Pain Chronicles is a new monthly(-ish) column from Caroline McDonagh-Delves about coming to terms with living with a chronic illness. It will include funny stories and brutal honesty, with some thrown in chats with her mum Shaz, and other friends too, along the way.
Rosie Jones and I have a few things in common. We’re both Northern. We’re both pricks. We both have gigantic tits. And we’re both disabled lesbians.
And when I saw her walk on to the set of The Russell Howard Show and said she couldn’t process those ideas, she could only fit one “different” thing in her life, and therefore she believed she wasn’t gay, I understood where she was coming from. Sort of.
Unlike Rosie, I wasn’t disabled from birth, so by the time my chronic pain really started up, I’d already hitched my cart to “queer”. I’d gone through bisexual and was using pansexual, flirting with lesbian over the few years following the pain in my knees and then in my hands (which I settled on, realising how much of my feelings were compulsory heterosexuality – but that’s a whole other article), but I definitely knew that women were incredible and I wanted to have sex with them.
Another way I differ from Rosie is that my disability is (mostly) invisible, so anything short of full blown flare doesn’t immediately set off the crip alarms in people’s heads. Rosie, having a different condition with different external characteristics is pegged from across the room from her speech, from her movement.
Her disability is visible in a way mine isn’t, and in a way neither of our sexualities are – unless we both happen to be snogging women in front of you – and so maybe that’s what she took ownership of “disabled” sooner. But I can still see us in my own head as opposite sides of the same coin.
In the period of time between that first twinge in my knee and the diagnosis of fibromyalgia 6 years later (along with much else going on also – but that’s another whole other article) I did embrace the word “disabled”. But it took me time.
It’s one of the reasons intersectionality is so important to me. Because I had my difference for so many years already. I had people yelling “bisexual” at me in school corridors (not the most creative bunch, that lot). I had this period of years where I didn’t know which letter of the queer alphabet soup was mine, but I knew it was one of them.
And so, our destinations were the same, it was our starting points that differed. But the route taken, the road traversed, the selves realised, they took on the same characteristic
.Growing up, we don’t want to stick out for being different if we can help it, but we don’t particularly get a choice in these matters. I picked up queer as my difference, wore it as armour – concealing, even to myself, that there was more to it than that.
Rosie had been on Russell Howard’s show to talk about a bunch of stuff, one of which was an episode she’d written of the hit Netflix show Sex Education. She talks about the diverse cast with their intersecting identities and thought about how she wishes she’d had that growing up.
Someone on the TV to look to, as they lived their lives and played their part with two (or more), not just the one we thought we got.
I felt the same block as Rosie – struggling in my way to use the label of disabled. I don’t think it was the whole story, I think there are infinite factors at play, but it wasn’t until I heard Rosie’s words, sat at my dining room table, pretending to be doing something productive while actually just watching TV, that it clicked in me.
The words she used, so simple, so perfect. “I could only fit one different thing in my life.”
Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s representation. Maybe it’s an education in the basics of intersectional feminism. But now, there’s all the room in the world for all of my differences.
And maybe, there’s also room for a Northern disabled lesbian with massive tits – one who isn’t me – in my life too. I’m not saying this article is a love letter to Rosie Jones, but it clearly is.
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