The Sea Inside You

Video, narration, and prose by Jude Wasserman
Song is “The Big Ship” by Brian Eno

The Sea Inside You 

Stick an ocean pebble under your tongue
Roll its smooth saltiness along tender gums
It would be so easy to swallow
Accidentally, or on purpose

Yesterday I swam in two different lakes. Fingertips brushing against larva stuck to the underside of green lily pads, translucent and slimey. Muck blossoming around my ankles. The iced-tea colored water. I thought about falling in love here last year, and the reek of this place. A heron extended its wings, everything fuzzy without my glasses.

At night we projected The Little Mermaid onto the wall
I couldn’t stop thinking
Was her cunt more like mine or a dolphin’s
Giving up her voice to bifurcate her tail
Christian Anderson’s mermaid describes the agony of footfall as walking on glass

Coral bleaching off the shores of the Pacific
Only to bloom in the acid of digestive juices
How do you speak to the sea inside you?

A pain across the curve of your dorsal fin, invisible knife scraping off shimmering scales
Sloughing the flesh into a hot wet mass
Gutting your bottom half, shaping in the image of human
Do you think you’ll ever pass
Walking is shards of glass digging into the softness of your newly formed heels
Cramping the tender weakness of calf muscles
Bifurcated like the branches of a river or arteries of a heart
Does your “before” long for your “after”
Or is it the other way around
Have the doctors declared you asynchronous
Body of an adult, mind of a child
Body of a man, mind of a woman
Living in fractures
Parallel timelines
The swift movement of a scalpel through sinew or the spell of a sea witch,
what’s the difference really

Coughing up the briney phlegm of low tide
Kelp twining around spleen and liver

I went running under the almost full moon
Remembering the things mermaids give up to walk
The acrid smell of my new Nikes
Pieced together at .20 cents an hour
P.T. Barnum fusing the bodies of monkeys and fish
The Fiji Mermaid, Lobster Boy, Wildmen of Borneo
Trans girls fascination with mermaids
Sleek and genital-less lower half
Lungs burning with cool night air, my feet aching
My mom was swimming when her water was breaking

Doctors listen to the sizzle of waves breaking against your belly
Trying to discern gender in the pinks and blues of sea anemones
To pick out defects among the swirling currents and migration
At night, caress the swell of your ocean
“You are a mistake and I like you”, whispered lovingly
“You are a mistake and I like you”, whispered longingly
You are a mistake and I like you

 

A Queer/Crip Reading of Salt Fish Girl

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai is part of the emerging wave of new feminist science fiction written by women of color in what has traditionally been a genre dominated by white authors. The narrative intertwines the lives of a seemingly immortal woman, alternating between the tale of Nu Wa in 19th century China, and Miranda in the future Pacific Northwest. There are a few articles dedicated to examining this underrepresented text (Bleeding Chrome, and Stinky Bodies), and I’d like to offer up my own interpretation of this work. Discourse around disability and disease play a prominent part in the narrative, so I’ve decided to focus on a queer/crip reading of Salt Fish Girl.

Hybridity

When Nu Wa transforms from a snake woman into a human, she gains the ability to walk in exchange for chronic pain, “The pearl will keep you alive forever, but you will never again be without pain” (Lai 8). This echoes the original The Little Mermaid written by Christian Anderson, a classic story that is ripe with disability metaphor. Additionally, the figure of the mermaid was often featured in freak shows, including P.T. Barnum’s Fiji Mermaid, a mummified monkey and fish hybrid. While Nu Wa transforms into a human, Miranda obsessively draws images of mermaids and snake women. Salt Fish Girl interrogates and denaturalizes essentialist notions of “human” by featuring bodies that refuse containment. The mermaid is one of the quintessential boundary blurrers, both monstrous and desirable. The freak show is perhaps the most visible piece of disability history in the West, and human animal hybrids were prominently featured (ie. The Elephant Man, Lobster Boy etc). Mermaids, and other hybrids, play off of the cultural anxiety surrounding disability and boundary blurring. Disability scholar Alison Kafer touches on the possibilities of examining boundary transgression between human and organism, “A cyborged disability politics can provide astute theoretical insights into the boundary blurring that occurs between disabled people and our attendants, or between disabled people and our service animals, or among disabled people in community with each other and our allies” (Feminist, Queer, Crip 119).
[See also: Bifurcated] 

