Moderator: Carrie Sandahl
Panelists: Terry Galloway, Joan Lipkin, Julia Trahan
Edited from Real Time Caption transcript by Eli Clare
Carrie Sandahl: I’m going to go ahead and introduce the panel, and the panelists will make their appearance. My name is Carrie Sandahl, and I would like to welcome you today to “All-Girl Action: Crip Queer Women in Performance.” I’m the director at Florida State University’s School of Theater. And all of my work, whether it’s academic or creative or activist, explores the intersections between those different roles, and I attempt to address all three areas in whichever role I am inhabiting. Recently I edited an anthology called Bodies in Motion: Disability and Performance, which is forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press. So look for it on your bookshelves soon. I’m also writing a book called Americans with Disabilities Act: The Critical History of Disability and Performance Since the Civil Rights Era. In that book I’m very interested how people with disabilities at gatherings such as this one have used performance to articulate new ways of thinking about disability. So it is with those interests and as a person with a disability myself that I brought together the women who are represented on this panel today. Also, as a disabled woman, I have been concerned with the often competing and conflicting agendas of feminism, queer activism, and the disability civil rights movement. And I feel torn, as the other panelists who spoke this morning feel, between different communities that have different priorities, assumptions, and also different sub-cultural norms.
CS: So I brought together these panelists because they also share similar concerns. And each panelist looks to live performance, either as a performer herself or as a scholar, to address what it means to be a disabled feminist. Now performance offers us the opportunity to experiment with different identity configurations and different communities on live bodies willing to try them. And performance makes palpable issues that may seem only theoretical elsewhere. So we can talk as much as we want in theory, but performance gives us the opportunity to experiment with those identities in space and real time. Performance allows us to consider these issues as a community together. So today we assemble as a temporary community to investigate these questions through discussion, presentations and performance.
CS: I have asked the panelists to address, each in her own way, how the queer disabled female body in performance challenges or re-scripts normal notions of femininity and female sexuality at this time, and how does feminism, queer activism and disability activism intertwine and conflict in performance.
CS: Our first performer today is Julia Trahan. She began her queer crip activism at age 19. She was petitioning for handrails on the library steps. She later was dubbed a pioneer in disability culture by the BBC and inherited the title of “San Francisco’s Second Post-Modern Daddy” for her work as a producer and a performer in the Bay Area. She has swung her dildo and danced with wheelchairs on stages across America and Australia. Her manuscript, Body Talk Equals Survival: From Victim Politics to Human Rights, a manuscript I have read, is fabulous, and I hope to see in print. With no more discussion, we’ll turn it over to Julia.
Julia Trahan: Okay. What I wanted to do was actually a little audience interactive exercise. And if I could ask you all to shut your eyes, this will only hurt for a moment. Actually what I’m going to do is do a little thing…. I liked the thing the guy said about labels. You know, for me in my life, in my work, I find that it’s just so hard, because it’s like you are disabled. You know, you are queer. I am a woman. So that’s who I am. But I’m not that. So for me the only labels I really want, that I really embrace, that I really feel are the labels pretty much of artist…. I don’t worry about being a woman, being a crip. I just worry about being an artist. And what that is for me is basically about working from the heart, working from a non-thinking space [unreadable]. I’m going to hand some things out to someone here quickly, and I’m going to ask them just to describe them. So if you would just describe that. Your eyes are supposed to be closed.
From Audience: Okay. It reminds me of a short point with a large rounded knob at the top and below that kind of a fluted thing that comes down into something that’s a little bit flat. Then the point comes out from that point. It’s shaped like a dagger, but it’s not.
Julia Trahan: Okay. I’m going to hand another object to someone in the audience. Can you just describe how that feels.
From Audience: It feels vaginal. That is what first came to my brain. And hard. There are some grooves in it and kind of sandy a little bit on the outside, kind of grains, I guess. And very smooth around the edges, like you can slide it.
Julia Trahan: A slidey thing. Okay. Can I have them back? Everyone open your eyes. And this is what people were describing. And I don’t know your name, but this is the object the other woman described. Actually, they’re my artificial hip, not the one I have now but the one I had taken out. My point is that as an artist, what I try to do is get to the base of things and remove all judgment. I realize what judgment I’m putting on my body is nothing but my judgment and how it feels to me. I’m guessing if the audience member knew she was feeling someone’s artificial hip, she wouldn’t say, “Oh, that feels like a vagina.” I don’t know, maybe she would. I don’t know. She is kind of an interesting girl. [getting assistance from audience] What I want to show you is that there’s a difference between what a real thing is and an image of what something is and how that can be artificially created. Can you see these? They’re x-rays. So, basically, these are actually what you just saw. What I just want to point out is that there is a body, a human body, that one can touch, one can hold in one’s hand, one can describe, just like you did with my artificial hip. And then when you create an image of it, it puts it in a brand new context. So the x-rays are putting my hip in a brand new context, just like I would put my body in a brand new context on stage.
