Resisting Easy Answers: An Interview with Eli Clare

An Interview with Eli Clare

White, disabled, and genderqueer, Eli Clare is a Vermont-based poet and essayist with a penchant for rabble-rousing. Among other pursuits, he has walked across the United States for peace, coordinated a rape prevention program, and helped organize the first US Queerness and Disability Conference. He has spoken all over the US and Canada about disability, queer and trans identities, and social justice. Clare is the author of a book of essays, Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation (South End Press, 1999), a collection of poetry, The Marrow’s Telling: Words in Motion (Homofactus Press, 2007), and has been published in many periodicals and anthologies. Kelly Fritsch interviewed Clare in March 2009.

How have your political experiences shaped your activism?

One of the experiences that informed my activism was being part of a peace walk from Los Angeles to Washington, DC in 1986. Over the course of eight-and-a-half months, 400 of us walked 3,700 miles for global nuclear disarmament. Ronald Reagan was in his second term as President and no one had any sense that the Cold War would be ending anytime soon. Nuclear war looked, if not inevitable, then quite probable. There were missile silos all over the Great Plain states, staffed around-the-clock with people, mostly men, ready to deploy nuclear weapons at any moment. We talked with more than one rancher who rented his land to the military for these silos only because it was a last resort way to hang onto his land. I learned so much during the walk about how race, class, gender, and imperialism shape the war machine, which, it became clear, doesn’t only function during times of war. We weren’t waiting for a nuclear disaster to happen. The disaster was already happening whether the US engaged in nuclear war or not. For instance, the people living downwind of the Nevada Test site experienced 5 - 10 percent higher rates of cancer than people in other parts of the US.

I also learned a lot about intersectional politics, direct action, and strategy on the walk, which functioned politically as a spectacle that stirred people’s curiosity. Once folks had taken a tour of our camp and found out about what we were doing, asked about how our feet were, how many miles we walked a day and so on, we could then talk with them about global nuclear disarmament, about the connections between patriarchy and militarism, about class, and who fights wars and on and on. We ended up talking to people we would never have had access to otherwise. It was an important set of lessons to learn about how to bring people together to have challenging conversations.

Another place where I learned my intersectional politics was at Mills College in Oakland, California, while getting my Women’s Studies degree in the early ’80s. During that time, women of color were developing, writing about, and acting upon a tremendously exciting intersectional politic. The Combahee River Collective Statement had just come out. African-American feminists, many of whom were lesbians, were doing groundbreaking analysis on issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. This Bridge Called My Back was published in 1981 and I first read it in 1983. In this political ferment, I started to understand just how inseparable gender, race, class, and sexuality are. Adding disability and gender identity to the twine came later for me. There’s not enough acknowledgement 25 years later of where intersectional politics originated. It started with feminists of colour – both contemporary and historical – being really fierce about their experiences of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.

Your writing is very personal and draws extensively upon lived experience to explore complex social questions. What does it mean for you to be an activist-poet? What role does testimony play in social change and what are the challenges of assuming such a role?

Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde wrote an essay called “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” In it she explores what poetry means for survival. She defines poetry as “revelatory distillation” and writes about how that revealing of essence is necessary to build self, community, and resistance. Her essay really informs my sense of what being an activist writer and poet means. The value of political art lies in its capacity to create community and resistance both on an individual and communal level.

Personal testimony, which frequently appears in my work, often shapes itself as story. Both my prose and poetry live at the intersection between personal and public, political and private. I’m often telling personal and/or private stories – whether it is my own story or someone else’s. Sometimes I go looking in history for stories that scream at me, “Tell me, tell me!” My job is then to find the bigger public and/or political context and explore how that context changes the story. There are many strengths in personal testimony. For instance, when I’m writing about bodies it pulls me back to the lived experience of bodies, reminding me that bodies are not metaphors and symbols but visceral, lived experiences of bones, muscle, blood, and shit. On the other hand, there are extraordinary limits to personal testimony. For example, I’m a white, English-speaking, US citizen, who is university educated. I’ve always lived in warm, dry houses. I’ve never gone hungry. All my stories are shaped in profound ways by those privileges. That shaping creates limits at the intersection between personal story and political thinking, between what is seen as private and what is seen as public. If I’m not always aware of what those limits are or aware of the risks of generalizing too much, even as I’m reaching for the larger context I run the risk of assuming that whiteness, for instance, is at the centre.

