Dec 212015

“An unexamined public kiss is a privilege, enjoyed by those who are not marked out as the “other” by a stranger’s gaze. For me, a kiss is a political act of lustful resistance, whether I want it to be or not because it highlights those things people don’t want to think about let alone talk about—that people with disabilities are sexual and that some of us are gay.”

— Jax Jacki Brown | The Politics of Pashing from QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology

A kiss as resistance – For queer people who have so often had to hide who they are so they could exist safely in the world. For disabled people who just want to be seen in public spaces without being stared at. For disabled queer people who are so often doubly erased and doubly objectified at the same time.

I think QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology is like that kiss, unapologetic, brave, and beautiful. It’s like that kiss, bringing LGBTQ disabled people’s beauty out to shine. This anthology fits snugly in the intersection of disability, sexuality, and gender.

QDA is exquisite! It’s politics, passion, and really good writing all rolled into one.

I knew we were getting something beyond amazing when I saw author and editor Raymmond Luczak named as the editor for this book. I’ve read several of his previous anthologies, cried tears of self-recognition in public while reading Eyes of Desire II: A Deaf GLBT Reader.

Now, he’s pulled together stories, essays, and poems from forty-eight writers (including his own explicitly honest poetry) – forty-eight writers living in different places, with different disabilities, having diferent gender identities and sexualities, and, sometimes, holding diverging goals and desires – and he’s made the work fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

I really enjoyed the contrasts, and outright surprises, in this anthology, such as contradictions placing a lyrical poem about pain and love (D. Allens Posession) right before a snark-filled personal essay on erectile dysfunction (Gregory Villa, Limp). Meg Day’s poem On What I Didn’t hear you Say is full of nonsense words showing how complex language is for people who struggle to hear or speech-read another person’s spoken word, while Whittier Strong’s On Inheritance uses clinical-sounding quotes about mental health as structure for a story on child abuse and emotional pain. The contrasts and surprises continue throughout the book, which, by the way, includes some of the best poetry, nonfiction, and short story writing I’ve seen in years. Because disabled people are so often seen as less capable, or as living less full lives than nondisabled people, I think works like this, that showcase disabled writers’ artistry and skill, are extra important.

Maybe the best part of this writing is the richly textured portrait of queer disabled people’s lives, from the work they do, to the sex they have (or want to have), to the yoga classes they attend and the bars they hang out at. When I read this, which I’ve done about four times now, I can almost see, hear, smell and taste the experiences held in the words of these pages.

For the rest of this review I’ll be looking mostly at how QDA’s writers tackled the themes of sexuality and relationships. But, I do want to mention a couple of points that really made me sit up and take notice.

1. Liv Mammone has some advice for nondisabled participants in a disability-related poetry workshop. This is, I think, the best list of advice (with plenty of examples that should make people cringe, and laugh) for both respecting difference and accepting that people with disabilities are still people, and that, overall, disabled participants are there to discuss poetry.

Some of the advice:

  • When asking about my disability, please remember you have Siri at your beck and call, and that what you really need to know will come up in the poems.
  • Your head had best be a microscope. Ask yourself why you’re here. But question my motives, too. Slam your hand hard on my buttons.
  • Speak for me, not over me.

2. InDisability Made Me Do It or Modeling for the Cause, Kenny Fries finishes with the observation that The Venus de Milo, with all her scars and missing body parts, is considered beautiful; people with scars and missing parts are rarely looked at with wonder and admiration. That brought me up short. Why do we accept, even celebrate, something in art that we reject in flesh and blood people?

— — — —

It’s a strange irony that disabled people are assumed to not think about, let alone want, sex, while queer people are stereotyped as thinking about nothing else. Where does that even leave queer disabled folks?

Luckily, the truth is far more complex – and beautiful – and QDA is here to help us see that.

In Vagina Resigning, Liv Mammone shows us that the sexual part of herself is so much more powerful, so much more eager, so much more reliable and pleasurable, than the rest of her disabled body. Andrew Morrison-Gurza and Ashley Molion both write about how they desire passionate abandon, not the careful treatment or chaste touches they get from most people, even lovers.

