Conversations on Queer Health with Nicki and Sarah, 2014
Written for Maximum Rock n Roll, The Queer Issue with Sarah Lipkin-Lamay.
As with constructs such as gender, sexuality, race – wellness is a fluid construct that has been forced solid in the grip of white colonialist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Medicine as we know it today is one way that we have been forced to unlearn ourselves/our histories/our communities. We are left without free access to knowledge about our bodies. We are taught that “someone else will fix it”, that there’s nothing we can do to heal ourselves or our loved ones. We are alienated from the knowledge of the healthcare practices, plants, foods, minerals, etc. that have nourished and healed us for millennia. We are shamed / institutionalized when our bodies/ minds/ spirits become “dysfunctional”, when they change, when they do not conform to the thousands of categories that are created to cage us and cut us off from one another. We are left without access to care unless we conform to those categories that pathologize, degrade, and commodify the very essence of our existences.
Sarah: I am currently a student in nursing school and am struggling daily with the daunting task of using this system (as evil, dangerous, and destructive as it is) to improve the health of my community.
Nicki: and I’m not immediately involved in the healthcare system except for the fact that I’m trans, and I have a pretty atypical (or I guess non-normatively narrative-based) experience of my body and my gender, and these experiences of engaging with the medical system feel super uncomfy and complicated. I know, and have known for a long time, that the system is really just not designed for me…
S: Yeah, the medical system is not designed for anyone. It’s designed for money making, and for controlling people’s bodies, minds and spirits. The medical industrial system completely defines everything: from how we are born, to how we die, and everything in between. It’s really fucking scary.
N: For real! It’s so crazy to think about! I guess I just think a lot about as Queer and Trans folks, our bodies are like, defined by or can exist in the ways they do based on medical care. Our identities are like, totally entrenched in the healthcare system whether we’re talking about our abilities to change our bodies or like, you know, communities of queer people who need access to information about sexual health, HIV/AIDS and other STD care, mental health care… It feels like we really need alternative ways of accessing this stuff. I’ve been really lucky to have lived in the Bay Area for so long, and have had all of this amazing trans-related care based on informed consent models which have really given me this amazing opportunity to have so much agency over my “Transition” (although I refer to it more as “Self-Actualization”).
S: Yes! Our communities are completely dependent on medicine and so much of our lives are medicalized into oblivion. Is it doing good or doing damage? It’s hard to tell sometimes. To me it feels really difficult to articulate / envision real alternatives that are safe, well-informed, but also driven by and responsive to the needs of communities and individuals. Like, what would that even really look like? I think one of the first things we need to do is to start exploring and documenting care-giving/receiving experiences that have genuinely worked for members of our communities. The pervasiveness of “the way things are now” is so oppressive and large; I often have a hard time articulating to myself what it would look like if things were different.
N: Yeah. It’s really hard to imagine. This might sound like a really far leap, but I’m just gunna go there. So in the past year or so, I’ve been having a really hard time deciding whether or not I want to buy a vagina. I did a lot of processing and kinda freaking out and more processing. I’ve been thinking about what the world would like for me to have (for genitals) versus what I want. What would feel good physically and sexually versus what would feel easier anatomically when moving through the world? I got to a place where I decided that I didn’t really want a vagina, per se. And then I asked myself “if I could have any genitals in the universe that could do anything and look like anything, what would they look like and what would they do?” I came up with this whole concept that I won’t go into right now, but I really think that this is the way we need to think about ways to get our needs met: “If I could have any kind of care in the universe, what would it look like?” It seems like this is the sort of thing you’re doing via Rebellious Nursing, and it’s super exciting, as someone who would really love to see this kind of stuff materialize.
S: Nicki, you’re so brilliant. I completely agree with you that we need to let our brains/bodies/souls open to the creative possibilities for wellness/wholeness that are innately present within all of us. And we need to figure out ways to demand that people with power and knowledge use their tools to help us achieve these possibilities! And yes, I believe in the radical potential of nursing. nurses possess vast amounts of brilliance, power, and energy. Nurses are healers, community builders and advocates. But then again, we work within this monstrous system and have to abide by its laws and logic. I wanted to find ways to have conversations about how we can use our energy, our knowledge and our power to overthrow domination medicine. So in September me and over 300 other nurses got together for the first Rebellious Nursing Conference (www.rebelnursing.org) in Philadelphia and started to have these conversations. It was really fucking amazing! There are so few forums for radical nurses to share / connect/ collaborate. People were so energized and excited.
N: You are so inspiring! I’m so glad that stuff like this is actually happening in the world! I remember when you first started conceiving of this and were like “are there other people out there who’re as frustrated as I am!?” Clearly there are. Clearly, marginalized communities need these kinds of conversations to be happening from within the system. I find myself saying, “this sucks, I don’t ever want to go to the doctor again” or “I can’t even afford to go to the doctor in the first place.” And our communities develop these really complicated ways to work around these roadblocks and make shit happen for ourselves (i.e. DIY hormones/surgery, information compiling/gathering via message boards/the internet/zines/etc). These modes of getting what we need only become relevant because of how messy and/or inaccessible the larger system is. Because I understand my body and gender from a very non-essentialist perspective (I’m not thinking “I am a woman and so I need these things to work these ways”), I approach healthcare in a really creative way. I’m asking these bigger questions (“if I could have any ___...”) and it feels really validating and also makes my relationship to healthcare super complicated.
S: Yeah. These conversations need to be happening within the medical “community” and also everywhere else! There are so many things that we still need to figure out. There are so many iterations of queer, so many communities within the “queer community.” There’s no one answer. But we need to continue to enact our brilliance and power and energy to change these deeply dysfunctional, destructive and dangerous systems. We desperately need to continue to find creative ways to heal ourselves and each other, because our lives and our communities matter. No more healing for capitalism so that the system can continue to exploit/control/define our bodies! We must find ways to heal ourselves for ourselves! What does that look like? I REALLY want to know.
N: Tell me about it!
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Nicki Green is a bay-area-based trans-disciplinary art maker. Her work focuses on skill-based craft processes, and is inspired by its ability to document history and create legacy for marginalized communities. She’s exhibited work nationally in galleries, art festivals and in select publications. Cruise her online at NickiGreen.org.
Sarah Lipkin-Lamay is a rebellious nurse, a queer femme dyke, and a witch/poet/musician. She is extraordinarily proud and honored to be a founding member and organizer of the Rebellious Nursing Conference (www.rebelnursing.org). Originally from New Jersey, Sarah currently lives in New Haven, CT, where she is on her way to becoming a nurse practitioner.