Sunday, 30 November 2014

Queer Writing Unconference- my presentation on ''the importance of life-writing and personal narrative for people with disability''

Below is a copy of presentation of my paper on ''the importance of life-writing and personal narrative, (telling our own stories, on our own terms) for people with disability' at the Queer Writing Unconference at the Wheeler Centre- 28th/nov/14.

'So where to from here? What does the future look like for queer writing?

I have been asked to specifically speak about the intersections of the disability and queer rights movements and to find a ‘positive way forward’ for both these communities. 

But what I really want to talk to you about is life-writing as a powerful tool for people from minority for self-expression and to advocate for social change.

Chances are that most of you in the audience today are queer and so know the importance of us owning and telling our stories to challenge and change mainstream assumptions. 

This is also true when it comes to disability, to visible difference, it is still rare that our stories, of what it is actually like to live in a non-normative body are represented in the mainstream media in anything other then stereotypical ways and pieces are often written about us, not by us.

You know the stories, someone with a disability attempting to walk, to overcome their impairment and to make this quest the focus of their life, or disability as a horrible tragedy or the parraOlympian super-fit crip striving to overcome adversity and inspire you all. 

I am not that kinda crip and I want more then to buck the stereotype. 

I want to see disability narratives which span the breath of identities and experience. I want to read books and see films, watch soapies in which there are characters with disabilities, but their disability is just part of who they are-they are also a mother, a lover, a goth, a dyke, a hipsta, and their disability is depicted as a valuable rich and positive part of who the person is.

See Disability is story. Disability is a narrative of the body. That’s a quote from one of my favorite disability feminist scholars Rosemarie Garland-Thomson.

This wheelchair elicits a particular kind of story people expect me to tell. You would be surprised at how many people think it is appropriate to open a conversation with ‘’so what happened to you? ‘’ or variations of that. The story they expect is usually one of tragedy, and when I don’t tell it, when I answer with humor or sass I often get a hostile response because I am not telling the story they were expecting to hear, and the social narrative of disability as tragedy is so strong, so pervasive that my telling of a different story renders it unintelligible. 

You may also be surprised that I often get mistaken for a man, because lesbians in wheelchairs just cant exist, that cannot be what these clothes, this hair, is trying to signal. 

Sexuality and disability is one of the biggest struggles of the disability rights movement. We are often viewed as not having a sexuality or being undesirable sexual partners. Making disability, hot, sexy and intriguing forms much basis for much of my written as well as my performance work. 

So one of the questions we were asked to think about panelists today was:

What am I doing to get queer writing out there into the mainstream? 
Well if we want to see change we have to be part of creating it right? 
There could be a debate here about agency, and how discrimination and lack of access in its myriad of ways create in people living with disadvantage a lack of opportunities to enact their personal agency.  

What I am doing? I am writing, and preforming, and producing work with others with disability. I am finding accessible stages, like Hares and Hyena’s and getting up there.

I am telling my own stories, on my own terms. I am not keeping them simple. I am letting them leak out, make a mess, be uncontrollable. 

Sometimes I think the fear of disability comes from it being representative of an uncontrollable body, a changing body, an ill body, a body which will not do as we would like. So I’m letting my body be that. I am letting my voice and body shake in the telling of my story. And in the telling I’m acknowledging my privileges as well as my disadvantages. 

I am privileged to be here to day, to be invited speak on an experience which is often left out, I am privileged to have an higher education, a voice which is easily understandable, to be white. But I am also carrying with me multiple marginalities, being queer, being a lesbian, being disabled, coming from a poor background. 

There is a richness that these identities bring into my life but they also bring struggles. Often I am the only queer person with a disability in a room. I carry the weight of marginality, to be always read in public space as representive of that group, the other.

This space between us and the other can begin to be bridged by telling our stories. In creating accessible and inclusive spaces and platforms our stories can be told and listened. 

I think there is a particular importance for people with disability in proclaiming the personal as political and learning about something called the social model of disability which argues that it is not the disability which disables people with different bodies but the way society is built (inaccessible buildings, transport, housing etc) and attitudes which exclude us from full and equal participation in society. 

Situating ones self as part of a marginalized group fighting for social change has been fundamental in shifting the narrative of my own story and giving me a sense of connection.

Disability identity too is about coming out in a since, forming a positive narrative about what it is to live in this body, also like queer, it is about finding your people, people with a shared experience, reclaiming pejoratives like crip, and disabled and turning them into pride terms. It’s about belonging.

Also I think encouraging different perspectives and voices to emerge within our communities is important. By that I mean that I think there can be an underlying fear within the disability community and the queer community to publicly disagree with each other for fear of being seen as not united.  

We need to create and engage with writing which challenges us, takes us to unexpected, previously unexperienced places and makes us think differently, plays with language and recontextualizes it whilst also being aware of power and privilege.

And well I think ultimately, (and this is just my personal opinion) and one of the key ways disability and queer communities could be brought together is by getting into bed together literally…so next time you see a babe in a chair, don’t be shy…you could be part of creating social change, or just have some hot sex.

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