Intersectionality…?

Hi everyone! Long time no see. Sorry for being MIA. I have been a bit busy with finishing the Threepenny Opera tour, which was epic, and diving headlong back into the world of Phd candidate life. The kick off to this was attending a talk given by a queer theorist named Jasbir Puar who is about to publish a book that, according to her website, “takes up questions of disability in the context of theories of bodily assemblages that trouble intersectional identity frames.” …I have to be honest, even after her talk which I found extremely interesting and engaging, I’m still not completely sure I know what that means.

Intersectionality is defined by google as “the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination.” As far as I am aware, it also relates to the interactions of identity within individuals, or communities of people. For example, I am blind. I am a woman. I am 31. I am American. I am a performer. I am a daughter. etc. Each one of these statements denotes an identity that sets up a normative set of expectations that are often based in stereotypes, i.e. stating that I am a woman might lead people to assume I’m a good cook (not true) and that I don’t know anything about football (true). Being American might lead people to assume that I’m loud (true) and fat (not true). Regardless, all of these identities come together to make me, Amelia, the person who is writing this blog right now. Furthermore, these identities are fluid and constantly changing. What it means to be any of these labels at any point will constantly shift depending on (to name a few things) where I am, who I’m interacting with and how I am feeling within myself at any moment. I can also change the wording to denote slightly different normative constructs. For example, instead of saying “blind” I could say “disabled” or “visually impaired”. All three are true, but can mean different things. Instead of saying “American” I could say “foreign” (when I’m in London anyway). Again, both are true, but can mean different things.

In her talk, Puar read sections of one of the chapters in her new book. In this chapter, she discusses the relationship between transgender and crip/disabled identity. This in itself is very interesting, and is one of my favorite things about queer theory taking on disability as a subject of study. The majority of disability studies, when looking at the term in a general sense, seems to focus on physical/visual disability. Of course, Puar was not saying that being transgender is a disability. In fact, she was clear to point out that most who identify as trans fight the impairment model, despite various laws and regulations that try to classify trans in this way (i.e. saying someone has “gender dysphoria” which is classified as a mental illness).

I know very little about trans identities, and am therefore not going to get too into that topic at this point as I will almost definitely stick my foot in my mouth if I do. What I will say though is that Puar discussed more than once the discrimination that both disabled and trans people face, and that people who identify with more than one minority culture (i.e. black trans, or gay, woman, wheelchair user) tend to be victim to more discrimination. They also make up less of the visible, identifiable people within these minorities. And, of course, it’s true. I mean, I know a few people who fit these intersectional minorities, such as a black, blind, gay, drag queen… but he’s just one person. And how visible is he, really? How much more crap does he have to deal with than the white, blind, hetero drag queens? (I know one of those too) And where is the representation of all of these queer/crip/race/gender identities in performance and the media? 

I ask this question not as a criticism necessarily, but as a genuine, worried question. It almost definitely speaks to a bigger problem. For example, in my MA, there were 30 of us, most of whom were white, and identified as non-disabled and heterosexual. Each and every one of those people were lovely, talented and had worked their asses off to be in that degree, and to do all of the successful things they have done since. I have since then had many discussions with people who work in theatrical institutions and universities, directors, casting directors and other actors about why there is almost no representation of disability in drama schools, on tv and in movies and on stage. Again, I can’t speak for other minority cultures, but I know that the general stance from the disabled contingent is that chances are not given to disabled people. The doors are not open (or maybe they are, but the building isn’t accessible), which makes it very difficult to get inside. Is that even more so the case with people who are, say muslim and disabled? Queer and disabled? And if so, why? If intersectionality is really about embracing all identities, particularly the ones that sit outside of normative social constructs, how the hell does that get started, really? Why is it taking so long? 

 

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