JT: So I thought I would do just a little five minute excerpt of one of my pieces. And at this time I will do another little impromptu thing. Ten minutes. Let’s go.
JT: My mother says I was born masturbating. All mothers embarrass their children by telling of some adorable act or enduring habit, but my mother reflects upon my inherent sexual narcissism at dinner parties. She tells it in front of my sister’s boyfriend. She even told our real estate agent. I’ve asked her to stop. [laughter]
JT: She just giggles, her rolly-polly body bouncing. I have such a cute mom. I love her very much. I figure she can’t help herself. Actually, I don’t mind that she publicly talks of what is usually considered a private act. She’s making a political statement. My grandmother, the Baptist, told her people with disabilities, survivors of traumatic accidents and chronic pain, don’t have sexualities. My grandmother said, “It’s such a shame. She was such a pretty little girl.”
JT: My co-worker told me people born with legs too short don’t think about wild fucking in the back of pickup trucks or chasing naked in a field or holding the hand of a lifetime lover, trembling in fear at a scary movie. He said if they think these things certainly shouldn’t be said out loud, and he says desires are disgusting to act upon if you are hideously disfigured, such as one leg too short.
JT: All sorts of people think about sexuality, trust me. They do. Take me, for instance: hit by a truck at age 11, [unreadable] by a truck. I am no longer me. I am [unreadable] body tornadoed through time. Hit by a truck at age 11, lost a lot of things: 20/20 vision, the use of my left side, the ability to speak or swallow, even lost my life and rose from the dead just like Jesus Christ, with that good old ever flowing life juice. He’s wrong; my sexuality never left me. [applause]
JT: This is an impromptu thing, so I don’t have to be incredibly talented, because I am being spontaneous. It’s better that way. Is somebody going to run the music for me?
[music playing, singing, applause]
Carrie Sandahl: Alright. Our next speaker/performer is Joan Lipkin. She is the artistic director of the award winning Disability Project, which is an ensemble of disabled and non-disabled adults who create and do original material on the culture of disability as both art and advocacy. She also directs Meet Me in St. Louis, an ensemble of men, as well as The Real Deal,” a group of breast cancer survivors. Lipkin is a cultural provocateur and has directed a theater company in Xt. Louis for 14 years, a company well known for its commitment to producing and creating gay and lesbian performance. Please welcome Joan Lipkin. [applause]
Joan Lipkin: Wasn’t Julia great? Can you give it up for Julia again? [applause] Maybe you were the foreplay. Thank you, Julia. I appreciate it. Can you all hear me? I’ll pull it closer. It’s so phallic. It’s good to be here, to be at the site of the first international gathering of queers and crips. …This is a utopian partnering, like soup and sandwich, peanut butter and jelly, S and M, chocolate and vanilla, because I believe that queerness and disability are utopian sites. Now, I don’t want to be in any place for a long period of time unless somebody is giving me money, without one or both present. And I think that it’s really important that both are present, because they push these binaries, they push our notion about what Raymond and other people have said so eloquently this morning. And whether one is consciously occupying a queer and crip position, whether they’re personally identifying or politically allied, like a righteous gentile, the absence of such presence is very noticeable and disturbing when you go someplace and you don’t see either one or know of it.
JL: I am a theater artist, a writer, a director, a bona fide, self acknowledged disturber. And as much as possible in performance settings, I try, to paraphrase the fabulous Carrie Sandahl, to crip the queer and to queer the crip, from a girl’s perspective, a feminist girl. It begins with trying to create a very open culture in a group that encourages people to discuss whatever they want. And that often means sex. Not unlike the feminist consciousness-raising circles of the sixties and seventies. And interestingly, being themselves continues to change in our group, as we now move into our sixth season. We have had people who, previously identified as gay, decide to relate heterosexually; go figure. We have had people who are straight begin to relate as gay, etc. We have also had people who previously identified as non-disabled, such as myself, during the course of having this ensemble, be diagnosed with a life-threatening and altering illness, cancer, which of course has changed everything for me. Or just most recently, a few months ago, a woman in our group who was previously non-disabled, experienced a devastating stroke. So much for the notion that identity is a stable, fixed position. It’s just one more reason why queers and crips occupy a so much more important position in the pantheon, because it challenges our notion of stability, and I think that that’s a good thing. There is a lot I could talk about relating these two things, but what I’m going to do today is basically talk to you about two pieces so that you can see how we have sort of constructed this.