Barbara Ruth’s poem 8 Ways of Being Disabled in Love speaks to a reality most nondisabled people don’t think about and probably couldn’t imagine – a world where couples keep on touching, keep on loving, even with medicines, hospitals,and pain that won’t go away.

IN Possession, D. Allen puts this in poetry:

Often I confuse pain with a poverty
of love. I don’t have hands today
means I can’t use them to touch you.

Sarah Ibrahim goes deeper into this as she explores how one person’s pain can bring lovers together and tear them apart. D. Allen spells out, in prose this time, this deep relationship between bodies, pain, and lovers:

You rub my back during a pain flare and I remind you to avoid the spine. Often you remember on your own, now. I say the spine because it is easier than saying my body feels broken and your touch makes it real.

Because we really can’t untangle relationships, of any kind, from the ways we feel about ourselves, from the ways we live in our bodies.

It’s complex enough to sort out relationships with lovers and partners. When we throw family into the mix, it often gets positively messy.

Many of QDA’s writers share the deep conflicts they’ve had with family. Joel Gates starts his essay Outcast: Deaf, Gay, Christian: “All my life I could never fit in anywhere.” The only way he could literally survive this isolation was to finally tell his family and friends that he’s gay. Joel has payed a big price for that: He and his family are “drifting apart” and he’s had to build a family of his own, with his fiance, and new friends at his new church lead by a gay pastor.

Disability is an isolating experience. As is having a gender or sexuality people don’t understand. harder still when people who claim to love you blame your queerness on your disability.

Brenna Syr captures this in a way that makes my heart ache every time I read it:

I called my sister for comfort. I spoke to her of my pain: the physical and the relational.

“Brenna, don’t you think your arthritis might get better if you stopped deciding to be gay?”

…I live in constant pain, and a part of me will always believe that it is caused by a God who cares not for my happiness, but for the genitalia of my partners.

But there’s laughter mixed into QDA, if not from family, than from and with lovers and partners.

Larry Connolly thinks he must be The Worst Husband You Can Imagine. He loses patience with his husband John’s slowness and limited mobility, noncompliance with medical instructions, and, worst of all, his habit of leaving dirty clothes and dishes all over Larry’s nice neat house.

Finally, he goes too far, and there I am standing in the kitchen doorway, in an apron, brandishing a rolling pin and screaming, YOU LEFT YOUR GODDAMN WHEELCHAIR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LIVING ROOM.
Silence covers the earth. We know a line has been crossed.
It doesn’t really matter what straw broke this back, or how exactly we got to this place on this day, but we look into one another’s eyes, catch the tail end of whatever soul dares to remain, and begin to laugh. And laugh. And Laugh.

Enough said.

There’s a theory that queer people and disabled people share a common experience, that these two groups are united by having experienced rejection from their families. I have no idea how true this sense of connection between the communities actually is.

Writers in QDA have not found queer communities welcoming or accessible.

Kit Mead hasn’t been able to find their queer community. They’re autistic, and the fast paced noise and chaos of clubs, pride parades, and campus LGBTQ student meetings causes too much sensory stimulation, meaning that Kit shuts down and can’t interact. Not being able to access queer community makes Kit feel invisible as a queer person, especially since their queerness has been discounted as “symptoms” of autism, not expressions of queer identity.

Maverick Smith, Invisible Within the Ten Percent, spells out what is happening behind this lack of accessibility in queer spaces:

Pride is a rainbow blanket smothering difference
it makes words palatable to diverse communities
but even as folks’s lips shape these verbs for others’s ears
ableism & audism are omnipresent during Pride

I loved and learned from every piece in this book, but the one that gives me chills, the one that keeps pulling me back to read it again and again is John Whittier Treat’s fictional short story A Girl For Us.

Hal is in his mid-thirties, works at a grocery store, loves going to the planetarium, has a best friend named Stan, and has intellectual and cognitive disabilities. Without asking what he wants, his parents decide to put out a personal ad to find Hal a girlfriend. Maybe no one is really interested in what Hal wants, or thinks he can even know what he wants, but Hal is the only character in this story who knows or acknowledges that something is wrong with this set-up. In fact, Hal understands almost everything that’s happening around him.

