may 1st is international workers’ day, beltane, and blogging against disableism day.
i don’t have much to say (eta: several hundred words later…) besides wishing i was dancing around a maypole in the woods in northern michigan right now because all of the trillium and marsh marigolds are blooming and chicago is grey and dull in comparison, but i do want to talk a little bit about invisible disabilities and how exhausted i’ve been this month by feeling like a ghost girl. this is a little convoluted (intersectionality!) so just bear with me.
i’m in an english class this quarter that i was really looking forward to. it’s a grad elective (i.e. YAY! we’ll talk about interesting, complicated things in a thoughtful way, hopefully) on early 20th century american women writers. we’re just about to midterms and i have to say i’m pretty disappointed.
this is kind of my jam (women writers, i mean) but i feel totally bored by and alienated in this class. we started with the age of innocence by edith wharton and have moved on to one of ours by willa cather. the first layer of disappointment is that this opportunity to bring attention to lesser known writers of color, or to talk about queer writers, or whatever (who DID exist in the early 20th century, however much canon continues to ignore them) has pretty much been glossed over in favor of upper and middle class heteronormative novels whose protagonists are men. cather was far from “not queer” but the way that’s been dealt with in this class is a bummer, too.
i’m one of those nightmarish students who frequently thinks “if i were teaching this…” and i have to say that if i were teaching this we definitely would have looked at song of the lark instead because HELLO perfect opportunity to talk about women artists in the early 20th century and subjectivity and all of that good stuff. also cather is not definitevely a lesbian and using her non-normative gender presentation (wearing suits and going by william) to say that she is is intellectually lazy bullshit. (major side eye, joanna russ, and essentializing 1980s feminists in general, okay.) i’m just saying that this is 2012 and graduate students in a class on women writers should be able to handle and grapple with questions about the ethics and politics of reclaiming writers as queer, how we categorize them, what it means to have to have fixed identities that we retroactively ascribe to long-dead writers, etc. rather than taking an analytical article they’re given that was written in 1986 at face value.
that to grapple with those questions someone has to ASK them, and no one in this class (including the professor?) is. and it makes me feel really alone, as does the phrase “the lesbian experience” because there’s not just ONE and that whole idea of “the lesbian experience” as monolithic is harmful and erasing in itself.
we’re almost to the disability thing, i promise.
this is the second layer of disappointment: a couple of weeks ago i was sitting in this class and everyone was talking about “the lesbian experience” and why the protagonist of one of ours, claude, must really be a stand-in for a lesbian cather, because he’s not interested in sex with his wife, isn’t really sexualized or sexual at all, come to think of it, and is more emotional and concerned with art, culture, friendships, his community, his studies, etc.
beyond the problems with equating lesbians to emotional but not sexual beings and “real men” to solely (hetero)sex-crazed animals, it seemed to me that this was an attempt to force a character into sexuality as if a/grey/demi-sexuality simply don’t exist.
i just have to say ASEXUALITY AND DEMI-SEXUALITY EXIST, OKAY.
i don’t really know how to articulate how marrow-deep exhausting it was to feel like the only person in the room who didn’t think that a/grey/demi-sexuality was more mythical than a sparkly pegasus-unicorn.
sometimes it’s great to feel like a sparkly pegasus-unicorn, but this wasn’t one of those times. i had a minor internal breakdown that probably seemed like “composed smart bitch” to the rest of the class, because that’s how my anxiety sometimes exhibits itself, and then i ranted to my mother, my friends, and the internet for the next…well…here we are, nearly 3 weeks later.
this whole experience prompted a metaphorical yarn bundle of thoughts and feelings about invisibility, community, what it means to be a femme not-quite-queer not-quite-straight, let’s-just-eat-cake person, and when i think about those things i also–of course!–think about mental illness.
i am a person who deals with mental illness. i’m a ravenclaw, so i’m still working out my personal worldview on how that’s a mess of social, neuro-biological, personal, cultural stuff, and after writing my senior thesis i have more questions than answers, but it’s something i think about a lot. i can’t just tell you a diagnosis and expect that to speak for itself. i’m currently living in a fog of trying to understand how certain thoughts and behaviours are pathologized in certain people (LADY PEOPLE!) and where the line is between “i’m kind of eccentric and always have been and that’s good” and “maybe my mental wiring needs a little help because i’m miserable and occasionally unstable.”
it’s also something most people don’t know about upon meeting me, most of my close friends don’t really know the details of, and something that i’ve been encouraged to kind of keep hushed because, you know, being a madwoman makes you unlovable, unemployable, unreasonable, and generally not-okay, or so the world would like us to believe.
so what do i do in an english class–ostensibly one of the places on earth where i’m MOST comfortable and MOST at home–when my anxiety makes it impossible for me to engage in conversation about queer/feminist issues the way i’d like to? what do i do when i feel like the only person in that room who knows that a/grey/demi-sexual people are not actually unicorns, because i live that most of the time (another foggy identity cloud, but whatever)? what do i do when my lack-of-purple-hair makes me feel like i’m suddenly excluded from a community i was only ever partially a part of, because my femme presentation is often invisible? what do i do when people meet me and think whatever they think about me and being mentally ill is the imagined antithesis to that? (or not? what do i do when people meet me and know that i’m hypomanic, depressed, anxious, what have you, and then stop seeing me as a whole and worthy person?)
what do you do when people are looking right at you and have no idea what they’re looking at and what can you reasonably expect them to do?
here’s what it comes down to, i think. this fall in a feminist theories class a friend asked that we “assume everyone’s in the room,” and are really aware of that perceived “neutral” normalized person, and how it’s really unlikely that all of the people in the room ARE that person. a lot of us are dealing with invisible things, and while we’re spared the vitriol and abuse that people who visibly present as non-normative have to deal with everyday, it also feels kind of terrible to have your identity ignored, erased, or seen as non-existent.
i wish i could contribute some great critical, structural analysis of ableism and disability discourse and all of that today, but lately i’m finding i’m sort of going back to my own stories more and more. i don’t know if that’s good or bad or neutral, but it’s what i have right now.
so…happy may day!
do you have any thoughts on being a ghost person?