“Body of Work”: Embodying Queer Disability

Debbie says:

I promised that I would review “Body of Work,” a spoken word show curated by my friend Gina de Vries, which promised to explore “queerness, sexuality, disability, chronic illness, and the question: ‘How do you have a body?'”

Body of Work is a new show, so it was fitting that the first version explored a lot of fresh territory. All six performers were at a high standard, so I’ll say something about each of them, and what I feel they brought to body image.

Tobi-Hill-Meyer-for-Body-of-Work-300x300Tobi Hill-Meyer used both spoken word and film to explore what happened to her at a Feminist Porn Awards show, when she and her girlfriend were harassed by a security guard for making out in the gender-neutral bathroom (!). Hill-Meyer has severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and had to wear her breathing mask in the bathroom because of those (horrible!) scent-releasing machines which hotels and other public venues will claim make life “better.” The mask changes her breathing, which is what attracted the guard’s attention, and also confused the guard about her gender. The result: disability and trans identity come together in a miserable institute of harassment (which was, fortunately, resolved fairly cleanly, but left both Hill-Meyer and her girlfriend traumatized). This piece was very clearly narrated, and the film (of the makeout session in the bathroom stall) brought an immediacy to it which strengthened the impact.

CinnamonCinnamon-Maxxine-Photo-1-for-Body-of-Work-300x297 read a raw, powerful open Dear John letter to their fears, anxieties, and limitations, a letter which revealed not only their vulnerabilities but also their anger against racism and the ways the world holds them back. The letter morphed into a beautiful transformative burlesque dance, done with a slideshow of the song lyrics in the background.

 

 

 

 

Katherine Cross created a context for the intersections of autism, trans identity, and sexuality using two video games: Bayonetta, a high-graphics video game about a sexy succubus who is the viewpoint character, and Error 404, a Twine game where your job is to pleasure an extremely demanding (and kinky) artificial intelligence. Cross drew the connections between learning sexuality from the outside (Bayonetta’s imagery) and from the inside (Error 404’s exploration), and brought the two back into her own sexual experience in an intense and moving presentation (with game screenshots in the background).

Neve Be provided a long, painful autobiographical screed about their sexual history, interwoven with disability experiences and experiences of racial oppression, powerfully narrated, with back-up electronic music which was intended to be (and was) disquieting and disturbing.

Rachel-K-180x300Hearing a performer talk about extreme social anxiety is particularly powerful, because they are there in front of you, telling you about the challenges of being there. Rachel K. Zall embodied this very well. I especially appreciated the casual, unstressed way in which she talked about overcoming (and not always overcoming) extraordinary challenges.

Finally, curator Gina DeVries, limited by strep throat (and unable to MC the show), read a short piece about sex and chronic pain, and being with a lover who was not only supportive of zir pain issues but also open to continued sexuality through pain limitations.

How do you have a body? By opening up the raw places, and finding joyous spaces inside. If this show runs next year (or anywhere else in between), with these performers or different ones, don’t miss your chance.

Do These Eyes Make Me Look Too Asian?

Laurie and Debbie say:

History repeats itself, and racist body-shaming history is no exception. Whether it was Jewish teenagers getting nose jobs as high-school graduation presents (which both of us remember) or African-American teenagers straightening their hair to look more “presentable,” the push to get young women to change their bodies to look “more normal” or “more like ‘everyone else'” is tireless. (Who is “everyone else?” The dominant version of pretty or beautiful at the time, which is always white, and otherwise varies by size and shape.)

Writing at ThinkProgress, Jessica Lewis interviews Jade Justad, who is raising money for Creased, a short film on Asian eye surgery.

When Jade Justad was 13 years old, she went to a makeup counter at the mall with her girlfriends. Everyone else was white; Justad has a white father and a Korean mother. The crease in her eyelid, more pronounced now that she’s 30, was less defined at the time. The woman at the counter did up all her friends first. Then she approached Justad, an apprehensive expression on her face.

“I can do this to open up your eyes,” she said finally. “And westernize them.”

“I’d never thought before that there was something wrong with my eyes,” Justad said by phone. “When I share that with other Asian women, they say: yup, that happened to me.”

As Lewis explores in the interview, and as detailed far more in Patricia Marx’s New Yorker article, “About Face,” Asian eye surgery (also called “double-eyelid surgery”) is not as simple as a racist urge to “Westernize” Asian eyes. However, if you’re a 13-year-old girl in the United States who is being told that your eyes are somehow wrong, it is that simple.

eye

Lewis’s post and Justad’s proposal are about America. They talk about Julie Chen,

… arguably the most famous woman to undergo and openly discuss double-eyelid surgery. … in 1995, when Chen was a reporter at WDTN-TV in Daytona — told her … “You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese… Because of your Asian eyes, [when] you’re interviewing someone, you look disinterested and bored because your eyes are so heavy, they are so small.’”

Later on, a “big-time agent” told her, point-blank: “I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger.”

“Now it’s like, I sometimes wonder,” Chen said. “But I will say, after I had that done, everything kind of, the ball did roll for me.”

Racism, pure and simple. Here’s Justad again:

I started feeling like, I would be prettier if I were white. And that was really shameful for me to think about. I didn’t want to talk about it. Because I have a lot of pride in being Asian-American. But that’s the cost of being completely assimilated into a culture where I simply see myself as an American girl, but I’m a woman of Asian descent. I start getting these messages that I’m still a bit of an outsider. And what 18-year-old wants to be an outsider?

This is the same impulse that causes African-American children overwhelmingly to select white dolls as prettier, that causes people to file into plastic surgeons’ offices to change something–anything–that identifies them as “not white” and thus “not right.”

Telling our stories is one of the few weapons we have to combat this noxious pressure to look “right.” You can support Justad’s film on Kickstarter if you are so inclined. Even before it is finished, the film is doing good work: “Even girls who didn’t get cast, Justad said, reached out to her after the audition to thank her for making the movie. ‘They’d never seen a casting announcement asking for monolids.'”