Introduction to Cripping Masculinity: Conversations amongst a research collective, interpreted by Alexis De Villa
On paper, Cripping Masculinity is an academic research project that explores how Disability, Deaf, or Mad Identified Men (Cis or Trans) and Masculine Identified Non-Binary People create and experience their relationships through clothing in their everyday lives. Through wardrobe interviews and conversations about clothes, the project aims to crip dominant narratives of disability and masculinity by amplifying the experiences of men at the margins of both categories. Through design workshops, the hope is to deconstruct and recreate clothing to generate new understandings of masculinity and disability. Through fashion shows and exhibitions, our intention is to share results from the wardrobe interviews and workshops with the community.
Albeit officially described as such, I have lately come to experience Cripping Masculinity in a more nuanced way as an artistic process of intentional co-creation. Humans (researchers, community members, collaborators) and more-than-humans (clothing, ideas, materials) collaborate to create a beautiful tomorrow through love, passion, care, and interdependence – in other words: the spirit of Disability Justice!
To provide an introductory peek into Cripping Masculinity, I have written out a conversation between one of the Principal Investigators of the project (Ben Barry, he/him), a Research Assistant (Kristina McMullin, she/her), and me (Alexis, they/she/sikato). I came across this conversational format in bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom and Shawn Wilson’s Research as Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods, although I do not doubt it has been used by others. As hooks’ rationale to writing in a conversation format afforded her the intimacy that a formal essay could not and Wilson a way to showcase the praxis of co-creating generative knowledge with respect, responsibility, and reciprocity, I hope to achieve similar goals.
Although the conversations amongst us did not play out exactly as written, the words and sentiments hold true. So without further ado, here is a glimpse into Cripping Masculinity…
Alexis: Why is this project important to you?
Ben: As a queer disabled person, my relationship to clothing has changed as my sight has changed. I’ve shifted from valuing the visual to sensory and tactile experiences. I have been playing with what a queer aesthetic grounded in the senses means to me. But as a fashion educator, I didn’t see crip and mad understandings of fashion, and especially intersectional understandings, taught in fashion school or centred in fashion research.
Alexis: Rarely heard, but always embodied! That makes me think of what one of my academic mentors once said, “The academy is the heart of the beast of oppression.” Crip folks hold profound knowledge in their experiences and stories, but more often than not, these experiences are rarely held and heard as is within the academy. Only after these knowledges are watered down, revised, codified with canonized literature, and blacksmithed into tools for the privileged are they seen, heard, and held.
Kristina: So often conversations about disability and deafness and madness have been within the community, because that’s where it’s the safest and most comfortable to happen. But also non-disabled folks, neurotypical folks, non-Deaf folks don’t necessarily know how to approach those conversations, because they did kind of systemically “outsider” it. It’s not only pushed to the margins, but systemically pushed to the margins, since…since the invention of capitalism, I guess. Bringing those conversations into a place of importance, like the academy, like the university, like the institution, felt like really necessary work.
Ben: Exactly! With Cripping Masculinity, I wanted to create a community-led project that would interrupt and topple the stronghold of norm in fashion by centering crip and mad fashion experiences, understandings, and designs at the intersections of disability and masculinity rarely represented in education, research, activism, and the fashion industry.
Kristina: I joined Cripping Masculinity because of you, Ben – without sounding like a huge fan girl, ha-ha. Building infrastructure in which people who have been systemically devalued by the institution, by the university, would feel desired and feel valued was enough for me to come in. That is something I wanted to learn how to build.
Alexis: Being in community organizing spaces while simultaneously moving through graduate school, I have come to see how valuable community knowledge is and how far and in-between community knowledge is understood as knowledge in the academy! I had a friend and fellow community organizer once say, “I am not a reflection of my knowledge as an individual, but rather, a reflection of intergenerational collective modes of knowledge.” Disabled folks, queer folks, racialized folks hold the knowledge of generations. Generations of survival. Generations of excellence! Higher education privileges ideas of individual knowledge. Seeing Cripping Masculinity as pathway for process, I am hopeful of the path we are on! A pathway away from individual ways of knowing and towards relationship building and collective liberation.
Kristina: The idea of going to grad school and becoming an academic or becoming a researcher, going to school for the sake of going to school, didn’t feel like it would be authentic to who I was unless I did it in tangent with experiential learning. Having this as a grounding reason that worked alongside my institutional learning has been this mutually beneficial relationship.