You make a distinction between impairment and disability, arguing that the medical model of disability, which locates the problem within the impaired body, fails to address the social dynamics of ableism. At the same time, you point out that impairment and disability are difficult to separate, since they’re both experienced directly and in embodied ways. To what extent can we rely upon embodied experience as the basis for social analysis? How can this kind of analysis be incorporated into strategies for social change?

The medical model of disability defines disability as a medical problem located in individual bodies and frames those problems as curable, or at least treatable, by the medical-industrial complex; in essence giving doctors complete authority over the embodied experiences of disabled people. In resistance to the medical model, the disability rights movement has created a social model that separates impairment – a physical, emotional, cognitive, and/or developmental limitation, difference and/or variation – and ableism – the material and social conditions that restrict people with impairments. This model declares that ableism is far more disabling than impairment. It has been very useful for community building, counteracting shame, and working to change the world. At the same time it runs the risk of claiming that impairment is not influenced by social contexts. In short, this model sometimes essentializes impairment while recognizing only the social construction of ableism. That’s simply not reflective of how impairment works. What is impairment in one culture may not be impairment in another culture. What was impairment 100 years ago might not be impairment today.

Thinking about not essentializing impairment also means thinking about how not to essentialize embodied experience. Because embodied experience is shaped by the social contexts within which bodies exist, we can’t use embodied experience as capital T truth but rather as one of many kinds of knowledge. Embodied experience can never be the sole source of knowledge or politics. It certainly is extraordinarily important to pay attention to, but it needs to be paired with political strategy and more theoretical and abstract knowledge about bodies.

A lot of your work draws upon shame as a site for bringing in both the body and the social. Can you talk about that relationship?

We need to be talking about shame as a community and an activist issue and by and large we aren’t. Shame is hard, messy, and often very non-verbal. Talking about shame seems counterintuitive because talking about it often makes us feel worse rather than better. But in terms of community-building we have to be talking about it. The consequences of shame are so deep. I live in communities where suicide is an ever-present reality. And of course shame and suicide are completely intertwined. Frequently the only response to shame in queer and disability communities is an identity-based pride and the idea that disability politics/culture or queer politics/culture can move us on a relatively straight-forward trajectory from shame to pride. I don’t know anyone for whom that journey was a one-time deal, or even an actual journey. Shame and pride are not opposites but, rather, are really tangled up; many of us feel both in some measure at the same time. Neither queer nor disability politics provide good road maps for navigating the tangle. The movement away from shame is not a head thing but a heart thing, a muscle thing, a reframing thing, profoundly emotional as well as analytic. It can’t be just about rhetoric.

I think a more effective strategy is to start telling really specific stories of shame. About nine months ago, I gave a keynote speech at the Trans Health conference in Philadelphia. I spoke about shame as a health issue and told a very specific story about how it is a recurring issue in my life; shame hasn’t disappeared for me, even if I’ve changed my relationship to it. At one point, as I was speaking, I looked up and half the room was in tears. I thought to myself, “Is this room going to be okay? Are we going to get through this?” And of course we did. But I did have that moment of wondering whether I had opened a door that would have been better left closed. During the conference I probably heard a dozen stories about shame. People came and found me to tell me their stories about shame in their communities, their families, their work. I was struck by how folks sought out a complete stranger to tell their stories to. Are we not telling them in our own communities? No one was unloading their shame onto me; instead, they wanted to connect on the basis of these shared stories. The experience had a profound impact on me and left me convinced that we need to talk about the specific, intimate details of shame.

A politics that resists shame can emerge from this storytelling. So much of what we know in various communities about resistance has come through story. It is through listening to and collecting stories that we begin to notice oppressive patterns and systems and develop strategies of rebellion and resistance.

Central to Marx’s discussions of the labour process and the working day in Capital, Volume 1 is a phenomenal description of the working body. This concern was central to the early socialist tradition and became explicitly bound up with the question of disability in the speeches and writings of Helen Keller. What can socialist politics bring to the disability rights movement today?

Disability is totally bound up with labouring and what labouring means in the capitalist system – where definitions of disability arose from, how disability is related to industrialization and how disability has long been defined as the inability to work.

