To Do in October: Sins Invalid 2009

reposted from Ask.Com's Sexuality Blog

By Cory SilverbergImagine entering a room where, for a few hours, everything you know is turned upside down. Not in an alien-planet sort of way – you still recognize the people, the language, the feelings – but in an everything-you-secretly-thought-was-fucked-up-about-the-world-really-is-and-this-is-what-it-would-be-like-if-everyone-admitted-it kind of way. Imagine being surround by a few hundred strangers and feeling genuinely welcome, as if everyone is happy you’re there and willing to take you exactly as you are. Now imagine that you also get to see a heart-stopping, jaw-dropping, funny, loud, beautiful, sad, and smoking hot show at the same time. Since 2006 Sins Invalid has been putting on just such a show, giving hundreds of people access to this very experience.In anticipation of their latest show (which opens October 2) I spoke with co-founder and artistic director Patricia Berne.For people who have never been, what can you expect from a Sins Invalid performance?Well, Sins Invalid is both aesthetic and political. It’s also definitely an adult show with sexually provocative content. Every year is a new creature, and I’m really excited about this year’s show. The theme is the magic of embodiment. There’s such a dichotomy around who is disabled and who is not disabled; what is “natural” and what is “not natural.” And it extends to asking what is human and what is of the earth? Often times I think we don’t give our species credit for the kind of grace we embody.In the theater, the audience seems to go through a kind of transformation as they bear witness, there’s a real paradigm shift happening in the room. On stage, all these people that are considered somehow non-normative, expressing their power, sexually and politically, in a beautiful loving way. We’re used to people who look like Paris Hilton saying they are hot. But we’re not as used to us, the majority of humankind, being proud of our bodies. Most of us live with shame in our bodies. So when somebody that has a non-normative body expresses love and sexual power on stage it opens up an opportunity for audience members to claim their bodies are beautiful as well.The result is a show that provokes a range of emotions: Joy, sadness, being turned on, being caught off guard. Additionally, the experience of being an audience member is powerful -- For example, for some people it will be the first time being in an audience where there are a dozen people in wheelchairs. Even for people who use wheelchairs that may be a new experience. And being in a public space which is multigendered, all orientations, multiracial, and mixed ability is a beautiful thing to experience.Can you talk a bit about the process of putting a show together?The show has multiple artists although it’s not a cabaret, it’s one comprehensive show that gets woven together from different voices. It has a dramatic arc working with multiple pieces. We do a combination of commissioned work and a call to artists. We have an artistic core of five people who jury the work. The meetings are fun and varied, we don’t always agree but we have a lot of political unity so there’s a strong commitment.One key element is that the artists’ voices reflect their experience. People don’t have to be explicit about disability politics but we do ask artists to submit a statement about why they are interested in sexuality and disability. We don’t include work that devalues / dehumanizes anybody. The strongest artistic work doesn’t rely on cheap punches at other communities in order to express itself.The work ranges from dramatic to tongue-in-cheek. Our shows do tend to be kind of intense. More comedy is something I would welcome.You used the word “dehumanized” and I’m aware that some people consider anything that’s as brazenly sexual as Sins Invalid to be objectifying, and that to objectify is to dehumanize. Are you aware of this line, or does it come into play as you’re planning a show?We have discussed it internally, and we don’t have one position around it. It really gets negotiated piece by piece. My personal take on it is that sometimes the hottest sex is one that objectifies. Not always of course. Sometimes it’s great when you’re connecting with someone heart to heart. But sometimes the other person can be a tool for your own pleasure and as long as it’s consensual and informed, who are we to place judgment on it?In this year’s show there’s a piece called “The Scene”. In it a disabled man is going to see a dominatrix, where he’s being both objectified and taking agency – he’s going to have a medical scene. And there’s some pretty hardcore objectification in it. We’ll see how people respond to that.Why a show around sex and disability?As people with disabilities, one of the more painful ways that oppression out-pictures is through a social neutering of our sexual vibrancy. The medical model of disability says the “problem” is located in the bodies, and the solution is to change or eliminate our bodies. The medical model questions the viability of our existence and our bodies. Affirming our bodies as valuable and sexual, our lives as valuable is key in a liberation framework.Also, engaging in sexuality cuts to certain chases. It opens up conversations that might otherwise not be opened up.Control of a person’s sexuality has long been a method of controlling their community. It’s not just about an individual desire to be acknowledged, but in order for our communities to be recognized and respected our bodies need to be understood as valuable.What do you want people to understand about your bodies?That our bodies are viable. That we’re human and necessarily that means we’re sexual, we’re hot. It’s not like one community or demographic has the corner on being hot. There’s this media driven idea that some bodies are more viable than others – you have to be between the ages 18-35, and between a certain weight and height, and a certain skin tone range, with a certain type and amount of hair – and if you fall outside of that our bodies are “less than”. That’s just fallacious media-driven bullshit.The truth of all bodies, including disabled bodies, is that we have sexual vibrancy and by our very existence we engage in pleasure seeking and pleasure giving activities. And that’s a really good think about being in a body.The real work is to push back on the broader frameworks of institutionalized oppression. The problem is not our bodies, it’s the way we are being treated within ableism. And this doesn’t just negate our bodies, but everyone’s. It negates humanity.I was interested in the concept of “disability justice” that you’ve referenced. What does that mean exactly and how does it relate to putting on a show like Sins Invalid?Disability rights has traditionally been fairly single-issue focused. The idea of disability justice is really looking at disabilities within a broader social justice framework and Looking at the systems of power and privilege across multiple communities and identities, looking at the interactions between the resulting forms of oppression, and finding ways to build resistance to oppression that also build bridges across communities, across movements.As a concrete example, Leroy Moore and I started Sins Invalid together. Leroy’s a black disabled man and I’m mixed race queer woman of color. Let’s say we go in a cab together. The response that we get as we attempt to hail and enter a cab is mediated not by disability alone, but by perceptions of race, gender, hetero-normative expectations. So when I’m getting into a cab as a person presenting female it’s fine for me to ask for help. But Leroy’s black, so first of all they don’t want to let him in the cab. And because of his disability and race combined they assume he can’t afford a cab. How can he be an ally to me, how can I be an ally to him – how can we build together?Within a disability justice framework we look at the intersecting dynamics and have an analysis not just as people with disabilities, but as people of color, as queer people. The question is; how do we respond as our whole selves, as whole communities, across movements so that liberation is achieved collectively, so that beauty is reflected by all of us?Watch videos of previous performances and order tickets for Sins Invalid 2009