Salt Fish Girl explores human/organism hybridity by questioning the ethics of cloning and bio-technology. In the future Pacific Northwest, clones are not legally defined as persons due to their genetic splicing with other non-human entities. Evie, Miranda’s lover is .03% fresh water carp. Corporations take advantage of this legal loophole, and utilize an enslaved clone workforce, consisting entirely of women of color. Lai uses cloning to question constructions of authenticity, and the impact that bio-technology has on reproduction and race. Clones and the bodies of people with disabilities are viewed as less “natural” because of hybridity, and the (perceived) role of technology.

Smell and Pathologizing Difference

Miranda’s smell permeates the whole narrative, and is a source of great anxiety and disturbance within her family. She reeks of durian, the fruit her mother ate on the day of her conception. The durian odor seeps into everything around her. Additionally, Miranda has two leaky fistulas above her ears, seems to shed scales in the bath, and dreams of her past life as Nu Wa. This atypical embodiment comes to be pathologized in Miranda and in others as The Dreaming Disease. Others with the Dreaming Disease stink of different scents — oranges, carnage, freshly baked bread, salt fish — the smell is unique to the individual. Durian is a fruit mostly despised by Westerners for its pungent scent, describe by some as cat pee or rotten eggs. At one point, Miranda’s father says “Only barbarians eat those kinds of things” (Lai 32), illustrative of the view of many in the West. Miranda’s embodiment is atypical both for her durian smell and her racialized otherness, she is described as being the only Asian girl in her class at school. Durian is “exotic”, unregulated, anti-colonial, and its smell refuses containment. By privilege smell over other senses, Lai offers up a crip interpretation, where smell rather than sight is the characters dominant vehicle for experiencing their surroundings.

In Salt Fish Girl bodies are presented as permeable, leaky, and vulnerable. Miranda’s father is particularly disturbed by her smell, obsessively seeking medical intervention and diagnosis. There is one specific moment where Miranda comes to understand herself as sick, “ I did not understand my condition as a ‘condition,’ nor did I know that there were others in other compounds or out in the Unregulated Zone who were afflicted with variation of the same bizarre symptoms….suddenly, and for the first time, I felt dirty” (72). This passage signals a paradigm shift in Miranda’s understanding of herself, from able-bodied to sick. The things that were normal parts of her body and functioning are suddenly under scrutiny as being unnatural, diseased, and requiring of cure. Salt Fish Girl critiques the way that atypical bodies become pathologized through medicine.

Crip Temporality

Building off of Judith Halberstam’s conception of queer futurity, Alison Kafer presents crip time in Feminist, Queer, Crip. One of the tenants of crip time is the notion of “strange temporalities”. During the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many gay communities deflected attention away from the future, living only in the moment. Kaffer presents this as an instance of queer/crip time. Heterosexual able-bodied/minded culture creates a linear timeline of development and firm delineation between past/present/future. Disability is a disruption in the temporal field.  The instant that Miranda comes to understand herself as “sick” interrupts her orientation in time. Suddenly her whole developmental timeline through the phases of life is ruptured, and she is forced into the liminal temporality of illness. Miranda experiences parallel temporalities through her dreams of her previous incarnation, Nu Wa. She exists in two temporal planes — dreams and smell establishing a connection to her ancestor. Not only does the Dreaming Disease pathologize physical difference, it also pathologizes collective memory and ancestral connection. Miranda is able to reproduce asexually, unknowingly impregnating herself when she eats an unregulated durian. This queer/crip form of reproduction is grounded in the landscape, requires no man, and produces more people with “strange” embodiments.  At the end of the book, as Evie and Miranda transform back into snake/fish/mermaid hybrids and entwine each other with their tails while giving birth, Miranda remarks, “By our strangeness we write our bodies into the future…by our difference we mark how ancient the alphabet of our bodies” (Lai 259), clearly articulating her atypical embodiment as a threat to futurity.

