we made it through; made it out.  And we are trying to make it home.

(This piece was written at the Azolla Stroy* queer and trans of color disabled and chronically ill love and zine making workshop at the 2010 Allied Media Conference. Thank you to all of the amazing people that were there and shared such powerful, tender, moving and inspiring pieces of yourself.  i love yall.  Look out for the Azolla Story Zine!  *The Azolla Story is a closed online community-movement-home for queer disabled people of color. )

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Wherever You Are Is Where I Want To Be: Crip Solidarity

clasped hands with boldly colored thread twisted around each wrist.I want to be with you.  If you can’t go, then I don’t want to go.  If we are traveling together, sharing political space together, building political family together, then I want to be with you.  I want us to be together.

We resist ableism dividing us.  I resist my disability being pitted against your disability.   We will not be divided.

What does crip solidarity look like?  Between crips?

We are traveling, trying to track down food.  My chair can’t go into this restaurant, your dog isn’t allowed in that restaurant; so we will order in.  You can’t fly to the meeting, so we will come to you—all of us.  They won’t let you go to the bathroom because they say you’re “too slow”, so we will demand they do—and make them wait for you—together.  Sometimes we are comrades, sometimes we are strangers, but we will stay together.  We move together.

I know what it is like to be left behind, left out, forgotten about.  I know you know as well.  We vow to not do that together, to each other.

I am not “giving-up” an evening out with able bodied friends.  This is a glorious evening in with crip love as opposed to a night out without you (and without parts of me).  Loving you more helps me to love me more.  Loving me means loving you.

Because the truth is, I am continually giving-up the able-bodied-washed version of myself that people have come to know.  What I came to know as a disabled child because I never knew things could be any other way.  For most of my life it has been easier to perform a survival able-bodied-friendly version of myself, rather than nurturing the harder to live disabled-self-loving version of who I ache, desire and need to be.  Because it has often meant the difference between a-little-bit-more-connection and a-little-less-isolation.  But what is the point of connection, if you still feel isolated and alienated from your self?  And what is that connection built upon and from?  How do I want to be connected?

And it is not easy.  But being together helps.

And when taxis won’t take us because of one of us, or both of us.  And I can’t use mass transit, but you can.  Then we will use our crip super community powers and do what we do best: make shit happen; make something out of nothing; and survive, one ride, one pill, one stop to rest at a time.  Together.

We will find other ways (create our own ways) and talk liberation and access and interdependency with our comrades.  We will weave need into our relationships like golden, shimmering glimmers of hope—opportunities to build deeper, more whole and practice what our world could look like.  We will practice what loving each other could look like every day.  Courageously.  And we will help each other to do it, in the face of seductive ableism; in the face of isolation as queer people of color, again; in the face of isolation from political community and movements, again.  We will help each other love each other and, in doing so, love ourselves.

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“Intersectionality” is a Big Fancy Word for My Life

(Excerpts from MBGLTACC 2010 Keynote Address)

picture of a green bottle with grass and trees behind it.We have to confront white supremacy within LGBT and Queer communities.  A queer politic MUST include solidarity with people of color; it MUST include fighting racism and white supremacy.  Because we aren’t queer OR people of color; queer OR white; queer OR able bodied; queer OR working class.  We can’t just decide to come together as queer people and expect that we are all going to be united and work together—or that we’ll even feel comfortable.

We must be willing to have hard conversations as queer people with each other about how we are different as queer people.  It helps us to expand what “queerness” is—to see that there are many different ways to be queer.  We can’t be afraid to do our own work at our own tables.  And yes, there is much work to be done out there, with folks who aren’t queer.  Yes, that is important too, but we are outsiders here as well.  Because really, there is no “out there.”

For those of us living with multiple oppressed identities, we know this well.  And as adoptees, we know this well—especially as transracial and transnational adoptees.  As people who straddle many different communities, so much of our work must be done with the people in our own communities.  And we do this work for our very survival, because often times, we do not have a choice not to.  There is literally no where else to go.  Our homes are rarely comfortable. (And I know as queer folks we know something about that too).

