Disabled Women and Nonbinary People Celebrating Monsterhood

A Borderline's Survival Kit

CW: Ableism, addiction, drugs, self-harm, self-hatred


Ironically, if you want to stay alive, sometimes you have to jump off the edge.

You need something to believe in, but you're not left with many choices. When the only options are a rusting razor, a bottle of rum and three packs of cigarettes, another stranger to have reckless sex with, and mind-altering medications that make you drug-dependent, which one do you pick?

I picked them all, just like some people jump from one psychiatrist to another, trying as many brands of antidepressants as their bodies can take, in the hopes of finding the one that suits them best. Those were the worst five months of my life.

It started with self-harm. Non-suicidal self-injury was what mental health experts called it. When people see my right arm, a canvas of badly-etched scars, they jump to the conclusion that it was from a suicide attempt, but I did not try to end my life. It was always hard to explain with reasons they didn't want to hear in the first place. To me, self-harm served as a frail attempt to convert emotional pain into physical pain, something I know I can tolerate better. To others, self-harm is a performance act, a sad call for attention. I grew tired of explaining myself and realized that alcohol and nicotine were easier to hide, except from my roommate. Drinking and smoking became a nightly regimen. I had to get myself drunk just to get through another night in that long stretch of depression.

Somewhere in between being sober and staying drunk, I did try to get better, but the first time I consulted a psychiatrist did not go as well as I hoped. I was misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder. The rivotil worked for a few months or so, but then it lost effect. It was not enough to help me get through. I stopped attending therapy when I decided to give up on myself. Not long after, I lost my virginity to a boy I met online. There were 12 more encounters in the span of three months. I was in the peak of mania, drowning myself in hypersexuality.

It was not the sex nor the vices that got me hooked. It was the feeling of destroying myself slowly. Every time, I would end up feeling emptier than before, the temporary feeling of being visible and wanted fading too quickly. There was just something so addicting about hurting myself; it felt like the only thing I was good at. 

My mother knew nothing about my self-destructive behavior, nothing but the scars, but she encouraged me to see another psychiatrist. It was then that I was treated for bipolar disorder and BPD. I have been making progress, but to this day, I remain dependent on lamotrigine and quetiapine. When I miss a dose, I suffer from too many side-effects: I immediately lose control of my emotions, and intrusive thoughts impair my judgment. 

I cannot stress enough how much I hate having to live with bipolar and BPD. People talk about being emotionally unstable, but my body aches with every switch of emotion. I lost control over my actions, and because of this, I lost respect for myself. There were too many bruises and regrets.

How badly did I want to stay alive? I did not feel alive, but I was breathing. In those moments, that seemed more than enough.

My demons clawed their way out of my worldly vessel, wanting release, and I let them. I still have the scars from their escape. The scratches inside my throat sometimes still sting. 

The problem with struggling with invisible illness is that people often don't believe what they cannot see. It does not help that many people with BPD have mastered the art of veiling your symptoms with faux normalcy. The curse of being blessed with manipulative tendencies is that you can manipulate people into thinking you are well, when you are actually far from being so. 

People only see addiction exactly as it is, nothing more. They don't bother understanding the reasons behind it. The truth is that only when you die do people feel shame. They only pretend to care when it's too late. They call us monsters for our struggle to stay sane and intact, for plunging into vices just to make one more day bearable to live, but who is truly worse? I would rather be a monster who embraces her disabilities than one who does not realize her own monstrosity. 


About the Author

ELIZABETH RUTH DEYRO is in her final semester at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, completing her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. She majors in writing, specializing in nonfiction and critical writing. She is a prose editor for Culaccino Magazine and Minute Magazine. She writes for BioLiterary and The Cerurove, and reads for Monstering and The Mystic Blue Review. She also serves as the Social Media Head of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition, Inc.


The sixth installment of our column, "Mixes from the Editor." Every month, our Editor-in-Chief will compile the songs she's been vibing and present them as a playlist for your listening pleasure.

This month's playlist, inspired by Stranger Things, is perfect for dance parties at 2 am. Listen to "idyll," our November '17 mix, on 8tracks, and find the tracklist below.






vi. TAKE ON ME by A-HA










xvii. AFRICA by TOTO


words as weapons (sharper than knives)

CW: Ableism, oppression


disappointed. disinterested. disengaged. 
distrust. discarded. disgrace.

the words above all have a negative connotation: they evoke bad feelings & emotions—some more than others—but perhaps i have omitted the worst. perhaps you don't think it's the worst. but then again, you're probably not disabled.

what does that word mean to you? i imagine it's either interchangeable for sympathy &/or empathy, right? either a turn of the head or a knowing glance. a contest to distinguish between the scrounger or the sufferer. 

it is just a prefix, i hear you say. but does that justify alienation? the letters mean nothing on their own, but we as humans add weight to them.

perhaps i am not being clear here. what i mean is, whether people self-identify as disabled or whether that label is stuck upon them, from that moment on, they are disposable. disfigured. bad. bad. bad. they are a stereotype, a predefined definition. a statistic. an anomaly. an excuse to be given. people shy away from the word, cringe at it, make a big deal about discussing it. they don't like to hear about it, because of course disability wouldn't exist in a perfect world.

these are not my views, & perhaps not yours, but the evidence swings the other way: history has a habit of repeating itself in terms of oppression against minorities. disabled individuals—thought to be subhuman were targeted in the holocaust & are targeted in things like genetic cleansing, even today. foetuses are being aborted at the mere suggestion of some sort of impairment.

yes, having a disability is hard. but that does not mean that abled people should make it harder for us to deal with and find ourselves in this strange world of feelings & emotions & an affiliation towards categories & labels. our minds are stronger than the eyes that look down on us. please let us portray that.

i am disinterested in what you think of me, dissatisfied with what you see me to be. i am disabled, yes—but that does not mean i can be discounted or discredited. all that means is that i am differently abled—& that really is not as bad as you believe.


About the Author

L.MUNIR is a law student from the united kingdom. when not studying, reading, writing or being entirely monstrous, they can be found napping, advocating & petting cute cats—though as of yet—due to technological limitations—not all at the same time.

Interview with Jill Khoury

CW: Ableism, oppression


Conducted by Emily Corwin

Emily Corwin: Rogue Agent is a journal of "embodied poetry and art," a journal that "inhabits the body" in all its viscera, and I wonder what fuels you as an editor. What are you seeking to curate in Rogue Agent

Jill Khoury: At the time I started Rogue Agent, I noticed very few journals that specifically focused on the idea of celebrating marginalized identities. Two journals that did inspire me to do Rogue Agent were Lunch Ticket and MUZZLE. Additionally, in the classroom, on social media, at conferences—I heard the idea percolating: the body is a taboo subject, especially the marginalized body. Or, in [the fallacy of] our post-feminist, post-racial society, haven't we "moved beyond" needing to write about the body? I wanted to give an exclusive platform where poets and artists who worked on issues of identity (which I think is very much lived in the body) could show their work. I wanted to hear the various and myriad answers to the question "what is it like to live in your body?" 

As well as this work being political, it is also personal. When I started Rogue Agent, I felt somewhat alone in submitting my own work focusing on disability and mental illness. Being so vulnerable on the page is a daunting prospect. By putting out a submissions call, I was reaching out to like-minded people to try and form a connection. I'm so proud of the work we've done in less than three years. And with the current US administration which continues to issue decrees and attempt to make policies to punish marginalized bodies, the work has only increased in importance. I'm so grateful to everyone who has the courage to work in this arena of the body, to place themselves front and center and say "I deserve to take up space. You will not erase me."

EC: Your first full-length collection, Suites for the Modern Dancer, was published last year through Sundress Publications. How was the experience of putting together this manuscript? What helped you shape the voice, order, and form of these poems?

JK: It was really challenging! I'm extremely grateful to my editor at Sundress, Erin Elizabeth Smith, for being so patient and helping me make good editorial choices. Suites has a complicated narrative with two story arcs and five characters. The poems vary quite a bit in style and form, from fairly straightforward narrative, to poems that are much more language driven and in a "lyric-experimental" style. I think the form of the poems varies so much because I'd been working on Suites since 2009, and was still writing poems for the book as late as 2016. That's seven years of my own writing evolution. I tried to match certain poem styles to certain characters (for instance the poems in the voice of the character Annie are often the more narrative ones). Erin helped me tell a difficult story in as straightforward a way as it could be told. 