Bifurcated

Yesterday I swam in two different lakes. My fingers brushed against larva attached to the underside of green lily pads, translucent and slimey. The reek of muck sticking to my ankles, rank and earthy, almost like trash or sewage. The iced-tea color of the water. Blue dragon flies whizzing past. I thought about falling in love here last year, and the stench of this place compared to the sterile and gentle lawn leading to the sandy banks of our earlier swim. A heron extended its wings, gracefully swooping, everything fuzzy without my glasses.

At night we projected The Little Mermaid onto the wall and ate sizzling frybread. While Ariel smiled demurely and sang childish Disney songs, I couldn’t stop thinking about mermaid genitials. Was her cunt more like mine or a dolphin’s? Does she lay eggs? Why does she have a belly button? Giving up her voice to bifurcate her tail. Christian Anderson’s mermaid describes the agony of footfall as walking on glass.

I went running under the almost full moon. My lungs burning with the cool night air, my feet aching.  Contemplating the things mermaids give up to walk. About how my Nike’s were pieced together by women in a sweatshop. P.T. Barnum fusing the shriveled body of a monkey and a fish to display The Fiji Mermaid in his freak show. Transgender girls’ fascination with mermaids, torso of a woman, sleek and genital-less lower half. About how fucking feels too much like drowning. How my mom’s water broke while she was swimming. Everything connected, drawing me back underwater.

Bifurcation. A searing pain across your dorsal fin, invisible knife scraping off scales. Sloughing the flesh into a hot wet pile. Gutting your bottom half, shaping it in the image of human. Never quite authentic. Do you think you’ll ever pass? Walking feels like shards of glass digging into the softness of your newly formed heels, pain shooting up the weak muscles of your calves. Bifurcated like the branches of a river or arteries of a heart.
Does your “before” long for your “after”? Or is it the other way around?
Have the doctors declared you asynchronous? Body of an adult, mind of a child. Body of a man, mind of a woman. Living in fractures, dropped out of time, running out of time. Parallelity means always seeking, mourning, dreaming. A rupture in your timeline. Rended in two, the swift movement of a scalpel through sinew or the spell of a sea witch, what’s the difference really.

Untitled…

Stick an ocean pebble under your tongue
Roll its smooth saltiness along tender gums
It would be so easy to swallow
Accidentally, or on purpose
Coral bleaching off the shores of the Pacific
Only to bloom in the acid of digestive juices
How do you speak to the sea inside you?
Coughing up the briney phlegm of low tide
Kelp twining around spleen and liver
The doctor listens to the sizzle of waves breaking against your belly
Trying to discern gender in the pinks and blues of sea anemones
To pick out defects among the swirling currents and migration of whales
At night, caress the swell of your ocean
“You are a mistake and I like you”, whispered lovingly
“You are a mistake and I like you”, whispered longingly
You are a mistake and I like you

 

Living in Parallel

[A sprig of lavender lies in the sun on a notebook with a  drawing done in pen and chalk pastel]
[A sprig of lavender lies in the sun on a notebook parallel with a drawing of lavender done in pen and chalk pastel]
Do you live in parallel?
When/what was your point of divergence? [The slow creep of weight gain, a car accident, a shot of testosterone]
Do you ever wonder?
How often do you mourn for what you’ve never had?
Does your “before” long for your “after”? Or is it the other way around?

 

 

Desiring Disability

I’d like to re-visit Woman On The Edge Of Time. When I was thinking about Marge Piercy’s feminist utopia, I noted a significant lack of people with disabilities and folks who are fat. All of the inhabitants of Mattapoisett are able-bodied and physically fit. I really liked the acceptance of mental disability as part of the regular course of life, and the focus on healing, but it is troubling that members of the community are required to drop out of village life at the onset of mental illness. Allison Kafer has this to say about Piercy’s utopia:

“In both the novel and interpretation of the novel, it is assumed that disability has no place in feminist visions of the future, and that such an assumption is so natural, so given, that it does not merit public debate” (pg 73, Feminist Queer Crip)

