Jax-Jacki Brown is a feminist, disability and queer rights activist, as well as a freelance writer, spoken-word performer and workshop presenter.
In the lead-up to hosting the Write-ability Salon at the Emerging Writers Festival, she gave Sharona Lin an insight into writing, disability and 'Untold Stories of Pride'.
You’re a feminist, disability and queer rights activist, and you’ve previously done work looking at the intersections between queer and disability identities – how do you relate different areas of your identities to each other? How does this inform your activism and your writing?
My identities intersect or overlap just like anyone belonging to multiple minorities.
There are parts of disability identity and queer identity, which are similar – both are against the ‘norm’ both are about finding pride in difference, finding community and working for a more just and equable world. Interestingly too, both involve coming out, even though my disability is visible – I am a wheelchair user, I still have to tell people what that identity means for me and not what they might expect it to mean. Also, I look like a lesbian, I have all the outward symbols or flags of this sexuality, the dyke-spike hair cut, the leather jacket, the Doc Martins and I do this because it makes me feel attractive, but also because it makes my sexuality readable as gay. This public visibility of my sexuality is very important for me, as too often people with disability are presumed to have no sexuality. So I like my body to state clearly that I am a lesbian and proud of it.
Being queer or lesbian (I use these words interchangeably) and disabled influence all areas of my life. They inform the communities I am part of and the very nature of how I move through the world, how I am viewed and the perspective and politics I have developed.
The ways in which many buildings, trams etc. fail to include people outside the ‘norm’ and how this lack of access reinforces stereotypes of people with disability as ‘less than’ or in need of pity or help. When really as we make society more accessible – what living with a disability looks like changes too.
In my writing and performance work I explore disability and sexuality, disability pride and queer pride, activism as a means of empowerment, marginality. I try to subvert expectations whilst being entertaining. The power of an accessible stage, of speaking publicly and openly is an important act of changing and challenging assumptions, as well as challenging myself.
How do you engage with Melbourne’s writing community? How do other writers influence your work?
Mostly I engage online, but I also attend spoken-word events and performances.
My work continues to be influenced by the late and great Stella Young. The Drum and ABC Open recently ran open submissions for writers across the country living with disability, to send in work exploring ‘What makes the world right for you?’ At the moment I am reading through all of these articles and enjoying it.
I also have dyslexia so reading from the page (without my screen reader) can be challenging. You juggle a lot of different types of work. What is your writing schedule like?
It varies depending on my commitments within a given week. However, I usually try for a couple of days at home a week in my PJ’s with copious amounts of tea drinking. I am not a morning person, most definitely a night writer.
You’ve worked across many different platforms. How do you adjust your writing style from writing for workshop to website to spoken-word performance?
Given that I am usually writing, speaking or preforming on intersectionality, I know my stuff and what I want to say. It just becomes a matter of working out the best way to say it, so it is most engaging. With my spoken word performances, I tend to be a lot funnier when I am onstage and my body can be part of the delivery.
How do you think the arts landscape has changed for writers with disability in the last few years?
I think people with disability have ‘come out’ a lot more and there is more opportunities to get your work published online. I attribute this change in a big way to Stella Young and her bringing disability issues to the mainstream.
The Drum and ABC Open submissions I mentioned above, is evidence of that change. I think the ABC particularly is wanting to hear about disability issues from people with disability themselves, instead of other people writing about us. This is a big and important change. There is power in minorities telling their own stories – that’s one of the things that really begins to change things in society.
What books/essays/opinion pieces have you enjoyed recently?
I am currently reading Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender by Mia McKenzie and Feminist Disability Studies (a collection of writings) Editor – Kim Q. Hall.
The theme for this year’s Write-ability Salon at the Emerging Writers Festival is ‘Untold Stories of Pride’. Can you tell us more about this theme and how you interpret it?
Sure. ‘Untold Stories of Pride’ came out of the regular Write-ability Writers Groups, we set this theme because it is often presumed that people with disability wouldn’t feel pride in themselves, or pride particularly in having a disability. We wanted to speak back to this and say loudly and proudly that we do and to tell these stories.
Mostly these days I have stories of pride that are told loudly and proudly! I think I have things to be proud of and pride comes with practice, telling is part of the art of practicing that pride.
About Jax-Jacki Brown
Jax-Jacki Brown is a feminist, disability and queer rights activist and spoken-word performer with a BA in Communication and Cultural Studies (honours) which focused on the intersections between queer and disability identities. She is the independent producer of Quippings: Disability Unleashed, a disability performance troupe and is also a freelance writer and a workshop presenter on disability and sexuality for university departments, health and disability organisations.
Update: Jax will be running a workshop at the Own Voices Forum in Ballarat in April 2017.