The voices in the poem are all fictional, but based (even if somewhat loosely) on my own experience 1) as a legally blind woman, existing in this liminal zone between functioning as sighted and functioning as blind 2) as a woman who has spent a long time in the medical-industrial complex, specifically in the mental health milieu, and the women I met there. I wanted to honor their experiences without appropriating their stories, so four of the characters are composites of women whom I crossed paths with, some of whom helped me survive. 

EC: What resources do you find most helpful with regard to disability writing and poetics?

JK: Reading other work by poets and essayists with disabilities! When I first started to publish work related to my identity as a woman with multiple disabilities, the anthology Beauty Is A Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (edited by Sheila Black, Jennifer Bartlett, and Michael Northen), was like my spiritual book. I carried it everywhere. Sometimes I didn't even have to read from it to feel its power; just having it in my bag was enough. The book is so well-executed. Each poet introduces their work with a critical essay on disability and/or poetics. The history of disability poetry is represented as well as current boundary-pushing work. Even though I had already taken some disability studies courses when I was going for my MFA, I learned so much about my lineage as a disability poet from Beauty Is A Verb. Also, the magazine Wordgathering (edited by Michael Northen), which appears quarterly at, has some great essays on disability poetics. The Split This Rock community focuses on all varieties of social justice poetry, including disability. 

Lastly, I follow lots of people on Facebook and Instagram who write essays or blogs focusing on issues of disability. 

EC: As a writer, what does your particular practice look like? What do you need to do your best work?

JK: This is the hardest question for me to answer because my practice is so sporadic lately. When I was taking a class with him, the poet and essayist Stephen Kuusisto said, "writing is a process that involves the whole body." And as my vision, mental health, and chronic pain conditions have changed, I've noticed this more and more. I would like to have a routine, a rhythm—to me it seems like the "professional" thing to do. This is another thing I learned in grad school: it's implied that the pros have an established routine on which to scaffold their writing and revision, and when my health was pretty steady I had that too. But lately circumstances have become more challenging. 

Coincidentally, around the time I started Rogue Agent, I have also been forced to tend to my health as a major priority. Only in the past few months have I regained the ability to incorporate writing, submitting, and working on my second full-length manuscript back into my life routine. I had been getting really down on myself for not being as productive, but recently I wonder if this is internalized ableism. I need to be okay with the fluctuations caused by my health. It's a thing I need to accept, again and again, because it's hard not to feel guilty, like I'm not doing enough.

EC: What vision do you have for the disability community as well as the poetry community? What excites you about the power and potential of these networks?

JK: I would love love love to read more disability poetry that is intersectional. The queer disabled experience, the experiences of people of color with disabilities, for example. I know there are people out there writing it, and some journals already publishing it. I want even more space for them. 

As far as excitement..... because of the current administration, like I mentioned before, it's really hard for me to feel "excitement." Mostly I just feel like we (the disability community, the poetry community, especially of marginalized poets) are just digging in and hanging on. We won't stop doing the work because we can't let Trump's ideologies win. But that is completely a projection of my own feeling-state. I'm sure plenty of people are excited. I feel like our power right now is "we will not go away. We will keep writing, keep risking."

EC: Lastly, what have you been reading, watching, eating, wearing? What are your current obsessions?

JK: I'm just going to stick with "reading," because I've been reading such good stuff lately! Recently I've started an interview series for Rogue Agent because I had drifted away from reading as voraciously, and I wanted to remedy this. So some of the books listed here are by authors we've interviewed or are thinking about soliciting for an interview, and some of them are books I've found while paying attention to what current work is being done and just marveling at the wealth of talent.

  • Blood Sugar Canto, by Ire'ne Lara Silva
  • Bone Confetti, Muriel Leung
  • Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay
  • i be, but i ain't, by Aziza Barnes
  • In Full Velvet, Jenny Johnson
  • On that one-way trip to Mars, by Marlena Chertock
  • Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, by Sonya Huber
  • The Feeder, Jennifer Jackson Berry
  • We are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby

Work I'm looking forward to reading really soon:

  • Crumb-sized, by Marlena Chertock
  • Field Guide to Autobiography, by Melissa Eleftherion-Carr
  • It's Just Nerves, by Kelly Davio
  • Like a Beast, by Carly Joy Miller
  • One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, by Scaachi Koul
  • salt., Nayyirah Waheed
  • Telepathologies, by Cortney Lamar Charleston
  • The Twisted Mouth of the Tulip, Monica Rico
  • Wasp Queen, by Claudia Cortese

JILL KHOURY is interested in the intersection of poetry, visual art, representations of gender, and disability. She is a Western Pennsylvania Writing Project fellow and teaches workshops focusing on writing the body. She holds an MFA from The Ohio State University, and edits Rogue Agent, a journal of embodied poetry and art. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Copper Nickel, Bone Bouquet, Lunch Ticket, and diode. She has written two chapbooks—Borrowed Bodies (Pudding House, 2009) and Chance Operations (Paper Nautilus, 2016). Her debut full-length collection, Suites for the Modern Dancer, was released in 2016 from Sundress Publications. Find her at


CW: Abuse, body horror


I am running down claustrophobic corridors, all flickering shadows, gunmetal grey sharp-angled walls and low ceilings. The walls are too close. The corridor seems to stretch on forever. I'm looking for my mother's fetus—I know, in the way that one knows things in dreams, that it is here. I know intuitively I'm not on Earth—I'm aboard the spaceship that took my mother's child while she was pregnant and placed me in her womb. I startle awake from the dream I've experienced several times since I was little. Each time it's the same warren of hallways and the same sense of overwhelming panic that I will fail to recover my mother's real child. 

Growing up I was told that I was just like the other kids. I just had ADD and a bit of trouble with reading, some handwriting issues, but nothing big. I knew that was a lie just like I knew I wasn't human. I felt it deep in my bones. As a child I found the world chaotic and confusing. Meandering through the library looking for science fiction, fantasy, and monster tales was peaceful and comforting. Through my reading I began to stockpile words and ideas that matched my experiences and dreams. I was slowly building a language to communicate. I was ten when I found a word that adequately captured the feel of the dream: changeling. I first learned about changelings in the book Moorchild. A changeling, in this case, meant a being that was part fairy/part human, cursed to never truly fit in either world because they weren't fully one thing or the other. Within Moorchild I saw a glimmer of my dream on the page for the first time. That thrill of seeing a secret part of myself written casually on the page shocked me and deeply endeared me to the story.

I was ten when I first read Moorchild. At the time it felt like there was a larger significance than I could articulate around the shift from single- to double-digit numbers. That year I stopped seeing one therapist (motor and math skills), started seeing a psychotherapist for the first time, and was diagnosed with three anxiety disorders. It was also the year I went on my first long camping trip during which I likely suffered a second concussion that, like the first, wasn't properly treated. I didn't tell J.—the person who organized the trip and whom I had been seeing for several years to address a variety of issues around motor and math skills—I just walked it off. I hadn't yet realized that my pain response was abnormal. Ten was also a pivotal year, a junction in time I can point to as the beginning of my disintegration from my family. At the time, I didn't know what was to come, but little warning signs began to appear. Suffice to say ten was a momentous year for my psyche, and when I came across Moorchild, I devoured it. I read and reread that book until it appeared to have been mauled by a small inquisitive creature. The book sparked a curiosity about changelings, and my research into changelings intensified my fascination with monsters and the supernatural. 

From a young age, I knew I wasn't like the others and the stress of trying to pass caused significant damage that I'm still undoing. I turned to research as a way to try and make sense of the world. I suspect that early in life I picked up on the fact that I wasn't just quirky—my brain was wired differently from other people. Other kids had after-school events; I mostly had tutors and doctors. Other kids didn't go to the hospital twice yearly (between the ages of 4 and 8) and yearly (between the ages of 9 and 18) for testing. Ultimately I reached the conclusion that my brain wasn't "normal." I resented the lies from my caregivers that everything was fine. I understand the impulse to lie to a disabled child, to want to protect them from the seriousness of their diagnosis. In my parents' case they were motivated by a desire to keep me from sliding into hopelessness. In their minds, if I knew what was wrong with my brain I wouldn't try, but if I thought I was normal I would maintain a good work ethic. I'm not sure where they got that idea, but it didn't work—I grew up a perfectionist, convinced that I was a monster. It makes sense that a monster would seek out others like them and, finding none in meatspace, I instead turned to fiction and myth. 