JL: First of all, let me give you a little history of the group. It is, as Carrie said, an ensemble of both disabled and non-disabled adults. And I think that that’s very important, because I know there are many ways to construct an ensemble, but in my opinion, to have both disabled and non-disabled together cuts down on the voyeurism, and it makes it possible for very different kinds of audiences to identify with us. We create pieces to explore such things as sexuality, health care, architectural accessibility, transportation and employment. We do a lot of dancing, [unreadable]. And the group is deliberately diverse in race, ethnicity, class, occupation, religion, education, sexual orientation or preference, physical ability and performance experience.
JL: We share an interest in playing and creating together, a concern about perception of our culture, a commitment to the group process and a desire to make innovative theatrical performance. What I would like to do is show you a very short clip that our local PBS station did. Of course, it’s not complete, because it’s who was available to show up that day, and we know how that goes.
Video: The Disability Project is theater for everyone. We are welcoming you to experience something that you may not have encountered before and to take away some of the fear and make it possible for you to explore another person’s reality and a reality that may be your own.
Video: The Disability Project offers St. Louis theater audiences something creative. Members of the ensemble bring a variety of abilities and disabilities to the stage. And they share a desire to introduce audiences to their world and change a few minds.
Video: I am a ham by heart. And I just like performing. And the more I perform the more I like it. I am now more vivacious than ever.
Video: It is just very satisfying, and at the same time, it is a great way to get our message across. A great way to gently change people’s minds. We are looking to be included.
Joan Lipkin: What we say at the end of every performance is we are of you, we are among you, we are you. Do not be afraid. And we want to emphasize that I was very touched by Julia’s piece where she pulls out the heart. It is about the human connection and the fact we have that in common and this is a population that everybody can join at any time. So I am going to get a little bit theoretical and I was worried my talk might be too academic, and I was talking about it with Julia, and she said, “You know, if you pick up, if you just wave a dildo around.” I will wave this around as a good luck. I should do it like this, a good luck omen, and then if I use words that are too pomo, as opposed to homo, maybe you will forgive me. How is this working? All right. Thank you Julia.
JL: Alright. So, it is so interesting. The first thing that you know in the theater is that you need to know your audience. Who is my audience this morning. And who is it going to be. And I am trying to split a couple of identities for myself. Juxtaposing. I think they spoke eloquently about that this morning. And you don’t just occupy for life one position; you live multiple positions; we all do. In her article, “Queering the Crip,” Carrie Sandahl emphasizes the connections between the two communities [unreadable]. And she says, both disabled and queer people often experience a profound sense of isolation while growing up. It is rare for an individual from either group to be born into crip or queer families much less communities, unlike a black person who is likely to be born into an African American family and community. And poet and essayist Eli Clare, who helped organize this fabulous conference—thank you very much Eli, wherever you are—has commented on the common patterns of experience across these different communities. And I want to share a quote: “The ways in which queer people and disabled people experience oppression follow, to a certain extent, parallel paths. Queer identity has been pathologized and medicalized. Until 1973, homosexuality was considered a psychiatric disorder. Today, transsexuality and transgenderism are considered psychiatric conditions. Queerness is all too frequently entwined with shame, silence and isolation. Queer people deal with gawking all of the time when we hold hands in public and defy gender boundaries and norms. Queer people have been told for centuries by church, state, and science that our bodies are abnormal.”
JL: So what we do with the Project, I insist we combine; we queer a lot of what we do, and we demonstrate how the categories are false and also point out how they are subject to the notion of a cure. And I will give you an example of one of the pieces; it is called the healing ministry. And we take the notion of sickness, and we invert it for comic ends. And I am a big believer in humor, because I think when you can make people laugh, then you can really give them information. And also it kind of softens the belly when you are laughing, and it opens the heart.
