Being both disabled and queer means being at an intersection of two communities — two groups that share a lot of the same history but don’t always agree on everything.
Members of both communities have similar things to say about the other: disabled communities have said queer spaces are often inaccessible and ableist, while disability spaces and services are often not queer or trans-friendly; in some cases, they can be homophobic.
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“Queercrip,” for those who choose to take up the label, is a term meant to bridge the gap between the two communities by connecting the common ground between disability and queerness.
“Combined specifically to me, it (queercrip) means this political embodiment of both disability and sexuality and gender. It’s this space of owning and recognizing class politics, racial politics, disability justice politics. All of these things are contained in that identity space,” said Q Lawrence, a disability justice co-ordinator, access consultant and artist living in Chilliwack, B.C.
“It’s reclamation. Queer hasn’t been considered a slur for most young people for quite a while, but crip definitely still is actively still used and treated as a slur. Both of them are this reclamation space.”
Lawrence, who identifies as queer in both sexuality and gender, has been diagnosed with incurable cancer along with a genetic mutation requiring them to use a wheelchair.
Being tattooed and gender non-conforming on top of being visibly disabled, Lawrence says they get both infantilized and not taken seriously at the same time.
“On the one hand, there’s people who treat me like I can’t have these tattoos or behave in the ways I do because I’m disabled, and therefore they don’t acknowledge it.”
“Then there’s the other side, where people are like, ‘You can’t be disabled because you are tattooed and gender-weird and I can’t read you, therefore you are faking your disabilities,’ which is a very weird place to be when you’re going to the hospital three times a week for appointments. I’m like, I promise, I pinky swear, I’m very much not.”
For many community members, including Rabbit Richards, a queercrip artist and systems change co-ordinator for the PACE Society, a non-profit on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, finding a space where others who share similar experiences can connect, even when they don’t always agree, has been invaluable.
“It’s keeping me alive, it’s keeping my family alive, because we are who help one another,” said Richards.
“Community doesn’t mean you like everyone in your circle all the time; sometimes you don’t. But having real people, whose experiences I can bounce ideas off of, and who I can see living in the world for good or ill, is an antidote to receiving all of these media messages that don’t feel authentic and don’t ring true.”
Richards has always known they were queer but identifying as disabled is more recent for them.
They feel the “queercrip” label embodies their experiences as a member of both communities, and it is important to not separate the many aspects of their identity.
“When I was quite young I learned to stop saying that I was ‘half’ Black or ‘half’ white, and say that I am both Black and Jewish. In the same way, it’s important to not separate my queerness from how I am perceived as a crippled person,” they said.
“I feel like these two things are intertwined and form marginalizations that need to be noticed at the same time.”
For Til, a queer Vancouver filmmaker, their first experience with labels and identity was when they were diagnosed with autism and ADHD in elementary school.
They say the experience acted as an explanation for their parents and teachers, rather than something affirming and positive for them. That revelation came a little bit later.
“I very much try to conceal my neurodivergence, or at least make it vague enough that I didn’t think anyone would really give it a second glance. I sort of saw that like, coming from a different space mentally than my connection to external positive community through queerness,” said Til.
“It wasn’t until I realized that those two communities are so similar in my circles and that almost everyone I know is neurodivergent and I can have a lot more compassion for myself through that.”
As an adult, they were introduced to the queercrip community through their partner, Kit Pacilla.
“It was through someone more connected to the disability community and more firmly in that experience who could look at me and do the same thing that people did for them. Like, ‘Hey, maybe there’s something up there,'” said Til.
“(Til and I) have enough crossover that we don’t have to sit down and give each other the whole dictionary every time there’s a pain flare or a dysphoria spike or fatigue or brain fog,” said Pacilla. “It’s nice to not have to explain literally everything.”
Pacilla, a peer-based mental health worker, is mixed race and a non-binary lesbian. They have chronic pain from muscle tension, made worse by a connective tissue disorder and borderline personality disorder. They sometimes use a cane.
Pacilla was hesitant to claim the “disabled” identity for themselves at first, but has since become comfortable with it after years of consideration.
“It’s a community that’s very odd to join after perceiving yourself on the outside of it for a while, because as an ally, a lot of what is shared is the anger and the mourning,” said Pacilla.
“There’s a feeling of only being able to access community when angry or mourning. Connecting with the disabled community, there’s a lot more invitation for joy and bitter sarcasm and inside jokes, and all the other things that make a community.”
While the queercrip label is still new for Til, they are learning to explore what it could mean for them.
“Everything that forms my community now, I have always felt that need to be bestowed, which maybe missed the fact that everyone around me was acknowledging me as I was. I just assumed that all those parts of me, everything I felt comfortable in, I hadn’t really earned,” they said.
“Being in community with so many people who share your experiences means that it really just feels like living, at a certain point, it just feels like we can just live. We can just exist.”
In the month of June, Global News is exploring deeper issues related to the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community in our series, Inside Pride, which looks at the importance of the acronym and the labels it represents.