RMIT Gazette: Voices from the margins

Danny Baulch  

Image credit: Margot Tanjutco

The RMIT Gazette is a dynamic daily newspaper produced, published and distributed around Melbourne during the Emerging Writers’ Festival. We’ll publish the Gazette’s top stories online during the festival.

The stage is bright and bare but for a woman speaking into a microphone. The woman stands with her feet planted in a firm stance on the stage floor, as if grounding the electric energy passing through the audience.

Her words are a rhythmic flow of wit and colour as she delineates the persecution that queer people and those with disabilities have suffered throughout history. By the time she gets to Helen Keller, the words are like bullets of energy setting our nerves alight. She condemns history for making myth out of Keller’s story and forgetting her words. For making her body a symbolof disability as defect and the imperative of reform. For leaving her dumb.

This is Quippings presents LOVE SHOW: a production comprising spoken word, comedy and song performed by artists “with bodies and minds of unending variation”. Quippings is a collective of queer performers with a disability (“quip” is a mash-up of “crip” and “queer”) who aim to explore an accepted segregation between disability and sex. In LOVE SHOW, the artists narrate personal stories of sexual identity with crystalline honesty. As these stories unfold, the erotic power of their non-conforming bodies is revealed. The intimate stories of sex and desire that they tell are loaded with the power to break down a perceived incongruity between disability and sexual desire, as well as disability and desirability. The common narrative that weaves through these stories is one of overcoming mainstream perceptions of disability rather than of disability itself; a shared account of resistance to the notions of “deviant and perverse” bodies ascribed by mainstream culture.

A man wheels himself to the centre of the stage. From the back row, I can see his chest rising and falling, as if a small, sleeping animal were concealed beneath his shirt. He speaks about childhood and his father beating him for being disabled. He recalls unrealised feelings for a male best friend. There is a sense of loss, as if he is flicking through the past. In the gaps between recounted episodes, there is something haunting him. All the while his voice barely rises above a murmur but it pierces. It envelops us like the ringing of clanging metal as he breathes into the mouthpiece. Loneliness and yearning flood into the space and stay long after he has left the stage.

The disability activist and creative writing teacher Anne Finger once said: “sexuality is often the source of our deepest oppression; it is also the source of our deepest pain”. By preserving the emotional core of these stories in the telling of them, the achievement of LOVE SHOW is in demonstrating the value of empathy in a postmodern world. In an era where post-truth and alternative facts reign supreme, when lies are recognised but are treated as real, emotional detachment is the norm.

This performance piece provides an antidote to this indulgence in reality-fabrication and self-alienation. It is storytelling at its most radical. Subversion of normative expectations isbringing the emotional experience,pulsing behind sarcasm and irony, back to the fore. LOVE SHOW is what transcendence looks and feels like.

Read more from the RMIT Gazette here.