Work and labour are big causes of disability – or more accurately, impairment – in the world. Throughout my childhood, I believed I was the only disabled person in my rural, working-class hometown. In truth, that fishing and logging town was full of disability: broken backs, missing arms, hearing loss, nerve damage, and on and on. This is partly because fishing and logging are among the most dangerous occupations. My hometown was full of people with work-related disabilities but no one used the word “disability” because injury and impairment was just what happened at work, what happened if you were a logger or commercial fisherman for 25 or 30 years. It was far too familiar and ordinary to be labeled as disability. Certainly the conditions that create labour as dangerous, as almost inevitably causing disability, are all wrapped up in capitalism. As Marx highlighted, work is shaped in really dangerous ways and bodies are considered expendable and replaceable in the capitalist process of producing commodities. Unfortunately, today not many connections are being drawn among labour, socialist politics, and disability activism.

Most progressive and radical non-disabled activists have not added disability to their political agenda. As flawed as the politics around race, gender, class, and sexuality can be, there is often a lot of intention to work for social justice around those categories. Disability simply hasn’t been added to the mix and through that omission there is so much missing; disability is fundamental to how power and privilege work. Race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability are so integrally tied together. For instance, racism is strengthened and fueled by ableism, by the belief that any body/mind labeled as “stupid” is worthless and expendable. One of the ways racism functions is to define people of colour – particularly, in a US context, poor African Americans and Latinos – as stupid, which in turn drives racist unemployment rates, lack of access to education, and incarceration rates. This racist mechanism is fueled by an ableist belief system about stupidity. We will never find liberation without adding disability to the mix.

At the same time, the disability rights movement, at least in the US, is outrageously single-issue, partly in reaction to non-disabled activists completely ignoring disability. And so it’s a two way street: socialists ignore disability politics and disability activists ignore socialism. Of course there are exceptions to this. For instance, Sins Invalid, a performance group based in the San Francisco Bay area, does fabulous work around sexuality and disability centering artists of colour and queer and gender variant artists.

People in the disability rights movement have sometimes argued that disabled people have a right to sexual pleasure and as such, it’s necessary that people employed as personal care attendants facilitate their participation in sex. Does this position create conflicts with labour rights? How might these conflicts be resolved?

I want to put that question within a larger context, rather than simply focusing on sex, because the relationships among a disability rights politics of self-determination, caregiving, and labour are complex. Let me start by talking about nursing homes, one of the many institutions where disabled people are warehoused. I’d like to dismantle those institutions, in part because they are absolutely antithetical to notions of self-determination of any sort, much less sexual self-determination. But even a disability politic as straightforward as dismantling nursing homes runs afoul of labour politics. Nursing home unions have been very opposed to a disability rights agenda that seeks to end the funding biases that force people with significant disabilities into nursing homes. Part of the problem of the disability rights movement being a single issue movement is that, by and large, attention isn’t being paid to labour issues. For instance, what happens to workers as nursing homes close? That’s a real issue, not something that can just be shrugged off.

But the relationships among labour, caregiving, and a politics of self-determination are no less complex outside of nursing homes. I’m thinking here about disabled folks who are living in the community, rather than nursing homes, through the use of personal attendants (PAs). If your PAs are funded by the government (which is usually the case unless you’re upper middle-class or rich) you are paying them hopelessly low wages. You don’t have much control over wages because you’re given a fixed amount of money. If you need 12 hours a day of PA services, you can’t use only eight hours and increase the hourly wage that you pay. In the US, there are no health benefits with this work. There are also incredible race implications of the work because so many people of colour are doing the PAing. I’ve heard people of colour say, “I don’t want to become an ABC,” meaning “I don’t want to become an African Bum Cleaner.”

I don’t know the solution to these labour issues. The stakes are high because without paid PAs or family members working as PAs many people with significant disabilities face institutionalization, whether in group homes, nursing homes, or their parents’ back bedrooms. We need to force the government to increase PA funding and to end the bias toward nursing homes, to create universal health insurance in the US, and in general, to encourage PAs to unionize in ways that don’t set them against disabled people but rather create strong, collaborative relationships. But none of these are easy answers.