To the queer white folks in the audience and the folks who benefit from white privilege, I would ask you: how are you connecting your fight for queer liberation to challenging white supremacy?  How are you connecting your queerness to your white privilege?  How are you listening to queer people of color in your world, supporting them and practicing solidarity?  How are you actively noticing how whiteness, racism and white supremacy play out in queer communities, student groups, organizations, and movements?

Racism and white supremacy are so pervasive, that we don’t even have to be consciously or intentionally doing anything to participate in them.  It’s in the air we breathe; it’s how the machine rolls; it’s the default.  It’s backed by everything in our society.  That’s the thing about oppression, power and privilege: unless you are actively challenging it, you are colluding with it. We live in a heterosexist society, we live in an ableist society and we all have a responsibility to actively work against it. We can’t guarantee that things won’t be ableist or won’t be racist (that’s not the world we live in right now); but we CAN guarantee that when there is racism, when there is ableism, that we will do something about it.  We will LISTEN to those most impacted; we will listen to people of color, we will listen to disabled folks; we will listen to trans folks; we will listen to queer disabled people of color—and hear them.  We can guarantee that we will act and communicate with each other.  And we will make mistakes; and we will learn from them.

There is no such thing as neutrality.  If you have privilege, you can never be neutral, because you are constantly benefiting off of that privilege—even at the same time as you are also being oppressed. That is what “intersectionality” (for lack of a better word) is about.  It is about moving beyond single-issue politics; it’s about understanding the complexities of our lives.  It is understanding that fighting for racial justice IS queer; fighting for disability justice IS queer.

It is trying to understand the way our differences lie down inside of us, as Audre Lorde would say.  It is knowing that heterosexist and patriarchal modes of family and gender and sexuality were used in service of white supremacy as the building blocks used to colonize first nation communities and communities of color and their lands.  It is knowing that women of color’s sexualities and genders are policed everyday (in different ways), whether they identify as queer or not. It is being able to hold the trauma and exploitation of transracial and transnational adoptees, as queer people who often think that transracial and transnational adoption is a valid route to parenting.  It is holding the power of building queer family and new models of parenting AND also challenging compulsory child bearing in a heteronormative culture.  It is knowing that race gets used strategically to divide us all the time as queer people.  That ableism, capitalism and class get used to make us think that independence, freedom and consumer choice are more important than justice and liberation.

“Intersectionality” is a big fancy word for my life; for your life, for our lives.  It encompasses so much more than I could ever talk about in one talk.

Intersectionality is not just talking about the places you’re oppressed, but also the places where you have privilege.  Intersectionality is disabled white folks enacting their white entitlement through their disability identity.  It’s me having to choose between the POC caucus, the disability caucus, the API women’s caucus, or the adoptee caucus at the Creating Change in Detroit.  It’s thousands of LGBT and queer folks coming out for pride and 150 people coming out for Transgender Day of Remembrance…

So I would say the same thing to the queer able-bodied folks in the audience and the folks who benefit from able-bodied privilege (in many different ways):  how are you connecting your fight for queer liberation to challenging able-bodied supremacy?  How are you connecting your queerness to your able-bodied privilege?  How are you listening to queer disabled folks in your world, supporting them and practicing solidarity?  How are you actively noticing how ability, ableism and able-bodied supremacy play out in queer communities, student groups, organizations, and movements?

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everywhere and nowhere

I was talking with my father last night, my adopted father, and telling him that I always felt pretty disconnected from my family that I was raised in, both immediate and extended.  I never felt like I belonged.  I don’t even know what that means, ‘belonging.”  As a transracial and transnational adoptee, queer, disabled, woman of color; all of it.  I  never felt deeply connected to them.  Always felt odd; outsider.

So often it feels like a splitting.  Like a fracturing inside of me.  In a million different pieces; pulling one way and another at the same time.