Monsters are built from cultural anxieties and fears. Changelings were born from anxiety around the Other and disability/disease that resists explanation. The changeling myth helped provide an explanation for a range of life occurrences such as sudden death or disappearance, mysterious illness, and eccentric and bizarre behavior. The term changeling was used to describe an individual, usually a child, who demonstrated notable sudden shifts in behavior and/or appearance. A changeling was a substitute for an infant, child, or adult who the fairies had abducted. The substitute left by the fairies might be a sickly fairy child, an older member of the fairy tribe, or an animated log that manifests as a human that is slowly dying. The changeling was characterized by a number of behaviors (such as developmental delays) and certain physical appearances (such as stunted bodies).* Changelings were similar to fairy abductions—the mysterious disappearances of children and adults attributed to fairies, though in the case of fairy abductions, nothing remained. The person simply disappeared, seldom to return and, if returned, markedly and forever changed by their time amongst the faye. The idea of a shadowy Other on the outskirts of civilization has haunted our collective unconsciousness for millennia and is one of humanity's oldest fears. The changeling myth tapped into the fear that a parent can do everything possible to protect their child, yet still lose them to a shadowy Other on the outskirts of civilization. The changeling also tapped into the fear of the imposter. Whether permanent (like the vampire) or temporary (like a possession), it pokes at the deep lizard brain fear of the Other as well as the anxiety that the Other can look identical to your child or kin. It can pass for human. Monsters are frightening enough when they look monstrous (c.f., Frankenstein), but when they look human, that amplifies and warps the terror.

The changeling myth identified the disabled as not human and thus made it acceptable to kill the child: 
"A number of people...believed their loved ones—either adults or children—had been transformed into alien and frightening beings. Unconsciously externalizing a felt evil, they sought to determine its source, and, if possible, to exorcize it. If someone became a changeling, it was not neglect, disease, or a taint in the blood line that was responsible. And if the affected creature died, either naturally or as a result of changeling tests*, it had not been meant to live. Besides, the real person had been taken by the fairies. She or he was elsewhere" (Silver, 2000, 65).

Most changeling incidents involved children, i.e., those perceived as dependent or subordinate in the social hierarchy: "The belief in supernatural etiology and intervention permits the more dominant group—here adults—to reject an imperfect infant ('It's the fairies' child, not ours') and allows as well for denial ('We didn't do anything; it was born normal')" (Silver, 2000, 66).

It has been speculated that the story of changelings was a way to explain over 100 diseases and disorders such as PKU, autism, and progeria as well as explain the signs of neglect. While changelings have largely fallen out of the cultural lexicon—newspapers and other news sources no longer report changeling cases, as was the case in Victorian times—, but the anxiety around the Other, and around disability, is still very much with us. 

Monsters provide a convenient holding place for the things we don't want to look at or consider. Culturally, we still hold a lot of anxiety around disability. Certain fears—the Other, disease/disability that resist explanation—are deeply embedded in the human psyche. So while the fear and anxiety might change shape and name, its rudimentary form stays the same. The monster adapts to changing cultural norms and values holding ancient fears dressed in conventional attire. Thus we see the changeling myth in one of the earliest stories of space travel (The Man in the Moone) and in how many refer to autism. Many of the changeling references in regards to autism are on a science fiction angle, i.e., phrases like "children from another planet" or "living with a martian." What is interesting to note is that the language surrounding changelings is eerily similar to the language surrounding autism and vaccines. In both cases the narrative goes: I had a good child, the good child was taken, in its place is a bad and/or sickly child, I want my good child back.**
When I was 18 I gained access to my medical records and saw the initials NLD for the first time, along with several other diagnoses. I was both relieved and enraged that I had been right all along. I was not normal, but disabled, and notably disabled in some ways—the current diagnosis is autism, severe SPD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. I suspect that the feeling of otherness born from a neurodiverse autistic brain led me to feel that I wasn't my mother's child. My mother's child was elsewhere, I surmised, in outer space. This makes sense, considering that I turned to science fiction and comics at an early age as a way of coping with feeling so culturally out of place. Outer space equaled safety and, in many respects, felt like where I truly belonged. It would make sense, then, that if I belonged there, that would be where the real child was. These days I now jokingly refer to myself as an alien changeling—melding science fiction with the changeling myth. Admittedly, however, I have largely accepted the fact that I will likely never leave this planet. 



*Typical characterizations of the changeling included unresponsiveness, resistance to physical affection, unexplained crying, atypical social development, often physically ugly (large heads, stunted bodies, old distorted face, dark or sallow skin), developmental delays in walking or speaking (though some showed exceptional ability in a specific area), gluttonous appetites, and disruptive behavior. Some were active while others were immobile and doll-like losing any semblance of life over time. Prompt baptism was considered an excellent preventive but if the child (or in some cases the adult) had already been changed there were various tests or exorcisms to try and return the child/adult. Infants were almost never returned, but there was the possibility that adults might be returned (though even if returned they were not quite right having spent some time with the fairies). The tests or exorcism ranged from mild (such as tricking the changeling into betraying its nonhuman nature by doing something preposterous before your eyes or having the changed person touched or sprinkled with holy water by a priest or minister) to severe (leaving the child outdoors such as at the foot of a hill in particular those thought to be inhabited by fairies or by rivers, flogging, having bits or hunks of iron thrown at the afflicted individual, branding with fire, abandoning it in a ditch or on a grave, and shoveling which entailed placing the suspect on a hot shovel or over a hearth fire with instructions to go up the chimney). The idea was that exposing the changeling to peril of life would compel the fairies to return the "real" person, i.e., rather than see their own offspring suffer, the fairies would intervene and bring back the human child. Exorcisms would have been done by a priest or minister, the family/local community, and/or a fairy doctor who, amongst other things, treated changelings. 

**One autism parent memoir considered a "classic"—The Siege by Clara Claiborne Park—uses the "autism as child-thief" metaphor at length, referring to the birth of an autistic child as akin to myths of fairies stealing babies in the night, only to replace them with mimicked shells of their former selves (C. Park). To quote Dr. Mitzi Waltz, a lecturer in Autism Studies at the University of Birmingham, "This metaphor is redolent of changeling myths, which may represent the oldest legends concerning autism as such. In these stories, the changeling must be killed, beaten, or abandoned, or the correct spell must be said, to force the return of the 'real' child it replaced" (Waltz). Unfortunately, the acts of killing, beating, abandoning and even searching desperately for the correct "spell" to "cure" autism and thus return the hypothetical normal child are all too common amongst parents of autistic children, as they continue to play out the only autism paradigm most have ever known: a pyrrhic quest for a non-existent cure. This topic deserves further elaboration: what effect does the concept of cure have on parents who are reluctant to face the reality that the child born to them is different from the child they desired? (Ne'eman, 2007, The Empty Fortress: The Fallacy of the Missing Self section, para. 3,'eman.html).


About the Author

JACK is a genderqueer autodidact and HSP autistic with severe SPD with interests in developmental psychology, anthropology and film theory. They live in Seattle with their husband and a vocal black cat and work as a medical massage therapist. For more of their writing please visit


Works Cited

Silver, C. B. (2000). Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness. Oxford University Press. 

Eloise, J. MG. (1996). The Moorchild. Simon & Schuster, Inc. 

Ne'eman, A. (2007). "Dueling Narratives: Neurotypical and Autistic Perspectives About the Autism Spectrum." Atlanta, 9, 11.

Suggested Reading ("Designing the Other: Aliens on Film Chez Lindsay")


The fifth installment of our column, "Mixes from the Editor." Every month, our Editor-in-Chief will compile the songs she's been vibing and present them as a playlist for your listening pleasure. Mixes will be named after our EIC's favorite poems.

This month's poem is "sonnet which, unfortunately, will not fit on a post-it note" by isabelthespy:

Remember all the soggy, blurred-out days.
Remember what you know: this is such stuff
as life is made on, which could pass you by
again, which has devised so many ways
to leave you. Make that memory be enough.
It won't be. It may never be. Try.