And now to talk about sex. There are all sorts of issues about caregiving and sex. If you’re queer, how do you find PAs who aren’t going to be homophobic or transphobic? That’s a real issue because PA work is intimate work. You’re letting people into what many of us consider the most intimate realms of our lives. How do you find those people? How do you hire those people? How do you keep those people? Where you live largely determines if you have any control over who you hire and fire. In some states and provinces, you don’t have any control over who comes to do that work. And if you are not lucky enough to live in a community of your choice and a house of your own choosing, how can you possibly find a self-determined sexuality in a nursing home? Of course, requests/needs around sexuality can be difficult or impossible to negotiate with some PAs but so can issues about food, transportation, clothing and jewelry. What happens if your PA won’t feed you ice cream for breakfast when that’s what you really want to eat? I know folks who have fought with their PAs over issues like that. We’re not even talking about something as loaded as sex. Even food issues can be awfully damn loaded! And the issues just get harder and harder the closer to sex you get.

What do you do if an otherwise good PA says, “I just can’t do X.” As a boss, do you say, “You have no choice. You have to do X”? Do you shift your PA’s schedule to find a person who will? And what if you don’t have a person who will voluntarily replace the batteries in your vibrator or position your body for sex or let your lover in the front door? There are different strategies. Some disabled people say, “I’m the boss, and you are going to do everything that I tell you to do.” For other disabled people, it’s all about relationship building. Other disabled people create a PA schedule based on strengths. You like to cook? I’ll schedule you for shifts coinciding with meals. Or you’re really good at helping me do bathroom-related stuff, so I’m going to schedule my bathroom needs around you. You’re really comfortable dealing with sex, so I’m going to schedule you for that. I know people who hire based on clusters of skills.

Of course if you are totally dependent on a home health agency that just sends whatever nurse is available, the lines are drawn really differently. And if you piss off a nurse too much, that agency may drop you. And if that agency is the only agency in town, you might be in a nursing home within a week. It can move that fast. So the stakes are high. In the end, I believe that self-determined, consensual sexuality is a human right for everyone and, although labour issues sometimes add a layer of complexity to that right for disabled people who need the help of PAs to access their sexuality, those issues are neither insurmountable nor more important than the human right itself.

People involved in queer and trans struggles have sometimes fought against their medical and psychiatric pathologization in ways that seem to undermine the arguments made by disability rights activists. What are some examples of this that you’ve seen? What challenges do you face in queering disability activism and cripping queer activism?1

There is a contradiction between some trans rhetoric and disability politics. There’s a whole thread of trans politics that frames transsexuality as a birth defect simply in need of a cure and that declares trans people as deserving of the same good and respectful healthcare that disabled people get. It drives me up the wall. The word “defect” is a punch in my stomach. That word has created so much damage. For a long time after I came out as trans, I was in complete shock and disbelief that anyone would voluntarily adopt it. And of course it’s a joke to assume that disabled people receive good, respectful healthcare and an insult to assume that disability is automatically paired with a desire for a cure. If a community is going to adopt the language of disability, then it needs to be accountable to disabled people and disability activists.

These dynamics are complicated by the ways in which US trans activists have used disability civil rights law to defend trans people against discrimination. I have no beef with that. We need to use whatever legislation exists to protect marginalized people’s civil rights. Still this legislative strategy has had a lot of implications for supporting the belief that transsexuality is a birth defect.

I also hear the argument that being transsexual is a private health matter. I rage against that idea. Who has bodily or medical privacy in this culture? Many different communities of marginalized people in this culture simply do not have that kind of privacy, which is a function of intense systems of privilege. I find non-disabled, white trans folks to be really reluctant to give up this notion of both bodily and medical privacy. So part of the work of cripping queer activism is inserting the notion of non-disabled privilege into queer politics.

In terms of queering crip politics, many of the barriers extend from disability activists’ single-issue approach. There are very few spaces for disabled LGBT peoples to work on the complex and sometimes contradictory and interlocking issues of ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism. In general, sexuality is a hot button issue in disability communities because of the de-sexualizing that many disabled people experience.

There is homophobia and transphobia in disability communities just as there’s significant and virulent ableism in queer communities. That’s one of the reasons why HIV/AIDS never became a bridge. If the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and early ‘90s among gay men had been framed in terms of disability, your question about queering crip experience and cripping queer experience would look entirely different. We would have 20 years of experience creating accessible queer spaces. Queer disabled people lose so much when queer public space isn’t accessible, and so often it isn’t. We could talk for hours about how queer people and communities benefit from queer public space. If you can’t get into those spaces, you reap none of those benefits.