JL: In this piece we have two televangelists, and the piece is a send up about faith healers and the outdated moral model of disability. But what is interesting is that when I made a suggestion to the group that we start to think about the notion of religion and faith and how it intersects with disability, people said, “Yes, they had been to one of the faith meetings, and this came from their real life experience; they were told their disability was a manifestation of this sin.” Anybody have that experience in the room? If you feel like testifying…. You are told because something happened, you are in the body that you are in, and it is a manifestation of your sin or your parents’ sin. And that is hard for the parents, isn’t it? Because the child is born, and it is a miracle. A wonderful thing, and then they are somehow given all of this guilt. So we have a situation where it is actually almost like the audience is the revival meeting, like a tent revival. And we have the televangelists on stage. And Sally, who is one of them, presents as her evidence to cure people of disabilities the fact that she has cured her husband, who is now an ex-gay. Yes, and it gets good. It rolls along. He says, “Before I met and married Sally, I used to be a homosexual. I know, hard to believe, but true. But Sally laid hands on me and in only three long years she was able to cure me of my loathsome desires.” Sally says, “Yes, Richard was one of my tougher cases, but I knew that the healing power of love would prevail.” So much of the cure, she sends him down into the audience to collect money. And immediately he starts coming on to a man in the audience. And asking him if he is free, then he should call in after 11 when she goes to bed. And it is very funny. And we establish this connection in that particular piece between the gay and disability communities, both of which have had imposed on them over and over again the idea of the necessity of a cure, especially in the religious context. And I think a lot of us have been damaged by the precepts of organized religion and we need to look at it. And it doesn’t matter whether we have queers in the audience or straight people or people with disabilities or without, what they realize when they see this piece, hopefully, is that the notion this is natural, that it is natural to discriminate and think that somebody should be cured, and then laugh at it. And they now realize that the whole notion of curing should be questioned.
JL: But I want to also take a moment to talk about another piece that deals with a female identity, a straight female identity, I think there are parallels in the relationships of all of this. We have found that disabled and queer identities are also helpful in critiquing traditional constructions of female identity. And the piece I will talk to you about is called “Go Figure” and it is the real life story of Katie Banister and how they re-imagined her sexual identity after becoming disabled at the age of 24 in a car accident.
JL: And I need to take a moment and thank our hard-working transcribers and interpreters over here. Can we do that? And can you tell me if I am speaking too quickly? Okay. They are working very hard, and I think there are some hand massages coming up.
JL: And Katie was disabled at the age of 24, and this [piece] looks to the assumption that a disabled person or a person who becomes disabled is now asexual and undesirable and undesiring. And what is interesting, even as Katie remembers her sexuality before her accident, she says, “You might not know, but I used to be quite the Barbie girl.” Her memory is worried about what people would think of her. Whether she was heterosexual and disabled or not. But there is a way that women are supposed to behave. They are not supposed to have big sexual appetites, and they are not supposed to act on them. Do you know what I am saying? Women in the audience, we are not supposed to want it, but we do. We do.
JL: So, we are reminded by Katie’s piece that the female body is really policed and scrutinized and criticized. There is a way to behave and a way to look and a sense of what constitutes beauty and sexual propriety and physical wholeness. And what is interesting for Katie is that her life transition from nondisabled to disabled is not so much just a shift from normalcy to abnormalcy but a shift in movement from one kind of gaze to another. From the book Extraordinary Bodies, “If the male gaze informs the normative female self as a sexual spectacle, then the stare sculpts the disabled subject as a grotesque spectacle.” In our society, both female bodies, and disabled bodies find themselves marginalized because of their supposed deviation from an idealized norm. And this is pointed out in the piece when Katie says, “I placed a personal ad in the paper, ‘Petite, professional, independent woman on wheels seeks male.’” And one man thought she drove around a lot.
JL: So I think, you know, it is significant that Katie reclaims her particular sexuality. And it is an invitation to the audience to think about how they see sexuality. So hers is an [unreadable] coming, not an overcoming narrative or story about how to learn to do without. But the story, the invitation to an audience of how to learn to [unreadable] with differently. She says, “Go figure,” at the end of the piece. And I think that, when she says it, that can be a sense of surprise. She is saying, “I am having the best sex of my life. Go figure.” It can be an expression of surprise or an invitation to us in the audience, both disabled and nondisabled and queer and straight and all points within. To learn how to figure out how to move beyond the society’s ideas of sexual roles. And she does it as a dialogue; it is not a monologue, but a dialogue. She performs it with a gay man. And he reads as gay on stage. So this kind of changes the expectation that it is only her story. And also that it is grounded in a presumption of heterosexuality.
