Saturday, 6 May 2017

Home. Finding home. Coming home.

“I am looking for friends and allies, communities where gawking, gaping, staring finally turns to something else, something true to the bone. Places where strength is softened and tempered, love honed and stretched. Where gender is more than a simple binary. Places where we encourage each other to swish and swagger, limp and roll, and learn the language of pride. Places where our bodies become home.”
-Eli Clare. 

This quote has stayed with me for the last 7 years, it hit me in the chest the first time I read it. I carry it around in the marrow of my bones, in those places deep inside ourselves where truth lives, where healing happens.

I spent my childhood exiled from my body, trying to create as much distance as possible from what it actually feels like to live inside this skin, how it feels to have my muscles tense uncontrolledly.

I wished daily for a normal body. I wished for it mostly because I was subjected to painful procedures by doctors and daily painful therapy by my mum in an effort to straighten this bent body.

But clearly I was never meant to be straight. *Ladies*

All the medical interventions achieved was years of feeling profoundly ashamed and disconnected from myself. The idea that I could feel at home inside myself was unthinkable to 16-year-old me, that I could feel pride and love my body, just as it is and not wish to change it, that my body would become central to my identity and lifes work in disability rights.


Calling this body home is an ongoing act of resistance and resilience when society tell me in a myriad of ways that I don't belong. From the buildings I cannot access, to the god damn stairs that are everywhere, to the gawking, gaping and staring that I am subject to every time I go out in public, to the inaccessible trams that map this city which I cannot access, which tell me clearly I do not belong, that I am not equal, in this city which I call home.


Finding home. 

Coming home.

She says "I love how you have a sound, that is different to how everyone else sounds. The turn of your tires, the touch of your hands to your wheel rims, a soft sound of metal, muscle and skin moving together. I love that I can hear you coming home, wheeling up the ramp, moving about the house and know it is you and it is familiar and beautiful. I love how you move in your chair, and how your body has a rhythm and sway to it that is just yours."


She calls me home, into the sinews of my muscles which bend and curl, says she loves how un-straight I am and names the parts that refuse to be straightened and kisses them, draws them out into the light.


Love should push you to the edges of yourself and give you courage to go to those edges, to do the things that expand you and make you grow, but it should also give you a soft space to land, a sense of comfort and belonging and acceptance. It should call you home.

I am no longer ashamed. I am proud.

I have found reclamation and pride in the experiences and knowledge of other people with disabilities as they find ways to reclaim their bodies too, as they call their bodies home and do so proudly, boldly and unapologetically.

I want to end with a poem called You Get Proud by Practicing by disability activist Laura Hershey:

If you are not proud
For who you are, for what you say, for how you look;
If every time you stop
To think of yourself, you do not see yourself glowing
With golden light; do not, therefore, give up on yourself.
You can get proud.

You do not need
A better body, a purer spirit, or a Ph.D.
To be proud.
You do not need
A lot of money, a handsome boyfriend, or a nice car.
You do not need
To be able to walk, or see, or hear,
Or use big, complicated words,
Or do any of those things that you just can’t do
To be proud. A caseworker
Cannot make you proud,
Or a doctor.
You only need more practice.
You get proud by practicing.

There are many many ways to get proud.
You can try riding a horse, or skiing on one leg,
Or playing guitar,
And do well or not so well,
And be glad you tried
Either way.
You can show
Something you’ve made
To someone you respect
And be happy with it no matter
What they say.
You can say
What you think,
though you know
Other people do not think the same way, and you can keep saying it, even if they tell you
You are wrong.

You can add your voice
All night to the voices
Of a hundred and fifty others
In a circle
Around a jailhouse
Where your brothers and sisters are being held
For blocking buses with no lifts,
Or you can be one of the ones
Inside the jailhouse,
Knowing of the circle outside.
You can speak your love
To a friend
Without fear.
You can find someone who will listen to you
Without judging you or doubting you or being
Afraid of you
And let you hear yourself perhaps
For the very first time.
These are all ways
Of getting proud.
None of them
Are easy, but all of them
Are possible.
You can do all of these things,
Or just one of them again and again.
You get proud
By practicing.

Power makes you proud, and power
Comes in many fine forms
Supple and rich as butterfly wings.
It is music
when you practice opening your mouth
And liking what you hear
Because it is the sound of your own
True voice.

