Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Eating Naked Lunch

By: Michael Scott Monje, Jr.

(Editorial Note: This was originally going to be the script for the first episode of a podcast called "Cognitive Access". Due to other professional demands, Michael will not be able to pursue that project in the short-term, so NeuroQueer is publishing the script as an essay.)

Before we start, I want to just say that the reason I chose this book is because it was so influential to me during the years immediately preceding the publication of my first novel. There are a lot of things that this book could be said to be about, but one thing that Burroughs makes sure we never lose sight of is that this book is about observation. It's also about degradation, control, compulsion, addiction, abuse, colonialism, sadism, sexual diversity, and a lot of other topics, but Burroughs makes sure that we know what he wants us to do with the book in the Atrophied Preface, when he says: “Naked Lunch demands silence from the reader. Otherwise he is taking his own pulse.”

This quote comes at the end of a couple of paragraphs that also tell us that Burroughs viewed this book as “a blueprint, a How-To Book...” and that also say “How-To extend levels of experience by opening the door at the end of a long hall... Doors that open only in Silence.”

Coming as the Atrophied Preface does at the end of the book, this is highly instructive, because it serves as a way to tie together the various plot lines in the book that might otherwise seem to be unrelated to each other. We are told here that they are steps in a process, that's what it means to say one is writing a “how-to” book after all. The command to silence is also important—it tells us that this book was not designed to be a back-and-forth conversation with the reader in the same ways that other books often are. Instead, it is something to be observed, something that the reader might be able to construct meaning from in recollection, but that demands attention and silence during its exhibition.

This is not necessarily an unfamiliar critical demand, it's just uncommon for writers to take it. Silent observation, meditation with the piece, and a mind-clearing attempt at observation that takes in its parts and then assembles them into a whole is actually fairly common when we are appreciating visual art. That is why art museums and galleries have headphones for their talking tours. It's why they have benches in front of the pieces, too.

Naked Lunch is not a novel. It's an art gallery inside a book cover. In many of the various introductions and outtakes at the end of the 50th anniversary edition of the book Burroughs hints at this, and in some of the editorial material here we learn that the book's title itself came from an intensely visual concept that Jack Kerouac first described when reading early pages of the manuscript—according to the received wisdom in the back of the text, Kerouac chose that title because it invoked the idea of a moment of frozen time, an absolute clear moment when point of view drops away and the contents of everyone's meal is suddenly visible, glistening, at the end of their forks.

This imagery is important not only because it helps to support the idea that the text is about creating imagery and composing with the elements of visual art, but also because it helps to clarify the philosophical ideas behind many of the more blatant, vulgar, and downright ugly sections of the text. If the goal is to drop away the pretense of “the meal” and to instead show the dripping gore that is about to be shoveled from the end of a weapon into a mammal's gaping maw, then we should not expect that Naked Lunch follows the same social niceties as a... shall we say narratively clothed lunch. Or a breakfast. Say, at Tiffany's.

Still, the comparison is worth making, if only to point out that the book itself, in its rejection of those euphemisms and common narratives that are usually deployed around madness, addiction, sexual diversity, and authoritarianism, is the opposite of what literature usually purports to be. It is not attempting to tell us the story of anything, nor is it attempting to make us capable of empathizing with a point-of-view that is unfamiliar. It's not about creating an understanding of a time and a place and the people who live there.

What it is, is a series of studies in the same emotional landscape, and that landscape is compulsion. Whether it is the compulsion of addiction, where the mind and body both become dependent for their basic metabolism on a substance or the compulsion of authoritarianism, where the policies and programs of those in power are threatened by those with needs that their programs can not meet, we are shown how these compulsions work.

I'm not using compulsion in a purely psychological sense, either, but as in its most basic form as an irresistible impulse.

In the end, this is the only way Naked Lunch has power. If we assumed that the kind of compulsion being described here was purely pathological, then the Benway mindset, the idea that we could tame it and use it through some program of depersonalization and reprogramming, would be the “protagonist” mindset for the book. Instead, Benway is shown to be every bit as corrupt, cruel, and unconcerned with the pain he causes as the sexually sadistic couple whose entire relationship is based on killing the third person in their bisexual trysts.

Instead, Naked Lunch is a study in the ways that power dynamics create irresistible impulses that people follow, regardless of their assumed level of sanity or authority, and how those power dynamics create human suffering. From the junkie whose body is slowly decaying into a mass of dying and/or dead fluids, slowly losing cohesion through neglect and secondary infection, to the intentional provocation of madness as a stage in studying the drugs used to control it, the book introduces us to case study after case study in suffering. They are unrelated as elements of story, but they are as related to each other as any two paintings in a themed gallery exhibition, and if that attitude is brought to bear on them, then they immediately become clear in their juxtaposition against the more plainspoken essays used to introduce and close the book and in their juxtaposition against each other.

I'm not saying that the book isn't difficult. It is an intensely difficult book. What I am saying is that the points of intersection work as alternative starting points to the book in the same way that one might experience a wing of an art museum according to any pattern of observation that one wishes. There might be a suggested path, but in the end the exhibits are in a hall, and the observer is invited to choose their own path through that hall. Deviating from the suggested pattern might create new meanings in the relationship between exhibitions in the observer's mind, but this does not mean that those new meanings are unanticipated by the artist. It was, after all, the artist who designed the layout of the exhibitions in the hall in the first place, and that artist made clear the intent to accommodate various approaches to the text.

This flexibility in the text creates an interesting side-effect too: By making it possible to adapt the book to one's own cognitive process or style, Burroughs winds up designing a book that balks against the linear expectations of most other books. In its documentation of the ways that rules and normative expectations can be used as weapons, it does not settle for confinement to the expectations of the medium it is working in.

