Laurie Toby Edison

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Silencing the Ones Who Aren’t There

Laurie and Debbie say:

Neither of us ever heard of Peggy Munson. However, at least one person we know and respect thinks her Lambda-Award nominated novel is something pretty special.

Apparently, the Lambda Award folks, or the folks at the San Francisco Public Library think differently. Munson, who is too disabled to travel to readings, put together some video excerpts from her novel, Origami Striptease to include in a Lambda nominees reading at the San Francisco Public Library.

In the event, although she had been publicized as a reader, her material wasn’t shown, and what’s more it was not acknowledged.

A string of writers – including a transman with a female partner and the straight spouse from an anthology – presented work, but mine was conspicuously absent. No mention was made of the video, even though my name had been included in the press and the DVD player was sitting out. The reading ended abruptly with no explanation. Greg [her publisher] sniffed around for an answer and became tangled in a meandering series of excuses from the library organizer and Lambda representative that finally culminated in a bizarre rationale. My reading was apparently censored because it had been deemed “straight.”

What troubles me is not just the gender-phobia in the conclusion that my work – which is so genderfucked – is “straight,” but the ableism of silencing someone too disabled to represent her own work. When asked about making a unilateral decision to censor my work, the Lambda representative simply said, “Peggy wasn’t there,” and also briefly argued that my work was too sexual. Greg pointed out that two readers had straight affiliations and that another read a piece with intense sexual content. He also pointed out that the organizers had ample time to call him (or me) after the DVD arrived to address their concerns.

This is Debbie speaking: “I had a very similar experience more than a decade ago. An article that predated Women En Large was published in a special guest-edited issue of the Whole Earth Review. At the celebration party for the issue, the guest editor, Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll, introduced and thanked every contributor except me. While he apologized profusely after the fact, it certainly felt like an unconscious reluctance to be publicly associated with the article he had published on fat and beauty. It stung then, and it stings now when I think about it.

“But I was there. I could have stepped up and insisted on my share of the attention. If I’d been scheduled to read, rather than just to be introduced, I almost certainly would have.”

Peggy Munson couldn’t do that. The combination of disability and distance puts her as completely at the mercy of the organizers.

I want to talk a moment about my lack of there-ness. I have to delve into the organizer’s tautological reasoning for a second. S/he (Take that! Pronoun-obscuring!) decided to make my video invisible because I wasn’t “there”: I wasn’t “there” because s/he made a decision to make my video invisible. For me, this really underscores the perpetuity of invisible realities. Those pushed to the margins are pushed further to the margins by nudges of exclusion, and absence makes the heart grow more distorted.

Without seeing Peggy Munson’s video, it’s hard to know what pressed the organizers’ buttons. The Lambda Literary Foundation does not seem to have published any kind of response. However, we note two items of interest. First, there are four more stops on this Lambda nominees reading tour:

April 17, New York
May 4, Boston
May 13, New Orleans
May 18, Los Angeles

Munson is listed as a reader for all of them. If you live in one of those cities, why not show up and ask if Peggy Munson will be reading? (You can also write letters to the Foundation at 16 West 32nd Street Suite 10E, New York, NY 10001-3808.)

Second, if you have a MySpace membership, drop a note in Munson’s blog asking her if she can make her readings publicly available on the Web, so we can see what the San Francisco audience missed.

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One Response to “Silencing the Ones Who Aren’t There”

  1. Karen B. Says:

    What a great example of how disability can make you invisible — though it’s not usually quite so literal.

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