Listen to "blurred-out," our October '17 mix, on 8tracks, and find the tracklist below.













xiii. HOLES by LAYLA

Review of Bad Ideas\Chemicals

CW: Abuse, addiction, assault (sexual), drug use, self-harm, suicide


Bad Ideas\Chemicals is a book for aliens.

Growing up, I often thought that I was an alien. Or maybe I just wished I were. Either way, it would have made everything so much easier. It would have explained why I never quite seemed to get the hang of The Rules. Why the humans seemed never to quite like or trust me. Why nothing they talked about made any damn sense. Why sometimes it was less irritating just to spend recess alone. Why this body always seemed just a bit 'off', as if it were a perfect disguise imperfectly grafted onto my true alien form, designed to keep me inconspicuous while I studied the population down here and waited for my ride home.

Cassandra Fish is waiting for her own ride home. She prepares for it eagerly, never removing the orange spacesuit she ordered off the Internet, and always taking care to arrive at the designated rendezvous point with plenty of time before the monthly lunar transfer window opens.

For now, Cassandra lives in the town of Goregree, Wales—the remnant of a failed experiment in urban planning and capitalist hubris, populated by bleak, nondescript buildings and their bleaker inhabitants. The preferred pastime of many of Goregree's residents is the consumption of GOTE, a destructive, hallucinogenic chemical derived from the toxic residue shed by the enormous beetles that infest the town.

Bad Ideas\Chemicals, written by Lloyd Markham, follows Cassandra and her friends over the course of a single night, as each grapples with their own traumatic history and seemingly empty future. It is perhaps best characterised as a slightly magical-realist dystopian satire of 21st century British neoliberalism; for all its more fantastical elements, this is a story with a very strong sense of place and time. A unique desperation pervades everything in Goregree—clinging like a film of mildew to the town's arrogantly optimistic historical architecture, and smothered under a layer of cheerful bureaucratic indifference. This is a portrait of the Welsh valleys—after the closure of the mines, and under austerity. Details like the Mercy Clinic for Assisted Dying, where young people on benefits receive mandatory "job placements" wherein they euthanise elderly and mentally ill patients, ring frighteningly true in an era of unprecedented cuts to the UK's National Health Service and welfare system. Taken solely on its merits as a satire, Bad Ideas\Chemicals is an important representation and critique of a particular moment in British culture.

However, what resonated with me the most—and, if I'm entirely honest, made it difficult to continue reading at certain points—were the novel's personal narratives, particularly that of Cassandra Fish. Bad Ideas\Chemicals is, at its heart, an account of what it is to be a freak. It portrays with painful honesty the many ways that society lets freaks know we're not welcome here. Two passages in particular do a remarkable job of portraying alienation. In the first, Cassandra—who is asexual and coded as neurodivergent—is interrogated about her sexual proclivities by Alice, a friend-of-a-friend, who is as outgoing and lascivious as Cassandra is withdrawn and disinterested.

'So tell me,' continues Alice. 'What's your angle?'
'You playing hard to get? Going for that androgynous-mystery-girl-sort-of-vibe? I mean, I've known you for nearly a year now and I've never quite figured out how much of the spacesuit thing is an act.'
Cassandra raises an eyebrow. She shuffles back an inch, her space boots making an audible squeak on the grungy floor.
'Hey,' says Alice, a bit of spit and vomit dribbling from the corner of her mouth. 'Don't take it like that. I don't mean it aggressively. I just want to be let in a bit. Who are you interested in? Is it one of the boys? Please don't tell me it's Billy. He's lovely but he's got issues.'
'Interested in?'
'Argh. Stop playing at being dense. Who do you want to fuck? Look, I won't tell a soul. Just talk to me. In all the time I've known you, you've barely said a word to me.'
'I don't really want to have sex with anyone, Alice.'
'Oh come on. I don't buy that at all. I mean, I don't blame you if no one around here floats your boat but surely—'
'You don't understand,' snaps Cassandra. 'Nothing floats my boat. My boat has never once floated for the entire time that I've been...'

Shortly thereafter, Cassandra's best friend Fox teases her about a man who is apparently attracted to her, and she replies sadly, 'I really, really wish humans would stop asking things from me that I can't give.'

For a long time, I had a very similar conversation on a semi-regular basis with friends, family members, even colleagues. They simply couldn't understand why I didn't just date someone, anyone. "You'll never find anyone if you don't start looking." I could never make them understand that there was no point in looking—that the people I was attracted to were so few and far between that I truly wasn't any more likely to find one if I started 'looking'. The only thing looking made probable was a bunch of endless, boring conversations with perfectly decent people I didn't want to spend another second with.

"But what about X, don't you like him?"

"Yes, but—"

"Don't you think he's good-looking?"

"Objectively, yes he's aesthetically pleasing, but—"

"Well then what's wrong with him?"

"Nothing. I'm just not interested."

I could also never explain why this conversation always made me want to cry, and left me feeling emptier and more alone than my perpetually single status ever did.

Whereas Cassandra's conversation with Alice captures the quiet, invisible, day-to-day pain of alienation, the second passage that made me put the book down for a few moments captures a more shocking kind of pain—the kind that makes everything seem a bit surreal and removed for awhile, that you're never quite able to leave entirely behind.

Cassandra leads Mr Matthews across the fields, through the trees, to where she and Billy had only ten minutes before been eating their lunch in peaceful silence.
Everything seems to be moving slowly, as if she is a tiny insect for whom a day is a lifetime.
Billy is lying on the moist muddy ground, a bin bag over his head, his trousers and pants pulled down to reveal a flaccid penis and skinny thighs. From head to toe, he is splashed in a clear liquid she knows, from the smell, to be urine.

This is bullying as written from lived experience. It is not the vague allusion with which schoolyard abuses are typically handled, as if viewed through some lens of nostalgia by someone who has, at best, an academic understanding of what bullying means. This is visceral and immediate, and despite its sparseness of language, conveys exactly what it feels like to occupy the centre of such a moment. It is clear, too, that this moment does not exist in isolation; it follows Cassandra and her friends throughout the book, as they continue to grapple with their place in a hostilely indifferent society. And this, to me, is the central theme of the book: how do you survive in a world that has no place for you?

It is striking to me that feedback for Bad Ideas\Chemicals has thus far unanimously focused on its surreal satire and dark humour. By contrast, my impression upon finishing it was that it was both disturbingly real and terribly sad. I find myself wondering if this is a book that reads very, very differently to the humans and to the aliens.


Lloyd Markham was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, moving to and settling in Bridgend, south Wales when he was thirteen. He spent the rest of his teenage years miserable and strange and having bad nights out before undertaking a BA in Writing at Glamorgan followed by an MPhil. He enjoys noise music, Japanese animation and the documentaries of Adam Curtis. His favourite book is The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. These days he lives in Cardiff, operates synthesisers in a band called Deep Hum, and has less bad nights out. You can follow him on twitter at @lloyd_markham.



ALEX is a disabled, nonbinary writer, artist and activist. They spend most of their time glitching around in dark space, but occasionally return to this universe to yell at people on Twitter.

An Open Letter to Neurotypicals

CW: Suicide


Don't be scared of the 's' word.

When I first thought to write about ableism, I thought this should be easy. Ableism is common, unchallenged, so I did not feel pressured to dissect it, to discuss its true form—but that's exactly why I struggled. There's so much of it, too much—and it ranges from 'obvious' to 'perhaps that was not the intention, but it can be considered as ableist'. I didn't know where to begin.

My reluctance to begin changed all but a few weeks ago, when our heavily ableist worldview led to the worst outcome possible—suicide. News regarding Chester Bennington's death hit both the music world and the general public like a fully-loaded freight train, and more painful than his death is the realisation that suicide will feel like the only option to so many right now, and in all the days to come.

Neurotypical ableism is probably the biggest killer of our generation. With the event of Chester's suicide, the usual posts did the rounds on social media—suicide prevention hotlines & such—but is that really enough? Suicidal people know that help is out there; they just feel unworthy of it. A phone number, offset by a string of emojis, feels quite distant from the whirlwind of thoughts in one's head. Mentally ill people have a special magical power that can help them heal—talking. No, really—it's so rare & powerful that it's made out to be this incredibly inconvenient, cringe-worthy thing. And, believe it or not, that is ableism. It may not be intentional, but it affects so many people. It's already so hard to open up, to vocalise your weaknesses—and society makes it even harder by purposely avoiding it.