In between this queering of the expectations of the novel and the queering of the general expectations of the physical artifacts of books themselves, the reader is repeatedly invited to maintain their silence, in order to contemplate what these things mean. And in that tradition, I will do no more than point these things out, to ensure that future readers take the time to observe them. My goal as an essayist is, after all, about making texts accessible, not dictating their meaning.

Returning to the idea of the “How-To Book”, though, we do have to ask ourselves: What is this a “blueprint” for? If the goal is to force us outside of the confinement of a point-of-view and to render, naked, the pure sensory detail of the moment, then from whence does our interpretation come? The very concept of the frozen moment wherein the full detail of the world can be perceived in all of its abject intensity seems to demand the lack of a point-of-view. It is intellectually dishonest, though, for us to pretend that this is truly possible.

Its one instruction, the core element that makes the relationship between vignettes tangible to the reader, is the appreciation not of the text, but of the nonverbal, subtextual relationships between the texts. The only way that this becomes visible is through a nonverbal mental process, the process of simply observing, without comment, and allowing the text to permeate your sense of yourself.

Naked Lunch is an exercise in the loosening of control, and it must be so, because (as it makes clear in various sections throughout the book) the fixation on maintaining control, on having an objective other than to perceive things as they are, creates an agenda for the reading that necessarily leads the reader to accept some aspects of the text while ignoring others. It is impossible to read any book from a particular critical point-of-view and not to do these things, but Naked Lunch demands that we not do them.


I can only speak for myself, but to me, the point of this book was to call our attention to the fact that the true meanings of books are not in their texts, but in their relationship to the culture they emerged from. Like paintings. Like sculptures.

If Naked Lunch taught me anything, it taught me that to write literature, that is, to write work which not only tells stories but which is also a case study in the cultural forces of its time, requires a loosening of agendas and points of view. In order to properly render the full context of the societies we react to, writers must necessarily lay aside their own roles in that society and advocate for each character on their own, with the idea that all the other characters are allies or enemies, but that they are not necessarily pulling toward the same goal.

Only by loosening the bounds of the individual point-of-view and seeing each moment as it actually is, without the context of an objective, can the writer achieve the objective of rendering something in a multi-dimensional way. To me, that is the point of the book and that is also the point where it is easy to get lost in the book.

It would be easy to view this lesson as being a statement against point-of-view, but Burroughs himself does not seem to take that view, as he advocates for the text as a rhetorical device when he talks about using it to document the shortcomings of addiction treatment programs. This is important, because this is the point at which the observer disentangles from the art:

The point is not to create a new genre or to exalt this book's invitation to nonlinear, non-verbal thought. The point is that in order to compose in this medium with a fully realized artistic control, one must understand what exerting artistic control does to the work. In order to understand that, we must have at least one example of how control works alongside our examples of “great books” that we wish to one day aspire to equaling in quality, power, and emotional potential.

At least, that's what the book taught me.

I had studied the writing process, the pedagogy of writing instruction, story structure, and hundreds of examples of literary works in each of the major genres across the entire period of history that the English language existed in. It wasn't until I read this one, though, that I understood how to use that knowledge.

Maybe that's not the book. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I spent my time with it taking my own pulse.

But maybe that's ultimately what it's for.

Michael Scott Monje Jr. writes the web serial Shaping Clay. They have also published two novels and a novelette.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Racial Profiling and the Black Autistic: the Case of Neli Latson by N.I. Nicholson

Reginald “Neli” Latson petting a small fluffy dog (Courtesy of Breaking Brown)

Racial Profiling and the Black Autistic: the Case of Neli Latson


by ravenswingpoetry


Cases like that of Reginald “Neli” Latson worry me. No, scratch that — they frighten me.

Latson’s hell began on the morning of May 24, 2010. He was waiting for the public library to open in Stafford County, Virginia. Latson evidently was wearing a hoodie, which was enough for someone to call the local police and report him as a “suspicious character”.

According to the San Francisco Bay View, here is what happened next:
“Deputy Calverley [the officer who answered the call] then approached Latson and searched him for a gun. No gun was found. Calverly asked Latson for his name, and Latson refused and tried to walk away as he had committed no crime. Calverly then grabbed Latson and attempted to arrest him without reading him his Miranda Rights or calling for backup.”
Since then, Latson has been imprisoned without just cause. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) states that after serving two years resulting from the charge of assaulting a police officer, Latson “had another unfortunate encounter with police in which he threatened suicide”. Multiple sources report that after this incident, he has been in solitary confinement for the last year. The Arc of Virginia quotes a statement by Latson’s lawyers which appeared in a Washington Post article that “in effect Neli spends 24 hours a day locked in a segregation cell with minimal human contact for the ‘crime’ of being autistic”.

ASAN further elaborates on the damage Latson has suffered while in confinement:
“Isolating vulnerable prisoners in solitary confinement is a violation of human rights. Solitary confinement is particularly pernicious and potentially counterproductive for those with disability-related behavioral difficulties. Neli has lost coping skills while in isolation, and remains at continued threat of further adverse psychological impact. Yet instead of providing him with appropriate supports and a meaningful transition plan, the system continues to fail him.”
#BlackLivesMatter includes black autistic lives. Mine. Those of the autistic sons of black women who do not sleep easy at night. The socially awkward black geek girl bullied by her classmates. The self-identified-autistic transman navigating his way in a hostile world. My father, if he were still here. And Neli Latson.

In and amongst our mourning and righteous indignation over the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, and others, we need that same kind of fury for Neli — until he is free.

