What's in a name, a gender, a crip?


“As far as I can remember, I have always known I was a man”. “One day it hit me and it just clicked, and I realised that I was transgender”. Those sentences together make up most of the commonly heard experiences of realising one is trans. They are not, however, universal, as I know full well.

I am a crip. More than being woman, man, or any other gender, my identity is tied inextricably to my experience of disability, from the earliest age. An experience of disability that often masqueraded as something else. An experience of never being condemned to one’s condition, but always in the process of healing, towards a new being, a new identity that would leave behind the impairments of the past. But my life cannot be spent in pursuit of this impossible ideal.

I am a queer. I claim that word, and all it represents. The otherness of crip is intermingled with that of queer. The rejection of easy-made categories of assimilation, and the knowledge that community can sometimes be found among those who are othered. But this community is divided and under attack by those who should be closest to us, and I am tired of this fight. I am a scientist. I harbour a distrust of my own impressions and ideas. I seek to generalise and to establish, if not causal links, then at least statistical inferences. My own life experiences only seem relevant insofar as they give me tools and frameworks to look at the world around me, to understand some of it. But I am faced with issues that seem unique, and I cannot see my experiences reflected anywhere.

I am an activist. I see injustice and prejudice and wonder how to change it. I choose now to be visible and to confront those who would want me to hide my identities. I try to be a shield: by welcoming debates with those who deny my existence, I try to draw their attention to me rather than those who have more to lose. I confront myself and question my own motives more often than not, and I’ve been doing it for most of my life. But there is a fine line between awareness and denial.

I am a Jew. I still do not know what that means. I come from a family that preached assimilation and cut off its roots. I come from a family with privileges. I come from a family that has suffered, and still holds many taboos. I am in search of a history that does not exist anymore. I am the product of communities that have seen their numbers erased on purpose by many governments’ policies. I know the risk of sticking out from the group. But I do not trust the group, any group.

Those six paragraphs are not unrelated. They are six central pieces of a puzzle that I am still trying to put together. Some of them have been with me for close to three decades. Some made it much harder to find the other pieces. This text is my first try at putting to paper long-standing reflections. It could not have been written two years ago, and future me probably wouldn’t be able to write it, as I am changing that person by this very act, hopefully for the best. I put it out here because I have rarely had the opportunity to see myself reflected in common crip and queer narratives, which made my soul-searching only slower and tougher. Hopefully, this can inform others to make their own paths somewhat easier. Let’s then start from the beginning and look at the pieces independently before focusing on their interplay.