Limp as a Mince: Disability, Desirability, Shame by D Mortimer
[Correct me if I’m Wrong]
The language of orthopaedic surgery and detention overlap. Correct was the word used by doctors to refer to me as a child. Only they weren’t referring to me, the be-sawed rugby players, I was incidental to my foot.
I was my club foot.
I was born incorrectly, indebted to a technology that would later ‘correct’ me. The limp I have is a trace. When I stand, I stand corrected but when I walk, I walk with a limp
– a mince.
A limp is a link between weakness and homosexuality. Atonal like the mince, which is hubristic and inefficient, walking takes more labour > effort > pain with a limp. Moving is more work, sometimes involving other muscles like the face or hands. The limp, because of this excess energy is coded as impotent and feminine. To mince words is also to ‘waste them’, to be unobjective and to let emotion in. The requirement on disabled people to narrate, testify and ask for care, leads to service users being seen as weak or submissive rather than the systems of power themselves being flagged as ineffectual. As ‘trans and disabled people’ Zoe Belinsky writes ‘our debilitating conditions of proletarian existence do not derive from us alone. Instead, they arise from the economic structures that constrain us.’
In the institution, trans and queer people have already fallen from grace and have to work extra hard for legitimacy. Trans masculine people are routinely infantalised, babied, coddled, and told we are confused women unwilling to accept our lesbianism. We transition because we want the cushion of male privilege (lol) and because we have failed at being women. Trans masculinity is pathologised into a disease of the will and read as a submission to patriarchy. So, what does it mean to be trans masculine and choose to be a submissive? What does it mean to be read as incapable, and to want the feeling of incapacitation?
The powdered murderer walks with a limp. He dresses only in white. He is the dusting of chalk that police use to coat ransacked houses with. He is the prison labourer and the object of the writer’s fantasies. The book the writer is writing is called Miracle of the Rose. The man’s name is Harcamone and he has killed a child. Everything in the prison revolves around Harcamone. Like Helen’s eidolon at Troy, he is a projection. Harcamone also revolves around himself, which is to say he is fulfilled in the objects of his holiness; his penis, his wrist support, and the ladder he carries. His crime is the most heinous of all the prisoners, which in the logic of Jean Genet’s text makes him the most holy. He is inextricable from the awful fact of his crime. His crime, says the writer, is like the absurd mystery of a rose in bloom. Harcamone’s limp is mysterious, but not connected with manliness the way his wrist support is, it is a strangeness not to be joked about. The strangeness is a weakness coded as feminine.
As children we desired casts, braces, slings, and glasses. We wished to wear the accessories of the physically experienced. Bash faked an eye test so she could get some prescription frames. We were jealous. We scrawled our names on the broken bones of our friends. Leasing ownership. Harriet shoved a Malteser down my cast using a twig when I broke my wrist. I forgot about it until I found it congealed to a muddy lump when the doctors whizzed the cast off with their circular saws.
‘Nurse! Nurse! A wound.’
‘It’s only confectionary, silly! Lick it up now.’
The lust for impairment waned as we grew into adults and different barometers of cool took over. Though Harriet would still occasionally go theatric in a crowd ‘n’ mime kicking my leg with hers. I’d twist my dickie leg all the way round exploiting my doubled jointedness, camping it up most royal. Passersby gasped. I didn’t mind pimping my monstrosity out like this, for the sake of the bit. And yawn. It made me feel special.
Children become bandits to resemble the bandit they love writes Genet.
The trans-exclusionary radical feminists will reel and it’s a secret but being trans is contagious.
Protect your children from the scars they covet. We are the moral menace. #Dead infectious.
‘Recruit Recruit Recruit!
1 in 10 is not enough!
Recruit Recruit Recruit!
3 in a bed is not enough!
Recruit Recruit Recruit!’
– (ancient protest song)
‘Young thief always be borne by the reverie that makes you the resplendent creature you would like to resemble!’
– Jean Genet
Transexxxuality reveals life to be a narration.
I am the handsome ones I desired to become and by whom I was egged on.
I am the bandits I love. John, Pierre, Tristan, Sabretooth, Mons, Ishmael, Red Ranger.
I was not born trans.
But wounded yeah, by some accident in the womb I slept thru.
[Human Therefore Divine]
They could not get away from it. Their body. Peskiness personified. What if being out of your body was precisely what put you in it? Jeans sticking to sopping thighs. The band of pain that hovers just above your little foot.
For Genet, the flaw in the carpet that proves it was not made by God is the mark of God himself. The criminal’s tragic lapse or flaw, in Greek the word is hamartia, meaning the hero’s mistake in judgement, is where poetry escapes. The murderer’s crimes or as Genet calls them ‘slips of the tongue’ damage the integrity of the ‘phrase’ as a whole and threaten social understanding, but for Genet it is precisely these ‘faults – they are deeds’ that produce poetry.