Also consider: this is where racism and ableism endangers us. Autistics, especially those who have undergone some sort of Applied Behavioral Analysis, are taught conformity and compliance. While this is unhealthy for any autistic, consider how exponentially dangerous this is for a black autistic individual. Kerima Cervik on the Intersected blog said it much better than I ever could:
This disaster is the intersection of autism, ableism and racism colliding with the school to prison pipeline. See everyone who is poor in Black America prepares their son for that moment. They teach them the social cues and red flags. They tell them to have a way to make that phone call and an understanding that they will be harassed by police at some point. But autism parents are told they need to teach compliance and concrete ideas about police to their autistic children. It gives autism parents a false sense of security about their teens encountering police.
To black people: Neli needs us, y’all. He needs people to know his name and his plight. He needs us to speak up for him in anyway we possibly can. Hey #BlackPoetsSpeakOut — he needs our poetry decrying his unjust imprisonment along with the murders of black people (don’t be content to wait for me as a black autistic poet to say something first). He needs our sincerely belief that #BlackLivesMatter means him and every other black autistic person, too. And he needs that belief put into action.

To the wider autistic community: Neli needs your voices. With the same outrage with which you decry ableism, stereotypes, ABA, Autism Speaks’ horrific #MSSNG campaign, confinement and restraint, underemployment, discrimination, abusive medical treatments, and so forth…talk about Neli. Tell his story. Tell Autism Speaks that he is #NotMssing either. He needs your righteous indignation put into action as well.

Want to do something about this? A good start, courtesy of The Arc of Virginia, would be to contact Virginia Governor Terry McAullife at 804-786-2211, by email form at this link: or on Twitter at @GovernorVA. You can also retweet this article, and many other articles about this case — using the hashtag #FreeNeli. Share this on Facebook, Google +, or other social media. Write a poem. Blog about it. Send missives to your local newspapers. Tell your friends about this, word of mouth, until his case is known far and wide.
Neli deserves nothing less from us.

[Ed Note: Reprinted with permission from The Digital Hyperlexic, who recently founded one of the most influential neurodivergent literary magazines, Barking Sycamores. Please forward as much as possible in all media, as the author wishes to get the word out and mobilize action in all our communities.]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Amplification: Ferguson Protesters' Open Letter. #BlackLivesMatter

The Results Are In
An Open Letter from Protestors On The Grand Jury Decision (11.24.14)
In Ferguson, a wound bleeds.
For 108 days, we have been in a state of prolonged and protracted grief.  In that time, we have found community with one another, bonding together as family around the simple notion that our love for our community compels us to fight for our community.  We have had no choice but to cling together in hope, faith, love, and indomitable determination to capture that ever-escaping reality of justice.
After 108 days, that bleeding wound has been reopened, salt poured in, insult added to the deepest of injury.  On August 9th, we found ourselves pushed into unknown territory, learning day by day, minute by minute, to lead and support a movement bigger than ourselves, the most important of our lifetime.  We were indeed unprepared to begin with, and even in our maturation through these 108 days, we find ourselves reinjured, continually heartbroken, and robbed of even the remote possibility of judicial resolution.  A life has been violently taken before it could barely begin.  In this moment, we know, beyond any doubt, that no one will be held accountable within the confines of a system to which we were taught to pledge allegiance.  The very hands with which we pledged that allegiance were not enough to save Mike in surrender. 
Once again, in our community, in our country, that pledge has returned to us void.
For 108 days, we have continuously been admonished that we should “let the system work,” and wait to see what the results are. 
The results are in.
And we still don’t have justice.
This fight for the dignity of our people, for the importance of our lives, for the protection of our children, is one that did not begin Michael’s murder and will not end with this announcement.  The ‘system’ you have told us to rely on has kept us on the margins of society.  This system has housed us in her worst homes, educated our children in her worst schools, locked up our men at disproportionate rates and shamed our women for receiving the support they need to be our mothers. This system you have admonished us to believe in has consistently, unfailingly, and unabashedly let us down and kicked us out, time and time again.
This same system in which you’ve told us to trust--this same system meant to serve and protect citizens-- has once again killed two more of our unarmed brothers:  Walking up a staircase and shot down in cold blood, we fight for Akai Gurley; Playing with a toy after police had been warned that he held a bb gun and not a real gun at only twelve years old, we fight for Tamir Rice. 
So you will likely ask yourself, now that the announcement has been made, why we will still take to the streets?  Why we will still raise our voices to protect our community? Why will still cry tears of heartbreak and sing songs of determination?
We will continue to struggle because without struggle, there is no progress.
We will continue to disrupt life, because without disruption we fear for our lives.
We will continue because Assata reminds us daily that “it is our duty to fight for freedom.  It is our duty to win.  We must love and support one another.  We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Those chains have bound us-all of us- up for too long.  And do not be mistaken- if one of us is bound, we all are.  We are, altogether, bound up in a system that continues to treat some men better than others.  A system that preserves some and disregards others.  A system that protects the rights of some and does not guard the rights of all.
And until this system is dismantled, until the status quo that deems us less valuable than others is no longer acceptable or profitable, we will struggle.  We will fight.  We will protest.
Grief, even in its most righteous state, cannot last forever.  No community can sustain itself this way. 
So we still continue to stand for progress, and stand alongside anyone who will make a personal investment in ending our grief and will take a personal stake in achieving justice.
We march on with purpose. The work continues.  This is not a moment but a movement. The movement lives.
This letter was written and signed by numerous protestors and supporters, too many to list. Permission is granted in advance for reproduction by all outlets.

For questions regarding this Open Letter, please contact @deray.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Melanie Yergeau and Michael Scott Monje Jr at #CRCon 2014

Melanie and Michael are presenting at the Cultural Rhetorics conference. The topic = Neuroqueer Rhetorics: Gazes, Spaces, and Relationships. Below, you can find the abstract for their panel, as well as links to two PDFs -- a handout with resources and the full-text of Melanie's talk.

Melanie's talk [PDF]
NQ handout: resources and bibliography [PDF]


In her 2003 survey of the field of nonverbal communication, Karen Lovaas documented the absence of both quantitative research and theoretical consideration for queer experiences, pointing out that “If the first contact that a college student has with the subject of nonverbal communication is in the communication classroom, it is extremely likely that she or he will leave that classroom with the impression that all nonverbal scholarship is empirical and that queer subjects, bodies, gazes, spaces, and relationships either are unknown to nonverbal researchers or have been intentionally discursively erased by them.”