Yeah, it's awkward. So what? Funerals are a tad more tricky to deal with. What you end up with is a vicious cycle of people silently struggling, and suddenly they aren't there anymore, and the pain is passed on, to all sorts of different people. But grief isn't diluted when passed around. It gets stronger and more destructive and flooded by tears.

There is nothing worse than losing someone to silence, especially if you are the source. People often have a hard time of initiating personal conversation, so if you know someone who struggles, start the conversation. Invite them for coffee (wait, don't do that—coffee is yucky). Just invite them. Make an effort to talk about and through the hard things. Your efforts may be rejected, especially initially—and if the person is not a threat to themselves or others, then you should respect that. It takes time to build up trust, especially when people may have never experienced it before.

Suicide is not failure. Not talking about it is.

Opening up is not a weakness. Ignorance is.

Offering support is not ableism. Criticising is.

There needs to be more understanding. If some neurotypical individuals claim 'fidget spinners' to be a toy, a trend, it's not surprising that they think opening up should be left for drunks or attention-seekers. This is the main reason why cries for help are much quieter than cries of laughter. Pain is a competition, is compared to the pain of others ('Well, it can't be that bad/could always be worse/you have all this; yet you're still ungrateful...').

What people need to understand is this: We are not here to make anyone comfortable. You are not here to make anyone comfortable. If we want to scream our traumas, we will.

In short, don't judge pain you haven't felt. Consider yourself lucky. We only know how to tell stories with stutters and sleepless nights. Hearts worn on sleeves are easier to lose, so instead of just having faith that there will be a happy ending, help it happen. Just imagine how beautiful that will feel.


About the Author

L.MUNIR is a law student from the united kingdom. when not studying, reading, writing or being entirely monstrous, they can be found napping, advocating & petting cute cats—though as of yet—due to technological limitations—not all at the same time.


CW: Ableism


Today I am window shopping online for collapsible canes and considering the abled gaze. I am thinking about what colour cane would go best with my wardrobe and how much money I can justify spending on floral print; and I am thinking about the ways in which we, as disabled people, often package ourselves in order to slide as neatly as possible through the bars of abled discomfort.

I am considering how, up until now, I have mostly been able—despite my ambivalence—to "fit" in the box of 'invisible disability'. I am considering what that box looks like—does it posit a separate experience of disability? If so, separate from what? 'Visible disability'? ‘Disability’ in its entirety?

I am thinking about how my disabilities are contingent, their in/visibility suspended (for the present) in the eye of the beholder. Do you recognise my panic attacks as symptoms? When you see me limping, am I injured or crippled?

One fairly typical surface assumption regarding the differentiation of 'invisible' and 'visible' aligns with the separation of 'mental' and 'physical' disability. As part of my work in disability activism, I am constantly running up against hesitation to label mental illness as 'disability', or ignorance of the fact that mental illness even qualifies as disability. The phrasing of 'invisible disability', in this context, suggests a wish to challenge this hesitation, to pick apart the assumption that something existing (supposedly) on a purely mental plane—and therefore (supposedly) unseen—fails to "count".

I applaud the motive, but question its conclusions. The category of 'disability' is opened up, even as the lines between 'mental' and 'physical' are redrawn in ways that prove frequently unhelpful for many disabled people. Disabilities that fall most obviously between the categories of 'mental illness' and 'physical disability' by various criteria—developmental disabilities, eating disorders, some forms of chronic pain—trouble the twin distinctions from the start, while the invisible aspects of physical disability and the visible aspects of mental illness fall between the cracks.

If my mental illness/es and neurodivergence/s are unseen, who is (not) doing the seeing? Panic attacks, meltdowns, tics, stims, flashbacks, atypical verbalisations, involuntary movements, scars. I see the signs of people like me everywhere, and I watch others ignore or explain them away until they can't anymore—at which point their response becomes pitying, or disgusted, fascinated, fearful, a combination of the above.

Meanwhile, what is 'visible' of other disabilities—most obviously those that require mobility aids—is never more than surface. People who use mobility aids are reduced to their mobility aids. If I use a cane to walk, you see (some of) my mobility impairment, which for me is one of the least troublesome elements of my fibromyalgia—you don't see my pain or my fatigue, you don't see my brain fog, you don't see my memory impairment. The invisible boxes society draws reveal their delineations in the vitriol aimed at wheelchair users seen standing up in public—as though you may only be able to walk or not walk, stand or not stand, with no 'fluid' or 'in-between' status in existence. I will consent to seeing you one way or the other, but not both.

By whose judgement are 'visible' disabilities 'seen', and 'invisible' disabilities 'unseen'?

Last month I moved countries, which involved the kind of high-level executive and physical function that wipes me out for a long, long time afterwards. I struggled to pull my suitcase up the steps onto the train platform and an Italian lady, standing at the top, told me there was a lift. I told her it needed a radar key, which she didn't seem to understand, and I mentioned in passing that, while I'm disabled, I don't have a key, and she interrupted me with "come?"—"how?", or "what?", looking me up and down. I told her I had an autoimmune disease that affects my muscles. She told me my muscles looked fine when I was dragging that suitcase up the steps.

Today I am thinking about the pain and weakness in my legs and feet when I have to stand still for more than a minute, and about how last night I managed to jog for three straight minutes, and about what someone who sees me jogging one day and using a cane the next will think. About whether they will accept that what I am capable of is not static—whether they will consent to see me both ways, or will simply assume I'm faking somehow.

I am considering the discomfort of non-disabled people when faced with visual reminders of disability, and wondering whether my awareness of that discomfort will outweigh the pain in my feet, or whether the pain in my feet will feel more valid if it is made visible through mobility aids—even if visibility means exchanging disbelief for disgust.

I am considering how wheelchair users are viewed as a universal default for "disabled", and how some 'invisibly disabled' people take that to mean that wheelchair users have it somehow easier, or that their needs are being adequately catered to.

That visibility is unequivocally good.

That any of us are really, genuinely, being 'seen'.

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About the Author

EMRYS TRAVIS is a disabled, non-binary writer and activist trying to queer a degree in Modern & Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge as much as possible. They also write with the Italian feminist collective F Come and work with the UK organisation Action for Trans Health.

Monstering 101

CW: Ableism, body horror


A Recipe, and an Explanation

Monsters aren't born. They're formed—
gestating inside their self-made wombs
until they spring forth the damaged product
of genes and germs. But they're never
their own creators. Some are born helpless, 
whimpering others enraged adults,
ripped from their own cracked skulls: Athena-
raw, extracted from a She-Zeus trying
to suppress herself.

I am womb-born, Athena-raw—
and so is my Monster.

My Monster hatched early. I was sick
before doctors would admit, standing naked
burning in my own infected juices.
I proved them wrong: pneumonic, contagious,
coughing infection, pissing bloody bacteria—

My Monster teethed on their dismissals.

Adolescents are Monstering contradictions,
seeking acceptance they'll never find—teased,
bullied, told by bigger Monsters to play
nice. Be a good girl. Be womanly. Good girls
like boys, not curves or cleavage. Sour tongues
seek to define us before we can ourselves.
Adolescent Monsters rarely find comfort inside
their own bodies.

A Monster denied—we sharpen our claws
on society's norms.

My grown-up Monster clenches her fists
until her talons draw blood. She reaches for those
who misprescribed, misdescribed—
they're always right, Monsters are always wrong.

Fork-tongued doctors digest and regurgitate
their own lies until they believe them. You're
sick, but I can no longer treat you.
Acid double-
talk will get you bitten. Say it twice and you'll
need stitches.

Please give me a reason to be monstrous.

My Monster howls grief and pain, but few try
to hear her. Those few, family: child Monsters
licking their own pain away—a forever love,
whose presence says I no longer care what others think.
My Monster loves hers. I love her. We howl
together, hold each other upright, bandage
each other's wounds.