Bulkean the burglar has a quirk. He pukes ‘on dough’. As a burglar on the outside, whenever cash was discovered on a job ‘a kind of nausea made him vomit on the bills’. As Genet relays ‘The whole prison knew it, and no one ever dreamed of joking about it. It was as strange as Harcamone’s limp or Botchako’s epileptic fits… and this strangeness aggravated his beauty.’ The strangeness of Bulkean being sick equates to the strangeness of Harcamone’s infirmity and the paroxysms of epilepsy in Genet’s eyes. Queer / strange / messy / weak bodily facts and reflexes – faults that can’t be hidden – produce poetry through their idiosyncrasy. The puking made Bulkean more himself, in spite of himself. This quirk aggravates his beauty – as in irritates it. And makes it bloom the way a rash reddens when it is itched. The unspoken pact of the child prisoners never to laugh at these conditions is a type of networked care, and respect. The children form their own protection racket inside the injurious prison. As the poet Nat Raha testifies ‘No institutions exist to help us survive – we survive because of each other.’
When I was a child whenever I threw up at school I would feel so fucking stupid, blindsided by my bodily functions. Looking back, the feeling is one of embarrassment. Being comforted was part of it. I didn’t want to be acknowledged in the act. It was some threat to my self-sufficiency, my masculinity. The strangest thing was how my clothes felt afterwards. I was hyper aware, in the aftermath of throwing up, of my outfit. Just how wrong it was. Like the person that had dressed that day didn’t know they were going to be sick, which made me my own joke’s butt kinda.
Bridget O’Gorman taught me that disability is fluid. Living with a physical disability means learning from your own body, how it feels and how it changes over time and monitoring its desires and limits. Economically too, there are times when we are more able to afford to be disabled or trans than others. Disability ‘is a process’ writes Belinsky ‘rather than an identity rubric’. Karl Marx believed that the landowner with a personal impairment can never truly be called lame. Money enables and poverty disables.
Extreme poverty is one of the adverse childhood experiences that make a person more likely to commit violent crime believes Professor Gwen Adshead, along with neglect and a specific relationship between masculinity and shame. ‘Gangsters of stature have none of these wounds which our childhood suffers and which it itself causes’ writes Genet in Miracle of the Rose. There are no bandits of stature in the penal colony. Even Harcamone, ‘that powdered murderer’ fails. Why? Because the bandit or gangster cannot grow to stature – i.e. normatively ascend the daylight ranks of wholesome criminality – within the warping rack of the child prison.
Queer and trans people are often barred from the heterosexual family unit (sovereign, hermetic, able-bodied) and deprived of social reproduction in the form of love, care, safety, and food. Genet as a writer in prison performs social reproduction. He administers care and love and sexual relief through his writing labour. He also creates gender, inventing a means of sexual and political transgression through his descriptions of liberating rituals of gender and rituals of pain. To accept deformity, infection and ugliness, the fetishism of pain and its ephemera is potentially not only useful but required. The character Divers, who has syphilis, uses a pet name to refer to his weekly injections, ‘Piquouze’, expressing, as Genet puts it, ‘the secret tenderness the pimp feels for both the remedy and the ailment from which he suffers but will never be cured.’
Genet garlands these rituals without pathology, or morality. In Genet’s world shame is elevated. The human has to undergo shame and suffering in order to attain glory. And the most shameful threat to normative masculinity is faggotry.
The faggot’s refrain: Help me go to hell. Maybe more people will understand me there. If hell is full of people like me, then hell is where I want to be. Thrust low, in darkness, among friends.
‘I would call it infernal’ says Genet of the institution, ‘if it wasn’t so damp and sad.’
Good / evil / shame / glory and always2 the body.
Fuck or be fucked – Charles Darwin.
As limps go, they don’t help you run away. When I have been in various states of incapacity (braced up to the nines, dangling on a precipice of anxiety) I have thought ‘Shit! If I need to bolt from this dog / fire / homophobe / locust plague I’m gonna be so fucked.’ I like my bike for this reason, it is the technology that carries me. It cares for me with its random allocation of bruises.
My organism doesn’t end at my clubbed foot or my polished nails, it encompasses my 27-inch rims, my demon phone and my GMO cock. And today, this book and the holyhorny congregated inside it. O and this bread, saltless, which I take with the day’s rays and a promise to be good.
In Genet’s portrait of Harcamone he carries a ladder. ‘The ladder carried him’ Genet writes and I think of José de Ribera’s portrait The Club Footed Boy (1642). The boy is bare foot, one of his feet is twisted like baby pics of me before my operations and he grins directly at us. He carries his crutch on his shoulder and a sign asking for alms, a word for donations, in his hand. (I can never get over this > how help, weapons, hugs, are all arms). In Genet’s description of Harcamone and in Ribera’s painting the use of the crutch and the ladder have been upturned – literally. They are wooden paradoxes of no material use, which seeds them to the imagination. Ribera’s club footed boy reminds us that poor, disabled people do not have the luxury of choosing when and how to expose their wounds. Or how their physical difference may be coded.