Carrie Sandahl: You have two minutes.
Joan Lipkin: Okay. I have two minutes. I hate to talk and not show. Okay. Put it tape in. That would help.
Video: I used to be quite the Barbie girl. Oh yeah. Well, I always was a traditional little girl at heart. I enjoyed dressing up in everything that went with it, from my first pair of panty hose to my bouffant hair with the hair spray. Remember how popular big hair was in the ‘80s. The bigger the hair the closer to God. And with the make up to match. Borderline Barbie without being a cynic. And I am not so sure I always succeeded. I can remember my girlfriend and me dressing up to go out for the evening, the boombox blaring, “No parking baby, no parking on the dance floor.” My favorite outfit was a great sweater with my black leather mini skirt and four inch shoes. That outfit said, “Look at me.” Why I even won a wet t-shirt contest once. And the girl next to me dropped her drawers, and I still won. My first kiss was at the ice rink.
Joan Lipkin: Okay. I have the tape with me, and if anybody wants to see that or any of our other pieces, I have a lot of information about us. And there is so much more than any of us can say, but what I want to say in closing for now: I think [unreadable] a straight female identity, disability and lesbian identity, and gay male identity create a triangular relationship to the work in our Project. They freak each other out; they upset the tendency to keep the categories rigid and keep boundaries set; and they insist that the audience take us seriously and on our own terms and act in a way that complicates a sense of identity and make our work really activist and shit disturbing, and I really like that. It is an honor to be here. Thank you very much.
Carrie Sandahl: Thank you Joan. I am letting the speakers speak a little bit longer today because Ann Fox who was slated to come was unable to make it today. So we are on time even though it might not seem that way. Our final performer today is Terry Galloway, and she is a performance artist, teacher, activist, and poet in Florida. Her performances have been published in anthologies and journals including Staring Back, the Disability Rag, and Out of Characters. Her play “The House of the Moles” recently premiered in Austin. And this play was workshopped last summer at the Mark Taper Forum. She has performed at venues as WOW, Limbo Lounge, and others. She currently splits her time between the two theater companies she cofounded. Here is Terry Galloway.
Terry Galloway: This is called “Deaf as a Post/Tough as Nails.”
TG: [text provided by TG] When I was a kid growing up hallucinatory and deaf (deaf then being the catch all word for any kind of severe hearing impairment), I both loved and loathed all fuss made over me.
TG: I was a tomboy, but my coke bottle glasses and the walkman sized hearing aid that banged between my two budding breasts like a third one seemed like beacons, signals to whatever wider world that deigned to notice that I was a girl—and not only was I a girl, I was a little crippled one.
TG: As a little crippled girl, I was expected to act that part. But what part was that? Pattie Duke in Miracle Worker? I wouldn’t have minded that in the least. She got to run around like crazy and break and shatter things in her furies and there was nothing more appealing than her homoerotic attachment to Ann Bancroft. So boy, I was willing to try that role.
TG: But no one else was willing to buy me in it. I could speak. I could see three feet in front of my face so I could read lips. If I kept my mouth shut (while undergoing the therapy to keep my speech from sounding lak thsis) I could pass. I just didn’t have enough cripple capital to get away with the furthest extremes of uncivil behavior. I was expected to behave. No, more than that, I was expected to somehow be a little angel—as in half dead before my time. Like the crippled girl in Heidi—sickly, listless and wan, missing something she’d never have, never know the joys of, perpetually wasting away from her envy of the put together human being she should have been i.e., Shirley Temple, that perfect child gold mine of talent and cute who was always there at her elbow nagging her to get up lazybones and walk.
TG: Even as a child it amazed me that Shirley Temple (and by implication all perfect, cute, precocious children everywhere) could be so prescient, to intuitive, so right in her every impulse. Especially towards children who were more like me—the sad sacks with defective parts and no discernable reason for being. If only I could be passive and just listen to reason, listen to Shirley. I’d be able to get right up out of my chair and be cured. So said Shirley to her little crippled friend whose name of course eludes me but wasn’t I impressed when after all those urgings she finally did stand up, did take those miraculous tottering steps forward. It was all just a matter of will. Of wanting. Of belief. So said my grandmother’s pastor when he laid his hand on my head and commanded me to be made whole again.
TG: I wanted to be whole. I willed myself to hear again to be normal. I knew that unless I was whole I could never hope to play a role as heroic as Shirley Special Fucking Temple. My role would always be the victim, the poor hapless sap who was constantly being saved from the consequences of her own frowny disposition.
