Pride Voices: Finding my power at the intersection of transness and disability
Artist Yaz Metcalfe discusses the true meaning of inclusivity for someone who is used to being othered – and why it’s vital to support disabled and queer creatives
Tuesday 5 July 2022 By Yaz Metcalfe Photography by Emil Lombardo
In celebration of this year’s Pride, we're showcasing a special series – Pride Voices – to explore the many sides of LGBTQIA+ life and queer culture today, as told by people from the community.
Being trans* and disabled, my body plays a huge role in my identity – and art is my opportunity to understand the sticky relationship I have with my physical being.
I remember visiting the doctor as a child and thinking they were magic – no matter what was wrong they knew exactly how to fix it, and every time it got fixed. It was only 10 years ago when I became sick – and I’ve been sick ever since – that I realised doctors can’t fix everything and the illusion shattered. Art still keeps that same magic alive for me. I feel like I did as a child when I see a piece of artwork that encapsulates things I’ve felt past the point of words.
When I first got sick, the work of other disabled artists showed me that my existence still mattered – and more so, could be revolutionary. The art of Matisse, Frida Kahlo, and in recent years Bob Flanagan, proved that my experience had the potential to inspire and uplift other people. It excites me that I too am able to create that same magic. Art comes out of my body like a release of energy, and every time it heals me: my alternative medicine. Sometimes the body doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to and that can’t be controlled – but I do have control over the processing of that. Without art as my outlet, I would have given up a long time ago.
Coming from a working-class background, choosing a career in art is a huge risk – but it’s one that pays off emotionally, through supporting others with my work. It’s definitely not a coincidence that all my disabled friends are also queer. I have a beautiful group of gender non-conforming, queer, disabled people whose art speaks truth, pain, and of the intersection of these aspects of our lives. Othering is something almost every non-cis/ able-bodied/ white/ middle-class person has experienced, and I believe through that comes collective power – collaboratively, we have the ability to uplift and support each other.
The concept of othering spans a broad range of fields; the queer and trans* aspects of my identity allow for me to embrace my disability with the same love I have for the former, more socially celebrated intersections. Intersection of disability is frequently disregarded within the wider queer society, with events created to unite queers such as Pride often being inaccessible. Many events max out their support after the consideration of cis, white, able-bodied, gay men, and it’s deemed as too much hard work to consider those of us outside those categories – which contributes to a community-wide disregard for intersectionality. It’s shameful that there isn’t more support given to creatives with intersections such as mine.
I believe we should not be stopping at the first hurdle of inclusivity, or only giving opportunities for just one branch of people who experience othering. When was the last time you saw a show in a major gallery platforming disabled people? Let alone queer, trans*, disabled people? I think this could be revolutionary, inspiring mass community effort among all intersections. I’m lucky I found art, but there is still a huge need to create environments for disabled people to not only feel seen, but be inspired. I owe it to those artists brave enough to share their experiences for my ability to process my own and vow to commit my life to helping others feel seen.
Follow Yaz Metcalfe at @theluckyartist_