Several years ago, I had a telling conversation with a gay man whom I was just getting to know. My partner and I were staying at his apartment, and one morning he said to me, “I’ve never had a disabled friend stay over at my place before.” This from a man who survived a decade of AIDS funerals: he buried a whole generation of gay men; he helped men who were throwing up all night; nursed men through fevers; he’d done all the work of the early epidemic as it was shaped in the US in the ‘80s and ‘90s. For him to say that he’d never had a disabled person stay in his house was astounding and just not true! It was somehow devastating that I, as a visibly disabled person, was for him in an entirely different category from all of those men and all of that AIDS-related grief, rage, and activism. In other words, there’s a lot of work to be done to crip queer politics.

You’ve stated that some strands of feminism demonize masculinity and men and are “trans misogynist.” How do you see feminism grappling with trans politics?

I don’t want to talk about feminism monolithically. There are lots of different kinds of feminisms. I see some feminisms having trouble engaging with a tangle of gender privilege and marginalization. Sexism creates intense marginalization for all women, both non-trans women and trans women. At the same time, gender-normative, non-trans women have gender identity privilege that comes from being people for whom gender and sex haven’t rubbed together in particular kinds of ways and haven’t therefore experienced particular kinds of gender friction, marginalization, and oppression in the world. Certain brands of feminism simply aren’t able to grapple with how non-trans women experience both gender marginalization and privilege, and how the two are tangled together.

Feminism is shaped around gender as a site of power. Trans politics, on the other hand, is shaped around gender as an internally felt identity. The two have trouble talking to each other in a dozen ways. For example, feminists often say, “I’m a woman not because of how I feel inside but because the forces acting upon my body have named it in a particular kind of way.” Meanwhile, trans folks are saying, “We are men and women and many other genders because those gendered identities arise from within us.” These two viewpoints seem difficult to reconcile with each other. However, I don’t think they are necessarily in conflict with each other once the relationships between power structures and the individual sense of the body are teased out. Each is influenced by the other. Individual bodies and genders are shaped by social contexts and power structures. In turn, how those contexts and structures impact us depends to some extent on the ways we live and experience our genders from the inside out.

Many feminisms are invested in a gender binary. That’s where my comments about demonizing men come from. I’m not talking about men not having privilege. Men obviously do have privilege – privilege that is bolstered or undercut by how race, class, sexuality, and disability all interlock with gender. When I declare that some feminisms demonize men, I’m pointing to how feminism often relies upon the gender binary in ways that simplify and flatten the myriad meanings of being men and women, feminine and masculine. A rigid politics that declares all women oppressed and all men oppressors leaves little room for multiple experiences and truths about gender and simply serves to strengthen the gender binary. Trans politics declares that until the gender binary is broken – not the genders of men and women, I’m not talking about a genderless society, but breaking binaries – gender liberation won’t happen.

But I see many feminists trying to stay attached to the binary. For instance, more and more spaces that once were women-only are becoming women and trans spaces. Rather than take up the reality of multiple genders, fluid genders, and gender transition in ways that challenge the women/oppressed and men/oppressor binary, this strategy attempts to merge trans people (often in practice ironically meaning ftm-spectrum people but not trans women or mtf crossdressers) and non-trans women into one category in opposition to men. I understand how alliances between women and trans people can be effective, but in this case it’s a way to hang onto binaries. What happens to trans men who identify strongly as men, live in the world entirely as men, and yet have a trans history, if not a trans identity? Are they welcome in trans and women’s spaces, and if they are welcome, why aren’t other kinds of men welcome in those spaces? And why do trans women repeatedly talk about feeling unwelcome and unrecognized in those spaces? Are trans and women’s spaces really about genitals? And if so, then what has the past 35 years of feminism been about?

Sex reassignment surgery is a highly medicalized process. Is it possible to reconcile the desires that have led many trans folks to considerably alter their bodies with the disability rights perspective that bodies shouldn’t be sites for the application of invasive and standardized norms?