More than a decade after Lovaas's initial survey, there continues to be a dearth of studies that explore queer “gazes, spaces, and relationships” within the field (see also Alexander & Rhodes, 2012). The scarcity of material has become particularly conspicuous as rhetoric and writing studies has come to flourish as an interdisciplinary environment, intersecting with culture studies, identity studies, and communication studies along several dimensions.

Rhetorical studies’ elisions are, of course, notable along multiple axes of identity. For this reason, we propose a panel that examines the interstices of cultural rhetorics in relation to what we characterize as the neurologically queer, or neuroqueer. We propose that Neuroqueer theory seeks to correct discursive erasures by drawing together discussions of disability, neurotype, gender, race, sexuality, and communication style. It seeks to explore the unique presentations that multiply-queer individuals use both to express identity and to negotiate the larger social landscape that comes with participation in a society that does not yet ensure that all spaces are (to give a non-exclusive list) queer-friendly, disability-friendly, and/or trans*-friendly. It seeks to answer questions about how intentional and unintentional habits and communication styles are used to pass (or to remain closeted) along various identity axes, how the closeting and uncloseting of aspects of one's identity impact the presentations of other aspects of one's identity, and how the act of “coming out” along one axis can be a transformative experience along other axes of one's identity.

Comprising three academics who identify as both queer and disabled, our panel discussion explores the following questions: How do we theorize the neurologically queer? What ethical lapses surface when we take on the task of teasing out the multiply identified, when we find new and inventive ways of re-marginalizing the marginalized, all in the name of scholarly pursuit?

Using Lovaas’s framework, each panelist will examine Neuroqueer theory in relation to gazes, spaces, and relationships. Our initial discussion will map the boundaries of Neuroqueer theory, to establish its relationship to queer theory and disability theory, and to begin discussion on the immediate and pertinent questions that this new interpretive framework raises for the fields of rhetoric and culture studies.


Melanie and Michael will be using this opportunity to discuss the basic history of the word Neuroqueer to date, as well as to situate the various conversations around Neuroqueer within a larger discussion of neurodiversity, disability justice, and cultural representation. Together, they will discuss what it means to interpret through a neuroqueer gaze and what kinds of spaces are accommodating to the particular set of identity intersections that have come to be called Neuroqueer.

In addition to Melanie's paper and the abstract (above), transcripts of Michael's talks will be made available as they are prepared.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

@ Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, by Corbett Joan OToole

Institutions haunt me. My mom decided not to follow medical advice and institutionalize me as an infant. But medical institutions still grabbed me and confined me during much of my childhood.

I worked hard to be “good” and “acceptable” to “fit in” and “not cause trouble” because I knew that I was allowed in nondisabled society only as long as I did not inconvenience them. My father, a fire fighter, came home regularly with stories of middle-age wives of his fire company who were put into psychiatric wards for no longer performing their wifely duties. I learned that even nondisabled status did not protect you if you did not perform your female role. As a disabled child I only had to look across the street to see Betty, an adult woman with cerebral palsy, who never left home, did not have visitors, sat home-bound until she died. The message was very clear – succeed in the nondisabled world or be locked up.

As a student studying Special Education I worked weekends with people with intellectual disabilities deciding their programs even though I was always the youngest and most inexperienced person in the room. I visited state “schools” - locked wards housing people with intellectual disabilities who had no education, no rights, no freedom. I witnessed the abuse but kept silent for fear of losing my own freedom.

As I age I worry about getting put on the nursing home shuttle. It seems surprisingly easy. One medical crisis, one time when no one tells the hospital social worker that they will “take care of you” and whoosh you are off to a nursing home without a phone, money, or even identification. Hard to break out without those resources.

So when I visit institutions I hear the previous inmates, I see their marks on the walls, I feel their desperate pleas. All institutions are the same. All institutions are different only in their pretense.

Ghosts upon ghosts. The ghost of Ai Weiwei, the artist forbidden to see this work. The ghost of the American Indians who re-claimed Alcatraz as Indian land. The ghosts of the federal prisoners - including 19 Hopi fathers who were jailed for refusing to send their children to the culturally-killing assimilationist boarding school. All over Alcatraz island the ghosts communicate. It was a prison from the Civil War until 1963. Initially housing Confederate soldiers then Native American chiefs then World War I conscientious objectors and finally it housed federal prison inmates considered too dangerous for other prisons. American Indians, organized as Tribes of All Nations, reclaimed and held Alcatraz for 19 months starting in 1969 and stayed until the US government ended their Tribal Termination policy. They return twice each year, on Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, to challenge the intentional misrepresentation of these days. The US Park Service now manages Alcatrazz as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

An sprawling art exhibition made by the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei takes place in seven different parts of the island. He created the site-specific art from photographs and videos because the Chinese government refused to grant him permission to leave China. This was one of many punishments against him. 
[Description: large circle section of the Dragon kite’s body made from brightly colored paper with thin bamboo supports.]

I enter the first room called “With Wind” where one huge dragon kite fills the cavernous space. The bright colored kites send me to a place of happy children kite flying. But the stark room, the layers of peeling paint, the cold stone everywhere - floor, walls, ceiling belie my self-deception. I am seeing these kites in an institution, a prison for over 100 years. The dragon kite rises and dips from ceiling wires so that many parts are within reach of a standing person.

Ai delivers his message with colors, designs and words. On the individual dragon kite panels he puts quotes from prisoners of conscience such as: “Our march to freedom is irreversible” by Nelson Mandela.” At the entrance he has a bright red panel which pops out from the stark concrete peeling walls that reads: “The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. That is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a window sill.” The kites bring my eyes upwards away from the dreary cold space inviting me to fly, to imagine flying away from this cold and heartless place.