Have you seen Crip Camp? The documentary about a 70’s summer camp in the Catskills for teens with disabilities. They get crabs, muck about, sing, and some later join the disability revolution. One of these teenagers is Steven Hofmann. He has floppy hair and a Joe D’Allessandro-ey face sweet with haystacks. We are shown some footage of a cabaret night the group goes to in San Francisco. Steven comes out in a wig and corset in his wheelchair with two beautifully made fabric hands groping his tits. He performs ‘Sweet Transvestite’ in just his pants, dancing and writhing on stage to the lyrics ‘I’m not much of a man’.
Earlier in the film over dinner Steven says ‘If you are a handicapped person and you happen to have a passive nature about you, you are really screwed!’ The play on screwed here, like screwed as in fuct and screwed as in fucked, show the expert work of gender irony Hofmann is carrying out.
Gender labour, defined by Jane Ward, is the daily work trans people, mostly femmes, do in community to affirm and validate ‘someone’s gender irony, transgression or exceptionality.’ In a world where being able to function means being socially legible the practice of gender labour subverts this and restores power to trans crip people. Types of gender labour include doing drag and making porn, using bro for your trans masc mate, lifting weights and giving tattoos.
[Gender in Motion]
For any utopian, anti-capitalist project to survive it must incorporate the politics of sexual transgression (Meg Wesling).
Twisted means crippled but it also means perverted. What can we learn from our battered bodies, our shame infested sources, and the filthy ways we fuck about the giving and receiving of care?
‘It’s hot for me to sub’ says a friend ‘It’s fun to play with age for instance when being infantilised is so much of my experience of being trans masc. It’s both icky and hot. Maybe they’re the same. Like the physical determinism can be a bit much, and sometimes I want to break out of it, I’m short – girly – crippled – and I have a tiny dick! Like was I always gonna end up here, was this my prophecy?!’
you were bound to come.
You couldn’t live anywhere else.’
– Jean Genet
In my thirties I am my foot again. Objectified in earnest. I can learn to care for my body from those who care for it and how I care for them in return. The injuries left by heterosexuality are life altering. I can integrate my scars by renewing the vows we made to each other in childhood. In watching her kiss my foot, I can learn to care for myself, the feminine parts too. It’s what Genet said about his ‘pack of poor devils’, their puking, their limping and their kinks, their womanly laughs and their fantastic seizures. It is in their flaws that they are shown to be ‘wounded, irreplaceable’, irreducibly fucked, and totally themselves.
Limp as a Mince: Disability, Desirability, Shame by D Mortimer. September 2021.
Commissioned by Arts & Disability Ireland as part of Pathology of Energy, the 2021 edition of Curated Space, curated by Iarlaith Ni Fheorais.
Arts & Disability Ireland is funded by The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon.
Miracle of The Rose by Jean Genet (1951) a book, translated by Bernard Frechtman, Penguin Modern Classics, 1984.
Transgender and Disabled Bodies: Between Pain and the Imaginary by Zoe Belinsky an essay from Transgender Marxism ed. Jules Joanne Gleeson and Elle O’Rourke, Pluto Press, 2021.
A Queer Marxist Transfeminism: Queer and Trans Social Reproduction by Nat Raha an essay from Transgender Marxism ed. Jules Joanne Gleeson and Elle O’Rourke, Pluto Press, 2021.
On Slowness by Bridget O’Gorman and Iarlaith Ní Fheorais in conversation at Auto Italia Live, September 2021.
The Devil You Know: Stories of Human Cruelty and Compassion by Professor Gwen Adshead and Eileen Horne a book published by Faber & Faber, 2021.
The Club-Footed Boy by José de Ribera an oil on canvas painting, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1642.
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, dir. James LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham a documentary film, Netflix (2020).
Jane Ward quoted in A Queer Marxist Transfeminism: Queer and Trans Social Reproduction by Nat Raha an essay from Transgender Marxism ed. Jules Joanne Gleeson and Elle O’Rourke, Pluto Press, 2021.
Meg Wesling quoted in A Queer Marxist Transfeminism: Queer and Trans Social Reproduction by Nat Raha an essay from Transgender Marxism ed. Jules Joanne Gleeson and Elle O’Rourke, Pluto Press, 2021.
D Mortimer is a writer from London focused on trans and crip narratives. Their work has appeared in Granta, The Guardian, Vice and at the Institute of Contemporary Art (Queers Read This). They are a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at The University of Roehampton working on naming in transgender subject formation. Their debut collection Last Night A Beef Jerk Saved My Life was published by Pilot Press in May 2021.
Using personal essay, poetry and Jean Genet’s novel Miracle of the Rose, D Mortimer’s Limp as a Mince: Disability, Desirability, Shame looks at ‘the limp’ as a way of exploring how trans and disabled people have historically been pathologised.