Monstering broth at its most delicious:
Medical and societal ignorance didn't tip
the balance. It shattered our Monsterly scales,
ruining prospects of equilibrium. I quiver with
fear, my Monster shakes with rage, our im-
balance now as physical as it is mental.
But that doesn't make the doctors right.
I wobble on my cane while my Monster turns
dystonic pirouettes, trembling limbs, curled
feet and hands, numb fingers and toes—
we shake from our soul outward, but love,
rage, and my Monster keep me fighting.

We're done dulling our claws on you.
Find someone else's recipe to ruin.


About the Author

JEANNE G'FELLERS is a multi-published, award-winning author of LGBT+ Science Fiction, a mother, and a part-time poet who has known her Monster since their simultaneous birth in the very late 1960s. Jeanne and her Monster waded through the gene pool/ cesspool together and never quite shook off the effects. They live with immune system issues and autoimmune conundrums which are slowly taking their physical toll. Their feet curl, their hands shake, and they occasionally lose their balance. Their words also sometimes slur, but they keep going, because the alternative isn't acceptable.

Writing, for both Jeanne and her Monster, has become a crucial means of self-expression.

They call the Appalachian foothills of Tennessee home and live happily with Jeanne's much-loved Anna, her quiet, Monster-soothing, partner-turned-spouse of fifteen years. Jeanne and Anna's children are grown, their cats number five, and that, as someone wisely said, is that.

In Which I Try To Fire My Body, But Before I Can, My Body Puts In Its Two Weeks

CW: Abuse


The disease resists diagnosis and instead begs
a description. A list of areas I don't feel pain:

Most fingers. My mouth, sometimes. The back
of my left ankle. Usually my forearms. Okay,

now a list of things that alleviate pain:
Being underwater. Biking away. Drinking.

Driving exactly 45 minutes, but only south.
Drinking. Drinking. Drinking. Okay,

how about your doctors? Not to be
dramatic, but Fuck You. Sometimes I take

lovers based on how they touch my back.
Sometimes I keep lovers based on how

they react when I beg them to be dangerous
to me. Listen, I never get to be in pain for fun.

It's always this supermarket-spasm, this
work-limp, the subtle contortion I hide

under another seat taken. Okay, I have
a theory: Once, I had a lover who only

looked at me. So my spine twisted t'ward
their hands. So my hips dilapidated in such

a way that they must have noticed how I
slowed under different weather. I mean,

I drank until I moved soft enough to glide
into them. I mean I biked so fast

their only option was to follow. I mean,
it is not my fault. Sometimes I decide

to spend the night based on the shape
of someone's bed. What is it called

if a body twists against me in the dark
and I am jealous of its ability to do that?

What if I drive 45 minutes three times over
just to be held? What if, alone

in the elevator or break-room
or single-stall-restroom, I hold

my breath until I am underwater?
Maybe that is the diagnosis working

backwards. Maybe if I stop spending
the night I will stop waking up with

so much new hurt. Listen, I threw up
the medication. The bath-water got

cold. The stairs leered when the
elevator broke. My lover's hands were

so gentle and I still bruised. Okay, a list
of things I've told to Fuck Off recently:

Every doctor ever. A memory in which
a now-ex lover tells me to stand up.

My skin and its stubborn welt. My bed,
for how I sink into it. The space between

my shoulders where once I asked
someone to punch me and they did

and it didn't help. How my desperation
rears and snakes. How a multitude

of hands reach to cradle all this
nightmare-ugly and just

the air moving between us
makes me flinch.



A black and white photo of a white trans person taking a mirror selfie in two different circular mirrors that are separated by a swath of wall. Their hair is dark and spiky on top and shaved on the sides, and they are wearing glasses and a striped 3/4-sleeved sweater. In the larger mirror, their phone covers most of their face, and in the smaller mirror, their hand that is not holding the phone is extended horizontally away from their body and partially pointed downwards.

A black and white photo of a white trans person taking a mirror selfie in two different circular mirrors that are separated by a swath of wall. Their hair is dark and spiky on top and shaved on the sides, and they are wearing glasses and a striped 3/4-sleeved sweater. In the larger mirror, their phone covers most of their face, and in the smaller mirror, their hand that is not holding the phone is extended horizontally away from their body and partially pointed downwards.

LINETTE REEMAN (they/them pronouns) is an Aries from the Jersey Shore, so they're not sure what you mean by 'speed limit.' They have work published or forthcoming in Blueshift Journal, Maps for Teeth, FreezeRay, Public Pool, and others. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Bettering American Poetry nominee, Linette is on the executive board of the Philadelphia Fuze Poetry Slam and is sort of trying to complete a bachelor's degree, but is mostly just trying to survive in small-town America.

A Crip Is

CW: Ableism, gendered slurs


after Tara Hardy
after Roma Raye

A crip is a bitch.
A bitch is a war.
A crip is a cry.
A cry is a tool.
           War cry.

A cry is a weapon.
Necessary. A crip
is necessary. A crip
cry is necessary song.
           Song cry.

A crip bitch cries.
Nobody wants to hear.
Bitch and moan. 
Moan means fear.

means fear. Fear is a stone
on the spine. The weight of
life. Stone-spine bitch.
A spine is a tool.

weighing a life. Scales.
A monster with scales. Crip
is a monster. Burn the witch. War
cry. Burn. A burn can crown.

is a weight. A crip
is not a weight but
is crowned. A crip
bitch earns a crown.

against bone
makes a song.
Witch bone crown.
Try to burn a crip bitch



A Caucasian femme with shaved brown hair, purple bangs and lipstick, and brown eyes smiling with her head tilted against a backdrop of trees.  

A Caucasian femme with shaved brown hair, purple bangs and lipstick, and brown eyes smiling with her head tilted against a backdrop of trees.

LIV MAMMONE is an editor and poet from Long Island, New York; where she lives with her parents, brother, and family of feral cats. She has previously taught creative writing at Hofstra University and Queens College. Her poetry has appeared in wordgathering, Wicked Banshee, The Medical Journal of Australia, Rogue Agent, QDA: a Queer, Disabled Anthology, Grabbing the Apple and Typo Magazine. As a spoken word poet, she has featured at Sarah  Lawrence, Artists Without Walls, Stonybrook University, and Union Square Slam. She is the first visibly disabled person to be on a New York City slam team. She's a two time nominee for 2016's Best of the Net poetry anthology.

I Don't Mean to Be Rude

CW: Ableism

I Dont Mean to Be Rude (1)-1.png


A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

TORRIN A. GREATHOUSE (they/them or she/her pronouns) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their work is published or forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, The Offing, Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, Assaracus, and Glass: Journal of Poetry. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin's first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017. When they are not writing, their hobbies include pursuing a bachelors degree, awkwardly drinking coffee at parties, and trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.



I wake up unable to remember what my hands felt like when they could fold into soft shells; they are crispy as autumn branches, dried into curls brown as molasses. My back gnarls into spirals of muscle, clenched against the server station fridge, opulent seasonal cakes and back stock of soy and almond milk suddenly looming, headstones for the weekend doubles and clopens I pulled without hesitation.

I spend the next morning in bed until I can't justify it to myself anymore, air conditioner humming, filling July humidity seeping in behind cheap cotton curtains.

I am really afraid of dying, which is why I spend so much time thinking about my body, how to carry it around, lined with regret and brittle muscle, edging bottom, wanting to just bruise and be done with it.

I keep trying to dissipate, but it is harder than it looks—dissolving. I don't remember what I used to do: driving the speed limit on an eastern NC highway, my front tire dipping into a ditch just enough to render my metal skeleton immobile, my brain unfogging anew.

Most of this body marked by edges, strong edges, something inside the strongest substance, firm but forgiving. I am filled by this, leaving room for almost nothing else, but I love the tiny, empty part, the echo hiding somewhere inside, pearl in the gnarled shell of my body, its camouflage distinct and almost invisible.

When I tell my therapist I am afraid of being weak, she asks what I am really afraid of and I cannot answer, except to say dependence, reliance, everyone thinking I'm a burden. I unfold my cane in the waiting room, knowing I don't want her to know—not yet, anyway.



A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

JESSE RICE-EVANS is a queer Southern poet and rhetorician based in NYC. Read her work in Heavy Feather Review, Yes Poetry, tenderness yea, and in the chapbooks The Rotting Kind (Ghost City Press) and Soft Switch (Damaged Goods Press), among others. She's a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches writing at the City College of New York and the Cooper Union.

