Evelyn Evelyn Confused Confused

I’m never going to minimize the suffering of people with disabilities, or people with histories of sexual abuse or exploitation. No one should EVER DO THAT.

That being said, I’m going to give my two cents about the Evelyn Evelyn going on around Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley.  The short version is that the two musicians created a fictional singing duo, two conjoined twins, both named Evelyn. The fictional pair is played by Palmer and Webley in what is being referred to as “crip drag”. The band’s backstory involves freak show exploitation, abuse, and all the other sordid things you’d expect from an “escape from the circus” story. Now, disability bloggers are upset and feeling betrayed and misrepresented. Before we get started, read the links below to get yourself fully caught up.

http://blog.amandapalmer.net/post/392050312/the-story-behind-evelyn-evelyn

http://disabledfeminists.com/2010/02/09/evelyn-evelyn-ableism-ableism/

http://blog.amandapalmer.net/post/396762227/evelyn-evelyn-drama-drama

I can easily see how people would be offended. I am not writing this post to discount their opinions or say “OMG AMANDA PALMER IS WONDERFUL HOW CAN YOU CRITICIZE SHUT UP YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE.” I am writing this because I genuinely want to understand the issue and get involved in intelligent conversation (please don’t bother commenting on this post if you want to tell me I’m an idiot or that I’m going to hell or “Fuck you you’re a terrible person.” I’m interested in reasoned discourse).

The thing I don’t understand is where Annaham (author of the Ableism Ableism post above) immediately jumps to the conclusion that Palmer and Webley saying they’ve been helping the twins is a comment on their disability–any up and coming singing group, disabled, abled, invisible, whatever, would KILL to have help and support from someone who is already famous, someone who already knows the system. I don’t see that that statement reflects any ableism; if anything it reflects being a bit proud of being successful, a mentor complex if you will. Which, as a teacher, I don’t see as a negative thing.

The other thing is that I don’t see anything wrong with narratives about moving beyond a history of abuse, exploitation, disability, or any other obstacle. I have dealt with abuse (thankfully not from within my family or caregivers), disability, and a variety of other “differences” that have led others to attempt to marginalize me. So have most of my immediate and extended family, as well as most of my closest friends (no, I’m not going to explain them in detail, I’m not here to justify myself to anyone and I don’t expect you to, either–although if you want to tell your story I’m delighted to listen and learn). The people I love and respect have never let their disabilities or their history of abuse or obstacles like poverty, ignorance, obscurity, or whatever, prevent them from living their lives. It’s been hard for everyone, but the ones with the happiest lives are the ones who look beyond their problems, who find a way to laugh at the thing causing them trouble and thereby make it something they can wrap their heads around, something they can separate from their innermost being and work around. It doesn’t go away, but it doesn’t control their lives. They are people WITH disabilities, or people who HAVE BEEN abused, not disabled people or abuse victims. Addressing their problems with humor or with art or whatever other coping mechanism works allows them to take a potentially life-destroying issue and live with it. It shows others that they don’t define themselves that way and so NOBODY ELSE gets to, either.

That being the case, I’m all for narratives that show that kind of hope and mental and emotional fortitude. Use it to make art. Use it to do something positive in your life and those of others. Make people feel hopeful and empowered, not small and guilty. A beautiful example of this spirit is artist Andre Jordan, whose struggle with extreme depression fuels most of his art and his work for the BBC’s disability blog: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/play/

I can easily see why people would want this kind of issue treated more delicately, but I think that allows it too much power. It makes the disability the defining characteristic, not the artistry or the mind or the spirit. But that’s just my perspective. As for Evelyn Evelyn, I’m reserving all judgment until I see the completed work and how they treat the issues at hand.

I invite and implore you to provide any disagreement (nicely), personal stories, questions, or any other issues that have arisen from other pieces (Big Fish, Stuck on You?).  Thanks for your patience.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Evelyn Evelyn Confused Confused”
  1. annaham says:

    Hi Dayna,

    Thanks for your comment at my blog, and I think this is a really thoughtful post. I can see why my statement was confusing, particularly to those who might not have a background in disability theory. I know that it’s common practice in the music biz for an established artist to mentor an up-and-coming one, but for some PWDs (I include myself in this category), this might not be the first thing they think of due to the fairly common trope of privileged folks having to “save” those who are less privileged.

    I think this quote from disability scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (from her essay “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory” [2002]) explains it better than I, quite frankly, could hope to: “Women and the disabled are portrayed [in the larger culture] as helpless, dependent, weak, vulnerable, and incapable bodies…[they] are always ready occasions for the aggrandizement of benevolent rescuers…” (8). The reference to AP and JW’s “discovery” of the twins and their desire to “help” the twins discover their full potential, unfortunately, reminded me of this. Again, I know that various interpretations will be different, but speaking as just one disabled person, it struck me as appealing to a very old trope that is steeped in ableist discourse.

    I hope that clears things up, at least somewhat. If you are interested in reading the full article, I have the .pdf; please feel free to email me if you’d like me to pass it along. Thanks for your comment, and for this interesting post!

    • Annaham,
      Thanks for your speedy response! I really appreciate all the theory! My background is in English and so putting things in the language of literary theory really clarifies things. I was coming into Amanda Palmer’s post in artist mode, rather than in feminist mode or any kind of outsider mode and this comment makes a lot more sense now. I can definitely see how this would hit buttons after reading your comment and quote. I definitely don’t condone the practice of saying “I’m sorry you got your feelings hurt,” but I feel inclined to reserve final judgment until things have settled a bit and Amanda and Jason Webley have had time to do some hard thinking. Again, I’m not excusing them, but I get the sense they’re still not fully realizing the volatility of the issues they’re stirring up. Given what I know about their treatment of issues of ostracism and marginalization, I *hope* they’ll come around eventually.

      Thanks again for your rapid and detailed response! I am really enjoying the discourse from people like you who are willing to respond thoughtfully and patiently. This is the kind of discussion that makes real change in the world. Thanks again!

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