Not long ago, one of my friends tagged me in a post about screen printing shirts which say “My Crippled is Queer / My Queer is Crippled.” And it got me thinking, how would someone who wasn’t part of the very specific community of disabled queers read this? At its core, it is a question of legibility. But for bodies like ours, most things are.
Because I’m a poet, I think of most things in terms of language, spell things out in my head, big burning letters in the air, objects arranged into small units of speech. I think there is a unique dialect behind the crippled, queer (and particularly trans) body. There is a different syntax to my motion, triple beat of my cane, a three footed step, caesura of my body pulling itself up stairs by the railing. There is a separate alphabet to the disabled body, composed of only the letters I can force my body to bend into without collapse. For my deaf, hard of hearing, and non-speaking friends, ASL provides a literal unique and bodied language with which to communicate with the world.
But queerness, transness, these also reconfigure the language of our bodies. There is a whole growing and evolving vocabulary of our bodies. We are inventing names for parts of our bodies that this language is not equipped to name. I give this body names like womxish, womb-less, cock-clit. Being mid-transition, and both within and outside of binary conceptions of gender, my body is labeled by by a series of almosts. Almost a woman. Almost passing. But even my disability makes the concept of passing a more interesting task. What is it to “pass” as something that does not fit into narrow gender sets. What does it mean to “pass” under the scrutinizing eye of a person deciding whether my body is entitled to its own disability.
And this is where the definition of queer in a strict sense becomes important. Queer (adjective): denoting a thing as strange or odd. Or Queer (verb): to spoil or ruin.
My gender is queer. As in my gender is something strange or outside the acceptable norm. As in my gender has made a ruin of the “boy” I was born. As in the first time my grandmother saw a picture of me after coming out she called my mother to tell her that she found my new look “scary.” The way I have become a child spoiled by a spill of makeup. Ruined by the estrogen making my body feel whole.
But in a sense I can never be “whole.” My body resists an unqueer existence. The deformity in my back, my broken nose that whistles when I breath, my pronounced limp, the cane that takes up residence in my right hand, these all mark my body as odd. The damage my father’s abuse left me with has left so many marks. If a body is a temple than I was born into a temple of wreckage. So how can my voice be anything but a queer prayer?
I think for so many of us, our queer identity and disability status are entangled along lines of intimacy. As I talked about in my last column, the way in which I am desired cannot be disconnected from my gender or my disability. For someone to be my partner it means watching my body slowly change, it means loving a body that is out of step with the bodies they may have previously learned to love. It also means still maintaining their feelings for me when I am not able, when I cannot be self-sufficient. Because my intimacy means some days I will need their help to stand, it means some days I won’t be able to leave my bed, and it means sometimes I will be a huge bitch because my entire spine is out of alignment and they don’t make over the counter painkillers to handle that sort of pain.
The friend I was talking about earlier is (of course) another poet, Liv Mammone. She had a recent poem, “Blind Date,” published up on SlamFind’s YouTube channel, which brought me to tears. In it she describes the fear of being written off as undesirable for her body as being “scared that your body is a haunted house / already condemned for the wrecking ball.” The poem centers around being drawn into a predatory relationship with an older man because of this fear, and I think this is an all too relatable feeling for those of us who are queered by our own bodies.
And this is a fear I still face, it is not enough for a person to be attracted to me, even to lust after me, if they are unable to learn the language that a body like mine requires. In the same way that trauma informed sex is so important for survivors of sexual violence, disability informed sex is incredibly important. Because at the end of the day, if all of that attraction, all of that intimacy that entangles with the cross-section of my crippled/queer identity, than the place where I feel most affirmed, most able, and least a ruin, should be in the bedroom.
torrin a. greathouse (they/them or she/her) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. They are the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their poetry is published/forthcoming in Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, & Assaracus. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, Bettering American Poetry, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin’s first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017.