I am reminded of all the times I have been locked up in institutions, mostly medical ones, and wished for this dream of imagined freedom. I focus on the dragon kite embedding it’s color, shape and joy deeply in my mind for I know that I will be incarcerated again and I will need to remember this gift of freedom.

I come into a huge room with stone pillars in the middle. On the floor surrounding the pillars are giant Lego boards, called “Trace”, with pixilated portraits of 175 prisoners of conscience, mostly men, who are currently incarcerated for crimes such as “inciting thoughts of freedom” and “advocating for the rights of poor children to an education”. Artists and teachers are heavily represented here. Laid out on the floor, white Legos between the portraits echoes the way the AIDS Quilt is displayed.

[Description: Lego portrait of Reeyot Alemu, Ethopian journalist]

Ai accompanies the portraits with a book of the images and a short description of why they are imprisoned. In the prison cafeteria with “Stay Tuned” Ai has pre-addressed postcards so that exhibit visitors can write to these prisoners and remind them, and more importantly their jailers, that people care and are watching. Amnesty International provided the addresses and delivers the postcards to the prisons. With 5,000 visitors every day to Alcatraz, the opportunity for visibility for each prisoner is powerful.

I am struck by Ai’s wisdom in depicting portraits in Legos, a child’s medium. Again he reminds me of the powerfulness of simplicity. Anyone can fly a simple kite, anyone can play with Legos. His mediums make his message visceral, connecting with universal childhoods. He speaks directly to our hands, our bodies with this work. No abstract political posters with defiant messages. Here he just shows us their faces and names. It’s up to us what we do with that information.

Up in the prison hospital the only fixtures are the toilets, sinks and a few bathtubs. In Blossom, Ai made thousands of small white ceramic flowers. He fills a few toilets, sinks and one bathtub with these ceramic flowers. As I ponder how best to capture his work on my phone camera, Lisa Honda, a professional photographer is snapping my picture. I don’t notice her at all because Alcatraz is full of people, there is always someone snapping  a photo near you - usually of the same thing you are looking at. Lisa likes the image and offers to send it to me. The peeling stone walls, high ceilings, sparse coldness are all bathed in cool sunlight while I am a dark silhoutte toed up to a toilet full of ceramic flowers. Beauty in grunge, celebration in despair, polished white ceramics create shiny reflections. Detritus.

[Description: large white woman in a power wheelchair faces toilet and sink bowls filled with white ceramic flowers and takes a photo with her cell phone.  Photo credit: p.p.a.h | CREATIVE - Lisa Honda, photographer]
In the psych ward Ai created a soundscape called “Illumination” mixing Hopi songs with Tibetan ones. He honors the indigenous peoples who both physically inhabited Alcatraz with the Tibetan monks in exile. Sound enters our bodies at the visceral level. These songs are unfamiliar to the visitors, an intentional decision to educate and provide the disorientation common to all psych wards.

I am moved beyond words by the breadth of these installations. Each one surprises me, enraptures me. Ai’s work speaks to me at a visceral level. His simple materials pull me in. His message comes through quietly while I enjoy the art. I leave Alcatraz pondering the omnipresence of confinement, the strive for freedom, the need for beauty and resistance.

Monday, October 13, 2014

End Violence Against Women Living with HIV!


Please do not read the comments below the article. They are illegitimate and the writers are disrespectful to my request not to continue their disreputable antics, which are proliferating so rapidly I cannot keep up. So please, just ignore them, like the mosquitoes they are.

Thanks, Ib

 Dear Readers, 

Important work is being done which definitely warrants as much signal boosting as we can possibly give it.  Many thanks to Morénike Onaiwu for being among the activists creating this event on October 23, 2014 commemorating the Day of Action "to raise awareness as well as pay tribute to positive women and girls, including our transgender sisters, whom have experienced violence."

Please read the below, and click the links.  Get involved.  Three out of four women living with HIV have experienced violence.  This is a matter of life and death.  See more below, which I paste from Advocacy Without Borders:

Join Our Virtual Event to End Violence Against Women (including TW) Living with HIV!

We need YOUR help; participate in a FREE, worldwide virtual event for the Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living With HIV! #EndVAWHIV #SaveWomensLives

In part because of successful advocacy efforts of Texas female leaders, including Advocacy Without Borders, to address the brutal 2012 and 2014 murders of Elisha Henson and Cicely Bolden, Positive Women's Network-USA is spearheading this national inaugural day to coincide with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. An astonishing 3 out of every 4 women living with HIV have experienced violence during their lifetime. The devastating combination of violence and HIV results in higher rates of mental health diagnoses such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety as well as greater likelihood of virologic failure and/or death. HIV+ transwomen report even higher rates of violence. These destructive trends cannot continue!

Throughout the US there will be local and virtual events of all types to commemorate the Day of Action during the week of October 23, 2014. Advocates in Houston, Texas are coordinating a virtual event to raise awareness as well as pay tribute to positive women and girls, including our transgender sisters, whom have experienced violence.  Here's how you can help!

*****Participate in our flash blog!

We will be hosting an online "flash blog" and would love for you to join in! A flash blog is a collection of individual writings, images, art, poetry, etc about a particular topic written by different people that are all shared in one place [usually a dedicated blog address] on the same day.

We are seeking posts about violence and women living with, affected by and at risk for HIV, including our trans sisters.  You can share just a name and a date; you can share a detailed story; you can share a poem, song, pictures...whatever you'd like.  Feel free to use a pseudonym or initials if you don't want your identity or the identity of the person you are referencing to be known, or state that you'd like your post to be anonymous. We will share all the posts that we receive at various intervals throughout the Day of Action (October 23, 2014) at

Please send us your flash blog contribution and/or contact us for more details at

In addition to the flash blog, here are some other virtual ways that you can get involved!

