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.