This has been a huge personal struggle. I’m someone who has chosen to use medical technology to reshape my gendered body. At the beginning of the process that led to my gender transition, I simply wanted my desire for chest reconstruction surgery and later for testosterone to go away, but that desire was so persistent. For years I agonized about it. I had worked so long to love my disabled body exactly as it is. I had resisted people who wanted my disabled body reshaped. Over the years I’ve been offered crystals, vitamins, prayer, massage, and on and on to cure my cerebral palsy. I worked hard to cultivate body love. As a child, I had a reccurring fantasy of cutting my right arm off to stop my tremors. When my desire for chest reconstruction surgery emerged, I was desperate to grasp the difference between wanting my breasts cut off and wanting to cut my right arm off. After a decade of self-questioning, talking with trans people, and thinking about the politics of body modification, I came to understand that the fantasy to cut my right arm off arose from intense shame, while the desire for a flat chest arose from deep self-love. The line between the two felt like the line between shadow and light, a line that shifted depending on where the light fell and where the shadow lingered.

The larger context for my personal struggle is partly about how medical technology is used in a variety of ways. Many of us are alive or healthier because of medical technology. The problems of medicalization aren’t really about who is using what medical technology. Medicalization is a different process than using medical technology.

Additionally, gender expression and identity for many people often involves using technology in a variety of ways. I’m not talking only about plastic surgery or medical technology but technology broadly – clothing, make up, hairdryers, shoes, perfumes, sprays, hair cuts, shavers, etc. Most of us are engaged with technology to express our genders, and yet trans folks are the people who are getting grief about using technology.

Some of my new work is about complicating the relationship between disabled people and the notion of cure. The public, political rhetoric about how we want civil rights and completely reject cure draws such a distinct line. But as I sit in gatherings of disabled people and listen to us talk about cure, prevention, and treatment, our stories about using medical technology are way more complicated than the public, political rhetoric allows for. Talk to anyone who lives with chronic pain or who is homebound because of multiple chemical sensitivity and it is clearly more complicated. Some folks are desperate for cure after years of being homebound by the nature of their impairments – by intense pain or being made extraordinarily ill by petroleum-based products for example – or if not a cure, then effective medical management. Those are the exact complications I want to engage when thinking about trans people and medical technology. How do we navigate medicalization vs. using medical technology? How do we resist the former while engaging the latter? What does the difference between the two mean in terms of power relationships with the medical-industrial complex?

You’ve expressed ambivalence about the political implications of the word “freak” and have pointed out that it has been a source of both pain and possibility for people with disabilities. But along with the freak, the freak show required the viewer. What compelled so many people to consume the spectacle of the other? How should people who want to change the world relate to this compulsion?

During the century in which the freak show flourished – 1840 to 1940 – the US was in a period of tremendous instability and transition around immigration, industrialization, and slavery, which created all sorts of anxieties for white people and non-disabled people. The freak show functioned as a way to create some stability about who was normal and who was Other, both of which were defined by racism, ableism, and colonialism. I like teaching the history of the freak show because it’s a history that has to be understood through an intersectional analysis of race, disability, colonial power, gender, and queerness.

The impulse to gawk isn’t limited to the history of the freak show, but rather embedded in a bigger cultural dynamic. That dynamic has shifted over time but certainly hasn’t gone away. I believe that dynamics around gawking are partly put into motion as people are growing up. As children, we’re all curious. The world poses all sorts of mysteries for which kids want all sorts of names, categories, and explanations. Adults nurture this curiosity in a myriad of ways. But when it comes to bodily difference, we train kids early that it’s not okay to be curious. Rather than teaching kids about the difference between respectful and disrespectful questions regarding bodily difference, we just teach them that they aren’t supposed to notice those differences when in actuality we’re all noticing them all the time. Part of the cultural dynamic of gawking – pretending not to notice while having few skills to respectfully manage our curiosity – is set in place during those early years.

How can activists use gawking in our favour? How can we manipulate gawking? Disability activists often use gawking to get media attention and then use the media as an educational or social justice tool. I’m thinking of an action that happened as the Americans with Disabilities Act was moving through Congress in the early ‘90s. The Capitol in Washington DC has a really wide, grand, steep set of stairs into the front entrance. I’m sure there are other accessible entrances, but this entrance is the most visible. Almost 100 wheelchair users parked their chairs at the bottom of the steps and crawled up them. It caused a big controversy in the disability community. The action was a way of using gawking. Those activists created a spectacle of their bodies to make a particular political point. When can we use gawking and when do we need to resist it? Another question with no easy answers.

And maybe in the end, that’s the point: these junctures and confluences where race, class, disability, gender, and sexuality come together refuse easy, single-issue answers.


1 Crip and cripple are reclaimed words used to shock, to infuse with pride and self-love, to resist internalized hatred, and to help forge a politics.