1) Signal boost the Day of Action! Share the memes, post about the day in your statuses, inform people at meetings and on conference calls and in groups, etc.  (Be certain to use hashtags related to the day such as #EndVAWHIV, and more general domestic violence hashtags such as #SaveWomensLives.  A comprehensive social media toolkit will soon be available on the PWN-USA website containing sample tweets, statistics, suggested activities for engaging people on social media, etc.)

2) Change your social media profile pic to honor the Day of Action, & encourage others to do so!

     Consider using this image:

    Or perhaps this one:

3) Distribute the PWN-USA fact sheet to educate people about violence and HIV.  It can be sent via your email list-serves, tweeted, etc. It is available here.

4) Engage in advocacy surrounding Elisha Henson's murder to demonstrate solidarity and support. Details about some ways that this can be done can be found here.

5) "Join" the Day of Action Facebook online event if you have not done so already, and also share the event widely! It is available here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Call for Submissions: What Is Neuroqueer?

Over the past year, a conversation has developed around the word neuroqueer and its adjacent uses—neuroqueer theory, neuroqueer literary interpretation, Neuroqueer (as an identity), Neuroqueering (as an activity)...

All of the early discussions about the word seem to invoke the meaning of the word in context rather than attempting to explain a concrete, single definition of that word. As a result, it might be said that we know what neuroqueer is about, even if we (the people who use the word) have not found a clear consensus supporting its definition.

Rather than attempting to argue for a definition, the editorial staff and board of NeuroQueer has decided to ask the community for a wide representation of the definitions that people engaged with the topic actually work with. The goal is to fill in our ideas of what neuroqueer is about with conversations rather than limited definitions.

To that end, we are seeking text-based projects (poetry, personal narratives, articles, participant-observer research, literary interpretation, etc.) that define, challenge, interrogate, or otherwise work with the idea of Neuroqueer. The only restriction we are placing on submissions is that the definition used in the text be discussed in some way that relates to what neuroqueer has been about, so that we can see how new ideas comment on, alter, and/or refine existing uses of the word.

The major areas of conversation so far have been (very broadly):
  • Neuroqueering, as the action of people who are intentionally “queering” their neurotype through a refusal to conform/assimilate, personal resistance, an assertion of identity, or as a way of asserting an accommodation need without invoking the usual procedural legal channels.
  • Neuroqueering, as the action of a critic who is intentionally reading a text or interpreting art using a neurodivergent or neuroqueer point-of-view.
  • Neuroqueer as the identity of people who are neurodivergent (under the widest, most inclusive definition of the term) and who engage in the practice of neuroqueering.
  • Neuroqueer as the identity of people who are both neurodivergent (under the widest, most inclusive definition of the term) and LGBTQIA.
  • Discussions of the relationships between the four definitions listed above.

These are not the only areas of discussion that Neuroqueer could encompass. They are just the areas that have been discussed widely so far. We'd love to see people push further, and we are hoping that this call leads to new and innovative ideas about what Neuroqueer means.

So, here's the call for papers:

What does Neuroqueer mean to you? And how do you relate that to what you think it means to others?

Language Guidelines

As proponents of the neurodiversity paradigm, we regard neurocognitive variants such as autism, bipolarity, dyslexia, etc., as natural manifestations of human diversity, much like variations in race, ethnicity, culture, gender, or sexual orientation. We reject the currently dominant “pathology paradigm,” which frames these neurocognitive variants as medical pathologies, as “disorders” or “illnesses.”

The pathologizing of neurominorities contributes to the oppression of neurominorities, just as the pathologizing of sexual/gender minorities has historically contributed to the oppression of sexual/gender minorities. We are not interested in contributing to the pathologizing and oppression of any social minority group.

Therefore we will not accept submissions in which neurominorities are spoken of in the language of medical pathology, any more than we would accept submissions in which minority sexual orientations like homosexuality, asexuality, or bisexuality were spoken of as medical pathologies.

If you need further guidelines on avoiding pathologizing language, you might find this article helpful:

If you’re thinking of incorporating terms like neurodiversity, neurodivergent, neurodiverse, or neurotypical into your submission, and you want to make sure you’re using these sometimes-confusing terms correctly, you might find this guide helpful:

How to Submit

Email your piece to our Review Committee at

There is no deadline – we’ll be accepting and publishing pieces on an ongoing basis, as we receive and review them. We’re aiming to start getting the first submissions online by sometime in November, and to continue posting submissions regularly for as long as we keep receiving them.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

You Are Not My Sister, by Corbett Joan OToole

CONTEXT: This piece needs some context to help you understand why I am so upset. The women I write about in this piece are all part of a national community of feminists, an organization that I label “NCF”.  The women who participate in NCF commit themselves to be honest with each other, to be respectful of their differences, to speak from their own experiences, to speak out when they see injustices. Many women participate in NCF activities year after year. It is common for them to have decades of connections with NCF. My friend, whom I call “Mary” here, is one of these committed women. This story happened to her but it’s also happened to me and lots of other disabled folks in lots of different communities.

CONTENT: Discussion of ableism, my strong and judgmental reaction to it.

[Photograph of a city sidewalk with a large telephone pole in the middle of a very narrow sidewalk. On one side of the pole is a narrow strip of sidewalk and then a curb down to the street. On the other side of the pole is a slightly wider strip of sidewalk that ends with a small wall with grass. There is no way for a person using a wheelchair to go on this sidewalk.]

Today Mary (made up name) called me to tell me about her weekend. As she talked she slipped in the painful part quietly. She said she didn’t want me to worry. She said she is ok. She is taking care of it. She moved on to the next topic.  I did not.