“Hal, how are we doing?”
“Well, this is our second date, isn’t it?”
Hal thought, I haven’t ever asked her on a date. Mom and Dad have.
“I guess.”
Carolyn put both her hands flat on the tablecloth.
“Do you like me?”
Hal panicked. He wasn’t sure how to answer. If he said no, she might get mad. If he said yes, she might think I want to marry her or something. It was only then that Hal thought to answer truthfully.
“I don’t know you, Carolyn.”
Carolyn smiled. “That’s right, Hal. We don’t know each other. But everyone has first impressions.”

You’ll need to read the story to find out what Hal’s first impressions are, and what he’d tell people if only they asked. Like all well-written fiction, the big picture is slow to emerge, and is like a slap in the face when it does.


Thank you to Raymond Luczak for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

We need more books like QDA, as starters for conversations, as works of art, as resources for people trying to survive and love themselves.

Sep 162015

I cannot talk about illness and how it affects me, without mentioning how it is tied to my immigration status, or my
choices and access as a queer upper class woman. The axes of benefits and struggles at which I find myself leads to a particular set of options. From there, I make choices. There, I live daily.

— Nitika Raj, The Wholeness Project

Instead of honoring difference, we are asked to assimilate. Supposedly, this is to help us but it only inevitably erases who we are and diminishes the experiences we face.

— Kay Ulunday Barrett, Constant Dissonance: Our Noise is Dangerous

Criptiques is a collection of essays and stories that challenges ideas of what it means to be disabled without ever erasing the true, beautiful, frustrating, painful, uplifting realities disability brings into our lives. Disabled people ar so often seen as one-dimensional human beings; defined by the pain we’re in, or the limmits we have, or the beliefs of the people who look at us. This book, written entirely by disabled people, moves past that narrative of being observed, past the how-tos, the statistics (though there are plenty of those, into what the people behind those statistics actually look like, feel, do, and experience each day.

Who are the people of Criptiques? They are artists, scholars, musicians, activists, deep thinkers, sexual beings, mothers, lovers.

What does it mean to be “criptical?” It means equl footing and value between Stefanie Hillary’s academic piece on frida Kahlo, art history, and disability, and Leroy Moore’s provocative Droolilicious, a Krip-Hop piece.

It means exploring the usual disability-related topics in unusual ways. Danine Spencer lays out the grim unemployment statistics for women with disabilities in the United States alongside her own struggle with physically not being able to meet today’s demanding work environments. Bethany Stevens shares the many ways her former workplace, a disability policy research department, was inaccessible and unwelcoming. In What Should you call me?, Emily Ladau, who has been disabled all her life, shares that nondisabled disability advocates have questioned the sincerity of her advocacy based on her objections to using person-first language.

Being criptical means introducing the unexpected.

In most disability anthologies, we’d expect to see at least one piece on the miracles of technology. Instead, Eva Sweeney tells us how and why, for her, using a simple alphabet board makes communication faster and easier than it would be with a computerized communication device.

We hear about sexuality: From Elsa henry, possibly the only blind burlesque dancer in the world. From Jen Rinaldi and Samantha Walsh, who explore the ways their experiences as young disabled women were affected by the assumptions that all young women start dating men. From Alissa Hillary, who shows us how autistic people’s sexuality is erased. From Leroy Moore, who shares how his drooling, a part of his disability he was always told to control, is exciting and sexy to an intimate partner.

Criptiques makes its readers wake up and see the world differently. or me, that “aha” moment happened while reading Ben G.’s On Radicl Empathy and Schizophrenia: “To say that those years of my
life correspond to a brain problem and nothing more, is to … reduce my own experience of myself, and at worst, to rob me of the experience altogether.”

There is more in this book, on our collective fears of aging and death, on body image and beauty standards, on parenting, as a disabled person, on (usually unpleasant) encounters with the medical system.

Criptiques should be required reading in most university classes. It’s hard-hitting and funny, sad and rhetorical. It’s the kind of book I could – and have – read many times and still learn something new or still feel the flutter of my heart opening in joy and admiration for these writers.

