Thursday, August 8, 2013

neuro-queer, or, how the birth of the clinic met my dangerous desires - by Elizabeth Hassler

Like my best crip friends
I love wordplay, and here
I am playing; tumbling the
new queer thoughts
around my head until
they get smooth
and reflective of my body---
neuro-queer. I worry
my flesh intrudes on your discourse
(my body is many things,
but it is not autistic
---of course, I remember
when autism felt like a threat
and a warning not to stim).
My body arches, grasps desires unevenly and
without finesse,
drives electric wheelchairs
into doorways. It writes poems because
line / breaks make queer ideas fit together,
not all queer ideas all together of course
but certainly mine. Nothing
about my flesh is linear.
Here are meditations on the form
(Ibby has been kind and encouraged
my disagreements
and my coy shield):

my queerness is in lower-case,
and I came to it easily
once I stopped tasting my experience in rights-based alphabet soup.
I fled
toward radical corners,
toward people who didn't tell tell tell me
my body was too wrong.
The wrong kind of disabled: no,
I can't prove I'm good enough
and clean enough
to be an inspiration.
The wrong kind
of queer
because ditto.
[Here is the part
of the essay that is a poem
that is an essay where
all the thoughts happened all together and I got
stuck in the writing.] Growing up,
disability meant Easters Seals camp
and wheelchair basketball [badly] and riding the short bus [but never
the “Shortbus,” kids!] and
never saying the word can't.
The only depressive crip I knew
was a woman
who had acquired her disability jumping
out of a fourth-story window in winter
decades earlier. When I was fifteen
she relayed her romantic frustrations and
attempted to sell me on disabled lesbian sisterhood
---but then,
I've never been a lesbian.
One of my childhood friends with lesbian parents
went crazy in her teens:
her mothers visited
to catch up and tell the story of her psychosis,
how she lived in a locked facility in a midwestern state.
They didn't expect me to know what Seroquel was.
Afterward, one of her mothers
(the one with the beach hat and the
masculine features) whispered to me conspiratorially
about sometimes liking men.
I never wrote her letters in lock-up
or saw those women again.

I grew up with disability
and craziness
separated by an ocean
of discourse about bodies:
wheelchair users are strong and independent
and wear superhero capes.
For a few years of high school,
my best school friend was a “biffer” jock
who goaded me into good moods
[don't try this with suicidal teenagers at home].
One time a therapist tried to convince me
I resented my wheelchair, but
I've never wanted to walk.
I wanted an etiology
for my body,
reasons household noises drove me to tears while
happiness felt so hard to grab hold of
and no less dangerous.
I brought Ordinary People into
my first therapist's waiting room.
I read blogs written by parents of disabled kids
to convince myself I wasn't a terrible daughter
and to find a language for my body
(autistic bodies
seemed a lot like mine).
I failed classes in school
while depressed friends kept me alive.

I never pretended I had
a nondisabled body., online
or in my head. But I knew
the disability rights community was never mine---
I still won't read
books of disability history that insist WE
on their covers. I never
made sense of my life
in cultural nationalisms,
and so I shy away from Queer.
But I am queer, nonetheless, even though our movement politics
are so white and so middle-class and
imagined so exclusively on dance floors
and crowded meeting rooms that I
sometimes flee in fits of overstimulation
[critiques the white girl whose parents are lawyers].
And I am, of course, disabled.
Crazy (which some people who call themselves queer
have told me not to reclaim)
seems less distant from disability now.
[Still, my poor mother---
every girl her age read Karen,
but there's no moralist classic about
raising a bipolar daughter.]
And this never was
independent living.

When The Advocate publishes op-eds about
obstacles lesbians with disabilities must overcome,
I wish this was a different revolution.
Of course, I'm not a liberal
or a lesbian,
but I want revolution more than progress
and I crave community with lesbians
who don't conflate trans* lives with child abuse
or delusion
and tell me to want different things in bed.
[Dear reader, the Sex
Wars never ended.]  I want to be a radical
before the patriarchy ends.
My body keeps
disability and desire all stitched together
in my disabled skin
---I've told rooms full of people
how my needs and my wants never separate themselves.
How many DSM entries does a girl need
before she's neuro-queer?
In my life queer is a verb,
and it means queer acts:
mine happen without candor or privacy,
and I have a body in plain sight.
There are silences here,
and if this were an academic paper
this would be the Spivak citation (I don't dance but I
read academic theory,  and when I am a sub
-altern I do not speak). My neuro-queer
is in the silences, in the coy,
in coastal metaphors, in the third person,
in building her a life
and tides of disabled pleasures.
Ashley X
has cerebral palsy too;
my queer girl-girl-grrrrrlhood
remembers discursive gaps.
Some days there is no womanhood here,
but that feels right to my mouth.
I am neuro-queer, and neuro-femme:
cologne smells like a phantom boyfriend's clothes.
I still hold shame
about the boyfriend from a year ago,
not hir behavior but how I nearly got sucked in
because I thought that was the right discourse for femmes and I
thought we had equivalent needs.
I'm glad, now,
that there are other tricks
to feeling like a girl.
I didn't value my desires
as conduits for revolution, not even when
I could tell the story

of not doing that again.
The structure of my needs
has always shaped the shames
and the resistance of my body; no,
I won't please stand. I won't
pretend the shames fade, either,
not today not for this poem.
I feel the shame intensely,
hence a sweet release
of this stiff form:
I am a crazy crippled girl
with desires,
and I am learning
to access intimacy and that neuro-queer
has so much potential for joy.
My body needs a here and now
[an abject here and now]
more than a future,
and neuro-queer's remembering
the things our bodies need.

--Elizabeth Hassler


  1. WOW! Elizabeth, your poem blows through me like a cooling breeze on a warm summer day. You bring insight and humor and joy and truth. Thank you for this amazing gift.

    1. Corbett, I was actually especially hoping for your feedback! So yay! <3 (I'm not sure why it's saying I'm anonymous; it's Elizabeth Hassler, who wrote the thing and feels nervous about her work.)

  2. Elizabeth - thank you. I'm going to need to read this several times over. I don't understand and I do understand and I don't need to understand. And I absolutely loved this poem.