Monday, 24 August 2015

Writing for what you believe in: Putting your identity in your writing

By Jake Addams

The Economist announced recently that Melbourne had been named ‘world’s most liveable city’ for the fifth year in a row. Disability and queer rights activist Jax Jacki Brown asks for whom exactly is this city 'most liveable' when she finds it near-impossible even to take a tram because of her disability?

Projected above the stage for this session, 'Writing for a Cause'  in the gloriously high-ceilinged Northcote Town Hall is a picture of Brown, showing off her rainbow-socked legs as she sits provocatively in her wheelchair. In addition to the themes explored in the one-hour session, this serves as a cheeky reminder that disabled people are just as sexual as able-bodied people. Human Rights Arts and Film Festival CEO, Tracee Hutchison, attested to this suggesting that the Sydney Olympics organizing committee had to supply four-times the amount of condoms to the Paralympic competitors than to their able-bodied counterparts.

For Brown, writing about her experiences as a ‘massive homo’ with a disability is a must: having the last word on discrimination is fundamental to her identity. She writes for her 16 year-old self, and those that aren’t privileged enough to have a voice and a platform. She writes to open up a dialogue, with the intent to change society…even if it’s only one person at a time.

Joining Brown and Hutchison onstage was ‘card carrying feminist’ Clementine Ford , who in the past week has been dragged through the mud by the ‘silly billies’ in the Murdoch Press, appearing on the front page of the paper over something she posted on Twitter. She remains resilient though: after all, if Murdoch’s minions are coming after her, she must be making an impact.

When it comes to writing for a cause, Ford considers it to be one of the easiest forms of writing. To her, it’s the ‘framework for life’ and she revels in writing things that she’s passionate about. Though she does admit that backlash can be extremely demoralising, especially with the immediacy and the intensity of social media.

Both Brown and Ford stress the importance of self-care when writing about issues that can elicit some very deep—and sometimes very troubling—reactions from people. Brown points out that ‘the patriarchy and capitalism weren’t designed to make it easy’ to present certain points of view and cites the comparable mental health statistics for both people who are part of the LGBTQI community and those who have a disability as proof of their struggle to be heard.

To emotionally manage the vitriol that politically and socially active writers will inevitably come up against, Brown and Ford say it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and that writers shouldn’t be too hard on themselves if they need a day away from the fight. Ford also points out that it’s impossible to help everyone, as much as that may be hard to initially accept; she often feels guilty for not being able to respond to all of the messages she receives.

As a way to hone the writing skills necessary to tackle sensitive issues, Ford recommends that writers keep a blog. She references the late disability advocate and comedian Stella Young, whom Ford helped recognise and cover up ‘foxhole sentences’: the kind of sentences that may not seem particularly relevant to the writer but will be the one sentence that certain commenters/audiences will pick up on and run with.

Unfortunately, our society is one in which sometimes the mere highlighting of the fact that significant inequality exists can anger people. But anger is better than emptiness, and writing for a cause—or multiple causes—has never been more relevant and important.

Edited by Emmyrose Hobbs

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