by Ngọc Loan Trần
When I started exploring what queerness meant to me I was obsessed with my body. I was obsessed with learning how it could look, feel, taste, and be next to a body that looked like mine, a queer body just like mine, a queer body of color just like mine. I spent a lot of time imagining more comfort in intimacy, in desire, in community. And when I could finally experience it, I was grateful for the communities that welcomed me in my weirdness and our weirdness that held us all together.
I have always been proud to be queer. And I have always prided my QTPOC family for being loudly queer and weird in the face of racist and heteronormative expectations for how we must function as queer people. Queerness introduced me to a very specific politic around owning whatever it is about us that incites the violence against us. It took me a very long time but I figured it out; it definitely wasn’t just about how we have sex (and not all of us do), it wasn’t just about how we formed chosen family or relationships, and it wasn’t just about how we are tragically alienated, pushed out and abandoned (because not all of us are).
Queerness is about carving out space in this world to have what we need, to be who we want and desire, and to hopefully, one day, be free.
My vision for the QTPOC future has evolved and shifted over the years and what I consider as “being free” has changed significantly. With those I love, with those who are my kin, we have envisioned many kinds of possibilities, realities, and futures. We work, strive, and fight for the possibility of a QTPOC future every single day. And, like most things, we pride ourselves in the daily work of liberation.
What has been challenging as we talk about the daily work of liberation is the hesitation to think about disability and queerness simultaneously. Nowadays I have a lot of folks I can look to, fellow sick and disabled queers of color who know that the way to liberation requires us to engage with ableism when many of those we are closest to aren’t ready or even willing to talk about it. But still, in most dominant spaces, even the ones that are proclaimed to be radical, revolutionary, and intersectional, the obvious and transformative relationship between disability justice and queer liberation is silenced.
I have found that in a lot of spaces when we talk about queers loving each other, caring for each other, and witnessing each other intimately, sexually, and otherwise in non-normative ways, we do not consider disability. We do not think to create and hold space for disabled queers of color.
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There are reasons for this. One being that ableism traps us in this capitalist system that prioritizes bodies that are able to produce and function in ways that translate into profit. Another being the reluctance in communities of color to say that we are sick or in pain or disabled. When the world around us already challenges our ability to survive, we see it as our responsibility to make sure we don’t claim any other barriers; that even when we can’t do something we will do it anyways because signs of our weakness are more profitable to systems of dominance than they are to us. But distancing ourselves from that identity and experience reinforces the stigma around disability.
Many of us have been able to transform and reclaim queerness so that it is not a weakness. But we have not worked at intentionally unlearning the ideology that makes disability weak. We have not put in the work to unapologetically tell the sick and disabled queers in our lives that it’s weird to be disabled, it’s okay to be disabled, it’s fucking great to be disabled. And in that lack of intent, in that disregard, we leave behind the sick and disabled queers of color who should be rightfully leading the way.
Sometimes it’s confusing to me, and even upsetting and heartbreaking, that we forget and leave behind disabled queers of color. Because, like queerness, when I think about disability one of the first things that comes to my mind is the system that forces normalization on our bodies. And ableism, in particular, seeks to dehumanize and harm disabled people. For me there is a commonality that exists for queers and disabled folks: there is no body that exists that is truly fit for this ableist and capitalist system. There is no body that exists (and not due to ableism alone) that is fit, on a human level, to be perfect or enough. I don’t say this to minimize the depth in which ableism directly affects the lives of disabled folks; I don’t say this to say that what a non-disabled person experiences is the same as me.
But what I do think is important to acknowledge is that none of our bodies are enough within the state or systems of oppression. Disabled bodies, queer bodies, fat bodies, bodies of color, femme and feminized bodies face the violent forces that desire us to be able-bodied, heterosexual, skinny, white, and masculine.
With this common thread of forced normalization you’d think it would make sense to push ourselves to build for a queer liberation that also means disability justice. And I know that many of us who fight for disability justice, who talk about it daily, who dream of it daily don’t do it divorced from queer liberation.
When we think of a QTPOC future we need to make sure to make ourselves grow, revel, and learn with the understanding that ableism and its mechanisms for determining which bodies are worthy and unworthy permeate all of our lives, whether we are disabled are not.
Queers need to act with disability justice in mind; when we demand to resist the neo-liberal grip on our lives, when we fight to reject assimilationist agendas, we need to remember that disability justice is about that resistance and rejection. Above all, it is about redefining what is normal. Disability justice pushes us all to confront the dominant systems that want us to remain entrenched in individualism and in capitalism. Ableism and heterosexism both seek to keep us away from building with each other, caring for each other, and looking out for each other. Both deny us the freedom to define our own bodies, relationships, and desires.
Disability justice not only has deep parallels with queer visions and dreams: it is itself undeniably necessary to queer visions and dreams. Disability justice is so very queer.
When queers talk about being weird, we have to also mean the weird we don’t experience. When queers talk about being freaky, we have to also mean the freaky that our spaces often alienate. When queers talk about liberation, we have to also mean liberation for those of us who are disabled.
The QTPOC future that I want rejects what bodies are considered normal and worthy and values, uplifts, and cherishes the bodies that are abnormal and freaky. And in that, prioritizes the intersections of experience, the overlapping desires to be free from trauma, alienation, and isolation. I want a QTPOC future that embraces the interlocking visions for more possibilities of how we can all be and become.
We have been all preparing for the apocalyptic, explosive and revolutionary moment. And I am looking forward to the morning where QTPOC build a new, better world. I am certain that disabled QTPOC will survive. So be certain too and be prepared for us.
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Ngọc Loan Trần is a Việt/mixed-race disabled queer writer grounded in the U.S South. Their work is about bold, fearless visioning that cuts through the nonsense to make real the freedom, justice and love we seek. You can read more of their work and writing at nloantran.com.