Mary is a fierce feminist warrior. When she became disabled she used her considerable skills to making her world better for other disabled women. She’s part of a national community of feminists, NCF (made up name), who write politically correct blogs and organize women’s gatherings. Mary believed, because it was incomprehensible to her not to, that she is an important and respected part of that community. Yesterday she found out she was wrong.

She attended a women’s outdoor concert with her nondisabled friend Annie. They found a group of women from NCF and sat next to them. Everyone was sitting on the ground except Mary who rose above them in her wheelchair. She decided to move to the ground to feel more included. While she did the slow transfer from her wheelchair to the ground, all the NCF women stared at her and she became the center of the their  nervous attention.

Some of the concert organizers were also part of NCF and were glad to see so many NCF women at this out-of-state event. About an hour after Mary made the trek from her wheelchair to the ground, one of the concert organizers invited all the NCF women to join her onstage to honor their years of community service with NCF.

At this point in her story I expected Mary to tell me how they all worked together to get her quickly into her wheelchair so they could show their NCF commitments to solidarity and social justice. But that is not what she said next.

To a woman, the NCF women surrounding Mary stood up, stepped over her, and walked rapidly up onto the stage. Only Annie, her best friend, came over and sat next to her.

Mary tells me that she was shocked by their behavior.

I am not.

I say to them:  You are not my sisters.   You never were.

Yes, I know, you read all the social justice articles and even skimmed a few of the books. You took the NCF pledge, said all the words. You lectured others on the correct terms, the rightness of your concepts. You shunned the ones who would not learn the right phrases deeming them too backwards for your enlightenment.

You never knew what I knew right from the beginning: that no matter what words you used to pledge to be our allies, that you would betray us. You would always put your own comfort, your own status ahead of others. Your commitment to the cause would always be words deep. Betrayal was written into your bones. You never did the deep cleansing needed to examine your privilege, never saw the scars we carry from how the world treats us, never even knew that everyone with privilege can be a betrayer.

But I knew.

I knew because all you showed were words not actions. Did you speak up about that event that did not have a sign language interpreter? No. Did you refuse to participate when that conference on feminism and immigration decided that having Spanish language interpreting was ‘too expensive’? No.

My sisters are women who show me their commitment through actions not words. Often they are women who are not welcome in your world. You see less educated, less adroit poor women who are, to you, less ‘committed to the cause of equality’. You never see that they are the vanguard fighting every single day for justice. You judge them to be locked into heteronormative narratives, women in need of your saving. Not that you ever talk to them, listen to what they want. You went to college. They did too – they were cleaning the floors. You read the books that they put onto the shelves. You know what’s best for women.

These women do not understand your treatises that require a college vocabulary. They will never read Judith Butler or the Feminist Manifesto. Never debate trans* inclusion or male children. They will never know the Feminism 101 definition of lesbian or intersex or genderqueer.

But they will love each and every one of us who want those labels. Their love is fierce, protective, inclusive. They will never, ever leave me or Mary alone on the ground so they can go to the stage for applause. Never. They would not know how to be that cruel. These women are my sisters. You are not.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sins Invalid Statement on Police Violence

It is our honor to repost the following statement with permission. In solidarity:

Originally posted on September 4th, 2014

Sins Invalid is a disability justice-based performance project centering disabled artists of color and queer / gender non-conforming disabled artists. Our work celebrates the embodied humanity of disabled people, and we understand all bodies live in a multitude of very real social, political, economic and cultural contexts.

As an organization led by disabled people of color and queer / gender non-conforming people with disabilities, we live with high rates of state violence, from forced institutionalization, to ongoing police brutality and the murder of Black and brown disabled people.

We witness the horror of a deadly chokehold placed on Eric Garner, a Black man with multiple disabilities, by the NYPD.  We hear the cries of Ezell Ford’s mother when she realized that her son with mental health disability was shot by LAPD while walking home.  We stand with Lashonn White, a Deaf queer Black woman who was running toward police for safety, and instead tased by police and jailed for three days without access to an interpreter.  We feel rage with the family of Kajieme Powell, a Black man with a mental health impairment, who was shot by St. Louis police within seconds of their arrival, for stealing two sodas and a package of pastries.

We know that modern day police forces are direct descendants of the “slave patrols” employed to police and control the bodies and labor of enslaved African people and violently repress their resistance to slavery. We recognize that Black and brown people with disabilities are pipelined from “special education” to incarceration of one form or another.

We acknowledge that disabled people who are Autistic, who are Deaf, who live with mental health impairments, or cognitive impairments, epilepsy or movement disorders, are at highest risk of being assaulted by police, and that this is deeply compounded when we are further marginalized by homelessness, transphobia, and white supremacy.

We do not see training as a viable solution, since it leaves intact the fundamental belief of the police that their purpose is to “control the situation.”  As people with disabilities, our bodies and minds are not controllable and cannot always comply — this must be understood.  Our bodies and minds are not criminal.  We are unique and we celebrate our complexities.

We strongly oppose Urban Shield and all programs that seek to militarize police departments through paramilitary training and military equipment, as they serve to further dehumanize communities of color and poor and working class communities as “domestic enemies.”  Increased militarization of the police leads directly to increased police violence, particularly against disabled people of color.

We grieve that people with disabilities have largely been ignored and dismissed as key leaders in resistance to state violence by the US Left, perpetuating the silencing of our stories and maintaining barriers to a united front.

It is within the context of disability justice that WE SUPPORT JUSTICE FOR MICHAEL BROWN of Ferguson, Missouri.  It is within the context of disability justice that WE OPPOSE URBAN SHIELD.  It is within the context of disability justice that we hold true that ALL COMMUNITIES ARE VALUABLE.