TG: You’d think the hallucinations with their whispering voices and sudden liftings through the air would have put me on a little more equal footing, made me seem like a seer, something really special to be heeded and feared. And it’s true that for a little while there my family (coming from a long history of quasi-lunatic psychics) thought maybe something more powerful was afoot when I told them I could leave my body and fly. But modern medicine stripped that illusion away. The truth was something I’d known all along—I was just a kid who couldn’t hear, could barely see, and the mysteries visited upon me weren’t profound revelations at all, just simple terrors.
TG: I was such a mass of fear and imperfection I could hardly bear to lift my head up to the sky.
TG: Is it any wonder I started to cross-dress?
TG: I’d wake up from a nightmare, a vision, my own troubled mind. Everyone else in the house would be asleep. I’d put on my hearing aids and glasses my jeans and the army shirt of my dad’s I’d filched from the laundry room; I’d take the tie of his I’d stolen long ago out from under the mattress where I kept it hidden, slip it around my neck then steal through the living room, taking my mother’s lighter, her cigarettes, and open the side door that led to the carport.
TG: Somewhere out there was danger and romance. And I was going to find it.
TG: As a man, I could do that, see. Open the door to the uncertain dark, go out in it and stand under a starry sky, stare down my destiny, my terrible fate.
TG: And yeah, I knew the truth of that too: that I was just a little girl playing dress up late at night. But so what? I was being released from my body into a kind of fiction. And isn’t that in essence what it meant to be a man? To be released from your body into a kind of fiction? And if that were true, why couldn’t those stars be mine as much as anyone’s? Why couldn’t I become the hero of my own story?
TG: As a skinny kid, I played that role of man seriously, privately. As an adult woman, suddenly that role became imaginatively impossible for me to play.
TG: Part of playing the male role for me was playing tough. Not the kind of tough that had anything to do with real, unpretty survival with which I was familiar. But the kind of tough predicated on being slick, distanced, cool. Tough as just another fashion tool reserved for the perfect. The handsome James Dean-y looking boys who were allowed to look wounded because there’s nothing more fuckable-looking than a tough looking boy with a soft swollen mouth.
TG: But that kind of tough couldn’t work for me. No matter how I strapped myself down, I’d become too round, too soft, too hippy, too womanly. It was impossible for me to make that leap from plumpy pillowy to achingly angular, even in my own shameless imagination.
TG: Besides, I’d been doing some thinking. And I didn’t know if I much admired my own tough boy stance anymore. It began to strike me as just another way of hating who I really was. Why was I so afraid of needing? Why was I so afraid of being vulnerable? I mean besides the very real fear of being whacked on the head and robbed blind because I couldn’t hear a mugger swaggering up behind me.
TG: I began to examine the implications of my own ability to cross-dress. And when I did, I started playing the role for laughs.
TG: This is how I’d frame it:
TG: I’ve always wanted to be, or at least look, a lot tougher than I really am. Because it’s still a vicious world out there. And I’m deaf. And I’m queer. And I’m a woman. Iieeee! What is your only defense in a case like that? Eyeliner. I love eyeliner. It lets me change my look. (I STARTED MARKING OUT A BEARD ON MY FACE WITH THE EYELINER) See, I’m one of these people, I wake up in the morning the sun is shining, the birds are all a tweet and all I can think is, “Please great nature, don’t eat me up today.” Part of my problem is that I’m a woman who smiles a lot. And there are people out there who think that when I smile and say hello I’m really smiling and saying, “Hello, there. Why don’t you beat me black and blue and rape me sixty times.” So it’s no wonder I want to tough guys things up. (I USED MASCARA TO FILL IN THE OUTLINE OF THE FIVE O’CLOCK STUBBLE) Grrrr. But I’d rather look a friendly kind of tough. This is kind of gross. (I SHOVED TISSUE PAPER UP MY NOSE). A little blush. (I DUSTED MY NOSE WITH PINK BLUSH) What else? Oh something to hide the voluptuous curves of my body because whatever else they may be boobs are not tough. (I PUT ON A TRENCHCOAT) A little spit to dull the sheen of my hair. Nah, something to hide it altogether. (PUT ON A SLOUCH HAT) Now to take up a disgusting habit that will turn some people who are still on off. (I TOOK OUT A CIGARETTE) And voila. You’ve crossed over a line. And on this side of the line it is an entirely different dark night of the soul. On this side of the line it’s always…. (I WHIPPED AROUND AND THEN TURNED BACK AROUND IN THE PERSONA OF A TOUGH GUY DETECTIVE)
TG: 4:25 am. The city they call “The city” is sleeping like a baby. A baby shark. And sharks don’t sleep. Neither do I. Call me Jake. Call me the next time you’re in trouble. Trouble’s my business. I’m Jake Ratchett, Short Detective.
