Coming Out as Disabled — to the Canada Council, the Community and the World at Large

I know that it is now time to come out — as a disabled writer.

I’m not sure why that is so hard to do, that is admit that I am differently abled than many others (whether this is most is debatable). But I am terribly uncomfortable with it.

I was speaking with a friend recently about the issue, telling her I was considering coming out publicly as disabled. She counselled me to do it, though her reasons were different than my own. From her perspective, as a metis woman in almost year 2020 when her own rights to culture, land and her own life has been so eroded over the past 150 years or so, that it becomes almost second nature for her to consider, “What gains can I achieve from this negotiation?” She’s at the point where she needs to think like this, if only to hold her own in a world gone crazy with greed, political corruption and legal insanity, a world, you understand, that wishes nothing more than to erase her existence like the spot of bug guts on a transport vehicle that you’d erase with a strong windshield cleanser.

But I’m not there yet. At least I didn’t think so, at first. Yet I must admit that the thought has been crossing my mind that maybe, just maybe, my professional life might just get a bit easier.

For it is known that there is a fund of money set aside at the Canada Council — that holy grail of free dispursements in cold hard cash — specifically for “deaf and disabled artists, including those with mental illnesses.” I know this is true because I was on the phone with the Canada Council just this morning asking about my new status as a “Deaf and Disabled Artist.”

So here is how, in reality, how my newly-admitted disabled status is affecting me professionally. When I applied to the Canada Council this year, I had the choice of applying as a Literary Writer or as a Deaf and Disabled Artist.

Now, the Literary Writer status requires that you have published a work in one of several specific areas. It must not have been self-published, meaning it must have been picked from a pool of others for publication by an editorial board. But here is the kicker:  The book in question must have had a print run of XXX (I don’t remember the number right now) number of books. If not, even if you can prove that your book was published by an independent publisher with an editorial board picking your book from the slough of manuscripts received, if not then you are not considered “professional” enough to be funded by the Canada Council.

Unfortunately, Finding Max has not yet reached a print run of the required size but I feel it might reach there before the deadline is due.

But the plot thickens….

As a Deaf and Disabled Artist, I must have produced a major work of art (Finding Max is enough) while also self-identifying as disabled. No print run requirement! Meaning that the door had now opened up onto new vistas because I can suddenly now apply for the same grant that I was denied under the Professional Writer track.

It is that easy. Easy-peasy puddin’ and pie. Mind you, the guy at the Canada Council stated boldly that if I am applying under the Deaf and Disabled track then my work should necessarily be about deafness or disability somehow.

I disagree. The Canada Council sets apart monies for disabled writers in an attempt to bridge the historically subversive gap that has kept deaf and disabled artists from achieving the same ends as their more able bodied colleagues. This money is intended to bridge that gap of inequality, to cover up some of all those events through life where the disabled are passed over, looked down upon or not even noticed at all.

There should be no requirement — no requirement at all — for a disabled artist’s work to be primarily about disability. That is just plain stupid. It really is. It would be like telling Gene Roddenberry that he couldn’t cast Sulu or O’Hara because he is white and they were not. It would be like telling Margaret Lawrence that she had no capacity to draft the characters who live on the wrong side of the Manawaka tracks — Skinner Tanner and his brood of native brothers and sisters.

It is so damned infuriating that it makes me physically sick. When I think about problems like these still existing in Canada — the country I am often loath to call home because of our unwillingness to admit that we are still prejudiced and we do still punish the innocent without a jury or a judgement beyond the judgement of the welfare agents and the disability workers hiding behind their desks. Let me tell you the poor, in Canada, are always judged, always looked down upon and always spat down upon.

I suppose there’s a reason that I need to come out as a disabled writer — if not to call out the Canada Council, for starters, for it own institutionalized prejudism then to seek it out in all its forms and foundrys, to expose it for all to see, especially those “nice” Canadians who think that there’s nothing wrong with our great nation.

But I would disagree.

Best,

Darren M. Jorgensen

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