Disability and disabled people are not accidentally missing, they are explicitly written out of Woman On The Edge Of Time. Reproduction happens exclusively through “brooders”, technology that creates and incubates children. Brooders are programmed to deselect for illness and congenital disability. There is so much cultural agreement that disability and disabled bodies are problems to be fixed, cured, and solved, that the lack of disability in a utopic future is seen only as “natural”.  I was extremely moved by Piercy’s utopia, and the account of institutionalization; the novel is not without it’s merit, but clearly the conversation needs to be troubled. What does it mean when we write disability out of the future? So often utopia is portrayed as a future without disability, while dystopia is rife with our cultural fears surrounding disability. What if we were to understand disability not as something to be feared, but as a valuable way of being and knowing, offering us insights that those who are able-bodied/able-minded cannot?

What would our utopias look like if we valued disability, even selected for it? What if we desired disability? Too often we take for granted our agreement that we all desire the same future(s). What would a world look like if even those who are able-bodied/able-minded actually desired to claim crip/disabled?

 

Nisqually, QRC, The Face

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[Photo of Nisqually wildlife refuge. A goose looks out over the ponds and waters of the wetlands. Two twin barns are tiny specks in the distance]
 I’m out at Nisqually, sunburnt and happy. Today, I’m grateful for Evergreen, where I can spend the day out on the estuary, writing and reading, instead of in a classroom. I’m grateful for waters, rural/small town living,  spending more time with plants than humans, and Queer Rock Camp.

Camper applications are due today, and things really blew up this year. Folks have applied from all over the world, and unfortunately we’re going to have to turn half of the applicants down because of the constraints of structure/space. Luckily, we just passed the proposal for Queer Rock Camp 2015 in Seattle, so there will be two sessions of camp next year. This weekend we’re meeting to review camper applications and figure out who/how to prioritize. I’ve been working on the accessibility statement, and we’re starting to have more conversations about accessibility. When we put up our accessibility statement, I want to make sure that the organizing Collective is on the same page about disability justice and truly understands what we are inviting with a public commitment to accessibility. I have concerns about us ever being able to be fragrance free because so many campers aren’t in control of the products they use. We’re going to be addressing this at our next Collective meeting, so stay tuned.

On Tuesday I met with my friends Alice and Celi to record a discussion for Alice’s video project. Instead of our original plan to record with a full crew in the tv studio, we decided to meet in the basement of the library where Alice filmed our conversation. Later, it’s going to be animated with rotoscoping (I’ve always wanted to be a cartoon!). The project’s intended audience is folks with cranio-facial differences. We talked about the face, faceism, the concept of “cute” privilege, loving on other people’s whose bodies are different, the power of staring, and the assumptions that people make about us when they stare. Alice’s film is going to be screened at the end of the quarter. I will post the time and place when I have more info!

 

QRC Accessibility Statement Draft pt. 2

Queer Rock Camp 2014 Flyer
[Queer Rock Camp 2014 Flyer. Three youth play instruments: One: with short hair, a vest, tank top, and shorts, jumps while singing into a microphone. Two: with afro, leans and plays guitar. Three: with long hair, and wheelchair, bangs on the drums. Queer Rock Camp is written above them. July 7-11th, 2014 in Olympia WA. Queerrockcamp.org
Second iteration of the accessibility statement for Queer Rock Camp:

We are committed to Queer Rock Camp being accessible to all youth and volunteers. All different kinds of bodies are welcome at camp. Our instrument instructors teach to many learning styles, and use a mix of group and one-on-one instruction depending on the needs of the camper. There is no “right” way to play an instrument, campers are encouraged to create music in whatever way works best for them. Lincoln Elementary is wheelchair accessible, and we strive to make after camp activities, events, and the showcase wheelchair accessible too.

 We ask campers and volunteers to refrain from using scented products, while also realizing that many youth have no choice in the products they use, and as a result QRC is not a completely fragrance free space.

We recognize that people bring a complex mix of identities, experiences, and embodiments to camp, both visible and invisible. We are committed to disability justice, and are always working towards improving the accessibility of camp.

If you have concerns, or questions about access needs, please email us at queerockcamp@gmail.com