TG: (THE REST OF THE ESSAY WAS DELIVERED WHILE STILL IN COSTUME AS JAKE RATCHETT, SHORT DETECTIVE. BUT OF COURSE THE VOICE IN WHICH IS WAS DELIVERED WAS MY OWN)
TG: Framing the tough male role comically like that, made me realize that if the inappropriate, the imperfect thing can embody the desired, the “perfect” essence so amusingly yet so absolutely then the joke is turned upon itself, then the implications of that turnabout are both funny and humbling. All those absolutes that intimidated me as a woman and a child, all those heroic reasons for being, those grand undertakings, all those ambitious posturings for power that one seems to take on when one takes on male garb—suddenly all of that is reduced to a kind of ridiculousness. And that reality which so often intimidates us, is exposed as just another fiction. Ours for the rewriting. [end of text provided by TG]
TG: Thank you. [applause] I would like to show you something. I directed this. It’s done by a little girl with epilepsy. We’ll go on as far as we can. It’s open-captioned. Let me know what you think of it. I think it’s funny. It’s followed by a quick reaction, because some people were outraged by the abuse.
Carrie Sandahl: I invite you to move closer if you want to.
Carrie Sandahl: Alright. We have about ten minutes for discussion. And I’m sorry that we’re running short on time. I hope we will be able to carry some of our discussion into our lunchtime conversation. We have some good doses of crip humor, queer humor, queer sexiness, all sorts of things that have been breaking down identity boundaries and asking us to reconsider rigid thinking about being a woman, being queer, being disabled. So I invite you to ask questions of our panelists or make comments. And I believe we need to speak into the microphone. How are we doing that for the audience members?
Joan Lipkin: I think it’s a stage dildo.
From Audience: First I would like to do something as sort of performance theater. I will gladly volunteer to massage your hands, the sign language interpreters. I’m doing that just to show you that queer disabled people can be just as obnoxious and disgusting and perverted as anyone else. But the offer still stands. Anyway, I want to comment on the healing thing. I can’t even go to gospel concerts anymore, because if I sit in the front row, which is where they usually put us, no matter where I want to sit, the person singing will automatically start saying stuff like, “Look at me,” and get eye contact.” So I’m always tempted to get up and walk up there in…. [laughter] The other side of the coin is I can’t get up, you know. I can’t get up to straighten my pants or anything. I’m a mixed person, of mixed population. When I was growing up, my mother sent me to every church. I don’t know why. Ask her. But she’s dead. Anyway, I would come home crying, because every church I went to, they would pat me on my head and say, “Hey, you.” Now, mind you, at five or six years old, you’re crippled because you’re bad. There’s a demon inside you. And I went like, “Oh, shit.” I was five. Okay? It’s so remarkable how that carries on into the adult life and how things like not being able to go to a gospel concert; one guy was actually trying to heal me. And I kept going like this, “No, no, no.” So I just want to know how many people were born with my disability; I go to church to this day. No one has tried to heal me yet, thank God. How many people have to deal with that, that sin thing, you know, “Why are you using your wheelchair? You’re just lazy. There’s something wrong with you. You must have done something.” You know, I’m born this way. What could I have done? Fetal masturbation or something?
Joan Lipkin: That’s a really good question. It’s also a kind of comment on something that so many of us have experienced. The piece about the minister to a man using a wheelchair, “It’s because of sin that you’re in that wheelchair, and he goes, ‘Funny, I thought it was because of the drunk driver that hit me.’” I don’t know. Why don’t we do a show of hands. How many people have had an unfortunate experience with religion which says that somehow there is a relationship between their disability and their relationship to goodness? How many people? Raise them high so we can really see.
Joan Lipkin: let’s not hear it for Louise Hayes. It’s really interesting. We come from all different kinds of settings. We like to do schools, corporations. We like to do anything where we feel we can reach people. But we have also done religious settings. And we never name it as God, because I think that one’s relationship to their spirituality is a very intimate one. We never name a denomination. We let people’s imaginations take over for them. But people of faith, it has to do with not judging and with loving. They recognize the hypocrisy, and they recognize the piece is really funny. I think the horrors of religion are just something that could speak about it for a long time, but I’ll stop now.