We belong everywhere and nowhere at once, those of us living with multiple oppressed identities.  We make our homes out of debris, migrating when the storms come—learning how to survive through the rain and snow.  We make our home on the outskirts; on “this thin edge of barbed wire” (Gloria Anzaldua) and learn how to live without comfort.

Sometimes we have traded in parts of ourselves, just to know what it’s like to sit by a warm fire and sleep through the night.  Just to have a break, take a breath and loosen our shoulders.  But, I have found, comfort is never worth splicing myself open or erasing parts of myself.

We try and explain our lives through broken words and “well, it’s kind of like this” or, “no, no, it’s both and.”  But how can you explain the complexities of a life?  How can you explain the silent tearing of ableism?  The way the ocean feels?  The smell of garlic?  Or the color crimson?

I try and explain to my white parents what life was like as an adoptee disabled queer girl of color and we wade through together trying to make sense of a life witnessed from the shore and experienced below the surface.

I say, “I just don’t know where I belong.”  And they are silent because they know.

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Interdependency (exerpts from several talks)

mangroves

It is from being disabled that I heave learned about the dangerous and privileged “myth of independence” and embraced the power of interdependence. The myth of independence being of course, that somehow we can and should be able to do everything on our own without any help from anyone.  This requires such a high level of privilege and even then, it is still a myth.  Whose oppression and exploitation must exist for your “independence?”

We believe and swallow ableist notions that people should be “independent,” that we would never want to have to have a nurse, or not be able to drive, or not be able to see, or hear.  We believe that we should be able to do things on our own and push our selves (and the law) hard to ensure that we can.   We believe ableist heteronormative ideas that families should function as independent little spheres.  That I should just focus on MY family and make sure MY family is fed, clothed and provided for; that MY family inherits MY wealth; that families should not be dependent on the state or anyone else; that they should be “able-bodied,” essentially. We believe the ableist heteronormative racist classist myth that marriage, “independence” as sanctified through the state, is what we want because it allows us to be more “independent,” more “equal” to those who operate as if they are independent—That somehow, this makes us more “able.”

And to be clear, I do not desire independence, as much of the disability rights movement rallies behind.  I am not fighting for independence.   I desire community and movements that are collectively interdependent.

As a disabled person, I am dependanton other people in order to survive in this ableist society;  I am interdependent in order to shift and queer ableism into something that can be kneaded, molded and added to the many tools we will need to transform the world.  Being physically disabled and having mobility needs that are considered “special,” means that I often need people to help me carry things, push my wheelchair, park my car, or lend me an arm to lean on when I walk.   It means that much of my accessibility depends on the person I’m with and the relationship I have with them. Because most accessibility is done through relationships, many disabled people must learn the keen art of maintaining a relationship in order to maintain their level of accessibility.  It is an exhausting task and something that we have had to master and execute seamlessly, in many of the same ways we have all had to master how to navigate and survive white supremacy, heterosexism, our families, economic exploitation, violence and trauma.   This is also one of the main conditions which allow for disabled people to be victims of violence and sexual assault.

As a child, I learned quickly how accessibility often operates.  I learned how to hold multiple relationships at the same time and value them all at once.   I learned how to build out and out and deepen relationships quickly, building bonds with strangers in a matter of minutes in order to be able to ask them to assist me with accessibility.   I understood the importance of having many different kinds of people and relationships operating simultaneously for my own survival.

It is not a coincidence that this anti-ableist understanding of community aligned with and was actually a very politically queer and anti-heteronormative understanding of community as well.  The idea that we can understand the richness and diversity of many different types of relationships at once, not merely having to base them on narrowly defined notions of biology and legal marriage-bonds.   That we don’t have to rely on the state to define our family, parents, children and lovers.  That we can be the ones who define what love and desire look like and, in fact, that the current dominant models of relationship and love have been constructed by the very conditions and systems we are fighting against.

Interdependency is not just me “dependent on you.”  It is not you, the benevolent oppressor, deciding to “help” me.   It is not just me who should be grateful for whatever I can get.   (and we can think about this as it relates to service provision, as it relates to political organizing, right?)