This Cold Day

CW: Ableism



Black and white photo of a woman laughing, wearing a winter coat.  Her face is partially shadowed by the coat's hood, and she is looking off to the right edge of the frame.  She occupies the bottom left-hand corner of the picture.  She is standing inside an elevator, and the elevator's reflective walls match her silver winter coat. Photo by Kathleen Maris Paltrineri.

Black and white photo of a woman laughing, wearing a winter coat.  Her face is partially shadowed by the coat's hood, and she is looking off to the right edge of the frame.  She occupies the bottom left-hand corner of the picture.  She is standing inside an elevator, and the elevator's reflective walls match her silver winter coat.

Photo by Kathleen Maris Paltrineri.

MEGAN LEONARD's poetry is forthcoming or has most recently appeared in Transom, The Maine Review, White Stag, HOUSEGUEST, Reservoir, Nightjar, and Tupelo Quarterly. Her digital pamphlet, "where the body ends," is available through Platypus Press.

my body to my brain

CW: Ableism, abuse


when god forced the pit of you behind my teeth,
i thought i could handle your stone-fruit weight
crushing my jaw into sand. i thought the seeds
you dropped in my stomach could grow
anything but gnarled snakes, eager to breed
venom-brained children. i thought i could be
the tree that cradles their sweet heads until
green gives way to grapefruit orange. instead,
they fester, overripe, poison-scaled. i didn't want
to use the hammer daddy couldn't use on me,
but god knows a head is better split than sick.



Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

DEAN SYMMONDS is a queer poet from the South seeking zir BA in Creative Writing at Hollins University. Ze works as a Poetry Editor at Persephone's Daughters, and is an alumna of the Hollows Shout the Mountains Down Winter Tangerine workshop. Zir poems have been published in magazines like [empath], Gravel, The Album, and Crab Fat Magazine. You can find zem on Twitter @poetpersephone.

my brain to my body

CW: Ableism, abuse, body horror


banish me. drain my blood-water
like sulfur-thick yolk from a cracked
egg. take the hammer daddy gave us,
his initials burned in the handle
like the thumbprint birthmark
on your thigh—our only birthrights—
and splinter this skull like he
taught us. he said, one day
the killing thing will get you,
. he said, don't cry. he said,
you can't sweat it out. you must
pull fever-thread through your ears
until the riddle unravels.
so do it.
violence me aseptic, dig
your fingernails in my flesh
so hard they snap off. please try
to purge every dead thing, even
if there'll be nothing of me left.



Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

DEAN SYMMONDS is a queer poet from the South seeking zir BA in Creative Writing at Hollins University. Ze works as a Poetry Editor at Persephone's Daughters, and is an alumna of the Hollows Shout the Mountains Down Winter Tangerine workshop. Zir poems have been published in magazines like [empath], Gravel, The Album, and Crab Fat Magazine. You can find zem on Twitter @poetpersephone.

Fruit of the Earth

CW: Assault (sexual), abuse


Years after I choked on the rubbery sex flesh
of my mother, my father, so many strange
and familial others, after the robed hands
pushed char between my horrified

teeth clenched like a portcullis, after my throat
repeatedly opened for dirty money and gagged
and tore, years since my small soul sighed
and withered like a frost-hit tree, implacably

retreating its life sap down my branches
into my cringing centre, a little further
with each heaving year, years since
my body retreated too, the flesh sliding off

the bones, my form willowing with grief,
scooping into a cave at the abdomen where
the loss was dying-star hot, a brief daughter
having blazed through, gasp, and then

silence and murder and ash, my mouth
clenched against nutrients, strangling the
cells slowly, mindlessly, aiming for death
without will, direction having been

tortured out of me thousands of days and
heavy bodies ago; years since then,
after an unexpected friend helped change everything
one bruised wall-flung Monday night, yes

everything, as if she threw a switch on the
horror train track of my life and it opened
to bearings I'd thought closed to me, after
I travelled hours away to my first 

own four walls (sometimes I lay in bed there,
door locked, my fingers caressing the
yellow-painted brick of those walls; they felt
like love, my head quietly safe, forgiven

whatever demons my father had tried to beat
out of it), after my soul started creeping out
slowly, at first only when no one saw,
cautiously allowing me a body, a secret

package of crackers or a banana, stretching into
my fingertips and my lips pressed against
another girl's, slowly budding in my
mouth like hidden curled leaves that had

slept through winter, now new-green and sticky,
growing once again the house the tree of
taste, because it was finally safe, my stomach
filling its cave, gently unflattening from

a grief-pitted rock shard; years later, today, I eat
a quart of berries.  Don't be surprised
when I tell you that, as the taste bursts
sharp and sweet and new-green

on my tongue, I am astonished, soul-struck,
that each time I taste goodness, my face lifts,
eyes closed, that when I say the blessing
(...boreyt p'ri ha'adamah) each time I cry.



Drawing of a smiling pale-skinned person, with curly brown hair past their shoulders and round glasses.  They are wearing a lavender t-shirt with a multi-gender symbol on it, blue pants, and pink shoes.  They are standing against a white background; their hands are tucked into their pants pockets.  

Drawing of a smiling pale-skinned person, with curly brown hair past their shoulders and round glasses.  They are wearing a lavender t-shirt with a multi-gender symbol on it, blue pants, and pink shoes.  They are standing against a white background; their hands are tucked into their pants pockets.

KAMILA RINA is a disabled neurodivergent immigrant bisexual genderfluid poet, sexuality & disability educator, and a survivor of torture and long-term sexual violence.  Ze likes trees, books, chocolate, and people and things that smell good, and enjoys talking about being present in one's body and fomenting the revolution.  They have previously been published in Room magazine, Breath & Shadow, Sinister Wisdom, and We Have Come Far.  For more information visit

Sick Woman Theory: An Interview

CW: Oppression

Conducted by Brianna Albers

Brianna Albers: History has equated disability (or sickness, in the language of Sick Woman Theory: the absence of wellness) with monstrosity, placing shame, guilt, and self-hatred on the shoulders of those who do not conform to the world's definition of what it means to be human. You speak to this a bit in your essays, in the sense that "de-persons" are othered. They are proved less than, imperfect, inhuman—indeed, they are not allowed to be.

In "In Defence of De-persons," you discuss what "[Sara] Ahmed would call a 'melancholic universalism': 'the requirement to identify with the universal that repudiates you'." Later, you say that, "it's the throne itself that we must tear down: the throne on which the universal sits. ... [Agency] can only function by constructing against its human, the monster, the monstrosity of the Other." In many ways, this is what Monstering is all about: taking our sicknesses, our disabilities, and embracing the sociocultural "monster" they've made of us. Thus, Monstering is an identity, but it is also a mode of operating. We are monsters. We are monstering—reclaiming—our right to exist.

Can you tell us a bit about how you came to identify with the repudiating universal? What led you to embrace the monstrous other?

Johanna Hedva: When I was younger, I yearned for the universal because I thought it would save me, validate me, include me. But I don't yearn for it anymore. When I started to engage with the thinking and thinkers of Black theory and critical race studies, particularly Afro-Pessimism—I want to name a few: Saidiya Hartman, Christina Sharpe, Frank B Wilderson III, Jared Sexton, and Fred Moten—I began to understand how the entire concept, history, deployment, and institution of the Human, as such, is insolvent.

The instinct to identify with the universal is a common one because every infrastructure of belonging in our world is pointed toward it as the ultimate and only goal, and relies upon it as the core organizing principle. But I'm starting to realize it's an instinct that can't withstand critical consciousness, by which I mean, once you start to understand how oppression and domination work, you start to understand that the universal is a bankrupt subject position. Not only is it violent, and the instrument that is used by oppression and domination, but it is also a fantasy. The universal promises entry into a sacrosanct humanism, but that is an empty promise toward an empty place.

The mythic norms sutured to the universal human—whiteness, maleness, straight-ness, cis-ness, middle-class-ness, abled-ness, sane-ness, etc.—are constructs. They are just as constructed as what those categories are said not to include. And, perhaps most importantly, they are irrevocably reliant upon each other; they cannot exist without the Others. A human is not a human without the definition, and presence, of a monster.