Carrie Sandahl: I think we have time for a couple of more comments or questions.
From Audience: A really quick practical question for Terry, which is about if the Miracle Worker video is available to buy and rent?
From Audience: It is now. I don’t know. We just finished doing it. But if you want it, I’ll get it to you. We will come up with some phenomenal price.
Carrie Sandahl: I think that piece is a wonderful example of how both crip human and queer humor take things that people are experiencing and the lengths people will go to create a sense of normalcy and the complications that are involved in such processes. And I think personally that that’s a very strong connection between crips and queers, that way of looking at a representation, something that people tend to accept and spinning it around and making you see beneath it.
Terry Galloway: I just have one comment about that. I just wanted to say that I think it’s interesting, when we did that, that after we showed it at the [unreadable] club, a group of people from all walks of life, gender, sexuality, disability, all that. But one of the things is when we showed it at our show, there was also a real hostile response on the part of a lot of people. It was interesting to me that the people who had the most hostile response were people considered to be caretakers for the disabled, not the disabled people themselves. And I found that to be really interesting. So that is why we did the second half, of me signing, supposedly. You have to almost establish the credentials of a piece and constantly prove that you’re there, you’ve been there, you have a right to say these things and you have a right to make your anger known, you know.
Carrie Sandahl: A couple of more comments back there?
From Audience: Hi…. I’m with the queer crips theater group, which Julia in the past has been a performer with. It’s interesting, the stuff about the theater, because we’ve had lesbians and non-lesbians in the group, because it’s so hard for disabled women to find a venue to perform with. But I think that theater is a real powerful tool that we can use to show stuff about our sexuality. And we will be performing in July at a sex and disability performance. And people are familiar with our group. We’ve been around since the summer of ‘85, and we’ve seen a lot of different women come through the group. We have some new women in there now. I also wanted to respond to the religious thing. One of the things I get a lot is if you believed in Jesus, you could walk, that kind of stuff. That’s a real old story, anyway, about Jesus. But I think that, you know, it’s just something that really bothers me at this point in my disability, because it’s a spinal cord injury, and these people have no idea what that whole realm is. So it’s really invasive about my wheelchair, you know, but it does happen a lot. But I did want to talk about Wry Crips a little bit. We have a video available, a No-Apologies performance that was done in 1990. If you want to know about that, just come and talk to me about it.
Carrie Sandahl: One more, and then I think we need to wrap it up for lunch.
From Audience: Hi. Does anyone know if there is a publication specifically for queer disability and the arts? Anything like that? It might be something we could all talk about at the conference, trying to get either a publication or a web site where we would be able to overlap all the things we all know about, because I think everybody knows something different. I would highly recommend that if you know things, maybe we could post them, do something where eventually we could all have a clearinghouse for everything we know about, and stay in touch with each other’s work.
Joan Lipkin: I think that’s a great idea. One of the things that was with queerness is we get “special issues.” So an organization does a special issue on something, for example, the National Women’s Studies Association is doing an issue on disability. But then what happens to us the rest of the time? Right? So I think that’s a really important thing you raised. What I would like to say is our work is available. I’m really happy to share it. If anybody could find a use for it by performing it for their classroom, their actions, their own work, please feel free. Just contact me. I also have a lot of information about our group, cards and brochures. I’m into circulation. Right? I mean, that we have ideas and feelings we should circulate. So I’m very open to that, and we have a lot of stuff about that intersection of queerness and disability.
Julia Trahan: I just wanted to say, I have a top ten link my web page, and if anybody wants to give me their URL, I would be happy to put it on the web page.
Terry Galloway: I think San Francisco State might be a great place to start something called QD. It’s a great title, and maybe this kind of conference is the place to give birth to the kind of journals you’re talking about; you’re absolutely right. It just needs to be suggested. [unreadable]
Carrie Sandahl: Also I want to say real quick there is a special issue of the Gay and Lesbian Quarterly coming out, coedited by Robert McRuer over here. You can talk to him about it. There are flyers on the table. And there is QD art under discussion in that journal, especially one article by somebody standing here talking in the microphone. I want to thank you very much for your attendance at today’s panel, and I look forward to talking to you more throughout the week. Thanks. [applause]
[end of RTC transcript]