You possibly know that the Mental Health issue of Woroni was going to be called “Cracked” and this issue “Transgression”. As someone who has bipolar and identifies under the trans umbrella, I could totally say that about myself. My mental health has caused me significant grief over the years and the way I deal with it is by laughing at it. I’d contentedly joke about being cracked. Likewise, my gender. I’d say there is an element of transgression in my gender, in a very Butlerian sense of the word.
The difference between myself making these comments and it coming from an institution such as Woroni is that these are my experience to claim and I can reclaim these terms. Reclamation here meaning the taking back of words historically used against certain groups. My personal favourite example here is queer. Yes, people still do have queer yelled at them out of car windows speeding past and it hurts, but there’s so much power in being able to take that word back and say, “Yes. I am queer and this word holds more meaning to me than it does thrown out of a car window”.
This isn’t to discount that the politics of reclamation are often hotly contested even within spaces that have the capacity to reclaim a term. During my time as Queer* Officer, I had a number of people express discomfort with the word queer being used by the Queer* Department. It’s always a challenge to incorporate the diversity of voices and experiences that make up the queer community. The reason for much of the discomfort expressed to me was that queer had been used against them as a slur. The only people who do have a say on if a term should be reclaimed are those affected by that term.
Let’s unpack both “Cracked” and “Transgression” a little. “Cracked” is easy. It’s a relatively pejorative slang term for insane. Whilst I’m very wary of romanticising mental illness, I’d hope we can move on from flat out insulting people for being mentally ill, especially in an issue of Woroni purporting to raise awareness.
“Transgression” is more complex. Transgression itself doesn’t have anywhere near the same baggage that cracked those. The important thing here is the context. From the Woroni Submission Guide for semester two, “We want to hear about polyamory, transgender experiences, sex work, and everything in between.” I’d love to hear more about polyamory, trans issues and sex work in Woroni! The issue here is the framing. It feels gawking. I read the subtext of “look at how edgy we’re being at the expense of vulnerable people!”. Trans people and sex workers are some of the most consistently disenfranchised people by society, so does saying, “we’re giving you space, but only if you’re the freak show” really contribute to the improvement of the lives of these people?
To Woroni editors and contributors, I know you can do better! We can have a great publication without contributing further to the difficulty of the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable. I’m glad that you’ve listened when it’s been requested that you change, but it’d be better if you never had to be told off in the first place.
Stuart Ferrie was Queer* Officer for 2013.