Here is the second installment of my theoretical/graphic memoir on disability, visibility, and gender! Previously: Part 1
Image descriptions can be found below the .jpgs; click the images for larger versions. Should you need more background on the “Supercrip” trope, a piece that I wrote for Bitch on the topic (all the way back in 2009) is cited on page 7.
Note: The following graphic work was part of my Master’s thesis. Rather than letting it sit and collect dust–and, just as crucially, now that I have a bit of distance from it–I have decided to share it. It will run on DI in several parts; since the chapters are quite long, I’ll be dividing it up for maximum readability. Image descriptions can be found below the .jpgs; click the images for larger versions.
When it comes to actually sitting down and writing, there seems to always be something mental or physical that’s in my way. I suck at poetry, so no writing poetry for me, even if it’s just two or three lines. Short stories? I am terrible at those, too, although I occasionally manage to write one and then forget about it, only to find it years later stuffed away in one of the 25 or so computer desktop folders that I’ve created for my writing. I tried writing a sci-fi novel once, starting when I was 13, stuck to it for a good two years, and only gave up entirely when my very own case of major depressive disorder in high school basically sucked that one out of me.
I am a multiply disabled gay dude with lefty-queer feminist politics living in San Francisco. Last year, I made the decision to put my health (my mental health in particular) first. That meant ending a long relationship that had come to an extremely unhealthy place. It was the hardest decision I had made thus far. Before I began my road to recovery, I embraced my single life with vigor: I partied, I was ecstatic, I was charismatic, I dated several people at one time, I didn’t hold my liquor, I was high as a kite, I had uneventful encounters with men, led men on, I smoked cigarettes like I was born with one in my hand–and I knew, fun as all of this was, that the gig wasn’t going to last much longer.
While I was highly aware of what I was doing during this period and have no regrets whatsoever, I wasn’t putting my health first. I needed to come to a stable place in my life after all the noise and drama of the previous four years since my diagnosis. In order to do so, I made the tough decision to pull out of the bar scene for a while. Being single and gay in the city dovetails with being in a bar or club. Fun as the scene is, my path to recovery butted heads with meeting potential paramours in loud, sweaty bars. I chose to be alone and invested time in friendships and my work. I was never a heavy drinker, but drinking and staying out until 2 AM was no longer an option for me. Doing so would not give me the steady sleep pattern that I now know I need in order to control my mental stability. But that was how I met men in order to go out with them–perhaps that is how many of us meet potential paramours. It isn’t an option for me anymore, however, and I am more than okay with that. Tempting as it can be, I am no longer up for a lost weekend. It was hard to pull back from all that fabulous wild abandon, but once I found my way to health, good things happened. I am now published, which is something I thought would not happen for a long time.
–From Wikipedia’s entry on Heaven’s Gate (content warning on link for description of suicide and photos)
I’ve been fascinated with the Heaven’s Gate cult ever since I saw–as an 11 year-old–a huge photograph of the members’ dead bodies, apparently peacefully posed on bunkbeds, on the front page of my local paper, under the rather alarmist headline (and all-caps) headline HOUSE OF HORROR. As I picked up bits and pieces of information on the group that the news media breathlessly reported throughout April and May of 1997, I began to wonder if the “house of horror” headline was overblown; yes, these folks had committed mass suicide, but they had also found people to whom they could relate and live with peacefully (albeit in a fringe religious group). Was that so horrifying? To most people–and to the media–it seemed like the answer was a resounding yes.
An odd thing happens to me–at least once every few months–when I go out in public. It’s been happening since I was a teenager, and my most “visible” disability back then was a pronounced limp on my left side. Strangers seem very eager to try to engage me in conversation about the fact that I have a limp, or (more recently) that I use a cane.
I’ll be going about my day and/or doing things that lots of people do–running errands, going to see friends, going out for lunch–and, like the worst clock ever, on some days the annoying alarm of someone being concerned or just curious goes off:
Recently, the Tumblr blog Chronic Femmes–which positioned itself as a resource for chronically ill femmes–was the subject of controversy after one of its moderators answered a reader question by saying that it was important for people with chronic pain, chronic health issues, or mental health issues to not “[appropriate] disabled” when identifying themselves as chronically ill (along with some other problematic statements, such as one’s disability status only counts if that person can receive or currently receives public assistance because of their disability). Many Tumblr users with chronic pain and health issues took exception to this–although the moderator who wrote the response, Kendall, quickly apologized for her mistake, the incident itself demonstrates a common misconception about chronic pain and illnesses that feature chronic pain as a symptom–that neither are “really” disabling or debilitating.
On many standard demographic questions, you may be asked to select your sexual orientation from a drop-down menu or a checklist. Most questions allow you to choose among heterosexual/straight, homosexual/gay/lesbian, and bisexual. (Many mistakenly list “transgender” as a sexual orientation.) More inclusive options may also allow you to choose among pansexual, polysexual, androsexual, gynosexual, or skollosexual.
But for many of us, none of these terms seem to fit.
Love your body! Stop hating your body; start a revolution! These are just a few of the popular third wave slogans that are fairly well-entrenched as directives, or at least as aspirations, within feminist activism both online and off. There’s Love Your Body Day, sponsored annually by the National Organization for Women (NOW), Love Your Body weeks on various college campuses around North America, and thousands, if not millions, of web pages, graphics, and digital art pieces online that celebrate this theme and encourage women to do so every day. Many liberal feminists have proclaimed that body image –and a matching emphasis on loving your body–is “the” issue for the third wave, as this widely-anthologized essay by Amelia Richards explores.
At a basic level, LYB discourse can be a very positive thing, and it’s often a good stepping-stone for women who are new to feminist ideas. But it’s this very basic quality that can limit–and does –which kinds of bodies are acceptable to reclaim, have pride in, and even love. A cursory Google search for “love your body” brings up a plethora of images of white, visibly abled, young, cisgender, straight, and/or acceptably thin women encouraging other women to love their own bodies. From this cursory Google search, I found one image–the NOW Foundation’s LYB 2009 contest-winning poster designed by Lisa Champ–that shows a variation on the woman clip-art symbol with a (visible) disability. This single image was more than I was expecting to find, but even with this limited representation, there are still problems in how LYB discourse is built for and around abledness–not least of which is its leaving out of disabled bodies. The complex relationships that many women with disabilities of all kinds have with their bodies are left out as well.