How do we look beyond ability-normative queerness in the South Asian context? As disabled queer folks surviving during a pandemic, how do we unlearn the shame, regret, and guilt that we carry in our bodies and re-learn Pride? How do we let go of the non-disabled ‘’expectations’’ and ‘’aesthetics’’ of being queer? Of being ‘’queer enough’’ when not in accordance with ableist non-disabled standards? Of the savarnization of queerness? How do we embrace alternate ways of queer expression – a disabled queer way of expression that is accessible and honors all abilities?
Disabled queer folks might have different way of accessing queer circles, resources, structures of dating and platonicity – something that might be more readily available to non-disabled queer folk.
Every time we communicate or raise our voice, when we “speak up” within the four walls of a zoom meeting, or even in real life, we do so while carrying with us the burdens of ableism as well as the joys of our disability, alongside the labour of our queerness and the responsibility towards our community. There’s also the question of the privilege of dissent – who has the space to dissent? Who has the support systems, the resources to dissent? What are the alternative frameworks of dissent – a disabled way of dissent. Is only physical protest valid as a form of dissent? Most of us are chronically ill, physically or mentally, and on some days can’t get out of bed without risking our health & safety. So we dissent by writing poetry, by painting with our disabled fingers, by speaking a disabled language, by walking in a disabled way, and some days, just by existing. Every day is a protest, a fight for us. Our existence is a rebellion.
As I reintroduce my queer disabled self to the world, I’ve observed how the pandemic has been designed only for one kind of ability. How safety measures, access to dating, communication structures, access to expression, access to recreation, have all been designed for the non-disabled world, pushing and invisibilizing disabled folk further into the margins.
I have always felt lost within the larger abled queer community: too visibly disabled, not queer enough because I don’t have access to certain paths of exploration. This month I remembered Access, acknowledged Access, and was grateful for Access. This month I reintroduced my queer disabled body into public spaces. I reintroduced nu to new places, new people, new friends. As I took my first taxi cab alone in 2 years, I remembered the familiar feeling of my disabled body beaming with joy, and reminded myself that I don’t have to “work hard” to “look” queer. Or “explore” with a person to be queer.
I am queer, I deserve queerness, whether I choose to explore or not. Why do I have to conform to a queer aesthetic or abled movement in order to be valid? Within the ambit of multiple sexualities, my sexuality is my own creation. I can paint it in my own disabled colors, my own tongue, my own language, my own gender expression, my own dissent. We create our own sexuality.
Today, I wouldn’t be writing this, if it weren’t for my online communities of care. I have built a home in my support groups on WhatsApp. As we discuss the joys, sorrows, excitement, humourous bits about being disabled, my own identity becomes clearer and clearer to me. We have created our very own imagined reality through our phone screens – an accessible reality where we are free to dissent, share intimate moments, experience a sense of belongingness and empathy amidst a world torn apart by a pandemic.
My disabled friends have made me realize the value of being disabled in a society that places only a certain kind of queerness as deserving and worthy of recognition. As disabled folks, we create our own community, our own chosen family, our own ways of how we want to interact with the world. Disabled folks are worthy of queerness, we deserve queer care, access to queer circles, chosen families.
There is no queer movement without disabled queers, and there will nothing about us without us.