Of course, just because they are constructs doesn't mean they don't have material effects. These are the very things that make our world. The word "construct" refers to building something, as much as it refers to ideas or concepts. So, the question becomes, how is the idea of "human" made, materially as well as ideologically? What does it require to be built? Or, maybe I should say, who does it require to be built?

BA: Is Monstering a source of power and reclamation, or is there grief in the ritual? Do you ever struggle to identify with the repudiating universal, or is it something that comes easily, if not effortlessly, for you?

JH: I like to describe my experience as one that requires constant vigilance. I like the word "vigilant" because it implies the act of keeping watch in a devoted way, like a vigil. The act is one of listening, paying attention, respecting (as in, to look again), and honoring the history, letting the evidence be seen.

BA: In "Sick Woman Theory," you propose a theory "for those who are faced with their vulnerability and unbearable fragility, every day, and so have to fight for their experience to be not only honored, but first made visible. For those who, in Audre Lorde's words, were never meant to survive: because this world was built against their survival."

Both Monstering and Sick Woman Theory seem to resist the idea that monstrosity, or sickness, is or should be equated to abnormality—that there is power in embracing that which the system deems "different" or "wrong." You write in "In Defence of De-persons" that we are "disordered, messy, incorrigible," and "in relationship to others and interdependent on each other, as much as we are each of us different—and that is fine."

Do you think Monstering and Sick Woman Theory coincide or intersect in some way? Is it possible for the two theories to complement each other, if not support each other?

JH: I can't speak to the goals of your project with monstering. The goal of my work is to interrogate not only how normatives become established as normative, but also how the categories of the abnormal shift, assemble and re-assemble, transform and disintegrate, and occupy different spaces of meaning. I think we have to imag(in)e ourselves as our own authors as much as possible. I don't think it's enough to rely on the ontological categories produced by those in power; I think we have to devote attention to how we might exist beyond, and even without, them.

When I think about how we come to understand ourselves and each other outside of the place of the normative, I get the image of a live wire in a pool of water: fluid, charged, dangerous, and requiring all of our attention to stay alive.

BA: So you're saying there is power to be found in liminality. That is, instead of aligning ourselves with the normative—even if, in the context of Monstering, alignment becomes identification with the monstrous other; "monstrosity" is still considered an ontological category, despite the negativity often associated with it—, we move beyond delineated spaces to craft our own meaning. Is that right?

JH: Partly right. But I think eventually moving beyond the binary of human/monster altogether is what I'm saying. I really dig what you say about crafting our own meaning; I guess I would place a lot of emphasis on what exactly that crafting process relies on to work.

This question made me think of a quote in Eunjung Kim's recent book, Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea, where she writes: " many ways liminality is not automatically transgressive. Indeed it might instead be instrumental to maintaining boundaries, if the boundaries are not destabilized together."

In other words, I think transgression is always relational and that resistance takes many forms. I think monstering as a mode of resistance can be effective within a certain context and for a certain time, but nothing should be taken for granted as fixed and stable when we're talking about political resistance. There are places and spaces where monstering would not be an option whatsoever, but then there are places and spaces where it could be the only option.

I'm not saying one shouldn't embrace an identity that's been reclaimed from a tradition of monstrosity—I'm saying that it's only the beginning. And I guess I'm saying this because I just got out of another hospitalization, and then had my birthday, so I feel a bit old and tired. I've been participating in activism for 15 years, and now I'm in the mid-30s grind and realizing that it's no longer enough to talk the talk. 

There's a wonderful exhilaration when you embrace yourself in terms of everything "they" told you was wrong, and that exhilaration is important and cathartic, and really helpful in organizing your thoughts and coming to a critical consciousness. But after it comes a lot of hard work toward figuring out how exactly to practice resistance in material terms of struggle and perseverance. This is work that feels mundane and not so exhilarating, because it's about daily life, little things, everyday all-the-time decisions and actions, and it can feel impossible sometimes, and so much easier to rely on old paradigms and strategies—but this is the work we have to do.

BA: You often speak to intersections of identity in your writing, particularly with regards to race and white-passing-ness. How has Sick Woman Theory transformed, or perhaps even recreated, the way you approach these sites?

JH: I wanted you to ask a question about this because it's something that makes me uncomfortable, and I want to talk more about it. The white-passing experience is a weird one. I often feel like an intruder, no matter what kind of place I'm in. There's a lot of confusion in how to identify, which spaces I can inhabit, and I always feel separate and apart from any group. It feels like being a spy in hostile territory when I'm in white spaces. Because I have access to their spaces, I'm like the double agent they don't know is there to take the whole thing down.

In my mind and body, I am a disabled, genderqueer person of Korean heritage. But I pass as white, which is huge and cannot be undervalued, because it bestows upon me white privilege, no matter how I feel or genotypically what I am. Also, at least these days, I'm trying to serve some femme realness, and, for the moment, don't need my chair or cane (my disability is usually invisible). So I'm just passing-passing-passing into all sorts of privileged spaces. This means there's enormous tension that constantly needs to be negotiated, in terms of my perception of myself and my experience as a political being, which is always at odds with how I am read by society and how much privilege I'm afforded.

When I started writing about my experiences of disability, trauma, growing up with a colonial legacy that was not talked about, gender, queerness, etc., it seemed like an opportunity to use this duality, this spy-in-hostile-territory place, and also, personally, to burrow into how uncomfortable it is.

To say it simply: I've been trying to use my white-passing privilege to get white people to listen to me critique whiteness; I'm trying to use my femme-presenting privilege to get cis-het people to listen to me critique cis-heteronormativity; and I'm trying to use my abled-passing privilege to get abled people to listen to me talk about disability justice. But "trying" is the key word here. I hope it's working.

BA: You talk about the need to "imag(in)e ourselves as our own authors as much as possible"—an important concept, to be sure, but an intimidating one as well. Do you have any advice for those interested in making their own meaning? How do we step into liminality, especially when we exist in a world that relies so heavily on constructs?

JH: When I say that we have to imagine ourselves as our own authors as much as we can, I mean the whole range of stories, not just the ones that affirm and embrace, not just the exhilarating moments, not just the stories that are "good" representations of disability. In this way, I really love your project of monstering, because I'm also talking about ugliness, messiness, ambiguity, difficulty, struggle, bearing witness, fucking up, being fucked up, and troubling the categories altogether. It's about resilience, not perfection.


A portrait, taken in low light, at night. Centered, in the lower half, is a person in stark shadow, with her head tilted back against a wall. She wears blue lipstick, false eyelashes, and has exaggerated eyebrow makeup. Her black hair is cut in blunt bangs and falls over her shoulders. She wears a gray sweatshirt that says SLYTHERIN in the style of athletic team logos. Above her heart is a small pin with black teeth. Above her head, on the wall, is a calligraphic tag that says, "Art School Dropout."

A portrait, taken in low light, at night. Centered, in the lower half, is a person in stark shadow, with her head tilted back against a wall. She wears blue lipstick, false eyelashes, and has exaggerated eyebrow makeup. Her black hair is cut in blunt bangs and falls over her shoulders. She wears a gray sweatshirt that says SLYTHERIN in the style of athletic team logos. Above her heart is a small pin with black teeth. Above her head, on the wall, is a calligraphic tag that says, "Art School Dropout."

JOHANNA HEDVA is a fourth-generation Los Angelena on her mother's side and, on her father's side, the granddaughter of a woman who escaped from North Korea. She is disabled and genderqueer, and makes a living as a witch. She is the writer/director of The Greek Cycle, a series of feministed and queered Ancient Greek plays that were performed in Los Angeles from 2012-2015, in non-traditional venues, such as a Honda Odyssey minivan for her adaptation of Homer's Odyssey. Her writing has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Mask Magazine, GUTS, PANK, Two Serious Ladies, Eleven Eleven, Entropy, DREGINALD, and The Journal Petra. Her novella, On Hell, a surveillance-dystopia sci-fi retelling of the Icarus myth, will be published by Sator Press in 2018.  She is currently working on a book called This Earth, Our Hospital, which includes the essays "Sick Woman Theory" and "In Defense of De-Persons." Since 2016 she has lived in Berlin where she sings, plays guitar, and drags it up in the noise-punk band Important Part.