I am multiply marginalized: I am a person of color; I am queer; I am nonbinary; I am disabled. So it’s not surprising that I talk about marginalization and identity a lot, as they affect my life in big and small ways. The common thread that appears in discussions I have within various communities about identity is that of not being enough: when people tell us our identities don’t exist, that causes a certain kind of hurt, but we see quickly enough that it’s not true that we don’t exist. Our existence is overwhelmingly obvious. But when the insidious whispers of not being enough come from within the community and from outside the community—of not being really disabled, for example—they’re much harder to fight off. Even I almost turned down the editor position for this issue because I wasn’t sure if my struggles with mental illness were enough to qualify me as “truly” disabled, whatever that means.
But I’m here, thanks to Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s encouragement and reminders that disability is not a binary, either: that like any other marginalization, it comes with a diversity of experience. So I approached editing Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction’s poetry selections with that idea in mind. “Disability” is an enormous umbrella term and encompasses an incredible amount of human experience. Even within the same type of disability, people’s lived experience of being disabled can vary: some people may find their disability empowering; others may find their disability frustrating and discouraging. Some disabilities bring hyperawareness of your own body; some disabilities are more dissociative. Nine poems don’t provide much space to truly capture all the variation in disability and human experience; in fact, we didn’t require poets to even submit poetry that dealt with disability, although we encouraged them to. But I believe that marginalization informs the way we process and understand the world, leading us to produce art that is still informed by our lenses, even if we don’t explicitly write about a certain topic. It’s critical to have disabled voices producing art, even if we’re not producing art about disability.
Even without a specific prompt for the poetry, several themes emerged in the final selections for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. Five poems make up the first half: “Ctenophore Soul” by Rita Chen, “core/debris/core” by Rose Lemberg, “How to Fix a Dancer When it Breaks” by Genevieve DeGuzman, “the body argonautica” by Robin M. Eames, and “All the Stars Above the Sea” by Sarah Gailey. Several poems comment on bodies, expectations for bodies, expectations for behavior as expected by certain kinds of bodies, and how there are consequences when bodies don’t conform to those expectations. “Ctenophore Soul” channels a grander feeling of something sublime, whereas “core/debris/core” carries more of a rebellious tone; “How to Fix a Dancer When it Breaks,” “the body argonautica,” and “All the Stars Above the Sea” paint shades of subtlety in the shifting emotional reactions to the difficult circumstances in which the narrators find themselves.
The second set of poems, “Convalescence” by Alicia Cole, “hypothesis for apocalypse” by Khairani Barokka, “Spatiotemporal Discontinuity” by Bogi Takács, and “You Wanted Me to Fly” by Julia Watts Belser echo similar ambivalence but also agency over bodies. Ultimately, it is the agency over the narrators’ selves and narratives that drew me to all the pieces that I selected for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction—there is not only a sense of self in a narrative that reads as highly intimate in each piece, but also an echo of a larger experience, a sliver of something that makes up a whole. In ordering the pieces for the table of contents, I wanted to pair poems together that seemed to be echoing each other, too: “Ctenophore Soul” and “core/debris/core” in revealing bodies; “How to Fix a Dancer When it Breaks” and “the body argonautica” in exploring imagery of healing, whether the healing is considered positive or not; “Convalescence” and “hypothesis for apocalypse” with their strong roots in such vivid red imagery; and “Spatiotemporal Discontinuity” and “You Wanted Me to Fly” with both of them hearkening to flying imagery.
I want to make a particular note as well about choosing to end on the piece “You Wanted Me to Fly” by Julia Watts Belser. The question of a cure when it comes to chronic illness or disability is a very personal one, and something that only an individual can really answer or choose. The larger issue at hand is personal agency and the fact that ableist society as a whole systematically denies disabled people our agency. Ultimately, I don’t think that any one Destroy issue can capture a full range of experience, or even claim to do so. Any single Destroy issue, or any special issue at all, can’t fix a systemic problem. But, like the last lines, “my foot dragging like a beacon, like / a flag” in “You Wanted Me to Fly,” what a Destroy issue can do is offer pride: that we are here, that there is no one way to be disabled. That we are enough.
Thank you for reading Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, and I hope you enjoy these poems.
© 2018 by S. Qiouyi Lu