Friday, June 15, 2007

whose community?

Yooralla ad claims on behalf of disabled people "this is our community" - is an example of mainstreaming and a denial of disability community/culture!

c.f. Cheryl Marie Wade, an awesome performance artist, whose work is represented in Vital Signs: Crip culture talks back (so the name alone tells you that a crip culture is being asserted):
"My primary audience is always my community and I hope always to do work where my community can go "yeah!" But I want it to be such good work that I get places where they normally wouldn't let a gimp in. You know what I'm saying here?"

I think the erasure of disability community/culture is also an erasure of the support that disabled people give each other.

Earlier in the video, Carol Gill argues:
"I believe very firmly in disability culture and if we didn't have it, we should, because, I think, ... as a psychologist, I've looked at members of minority groups, I've worked with members of minority groups who are dealing with oppression on a daily basis who need to survive it, both physically and emotionally. And I see that what works for other minority groups is to have a recognized body of values, of symbols, including language, of rituals that bring people together."

There is a blurring of "community" and "culture".

Elsewhere in the video, Harlan Hahn argues for the existence of "disability culture" by arguing that disabled people have a food, fast-food. His evidence is his own vox pop at a conference, where everyone in the room said they go to drive-thrus because impaired mobility makes this easier than going inside a restaurant. This is, at best, tenuous, and at worst, ridiculous, patently untrue, and exclusive. I think that it does point to a commonality of experience, but I know a lot of disabled people who either (a) can't afford to eat out (the disability pension is often stretched just to cover basic life stuff, especially for those I know who have large medical/adaptive expenses) or (b) hate fast food for ethical reasons.

Gill's call for symbols and rituals bothers me, because it brings back memories for me of Lesfest (a lesbian, trans-exclusive gathering), which I attended a few years back. Lesfest had been cancelled because it had sought and been denied an exemption from equal opportunity legislation (they wanted to be allowed to exclude trans women). The gathering was held anyway, but was by-invitation-only, and secretive. I remember that on the first day, we all sat in a circle, each in turn offering symbols of our community, in an effort to prove to ourselves that we did indeed have a community. We didn't just argue a common political commitment - to an understanding of our common lesbian experience as being predicated on an experience of growing up gendered female (a reasonable basis, I think for the community's cohesion). Instead, symbols wer invoked that included hair style, colours, ways of dressing, music, etc. I remember feeling alienated at the time - I was one of only a handfull of young women there, and I had long hair, in dread-locks, with pretty colours woven through - I felt "unacceptably" feminine. In so many ways, I conform to the lesbian feminist stereotype, but yet I felt somehow unwelcome. It didn't help that I had already been policed/verbally abused for allegedly inviting a bisexual to the lesbian-only gathering. The allegation was unfounded (it was based on a misunderstanding) but did inform my whole experience of the gathering. It was interesting, because I actually respected the community's boundaries at that point in time, but because I wasn't yet a "trusted part of the community", I was suspected of disloyalty. At the time, I wrote a letter to Lesbian Network (the community's magazine, which I helped edit for a while), arguing that while I agreed with any community's right to self-define, I opposed the suspicious internal policing that inevitably arises when you police the borders (I think I drew on Hage's writings!)

In hindsight, I think I was somewhat naive - now I would argue that policing the borders is indefensible. I wish the Lesfest community had simply been clear about what we want and are interested in (e.g. lesbian feminist politics), and allowed people to self-select their involvement. My experience of transfolk is that there may have been trans people attending, in an effort to affirm their lesbian-female identity, there may not. But declare war on trans-identity and transfolk will come out in force. Trans-identity is currently incredibly defensive, which is understandable, since many trans people have to fight every day of their lives to affirm their identity.

Anyway, the lesbian community is still reeling from the "sex wars" of the 1980s, that this is all just the latest chapter in a long war. It's a war that scares me cos I am on both sides and neither. I'm scared because I can see battle lines drawn right down my own body, my own history, dividing one lover from another, one joy from another. I want no part in a defensively defined community.

On a completely different note, here's a very recent and remarkably stereotypical response from a gay man involved in Equal Love (to get same-sex relationship recognition):

"We see that the first priority is swaying the general population toward the idea of same-sex marriage by countering the arguments against, talking to community groups about the injustice and generally getting the message across that we too are "normal" tax paying citizens that don't have 2 heads and deserve consideration as well."

Wow! Um, what about those of us who are not "normal", who avoid paying taxes wherever possible or who live below the poverty line and so don't pay taxes, or whose bodies do not conform to the invoked normality (maybe not 2 heads, but how about no arms, like Mary Duffy in Vital Signs?) ... do we deserve "consideration" as well?

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