Interdependency is both “you and I” and “we.”  It is solidarity, in the best sense of the word.  It is inscribing community on our skin over and over and over again.   It is truly moving together in an oppressive world towards liberation and refusing to let the personal be a scapegoat for the political.  It is knowing that one organization, one student or community group is not a movement.  It is working in coalition and collaboration.

Because the truth is: we need each other.  We need each other.  And every time we turn away from each other, we turn away from ourselves.  We know this.  Let us not go around, but instead, courageously through.

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Creating Change Award Acceptance Speech, February 2008

Creating Change Award Acceptance Speech, February 2008

Can also be found on the S.O.N.G. website.

Thank you to NGLTF for honoring me with one of the Creating Change awards.

I think it is important to say that I’m here today as a young, queer, disabled, API woman of color transracial and transnational adoptee, living and organizing in the Southeast–none of which are more or less important than each other. I use the term “disabled,” not just as a descriptive term, but as a political identity, experience and way of understanding the world. And I don’t know if many of you know this, but I’ve just learned that I am the second disabled person and the first disabled person of color to be honored with this award.

I want to honor all of the queer disabled folks who are here and honor the disabled folks who are not here with us, but who are resisting and surviving the devastating affects of ableism everyday, especially those who are LGBT/queer, people of color, institutionalized, living in rural areas, and who couldn’t afford to attend this conference. Those of us who know that we cannot separate heterosexism from ableism and allow disability issues to be seen as secondary issues. Those of us who push disability into the conversation, even when it is hard and unpopular. Those of us who are not part of the non-profit industrial complex and who don’t work for an organization, but who’s activism and work is no less valuable. Those of us who are living at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and disability and know that multi issue politics are not just a winning strategy, but indeed, they are the only way that we will survive.

We all need to bring disability into our work and confront ableism as a major system of oppression that works, hand in hand with heterosexism to oppress queer people. We can not talk about bodies with out talking about disability. It means something to be queer and disabled

Now, I want you all to know, that access at this conference has been hard for a lot of my fellow LGBT/Queer people with disabilities. From accessibility of conference rooms, to the layout and structure of this building, flash photography, to the lack of closed captioning on the large screens. And I say this, not to shame or blame anyone, but I say this because we should all know what is going on in OUR community; in this space that we ALL participate in creating. And when members of our community are not able to bring their full selves to the table that is a problem, especially when this should be a space for them to do so. I share this with you because it can not only be the Disability Oppression and Access Committee and the Accessibility Subcommittee of the Creating Change Host Committee who has these conversations. These are critical conversations for us all to be having. We all need to acknowledge the small and big ways we participate in making it harder for someone else to exist.

And it goes beyond access, beyond just making things accessible–just bringing people in. Like moving from progressive LBGT politics to a politic of queer liberation. We have to talk about the culture of ableism that exists within our movements, the way our parties and leisure time are structured, the way we think about people’s capacity and how we perpetuate this idea that we must push ourselves and our bodies to the point of exhaustion. Mingling at a reception is very difficult when you are trying to balance a drink and food and conversation and music and lighting and space among other things.

Ableism must be included in our analysis of oppression and in our conversations about heterosexism, transphobia, and homophobia.  Ableism cuts across all of our movements because ableism dictates how bodies should function against a mythical able-bodied standard of white supremacy, heterosexism, sexism, economic exploitation, moral/religious beliefs, age and ability.  Ableism set the stage for queer and trans people to be institutionalized as mentally disabled; for intersexed babies to be routinely operated on at birth; for communities of color to be understood as less capable, smart and intelligent, therefore “naturally” fit for slave labor; for women’s bodies to be used to produce children, when, where and how men needed them; for PWD to be seen as “disposable” in a capitalistic and exploitative culture because we are not seen as “productive;” for immigrants to be thought of as a “disease” that we must “cure” because it is “weakening” our country; for violence, cycles of poverty, lack of resources and war to be used as systematic tools to construct disability in communities and entire countries.

