DISOWNING I hate it I don’t want to talk about it I am ashamed I don’t want people to know that I am broken. I am less valuable than someone who is whole You cannot see that I am disabled I hope that, if I pretend hard enough, you will accept me as disabled (despite looking whole) I hope you know and I hope you don’t know that I am mouldy under my skin, that I am unfit for consumption. OWNING Why is it great to be broken? Why is it great to be sick? Why should we seek imperfection? If something cannot function, it can no longer be defined by it’s function. it may be scraped, disposed of, forgotten. But it’s now free to define itself – outside of the narrow, utilitarian definition it was previously given. it may need to redefine itself from within the scrap heap or the bin, but it can do it. The rotten apple is no longer washed, packaged and sold for consumption, like it’s perfect brethren. The rotten apple is free to reveal and revel in it’s own self, it’s own brokenness, it’s own mould.
Some people cry quietly because they have learnt that loud crying brings aggression and attack, not kind words
Some people cry quietly because they know there is no-one to hear them anyway
Some people cry quietly because they are ashamed
Some people cry quietly because they think they are quiet people
Some people cry quietly because they do not think their pain is worthy of noise
Some people cry quietly because they think they must be strong
I am worthy and I am valid.
and it is OK to cry
and it is OK to cry loudly
and it’s OK to cry where people see it
cry visibly if you want to
Because every person has cried at some point.
it is your right to cry loudly if you want to
There is strength in a visible cry
There is pride and power in it’s noise
I have developed a new daily practice of letter writing. Tis is where I write a letter to someone who has either greatly inspired me/my process or someone who has greatly angered me.
Here is the first I wrote, to musician Mary Lambert:
Thank you for being bi-polar, overweight, disorganised , gay and humanely imperfect.
When I listen to Secrets I fell I can celebrate myself as you celebrate yourself and anyone who has ever had to hide, smother or disown parts of themselves.
I am an artist, making work about people who fall intothe “other” of society. I am mentally ill, queer, overly and overtly political and have beautiful hairy armpits. I fall into otherness however hard I have tried not to in the past. I have chosen to claim my otherness as my source of power.
Doing this can be lonely. it can be dangerous. I can receive ignorance, aggression and disrespect for openly expressing my politics. I still hide them, sometimes, despite myself.
I am performing “woman” as a femme queer…. which can make the love life a bit complicated. I love the people and communities who sometimes don’t like me. Listening to Secrets reminds me that this is OK, that I am doing the right thing. My path may be lonely, but I will find (and have already found) the most amazing of people.
I am lucky, and Secrets reminds me of that.
Thanks you Thanks you Thank you
What you do is wonderful. Please continue to be your spectacular, extraordinary self.
With all the love you, I, and everyone so rightly deserves
Unnatural proportions – too long, too many,
No eyes, or non-human eyes
Withered, bleeding things – suggestions of decay or sickness
Slimy and/or skeletal
Weapons – teeth, claws, sharp pointy things
Almost human but not quite
How can this become a source of strength?
To be monstrous is a good position for attack. You can intimidate and scare. You are less likely to come under attack. You are able to defend yourself.
What makes us feel pity?
There is an innate lack of respect in pity. Very few people want to be pitied, even if they want help. To be pitied suggests you have no power of your own, you are a total victim of circumstance, there is nothing you can do about it. It removes your human-ness.
Children receive it more readily
Self-pity: again, seeing ourselves as a victim, unjustly treated, ‘there’s nothing I can do the world is against me’
How can this become a source of strength?
If people pity you they do not see your human-ness, but they are more likely to do things for you in a charitable way. If you are begging, invoking pity may get you more money. You can use a sense of guilt to manipulate people into doing things for you
Disabled people are put on a pedastool and tell people how they overcame the challenges of their disability and SO CAN YOU!
There’s nothing wrong with telling people about your experience of disability. I do it a lot! It’s the ‘freak show’ tones to it that are unhelpful. Able bodied people are not watching a fellow human describe a life, they see an ‘other’ describing a life totally beyond the grasp of ‘normal’ people. It reaffirms the ‘normalness’ of the able bodied watcher, whilst telling them to feel guilt that they haven’t done more with their lives. It suggests that to be disabled is the defining factor in disabled people’s experience, which it often isn’t. It suggests that disabled people strive to do things JUST LIKE ABLE BODIED PEOPLE, often in the form of sports. To achieve physical strength and fitness seems to be the main goal, because disability makes you weak. Obviously.
How can this become a source of strength?
This should be the easiest of the four to gain power from, as the disabled person has the attention of many people. However, I feel it is difficult to gain power from this interaction as whatever you, the listener has already heavily coloured yours words with ableist ideology. Any respect they have for you is based on your disabled identity, not on you. I suppose you get a platform to speak on, with large audiences. You can send messages of body positivity and be a role model to disabled people who feel society has written them off.
This is a real challenge, as seemingly EVERYTHING in our world is gendered. Objects, flaura, fauna, minerals all seem gendered. The closest to genderless/sexless I can see is a matt, possibly plastic, human form with no genitals of sex based features (breasts, waists, hips). This is a very objectifying and dehumanising image. However, identifying as genderless ISN’T a dehumanising act. It is merely social perceptions that say a human cannot exist with a sex or a gender. For disabled people, their right to express their gender, sexuality, lust and love are suppressed. It is assumed they cannot have sex or have children. It is suggested that for them to have children would be bad because their children would also be disabled.
