Four books (and a TikToker) to inspire your queer disability justice work

Greetings, my loves, from my new home on the prairies, a place where the most popular joke is that you can watch your dog run away from home for three days (thank goodness our dog doesn’t seem inclined to fly away), and where on Sunday New York Times isn’t delivered until Wednesday (so we can read Saturday’s latest news at our leisure). Regardless of the mail situation, so many amazing books indeed come to me here, and I’m incredibly happy to tell you that this column is a column all about disability justice, because there’s TOO much good stuff to come, so we have a theme, babies.

The future is handicapped by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Credit: Arsenal Press

Usually, when I really like a book, I tend to gulp it down like a pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream, with all the pleasure of gorging on something (but not the possible indigestion , thank God). With The future is handicappedhowever, I reached a point where the work was so clever and intricate, so tender and thoughtful, so well written and so well observed that I had to slow down, chew carefully, and savor. Piepzna-Samarasinha brings a loving and pragmatic vibe, your uncle-who-loves-you-and-wants-only-the-best-for-you The future is handicapped, which doesn’t smooth out the hard parts of their work (and there are a lot of hard parts). But it assures the reader, if you will, by giving just enough sense of security to travel further in reviewing the lessons of the rear view and the work ahead.

The book dives deep into the intimacy, grief, visibility, adaptability, and sheer, naked amount of work that disability imposes on people, then shares with characteristic generosity every hack, workaround, helpful wording, spell magic and nutritious meals that kept them moving. forward. If that sounds like a love letter to this book, let me be clear: it absolutely is. The book is awesome, the work depicted in the book is awesome, the writer is a genius and we are lucky to have them in the world with us. You can hear what’s bound to be amazing conversation about the book at online events on October 6th. in conversation with Sandy Ho, founder of the Disability & Intersectionality Summit (DIS) or Oct. 12 with Moya Bailey and Akemi Nishida.

Year of the Tiger by Alice Wang

Credit: Eddie Hernandez Photography

It is a great joy to be able to open this short discussion on Alice Wang‘s book noting that Wong is still alive, which was not at all certain a few months agoand which is a great boon both to literature and to disability justice work. Year of the Tiger is a hybrid book, blending essays and personal experiences with reflections on disability (and disability justice work).

Wong’s book is intimate and chronological, illuminating moments from his childhood and young adulthood, some obviously transformational and others that might be mundane in the hands of a lesser observer. It also includes comic strips and interviews with colleagues and friends, and other recipes – I deeply appreciate how disability justice work and food/hospitality are paired here and in many of these other works also; the experience of being nurtured or being able to nurture others in a welcoming way is an emotional experience that motivates many of us.

There’s a feeling behind the scenes of Year of the Tiger in a way, like when Wong sheds light on how work lives on in her body and mind, or discusses which foods she craves and which she sometimes substitutes to eat safely with a degenerative neuromuscular disease. It might sound incredibly detailed, and yet even deep into something like telling the Byzantine process of getting a first COVID-19 vaccination, Wong’s dry wit makes it more interesting than I would have could imagine it. Catch a conversation on Year of the Tiger with Wendy Lu November 10.

Black Disability Policy by Sami Schalk

Credit: Sami Schalk

With Sami Schalkit’s an amazing book, Black Disability Policywe’re starting to move on to a different kind of book doing intrinsically connected work – a rigorously researched look at all the ways in which the concerns of people with disabilities have been the basis of black resistance organizing (I’ve taken what I thought was a pretty good college course in black resistance movements and this book made me scream, repeatedly, “Why didn’t I ever learn about this?!”)

Schalk approaches the subject of disability justice in black communities, in part from a specific place of this remediation, highlighting and discussing the critical work done by black activists around disability that has been ignored beyond of the communities in which it was lived (until it was absorbed into the work of white people, who took credit for it). In particular, the work of Black Disability Policy focuses on the black panther party and the National Black Women’s Health Project (now Imperative), both of which considered people’s general well-being and illness as an essential part of black liberation. It’s a treatment that Schalk describes as holistic, that is: it is not about separating activism from disability, but rather about caring about the best well-being of every black person. Crucially, again and again, Schalk makes sure to contextualize, explain, describe and highlight not just which strategies worked (or did not), but how the thinking behind them helped or hindered their success.

If knowing your story is a key ingredient to success, Black Disability Policy presents a deeply researched and still incredibly readable map of the past, with implications for the shimmering future. This, along with what I can only describe as muscular clarity in his writing, was incredible as a newbie to the subject at feel my understanding grows the more I read, and that is only possible in the expert hands of a great writer like Schalk.

Queer Silence: On Disability and Rhetorical Absenceby J. Logan Smilges

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So here I have to point out: Queer Silence: On Disability and Rhetorical Absence is, of all these books, both the most theoretical and the craziest. I would like to sit and have milkshakes with J. Logan Smilges because the way their brains make connections between concepts that I wouldn’t have put in the same room, let alone the same book, got me excited at least as often as it set me back a few pages to reread. Smilges takes the subject of Queer Silence and applies it broadly, describing not only the ways gay people are silenced, but what we do in this space, and how silence works or doesn’t work, what it produces and what other ways we talk—and it varies widely. We watch the AIDS quilt, we’re on Grindr, we talk about conversion therapy, and all the time about the body, about capacity, about health performance, about the distance between our embodied truth and the ways we’re encouraged (or compelled) to introduce ourselves and more in this discussion about silence and disability (not just about disability, but also about it). Is silence repressive? Is it resistive? Is it intimate? Distancing? Yes, times four, and silence is also apparently a lot of other things that I’m going to think about for a long time, before I start thinking about some of the other things in Smilges’ excellent book.

Imani Barbarin, aka Crutches & Spice

Maybe you are interested in disability justice and not ready or able to read a book about it? Or maybe you’ve already read all the books above and want even more? Allow me to commend to your attention the work of Iman Barbarinwho wrote (here is the recent essay on Chadwick Boseman which led to the deal for his next book, and there are many more on his website) and talks about the experiences of black and disabled people for a few years. Barbarin has found a natural partner for his dynamic and concise explainers on TikTok and with nearly half a million followers, I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so. Barbarin covers some basics like this quick and clear overview of the concepts you need to know to advocate for the #disability communityy (also covered in Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book), and delves into blackness and disability issues that address the “holistic” well-being/disease of racialized people as critical notion (as in Schalk’s book). She also addresses queer silence (Smilges), in this case, in various videos, as well as its inverse in a video where she discusses the silent aspects of white supremacy opposed to black cultural production and its power to amplify ideas. Barbarin is also a model for fashion brand Rebdolls, in case you thought sharp political commentary was somehow mutually exclusive to an absolutely gorgeous look.

And that, dear sheaves of wheat and prairie flowers and jumpers of all kinds (rough and otherwise), is the roundup for this time on Queer Culture Catch-Up. I’m back from a hiatus and watching themed columns galore, so stay tuned for everything from tiny lesbian rom-coms to asexual adventure novels to trans titans of craftsmanship and more ! In the meantime, I hope you make the most of everything, my friends – time for rest, play, joy and adventure and fabulous people for company (including your excellent self). As always, if you’re up to something new and weird, folks, drop me a line or DM me, I love hearing from you.

About Marcia G. Hussain

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