And you know, there are still many people who have disabilities who don’t “come out” as disabled, who don’t recognize (or are afraid to voice that recognition) the power of their experience as being valuable, political and fierce! And we cannot be part of that kind of ableist oppression. We must work to be radical allies–to commit to learning, asking and doing more. We must not allow ourselves to use ableist language or to reinforce the idea that somehow having a disability makes you less than, boring, unimportant, ugly, or “other”– when in fact, being disabled makes you awesome, the life of the party, hot, beautiful and sexy!

And I don’t believe this everyday, and actually, I struggle a lot (a lot) to get there–when I keep forgetting that I am worth something and have to keep searching and asking and finding my way back. But the truth is, this is the work: to hold the vision and dream of what is possible and to incorporate it into our lives. To love ourselves and each other enough to risk helping each other back to that place of hope, to keep returning, returning to what we know is important: that we can not do this work alone and that the process is just as important as the outcome and informs who we are and the work we do. There’s a quote I love and it says: “in doing, one becomes the do-er.” And this is my work, our work: to DO–to practice community, justice and liberation which IS community, justice and liberation.

So I would like to accept this award on behalf of all the queer disabled women of color out there who are searching for services, books, movements, caucuses, communities that can hold all of who we are; on behalf of the radical transracial adoptee movement that is building a body of work, rooted in people’s lived experiences to critique and challenge transracial and transnational adoption; on behalf of all of us on the front lines of gender, sexuality and building relationships and ways of loving that are not rooted in ownership and entitlement of our bodies; on behalf of all the folks in the south and south east who are organizing and resisting and loving and healing and building each day; and for everyone, who struggles for and DOES liberation.

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For Caster Semenya, With Love

GREEN HEART JPGThis is an outpouring of love for Caster Semenya. Wrong is not her name. What is wrong is the way she has been treated in global media. As three queer women, we have struggled with our own relationship to the feminine as it has been constructed in mainstream society. As a black woman set adrift in a sea of whiteness, it was hard to see myself as beautiful. My curves and skin color made me unattractive in my world. As a white, feminine woman who is also intersex, I have struggled hard to come to peace with my body. Doctors and the world around me have told me I am defective or have denied my existence entirely. As a disabled Korean adoptee, I grew up as an outsider, rarely seeing people who moved like me or reflected me in my community or in the media. I was constantly told that my body was something that needed to be “fixed;” that it was “wrong;” and that it, that I, was “undesirable.” We engage with each other as comrades, three queer women uniquely shaped by our lived identities and experiences. We were the odd ones out, queered by our bodies, but later we claimed our queerness with fierce intention and pride. Now we choose our difference, embrace what sets us a part from a constrictive mainstream. It is for these reasons that we feel a deep kinship with Caster Semneya. Her story unfolded internationally without her consent and knowledge. We write to right wrongs done to someone whose only crime was daring to be all that she is…

As disability justice activists, we must connect how ableism gets leveraged in service of heteronormativity, in service of white supremacy, in service of misogyny. Ableism gets used all the time to divide us and we must fight it at every turn. How do we begin to understand that it was Caster’s extraordinary able-bodied and gender-non-conforming abilities that threatened ableist notions of gendered bodies and propelled the exposure of her gender through the use of a medical “gender test” to expose her sex. This is not just about defining what a “woman” is, it is also about defining what a “normal body” is and what “able-bodied” is and what it is not; it is about defining what “intersex” is and what it’s not.

We must understand how the medical industrial complex and science are being used to profit off of our bodies and medicalize our genders, our abilities, and render, in this case, an 18 year old intersex South African black woman a spectacle for the world to stare at, gawk at, and examine—at her expense. We must see how this spectacle is connected to the spectacle made of disabled bodies everyday behind closed doors, in sterile white rooms, under florescent lights, in homes, at family dinners, birthday parties, a trip to the mall, to the park, down the street.

To read the full blog post, visit:  http://4castersemenya.blogspot.com

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