by Neve Mazique
A Note to the Careful Reader: At least the next three articles of mine are a series engaging with magic, art, disability justice, and societal behaviors like physical distancing (or not) in the wake of a global pandemic.
For my purposes, let’s establish a few rules for this science. Magic is medicine and medicine is magic.
Disability is the chronic unexpected behavior of literally any part of your body (mind, heart, face, soul, personality, organs, bones, muscles, joints, inside, outside, congenital, acquired, situational, traumatic, apparent, inapparent) and there is no such thing as being too disabled, or not disabled enough.
Disability justice is magic (medicine), as is the choice to identify culturally and politically as disabled and to center access and liberation for all in one’s life. Queer people are people who identify as queer or people who are a part of the LGBTQIAAX community and culture.
Witches are people who intentionally practice magic of any kind and who invest and grow in this magical practice spiritually.
Science fiction is just science we haven’t lived yet.
I am a disabled queer witch writing to you from the end of this world.
Before COVID (the new BC), I had already been spending most weekdays at home, as the bearings inside the wheels of my power wheelchair (Gianna) finally succumbed to their ages. This meant that when I tried to drive her I would shutter around like a grandpa driving a Jalopy in a 1930s cartoon, and Gianna would emit a long groan with every inch traveled. It was both unsafe and embarrassing.
During this time, the media apple of my eye was Ellen Page as Vanya Hargreeves in The Umbrella Academy (adapted from the comic book series by Gerard and Mikey Way). I related to Vanya, who’s heartbreak we feel as she learns that her anti-anxiety medication was an intentionally administered depressant of her powers and that her inability to remember a time when she knew she had powers was carefully constructed gaslighting on the part of her guardians, to “protect her from herself”.
As a physically disabled Black queer non-binary femme witch with mental illnesses (disabilities), I have often felt like the energy I emit is too much and the body it emits from is not enough.
Vanya’s instrument and weapon, the violin, is a poetic homage to the fact that her power is the ability to control sound, that her powers become undeniable when she incidentally goes off her anti-anxiety meds, and to the fact that the violin is a metonym for empathy, real or performative. Artists are often told that we don’t have power and that we’ll never amount to anything. Vanya Hargreeves proves the haters wrong, with great consequences to those who doubted her, and anyone else who gets in the way of her powerful violin solo.
Before Corona, my disabled friends and comrades were already using video chat to have meetings, live stream performances, watch movies together, to hang out. You might have seen the sassy-true tweets from various disabled and chronically ill folks saying, “Well now that all the nondisabled people in the whole world are being asked to stay home, corporations that previously weren’t allowing disabled workers to work remotely are happy to make digital options available and equally viable ways of contributing.”
I’m not mad that more people are utilizing the internet for all that it’s worth, but it’s bittersweet, when weeks before the virus reached the US, I was feeling angry, scared, and isolated because waiting on being able to afford out of pocket wheel assemblies on Gianna meant that I missed out on a lot.
I am grateful to have a community where the need to take care and protect one another, to lay lower than ableds believe is warranted, the desire to meet the needs of everyone, no matter how conflicting they might be, and the lighting of candles and performing rituals, especially in times of crisis, is not only considered normal but celebrated. Though this is a scary and stressful time, I breathe a little sigh of relief knowing that for once, the rest of the world thinks it’s chill to cancel, run late, stay home, and host dance classes on Instagram Live!
In the foreword, she wrote to the graphic novel Kim and Kim Volume 1: This High-Flying Rockstar Life, novelist, art critic, and punk rock star Imogen Binnie says, I grew up in a part of small-town New Jersey that “seems to never get shown on TV”. Binnie and I grew up in the same place, population 2,000, and she’s absolutely right.
Netflix’s new I Am Not Okay With This (adapted from the graphic novel by Charles Forsman) reminds me of home in more ways than one. It’s a rural town, with some industrial and suburban aspects, and a diner. There are not any out gay people and even the most popular, squeaky clean kids do hard drugs. Maybe it’s because the show looks like it could be set anywhere in Nowhere, America between 1950 and 2020, that it’s so accessible to me, but I think that the unusual lead and the raw vulnerability of her performance are key. Our protagonist, Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis), has moved in the last year to small-town Pennsylvania with her mother and brother, and she likes nothing about where she lives, except for her best friend Dina.
