One of the reasons why I haven’t commented thus far on the EvelynEvelyn row is that I haven’t seen the actual work yet, but then, no more has anyone else, except for the couple of songs that have been released as teasers. And the presentational legend, which some people read as truthful in spite of its being, to me, transparently an American Gothic schtick in which the conjoined twin trope was one of several ways of creating a naive quirky voice for AFP and Webley to explore. I am not prepared to judge the overall quality of a work of art in advance of experiencing it and I am certainly not going to be offended by it in advance.
I know other people think otherwise, and I am sorry if you are upset by my not agreeing with you. Yes, promotional material is part of the work, but I am no more prepared to condemn on the basis of promotional stuff than I would be by the first five minutes. Unless that is, the material contained something grossly offensive – as opposed to, say, moderately so.
When I say grossly offensive, I mean clear calls for racist or sexist violence, or for the physical elimination of LGBT people, or for physical attacks on the disabled. I do not mean appropriation of identity; I do not mean possibly dodgy tropes. I mean matters of life and death offensive.
I have no standing to tell disabled people how offended to be of course, except that I belong to a community that is often abused and often appropriated and often subjected to murderous assault. And while I don’t identify as a PWD, I am a long way from being able-bodied – I can walk but only in significant drug-taking arthritic pain in my knee, I am diabetic, I am asthmatic and I have tunnel vision because of the strength of my spectacles. I am not – as they say – disabled enough, but friendship with eg kitsune76 taught me a lot.
Incidentally, I do find it offensive that people assume that AFP’s work on EvelynEvelyn comes from a place of deep cluelessness around disability given that it is reasonably wellknown that she grew up with a disabled sibling.
Another factor in my reluctance to post has been the fact that I am friends – not directly with Amanda Palmer, whom I have not actually properly met yet for complicated reasons that involve blown fuses and council workmen – but with her fiance Neil Gaiman, who is indeed one of my oldest, closest and dearest friends.
And who has received death threats over this – some of them relating to his ‘tacit approval of his fiancee’s project’ – AKA his refusal to act like a Patriarch and Control His Wild Woman.
Let’s be clear – some people are reacting to the EvelynEvelyn kerfuffle by issuing death threats to one of my closest friends. Which inclines me to say that at least a faction of the anti-AFP people can fuck right off.
I’ve been scathing about the way various journalists have used being friends of Julie Bindel to avoid dealing with her transphobia – but the issue there is that she is proposing IN THE REAL WORLD that trans people be prevented from getting surgery and forced to have reparative therapy. And doing this in a context where other people are trying to bring such things about. There are rows to be had about eliminationist oppression of PWDs as there are of trans people; and there are practical day-to-day oppressions; and then there is art which appropriates experience and sometimes that is a problem and sometimes it is not.
In any case, I will say again that issues around appropriation are not live and death issues in the way that issues around eliminatonism are. I am writing a book about a show that includes some quite dodgy representation of trans people – Nip/Tuck – and I am being quite critcal of areas of those representations. But I don’t think Ryan Murphy was not entitled to portray trans characters or even to do so in a problematic way – I have never seen anything in his work, even at its dodgiest, that would make me call for him to stand up in the court of public opinion and make endless self-criticism and withdraw the work.
Come to that, while I have been moderately rude to Julie Bindel over her call for my removal from the world, I have never threatened the life of her lover the lawyer for not controlling her, or for her tacit approval.
It is possible – some will say probable – that the EvelynEvelyn performances will be problematic, but I am not going to prejudge the issue until I have seen the work, and discussed it with friends. It should not be assumed that the friends with whom I shall be seeing and discussing it will all be able-bodied.
I have been very impressed by some of the comments – on both sides of this argument – on AFP’s blog, notably my friend Maki here and here. I think it is important that the perspective taken on this in the original post on Feminists With Disabilities is not the only possible perspective – even among feminists with disabilities. A lot of the demands that AFP engage in even more self-criticism and discussion that she has already assumes that it is self-evident that the work is offensive – this is not the case. It is work that some members of a community have problems with.
As to the twitter issue, I can understand that people who read setting aside 846 emails and removing the disabled feminists from her mental periphery, @amandapalmer sat down to plan her next record. as being dismissive of their concerns. Even at the time, though, when it came up on my Twitter feed, I read that as – putting things aside for the moment to concentrate on other matters – because part of the point of Twitter is that it captures WHERE YOU ARE AT A SPECIFIC MOMENT. Clearly she was and has been engaged with criticism on the whole EvelynEvelyn question – she might have put the tweet better – but it’s a tweet for heaven’s sake.
I have heard the argument that people are responsible not only for what they say, but, because intent is irrelevant, for what other people interpret them as having said. If it is a reasonable reading – even if it is not the correct one – you have to own responsibility for how they read you. May I say, that, while I take the point about intent, that responsibility ends when you clarify what you meant and they have read your clarification – when it is clear that what you claim you meant in the clarification was what you did mean. As is the case here.
We don’t get to stay in a state of crisis over what was a misunderstanding in the first place as some reactions to that tweet were – and misunderstandings that led to understandable upset which should end with explanation…
One of the reasons why I am deeply worried by the assumption that any representation of the Other is problematic because of appropriation is that I am old enough to remember the 50s when large areas of humanity were excluded from representation altogether. Many early representations from outside the hegemonic white able-bodied heterosexual cis group were dodgy in all sorts of ways, because only the hegemonic group got to make them – but they were better than no representations at all. There are so many people who want to silence all of us that we should beware of telling each other that only we should represent our own group.
In the end, what I am saying is that sometimes discussion among progressives and minorities of works of art should be carried out with a certain decorum. It is more important that these conversations continue than that anyone try to win them. This is not the tone argument; it is about finding a way forward that does not involve the left’s usual self-immolation and self-hatred.