Toshio Meronek

Criptiques Explores the Provocative Side of Disability

Filed By Toshio Meronek | May 18, 2014 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: books, Caitlin Wood, Criptiques, disability, disability justice

caitlin_press.jpgCriptiques is the new disability anthology and podcast brought to you by a close friend and confidante of mine, activist and author Caitlin Wood.

In the book, disabled luminaries critique everything from disability justice to body image to class. It's also really, really queer. I asked her how the project turned out to be so gay.

Toshio: Was it weird to you that so many queer authors ended up in a book that wasn't specifically about queerness?

Caitlin: It wasn't weird, just because there are so many queer disabled people out there, and queer crips who are politically engaged or social justice-oriented. It made sense that this would be a project that would speak to them, because it's a space to talk about intersections of disability with lots of different things: queerness, being trans, being a queer crip of color, ableism, etcetera.

What are some of the queer disability pieces/topics in the anthology that you really think people need to be reading?

I was pretty blown away by Alyssa Hillary's piece, "On the Exclusion of Autistic Queers." I don't ever see topics like that addressed in nondisabled queer circles, which like every other community is prone to unchecked ableism. And autism is certainly a hot (and very misunderstood) topic these days.

The neuroqueer movement in autistic and Aspergers communities is so strong and just on it. I've been so impressed by the work and activism going on within it.

I also really love Ibby Grace's essay about being an autistic lesbian mom. I've heard from several people that they sort of fell in love with Ibby after reading it.

Kay Ulanday Barrett wrote a piece on the complexities of being a queer trans person of color, which I was excited to include because it really highlights how many intersections of identity disabled people live. It's not all straight, white dudes in wheelchairs!

A lot of mainstream media turn to nondisabled people (e.g. disability nonprofit execs) for comment on disability-related stories, to speak on behalf of disabled people. As you know well, the same thing happens with queer mainstream representation, especially for the most marginalized, like trans people. The ones that do get to take the microphone tend to be privileged gay men. Was it important to you that this book be all disabled people, all the time?

It was incredibly important to me that this book was written exclusively by disabled writers. Disabled people are so marginalized and it's comical (in a sad way) how often nondisabled people want to speak for us. It's ridiculous. There's a reason the disability rights movement's slogan was "nothing about us without us."

That was certainly inspiration for the book. I wanted disabled authors to write about their own experiences because they're the experts.

In Alyssa Hillary's piece you mentioned earlier, Alyssa interviews someone named Melanie Yergeau, who says the response she gets from a lot of people when talking about her sexuality or disability is: "Either they don't think I'm autistic enough, they don't think I'm queer enough, they don't think I'm asexual enough, they don't think I'm human enough. And on and on."

That made me think of disabled actors, like R.J. Mitte from Breaking Bad, who admit to "cripping it up" -- exaggerating their disability -- in order to be recognizably disabled for mainstream media consumers. I had a friend in high school who tried to develop a lisp so that he'd be more identifiable as gay. How do you feel about people "cripping it up" to avoid what Melanie is talking about?

I think there's several things you're talking about here. 'Cripping it up' for TV/movies is common, mostly because nondisabled viewers often have a hard time understanding the spectrum of disability, i.e., you can be blind but still see, you can use a wheelchair but still walk sometimes, that kind of thing.

But in TV world it's usually a binary, you're either disabled or not and there's absolutely no nuance. Secondly, most of the roles of disabled characters (the handful that actually exist) are played by nondisabled people who don't know what it's actually like to be disabled and shouldn't be given the role in the first place.

criptiques.pngI don't have a problem with RJ Mitte cripping it up mainly because he actually is disabled. I have much more of an issue with nondisabled actors doing crip drag -- playing disabled characters when they're not part of the community.

In terms of real life 'cripping it up,' I just don't see that happen really. If anything I see disabled people struggling with internalized ableism and feeling like they should try and 'pass' as nondisabled. There just isn't much privilege that comes with being extra crippy! I think what Melanie was referring to in Alyssa's essay was this sense of not quite fitting into these multiple categories of identity that make up her life.

Everyone has preconceptions about how you're 'supposed' to be if you're a part of X, Y, Z communities and it's just not as clean or simple as we like to pretend it is.

What's next for you and Criptiques?

Criptiques has expanded from a book into a multimedia project, which I'm very excited about. I started a podcast and right now I'm writing for Criptiques on Film, which will be a series of different disability-related videos, including some crip comedy films.

It's important to me to work on projects that show the artistic/funny aspects of being a crip, just because the misperception that disability equals tragedy is still so pervasive.

You can buy Criptiques the book on Amazon and listen to the (free) podcasts here.


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