Alexis: Mmmm, yes. To be grounded in the intention to stand with community is something I cannot ignore. Cripping Masculinity has done a good job in doing that, whereas most institutional learning often prescribes knowledge that is transactional rather than facilitating the co-creation of knowledge that is transformational.
Kristina: It is so hard for me to consume knowledge in a non-generative way like that. I even think of Cripping Masculinity coming from a disability, and specifically disability arts, community practice. The best part of the work has always been the conversations that I’ve had with people when they are safer, more desired, and more comfortable, and they were expected to be because there’s so much inherent knowledge.
Ben: Yes! The conversations between us and through the wardrobe interviews. The wardrobe interviews have been the most generous gift during this past year. I finish them with so much respect for the incredible crip and mad brilliance that each participant has when engaging with clothes. There are obviously very real pains and oppressions that participants experience and grapple with every day when dressing, navigating fashion, and going through the world in clothes. But these pains and disadvantages co-exist with – and in many ways also generate – wisdom and creativity about fashion.
Kristina: Brilliance and ingenuity that often goes unseen and unheard and unrecognized. Even the choices that folks have made to maintain their energy level by the process in which they get dressed, so often gets left out of conversations that are had outside of the community.
Alexis: Yes! The wardrobe interviews have illuminated some profound insights. Who would have thought that talking about people’s clothing and exploring how people dress their body would unpack such rich knowledge? There is such an intimate relationship with clothing that provides a very deep knowing. A knowing that sheds light on relationships not only with clothing, but with ourselves, each other, and beyond! Knowing is understood because it is practiced. And, in this case, practiced with and through clothing.
Kristina: Learning how people navigate that intimate relationship has been eye opening in my own understanding of how I dress, my own body, and the choices that I make. There have definitely been things that participants have said about their relationship with their clothing that I’ve now brought into my practice.
Alexis: I think that goes back to what Ben said about the conversations being a gift. These conversations not only unpack how our community, the crip community, holds and builds meaningful relationships with their clothing, but also generate ways that we can look at relationships in our own lives. These knowledges are life-giving, because they give us a way to live with intention. An intention that is renewing.
Kristina: The wardrobe interviews are proof that crip folks desire to have these conversations in safe, welcoming, comfortable, desirable spaces. And with a sense of pride! It’s not the antiquated belief that the only stories about disability we should be told are the sad or the super crip because they’re disabled or overcoming. All of those stories are antiquated and I think within the community that’s always been known.
Alexis: That reminds me of a question I once asked a colleague. “When can we stop centering dominant ways of knowing to validate, listen, and hold marginalized voices and experiences?”
Kristina: I think the interviews are just proving and proving and proving that we don’t need abled narratives on our lives.
Alexis: I am hopeful of the direction in which Cripping Masculinity is moving; especially if I am moving alongside you folks and the community.
Cripping Masculinity is still within its initial stages. Recruitment and collaboration opportunities are ongoing. Please email CrippingMasculinity@ryerson.ca and/or check out the website if you’re interested in participating in this research project.
Bibliography & Additional Recommendations
Hamraie, A. & Fritsch, K. “Crip Technoscience Manifesto” in Catalyst, no. 1 (2019)
Simpson, L.R. “LAND AS PEDAGOGY” in As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (2017)
Sockbeson, R. “Indigenous research methodology: Gluskabe’s encounters with epistemicide” in Postcolonial Directions in Education (2017)
hooks, b . (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom
Wilson, S. (2008). Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods
Wilson, S., Breen, A. V., & DuPré, L. (2019). Research and reconciliation: unsettling ways of knowing through Indigenous relationships
Alexis De Villa (They/She/Sikato) is a queer, mad-identified, second-generation pilipinx and Pangasinan settler residing in Amiskwacîwâskahikan, Treaty 6 Territory, the land of the Cree, Saulteaux, Nakota Sioux, Blackfoot, Métis, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway / Saulteaux / Anishinaabe, Tsuutʼina, Inuit, and many who been colonially erased and ignored. Although their presence on this Land was a result of mass migration of their ancestors from the Philippines following the resource and material export by Canadian Mining and imperialism, they acknowledge they were still uninvited on this Land, and that any labour they participate should work towards the rematriation of Land to Indigenous peoples. They are also a community organizer and Research Assistant on Cripping Masculinity.