This year particular attention has been given to the way disability is portrayed in various media. The Me Before You international debacle set off a chain of protests as the movie screened around the world. The film and the book that spawned it hit a nerve in the disability community. It was followed by the tragic mass murder of disabled people at Sagamihara, Japan in July, which deepened the rage and disgust with the way disabled people are seen and portrayed on screen and in other media. Most days we see examples of good and more frequently bad portrayals from around the world in social media.
We had already decided on the name for our Crip the Lit session at LitCrawl Wellington before all this happened. Several of us had been concerned for some time that “real” disabled voices were not being heard enough in the print world, that writing about disability in New Zealand is still too dominated by non-disabled people. There are good blogs by disabled people but little quality writing between books or stories about overcoming disability, and serious academic work.
Teaming up with other disabled writers seemed a sensible thing to do. When the opportunity at LitCrawl came up I was ready to gather some writers and seize it
Why did we decide on this title, knowing it would be provocative and contentious? Provocation is no bad thing if it promotes good discussion. And of course it has. But 140 characters on Twitter don’t give much space to explain why we chose it so I’m elaborating here.
The term Crip is not used lightly. It’s not an everyday word, and must be used sparingly and in particular contexts. I was influenced by the #Cripthevote US election campaign, and by the way #CripLit rolls off the tongue and is already used by other disabled writers in a similar way.
The word “crippled” of which “crip” is a shortened form, is an old word, a word that is seen as dated and stigmatising. Disabled people have more recently reclaimed it in the same way other marginalised groups have reclaimed words that have been used in hurtful ways. Claiming back such words is empowering and neutralises the hurt. It turns a former slur into a badge of pride. But of course it’s not always appropriate to use it, and its use is careful and conscious.
“Cripple” as an actual label or insult is so archaic, from a bygone era and mostly not used even by those who know no better terms. Other negative terms about disability are still used, and are therefore less safe to play with than “crip.” Most disability activists and disabled people won’t use words like “handicapped” or “retarded” either as reclaimed terms or even ironically.
But “Crip” can be ironic, edgy and humorous. It shows confidence in a community people often expect to be intensely self-absorbed, lacking a sense of humour, creating “misery memoirs” or needing “inspiration porn” to feel good about ourselves. Using the term “Crip” in this context shows we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We want to challenge the reader to think differently, to take a new look, to challenge ideas of “safety” around disability.
Using terms such as “crip” often indicates a sense of pride in who you are, an involvement in disability activism and culture, a sense of community. We know the social model, and we recognise that the term is not self-hatred or lack of knowledge but rather shows understanding of disability history.
“Crip” has been used by some disabled people for several decades. It has become inclusive over time, and can represent people with all kinds of impairments, while still enabling people to maintain their own important identity/ies.
Despite that, we know that not everyone will feel comfortable with the term “crip,” which is fair enough. For some it’s too risky, or the hurt is still too raw. We respect that and hope that people can move beyond that word to the content of our LitCrawl session. We’ll be speaking in our own voices, telling our own stories, and we won’t be appropriating the voices of others.
And of course respectful discussion and debate is always welcome. We don’t have to agree on everything.
Four disabled writers will read our work on November 12 Crip the Lit at the CQ Hotel, 7.15 – 8.00. Trish Harris has just published her terrific memoir, The Walking Stick Tree, Mary O’Hagan’s insightful memoir and analysis of the mental health system, Madness Made Me was published a couple of years ago. Sally Champion and I will read from our current work and work in progress. Come and join us!