[Image description: In the drawing, the foreground image is of two women in different environments. The woman in the left of the drawing appears to be African-American. She is wearing an orange prison uniform and she sits in a manual wheelchair. The background behind her is prison bars. The woman on the right of the drawing appears to be Arab. She wears a white pants, a long sleeve white tunic that includes a head covering. Her left arm is amputated below the elbow. The women reach out their hand to each other and clasp them at the wrists. The background behind her is a thick wall with a window showing a tree through it. The text reads: DISABILITY JUSTICE means resisting together from solitary cells to open-air prisons. To Exist is To Resist. The drawing was made by Micah Bazant and Sins Invalid.]

Original location: Thanks to Corbett OToole for image description and Lateef McLeod for idea.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Closets, by Jess Glenny

Last year I was diagnosed with autism by a ground-breaking psychologist who is also a foremost advocate for and supporter of autistic women and girls. In parting, she warned me that many people harbour misapprehensions about those of us with autism. She suggested that rather than use the A-word, I could explain, ‘I’m the kind of person who … gets overwhelmed in social situations / functions poorly in bright lights and noisy places / needs a lot of time to process their experiences …’

Well, I’m the kind of person who likes to call a spade a spade, so I went straight to facebook to publish my new status. I also updated my professional website, identifying myself as autistic and welcoming other people on the spectrum to the different opportunities I offer to move, feel and witness. I’m the kind of person who occupies her own territory. So far, I haven’t experienced any sort of adverse reaction. I’m fortunate in the circles I move in and the kind of work I do.

As a queer woman, I was already well acquainted with the issues pertaining to closets, the ins and the outs and the intermediate positions. It’s a dance of complex, improvised choreography, in which we are always on the back foot coming forward. We are the torn out pages in the dominant narrative. ‘Everyone’ is straight, aren’t they? Just as ‘everyone’ is neurotypical, and the onus is on the rest of us to stand up and declare ourselves.

I’ve never had any time for closets. They’re too damn small and claustrophobic. I want to inhabit the full expanse of myself in the world, andI want you to see me doing it. In my view, if I tell you I am queer or I am autistic, and you have a problem with this, you have a problem.

But some closets feel more insidious and more difficult to emerge from, like the one constructed around my relationship with eating, which, from the time I started school up to now has run the gamut of pretty much every form of disorder other than bulimia, and that wasn’t through want of trying. Over the years, the extremes have gradually worn themselves out, along with the consuming guilt and the operatic drama. I know too much to want or to beable to sustain anorexia as a position or to find myself eating white flour and water at two in the morning when all the shops are closed. I used to feel a lot of shame about my crazy, disorderly eating, and now I really don’t any more. But still, I can’t claim even now – even by the fuckaroo standards of the culture I live in – to have a simple, untroubled relationship with food.

Until I started reading women’s first-hand accounts of what it’s like to be autistic, and the penny clattered to the floor, I was always puzzled by the violence and persistence of my eating behaviour. It seemed to be impervious to insight, therapy, mindfulness, moving, drawing, writing, processwork … According to some recent research and to anecdotal evidence, around two-thirds of women and girls diagnosed with an eating disorder also meet the criteria for autism. The driving need I feel alternately to establish control and to smash it apart now feels characteristic of autism and therefore rooted to a large extent in neurology rather than the presumed psychological dysfunction that I have spent so much time and energy trying to identify and resolve.

I don’t have much sense of physical containment. This seems to be the product of both autism and Ehlers Danlos / Hypermobility Syndrome (which affects many, but not all, autistic people), in which there is a deficit of proprioceptive feedback, so it’s hard to feel where I end, to formulate myself into a discrete, impermeable whole and hold all my pieces together. Controlling myself provides a means of encompassing myself and my experience, which often feels overwhelming in amount and intensity. Unleashing chaos offers a way of piercing the tension when it becomes unbearable. This may be a given; it may not be susceptible to change.

Above all I desire to be truly known. At the same time, by virtue of what I do for a living, I’m aware that I am often the recipient of a variety of wide-of-the-mark projections from clients and students who want to believe that a yoga or movement practice is going to beam them up out of the steaming shit heap of their own life. If you are one of those people, I have to tell you frankly that in my experience, practice is more like the fan in the axiom. What actually happens is the shit hits and you get to be more intimately acquainted than you ever thought possible with what comes out of your own arsehole. And this is the thing of beauty, this its very self.

What has tended to happen for me, what offers some loosening and breathing space, is that I have become quite a bit less reactive to my own shit. Because what’s the big deal anyway? We all shit, don’t we? It’s really very human. I haven’t stopped shitting, or being queer or autistic, or being perplexed by my other than shiny-magazine-paper relationship with food. But I feel that in some much bigger picture all of this is OK, just OK.

Since I have written publicly about being autistic, several people in my practice communities have confided privately that they too have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. I feel sad and dismayed that autism still carries such stigma that the majority of them are unwilling to be openly autistic. So if being an out autistic weren’t vital to me because it’s the way I can be truly myself and clearly seen as who I am, it would still be very, very important because if we each own and speak ourselves, as honestly as we can, in all our dimensions – and especially those of us who are teachers, facilitators and therapists – together we become a body of living, breathing practice that others can be received into. No one has to become more perfect than they already are, and healing can be what I think it mostly is, an expanding sense of acceptance, rather than a surreptitious self-improvement project.

Note: since I wrote this piece, last year, I have been for four months a sober eating disorderly.


Description of Photo and Bio
Ibby asked me to write a bit about myself for this post, so here it is … I’m 51 years old and have changed my sexual identity more times than I’ve had hot dinners. At the moment I’m identifying as an omniverous queer femme. ‘Omniverous’ because I’m attracted to everybody; ‘queer’ because it’s big enough to encompass all my shifting sexual and gender expressions and always seems to fit; ‘femme’ because I’m currently having a bit of feminine renaissance. I was officially identified (I don’t like the D word) as autistic just over a year ago. I’m a moving body teacher, facilitator and therapist based in south-east London. You can read more of my writing at and find out about my movement work at