Unlike Vanya Hargreeves (but like Ellen Page), Sydney Novak is explicitly queer, though not out to her family, her friends, and even herself until close to the end of the first season. Sydney has been told she has a temper, one that she tries to control, but a small town full of small minds, losing a father to a mysterious suicide, and no one you can tell the whole truth to is a pressure cooker for rage. I should know.
Isolation can breed resentment like mold. Many in isolation have no chance to express it, because if you are forced to spend a lot of time alone, due to having a compromised immune system, neuroatypicality, multiple scent sensitivities, sensory or mobility-related disabilities, the onus is on us to “rise above our circumstances”, or just wither and die in anonymity, with no one to blame but ourselves.
Anger is not well accepted from the people who have been historically brutalized by the country and society they live in. Although womxn, Black and Indigenous folks, trans people, and disabled people have plenty of reasons to express anger for the ways we are subjugated, it seems that the actual validity of our anger is what makes it so gruesome, so graphic, so necessary to be muffled and muzzled by those wishing to avoid accountability.
In the mornings I try to recall the dreams my lwa gave me the night before. They tell me to feel my anger. Sing my anger, dance it too. So many of us have been squishing ourselves into spaces that don’t fit the multitudes we contain.
Probably the most infamous TV “good witch gone bad”, is Willow of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Though the main reason that Willow goes dark (literally, her hair goes from cardinal to raven) is that a terrible nerdy incel shoots and kills her girlfriend Tara, the more insidious reason is that she was on a path the sun was setting on already.
The logic of this is that magic should only be used when “necessary” and that any rogue use of magic, or using too much magic, perverts the soul of the witch or warlock and are signs of a dangerous addiction. Who gets to decide when magic is necessary? Is it only in life or death situations? What if my life is on the line at different times and in different ways than the people who made those rules?
Magic can look and feel intense, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unwarranted.
Vanya learns that her powers are connected to her emotions, and when she focuses on one sound at a time, she can harness the wind to knock down what needs knocking down. Syd explains to her friend Stan that her powers manifest when she’s feeling angry, hurt, scared, or embarrassed. She too can knock things down and squeeze things till they burst, sometimes with bloody results. Willow is so powered with grief and rage that she can flay the dude responsible for her pain alive without touching him.
Seeking vengeance or power is justified and even celebrated when they are done by white, abled, cis straight men, but when queer/disabled/womxn/of color do it, we are pushing too far outside of the bounds built to contain us, and a breach this catastrophic could end the world as we know it.
I’m here to say, disabled queer witches (especially of color) of Unceded Coast Salish Territories and the world:
You are magic every day, and no one needs to harness you for it to be okay for you to exist.
Never let them tell you there’s no hope and no way. Advocate for the need to stay home and still connect. Feel and express your feelings. Have dinner dates and group TV binge watches on video chat. Dance. Take a bath. Read a book. Write a poem.
Knowing you exist is medicine to me. I don’t need you to show up physically in order to know you’re there and that you matter.
What we are approaching is not the end of the world, but it might be the end of this one and the beginning of another one. What magicks will you fill it with?
NEVE (Neve Kamilah Mazique–Bianco) grew up in the part of rural, small-town Jersey Imogen Binnie aptly says, “seems never to be shown on TV.” They claim among their ancestors, Edward C Mazique, the physician to the Civil Rights Movement, and Margery Williams Bianco, the author of The Velveteen Rabbit. NEVE is a choreographer, writer, composer, and multidisciplinary punk performance artist based in Duwamish and other Unceded Coast Salish Territories. He/They identify as a mixed Black/Indigenous Sudanese, British/European American biqueer polygender femme disabled country punk. They have been published in Curve, ModelViewCulture, Harlot Magazine, Plenitude, Everyday Feminism, and Maximum RocknRoll among other places. You should never mess with him but you can always fucks with them. Keep up at https://nevebebad.com, https://patreon.com/nevebebad, and on everything else @nevebebad
Featured image courtesy of Netflix