And I don’t just want to se this book on the shelves of Disability Studies students. This needs to be part of the curricula for many disciplines: gender studies, American Studies, occupational therapy, pre-med, nursing, social work, and more. Instead of teaching disability as a separate subject, Criptiques would allow professors to teach common topics like anti-racism, body image, medical and legal concerns, etc. starting from a disability or criptical perspective.

A life-changing book for anyone who reads it.

You can purchase a paper copy of Criptiques here.

Or download a free, PDF copy here.

Aug 122015

Honesty, self-awareness, a wicked sense of humour, an unflinching sense of the ridiculous. You generally need all of these to be able to talk as candidly about your sex life as Kaleigh Trace has done in Hot, Wet, and Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex.

These essays are about a lot more than talking about sex, though. They’re about love, and laughter, and what Kaleigh’s Grandma thought about the explicit language on her blog, and how to prepare for an interview at a sex toy shop (hint: you don’t need to be a sexual superstar), and first sexual experiences…

And through all of these stories, there’s pure, playful honesty about being disabled in a world that doesn’t easily accept people who are visibly diferent.

Hot, Wet, and Shaking is full of delicious details that made me feel like I was right there with the author. I feel like I could be right there with her when she’s talking about that time she pulled a sex ed prop out of her purse – in the middle of the grocery store (A Bag Full of Dicks). Reading Looking For Blood,I feel right along with her the fear and frustration of needing reproductive healthcare in a world that wants to make that hard to get, and wants you to keep it a secret. I nod knowingly as she describes her first crush on a woman: “My attraction was so painfully visceral that for a short time I was truly convinced not that I was gay, but that I had the stomach flu.”

Other stories share some of Kaleigh’s sexual misadventures (And The Warmth Spread Over Us), her awesome-sounding bike and it’s wobbly rider (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Tricycle), a delicious (in my humble opinion) piece of erotica written in a fit of frustration that there are almost no sexy stories about disabled people.

The Lady and the Butch is a contender for one of my favourite stories. It’s so delightful, I wish it were true – 100% all the way true. Really, an older lady coming in to buy her first vibrator ever, because her “queer lesbian” granddaughter told her to? It doesn’t get much more novel, and amusing, and ultimately touching than that.

But Kaleigh, while she wants to share with us the awesome experiences she’s had and self-discoveries she’s made since starting to work for Venus Envy takes her customers’ privacy seriously, so all store-related stories are fiction based on real-life people and events.

Where this book really shines is in the stories in which Kaleigh is being unfailingly vulnerable with us – not just because she’s usually talking about sex – though that’s great too – but because she shares parts of herself that make her uniquely her, and she sheds light on sexual stories and scripts we don’t usually get to hear but which are a part of a lot of people’s lives.

Fresh-Faced and Orgasm Free is some of the best writing in this book. It’s so much more than a “how I learned to masturbate” story. Kaleigh shares what it’s like to grow up with physical disabilities, to grow up interacting with her body in mostly medical ways. She describes lerning how to drain her urine through a catheter, how she became familiar with her genitals as a place she needed to manage.

As an adult she realizes: Touching myself was so common that it was hard to imagine it as a sexual experience. It was functional,
not hot. Necessary, not fun.”

Trying to learn about masturbation through the sex guides she sells at work, she realizes that none of them really speak to her experience. They all assumed that bodies work in certain ways…that all people can use their fingers to circle their clits, that everyone’s nerve endings fire in pretty much the same ways. “It occurred to me that perhaps I had yet to learn my way of coming because all the step-by-step methods I was reading, all the porn I had watched, and all the sex I had had thus far had not considered my disability.”

There’s so much more I’d like to tell you about this book, about the lyrical ways Kaleigh describes her body, about her observations of and fears around fitting into queer culture, about just how complex and unexpected the piece of erotica was.

But I’m not allowed to copy the book out here, so I’ll just encourage you to get it for yourself.

Thanks so much to Invisible Publishing for giving me an electronic copy of this terrific book.

Click here to hear the author reading from her work.