It is sunlight
When you practice seeing
Strength and beauty in everyone,
Including yourself.
It is dance when you practice knowing
That what you do
And the way you do it
Is the right way for you
And cannot be called wrong.
All these hold
More power than weapons or money
Or lies.
All these practices bring power, and power
Makes you proud.
You get proud
By practicing.

Remember, you weren’t the one
Who made you ashamed,
But you are the one
Who can make you proud.
Just practice,
Practice until you get proud, and once you are proud,
Keep practicing so you won’t forget.

You get proud
By practicing.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Review of 'Pulse', the centrepiece of Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2017

The centrepiece of the 2017 Melbourne Queer Film Festival was a film called 'Pulse' 
and was billed by #MQFF as:
''Mixing sexuality and teen angst with an undercurrent of sci-fi, this bold fantasy follows a gay disabled teen who undergoes a mysterious procedure that gives him the body of a young able-bodied woman in order to pursue his love object. Exploring how our bodies shape who we are and how we are perceived, Pulse is a modern day parable for the young, the queer, the disabled and for anyone who has ever struggled with their sexuality, their desires, and essentially, themselves. We are excited to be screening this debut feature from writer/actor Daniel Monks & director Stevie Cruz-Martin (Marrow, MQFF2016) as the Centrepiece presentation''. My take on it as a queer disabled person myself is somewhat different. I did not find it to be a parable for my life but instead found it to be reinforcing disability stereotypes and sexism. 

I wrote the following review on my personal Facebook page that evening after returning from the #MQFF screening, and published it on my public activist page the following day. 

Daniel Monk plays the lead, a gay guy with disability (in real life and the film). The premise of the film is that he feels terrible about his disabled body and "dick that doesn't really work" and is in love with his straight best friend, so he undertakes a full body transplant to become cis-gendered, able bodied, slim, conventionally gorgeous woman in order to pursue his best friend and to escape his disabled body.

You can see the trailer here

When he told his mum he wanted to have a female body transplant his mothers reaction was to say "You're not a transvestite are you?" To which a lot of the audience members laughed. At a Queer Film Festival! As though to want to transition to a different gender is a funny thing for our queer community to still consider, and that using the wrong language for this is also hilarious. (he identifies as a guy, but just appears to think it would be easier to be female bodied because of his attraction to (straight) men. and his assumption that he cannot be sexually desirable as a person with a disability, which is underpinned by his homophobia and ableism and his desire to experience the privilege of normatively and heterosexuality.)

To say that it is ableist is an understatement, he wrote the script and he literally says "I'm not a poor helpless cripple anymore." and cries 30 minutes into the film about how much he hates his life and himself because he is disabled. As a cis-gendered woman, he goes and has a lot of drunken sex, his body as a woman is treated by him and everyone else as nothing more than a sex object throughout the film.

At one point in the film he appears to have been sexually assaulted, and yet no one in the film seeks to address this or see it as an issue, including the lead himself. He has a confrontation with his mum about him sleeping with her boyfriend in which he implies that he wouldn't be behaving the way he is if she hadn't had all these boyfriends and slept around. Talk about slut shaming! In fact the only reason why he transitions back is because he can't trust himself to not behave like a "slut" in a conventionally beautiful female able body. When his friend says "I'm not retarded" at one point, the audience also laughed, because you know, ableist language is still a joke.

I'm not saying he doesn't struggle throughout the film, he is going through shit around homophobia and ableism clearly, I'm just so bone tired of seeing this narrative perpetuated over and over again of disability as this horrible tragedy, and of course you'd want to be normal and escape it if you could.

He is shown for literally 10 minutes at the end of the film where he is back in his old body dancing, and looking at his impaired arm and joking with an (assumed queer) male companion as though he has somewhat come to terms with his own internalised ableism and homophobia, except it doesnt really explore this in any depth or detail compared to the homophobic ableist narrative for literally 90% of the film.

The deeply sad and heartbreaking thing for me as a proud queer disabled person is that this film will be lauded as provocative and ground-breaking because of the subject matter it deals with, when you know what would really be provocative and groundbreaking is to showcase a film for our queer community that dealt with disability pride, disability rights and a film that really challenged people to think differently about disability.

Stella Young said it best when she said:
''Disability does not make you exceptional but questioning what you think you know about it does.'' This film does not do that, in fact it does the exact opposite.