How can this become a source of power?
The freedom of generlessness can be a source of power. You no longer have to adhere to gender roles and aesthetics. You are no longer valued on your ability to perform sexual acts or to reproduce. You have ownership over your body.
Why are none of the images below depictions of my femme identity?
They depict me performing gender, yes, because (I believe) all gender is performed. In all of them I am wearing ‘girly’ clothes, sometimes sexual clothes, make up and long hair – classic hallmarks of Femme. But none of these images show a femme woman.
These images were taken of me between the ages of 16 and 19. I was living with anorexia, depression and anxiety. My costume choices were not an ownership of my gender. They were chosen because I did not know I had a choice. I thought that to be successful as a girl I needed to appeal to masculine sexuality. I was known for my immaculate dress in college, but getting ready to leave the house was not a joyful experience but a stressful (and often panic-inducing) necesity.
On joining CPP I underwent a big revelation. Firstly, I wasn’t straight. Gender was a performance. I didn’t have to wear make-up, or shave, or wear heels! In fact, shaving and wearing heels was innately disempowering and showed that you conformed to patriarchal values.
This was OK, for a while. But I began to realise that although these clothes aligned with my feminist politics, I didn’t really enjoy wearing them that much. I didn’t feel sexy or, in fact, comfortable. I knew things had gone wrong when my mum pointed out a hole in my jumper and then said “oh, don’t worry. People expect you to wear things like that”.
I realised that I didn’t want to be someone people expected to wear hole-ey jumpers.
This may all seem a bit non-relevant to my process. Who cares what clothes I wear, right? Well, I am investigating the visibility of disability, and am borrowing heavily from queer theory to do so. If clothing is an identity costume we choose for ourselves, then what I wear is an integral part of how I identify, consciously or unconsciously. And if I want to understand how I relate to disabled and queer identities, investigating my costume choices is important.
I had been putting less and less effort into my appearance, denying myself the pleasure of getting ready and feeling sexy, because I though it was “un-feminist”
AND IT ISN’T!
Here is where Femme Identity comes in. For me, femme identity is reclaiming the “ideal’ female aesthetic perpetuated by patriarchal value systems. As highlighted by Iris, author of Bossy Femme blog ;
“Femme is defiance. Femme ignores the male gaze & tells patriarchy to fuck off. Femme is a refusal of the pressure to be thinner, whiter, pimple-free, wrinkle-free, smaller, quieter. Femme says that we’ll take the short skirts but you can keep the catcalls to yourself.”
For me, it is recognising that I am not woman, but perform woman. And I can perform by my own rules. Femme does not dictate who I love, lust for or sleep with, and it does not tell me what size/shape/color/class I need to be. It simply allows me to be ‘girly’ and feel sexy without betraying my feminist politics.
As stated in the Femme Shark Manifesto,
“FEMME SHARKS RECOGNIZE THAT FEMMES COME IN ALL KINDS OF SIZES AND EACH KIND IS LUSCIOUS. WE WORK TOWARDS LOVING OUR CURVY, FAT, SKINNY, SUPERSIZE, THICK, DISABLED, BLACK AND BROWN FINE-ASS BODIES EVERY DAY. WE REALIZE THAT LOVING OURSELVES IN A RACIST/SEXIST/HOMO/TRANSPHOBIC/ABLIST/CLASSIST SYSTEM IS AN EVERY DAY ACT OF WAR AGAINST THAT SYSTEM.”
nerves. still. feel jittery having improvised in a one-on-one setting. I was late – that’s what started it. having extremes and then refining works for me.
I broke my clothes and I like that – exoskeleton piercing outer skin, like a tusk.
It’s a dung beetle, crustation, many legs and feet. It scuttles. It has antenna, it has needles that penetrate your skin. horns. crutches as bone. It makes noises as it scuttles. noises caused by different parts of the crutch as I move and roll. the circular bits of plastic that created eyes and noise. I liked it when I left a trail of abandoned crutch, like a shedding skin, or a dying creature.
it can morph, pulled apart and put back together in different ways.
to achieve monstrosity… remove skin, eyes, face. it’s about distorting rather than extending (for now)
Clothing. PVC and black sparkles might work. Jack Webb style. Allowing glimpses of crutch, not letting it be very visibly obviously a crutch. Uncanny, almost one thing but not quite, like a landscape in a nightmare that you saw that day but now the beach is black and the sea’s tide sucks the oily water down into a pit.
The hospital grey – yellowing plastic used for mobility equipment. Practical, but school dinner cuisine. the grey to yellowing hue is not sexy
Stay with this
keep pushing it
“execute ideas to the max”
“stay in the room”
I have identified 4 main negative reactions to the visibly disabled body
I want to keep exploring how I can own the otherness and allow that to be a source of power.
I am looking at extreme sculptural costume to achieve this. I’m taking inspiration from the movement of Jack Webb and Liz Aggis and the costumes of Leigh Bowery and Lady Gaga