Creating Community with Disabled Writers—By seeley quest

Now is a time to gather disabled writers and our allies in direct community together. Writing practice shared in company among disabled people expands our consideration of how embodied variations inform our writing perspectives, and how our writing helps us understand embodiment. Whether virtually through videoconferencing or in person, I am keen to encourage events specifically centering disabled writers.

Bodies and minds are linked; psychological and other cognitive differences manifest through a brain’s interactions with its bodily systems, so all of our experiences are fundamentally embodied. Our unique body-minds are what our writing comes through; let’s celebrate how the written word can share our particularities with the world.

Writing practices that occur when we’re solitary can be powerful and necessary lifelines. Many people, disabled or not, get satisfaction and relief from journaling, “morning pages,” and other forms of writing for themselves; sometimes there’s no need to connect output to a larger community.

Yet, sharing creative writing via virtual platforms can be particularly important to people who have less access to public spaces physically or cognitively. Familiar with social isolation, linking ourselves through correspondence helps sustain us. When health conditions permit them, more in-person gatherings are also valuable to grow the collective body of our writing work.

Part of my agenda is to uplift disabled writers who are sharing work in public events and productions. The essay “My Arrival at Crip” makes excellent observations on becoming attentive to the presence and impact of disabled, chronically ill, and Deaf writers assembling in civic spaces. For writers with a newer relationship to disability, it’s especially profound to learn how poets who are “out” as disabled can change the political possibilities for everyone. Public notions of “ableness” are shifting, as living conditions shift during the pandemic, challenging our mental and physical health. The legacies of fierce “out” writers can offer guidance.

Language is fundamental to how we conceptualize disability. Word choices undermine or reinforce associations that valorize hyper-ability, and have consequences. We have the option of using more neutral vocabulary instead of terms freighted by stigma like “handicapped” or “deficient.” “Atypical” is one option, and “atypique” in French is emerging as a descriptor chosen by the disabled community in Quebec. For more on how to shift from oppressive choices, there are great resources like this one: https://www.autistichoya.com/p/ableist-words-and-terms-to-avoid.html.

Our work may get special attention in the frame of “disability arts” or “disability aesthetics,” a category for funding support. However, defining such writing as separate from and more worthy of recognition than art therapy, stream-of-consciousness writing, or fan fiction by disabled authors doesn’t serve the whole. Our future lies away from capitalist divisions. We must embrace arts practices associated with therapy. The need for therapeutic pursuits and for accessible arts engagement will grow. In workshopping and community spaces, I invite those with different experience levels of writing. Whether we are neurodiverse, are experiencing new or episodic disabilities, or are a language and sensory minority like the Deaf: all our work has value. People who aren’t sure of applying the term “disability” to their experiences are welcome comrades too!

When we don’t shy away, there’s so much to explore of what our body-minds might know in common: those considered able and typical, those that vary and diverge, writing both from individual experiences and in relationship to each other. Let our texts layer into expanding knowledge to enrich the entire writers’ community.


Photo credit: Coral Feigin

seeley quest is a trans disabled writer, organizer, and environmentalist, in Montreal since 2017. Sie has made literary and body-based performance since 2001, and presented in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and many U.S. cities. Sie has poems in the book Disability Culture and Community Performance: Find a Strange and Twisted Shape, and in Fiction International. Hir playscript Crooked will be published in September in At the Intersection of Disability and Drama: A Critical Anthology of New Plays. Recent appearances include reading at le Salon du livre de Montréal and leading workshops with QPIRG-McGill, articule, and Head and Hands. Not on social media, sie email connects with comrades: find more at https://questletters.substack.com.

Look for an announcement soon about new plans in 2021 for seeley’s QWF workshop; visit https://qwf.org/activity/poetry-and-prose-writing-from-the-body-mind.

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