Award-winning poet and disability activist, Kay Ulanday Barrett, opens up about intersectionality in the queer community

On this episode of In The Know: The Truth Is, Chella Man (@chellaman) and Aaron Rose Philip (@aaron___philip) are joined by award-winning poet and disability activist, Kay Ulanday Barrett (@brownroundboi). Kay talks about living as a disabled Filipinx-American transgender queer person, intersectionality, and how to approach and overcome challenges related to one’s (intersectional) identity. 

To set the stage for their discussion, Kay defines intersectionality. “First of all, intersectionality was created by Black feminists,” Kay shares. “Kimberlé Crenshaw utilized the word ‘intersectionality’ to discuss that Black people and Black women are more than just one or the other. So when we’re talking about intersectionality in terms of us, you’re not just one single issue, as Audre Lorde would put it. We’re whole bodies, whole lives. So intersectionality is: how do we interact with the world? Moreover, how do systems, the state, police, any other place with a bunch of people treat people based on how we breathe in society?”

Kay then goes on to talk about how intersectionality is what allows people to be their full selves, rather than just one part of who they are. “Like for me, being Asian, or being working class, or being disabled, or being trans—not one thing is a priority,” says Kay. “They all hug, kiss, overlap. And they also build a lot of tension because of white abled supremacy.”

The group wonders why there is such a lack of conversation amongst people who intersect at the identities of being trans and physically disabled, and the answer is what Kay has touched on already: a larger, “white abled” system. “There are so many systems in place,” Kay begins. “The trans disabled people I know are struggling to find housing, are struggling [to find] advocacy in medical care, are in line signing up for Medicaid, are sharing food stamps, are trying to find binders that adequately fit their fat bodies, are trying to get citizenship in a country that rounds up undocumented people.” 

They go on to explain that having to constantly face and engage with these systems is incredibly exhausting, and prevents people at those identity intersections from engaging with each other. “And that’s why collective care is so critical,” Kay adds. “That’s why reaching out is so critical. I don’t want to say, like, ‘Oh we have these same demographics. We are always going to agree.’ But we should be able to have bounty together and have these conversations together.”

Beyond people at those identity intersections talking amongst themselves about these issues, the group wonders how to bring conversations of disability justice and collective liberation to a more mainstream audience, without diluting the subject matter, and they all conclude that it would help if “abled” people came to terms with the fact that eventually, by virtue of being human and going through the aging process, they too will be disabled. “But it’s their fear,” says Kay. “That’s why they can just push us away, or silence us, or not realize how much we contribute already. It’s a shame, it’s really heartbreaking. They’re missing out on a part of themselves.”

This line of thought goes hand in hand with what Kay believes is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about disabled people, which is that disabled people want to be like able-bodied people. “That being abled is normal and better and superior and more desirable,” Kay elaborates. “And I don’t really wanna be abled at all.” 

Kay then asks the group, “What happens if we’re just like, ‘What we are is enough?’” To which Chella responds, “We’re content.” 

“Yeah!” exclaims Kay in total agreement. “What’s the problem? The problem is the lack of resources for us to be content.”

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