Sins Invalid: An Unashamed Claim to Beauty in the Name of Invisibility Soon to be Documentary Film

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Interview by: Jenese Jackson

CREGS would like to send big congratulations to Sins Invalid: An Unashamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility for reaching their goal of raising 15,000 to fund their documentary film that will showcase their annual performance as well as personal interviews with the cast and crew.  You can support their work here.

Having the opportunity to sit and chat with Director Patty Berne and Co-founder Leroy Moore, at Sins Central, we discussed the success of their work within the Bay Area and why the move to document Sins Invalid is an important transition in their work.

Jenese: How has the Kickstarter campaign inspired your work?

Patty: Film is different than performance; film is an expensive medium to create. I really take my hats off to film makers, the kind of labor and the collective effort it takes is huge! The film process has taken us several years as it is very complex – it is really gratifying and at sometimes really frustrating, but today we are nearly done completing the film!! And the Kickstarter campaign has been so rewarding, people have been using it has an opportunity to shower love on us. People have been amazing, everything from people who are at the 5 dollar donation level bumping it up to 35 when payday comes around to people sending so much love and support through messages, people posting allover Facebook.  And bloggers and online sites have been awesome in showing support!  One organization in particular, The Brown Boi Project (http://brownboiproject.org/) really stepped up as allies to disability justice and offered a 1000 dollar matching grant, which is significant in many way – not only is huge financially, it is a statement of acknowledgement that disability oppression is a social justice issue and that disability justice is a needed part of our analysis!! Also, we recently heard that a donor advised fund from a local foundation is interested in supporting the film.  It’s really galvanized community support, and it also makes me feel really accountable to the community. Before, we were doing a film that nobody knew about, it was not a public event. Now, I feel like we have people invested in seeing the film being good, being strong and being available. I feel like we have partners now. Which is great, because It is hard enough to do this work in isolation, but to know there is an audience waiting to see this film, makes us more excited to do it!

Jenese: What inspired the decision to move Sins Invalid from theater to film?

Leroy: I think one reason is that although we have a rich audience in the Bay Area, we have an audience outside the Bay Area who cannot make it to see our annual performance. We want to reach people everywhere who identify with intersectional identities and politics. In the film, we can describe the political frameworks differently by weaving interviews with live performance.

Patty: Another main reason was witnessing the transformation of the audience and wanting to amplify that.  When people experience the Sins Invalid show, not only do they see people with disabilities differently, but they gain a greater understanding of their own bodies and their own liberatory potential.  Everyone feels marginalized within ableism, because we are never thin enough, muscular enough, “well” enough, within ableism – everyone is marginalized by the idea of the unattainable normative body.  So when people go to a Sins show live, they often leave thinking and experiencing their own bodies differently – and to be able to amplify that message through film is a huge opportunity to reach more people.  Plus, the film can circulate and have an independent life.

Leroy:  Also, some people with disabilities cannot make it out of their homes or live in group homes, so we’re hoping that this film makes it to places that are hard to get into and hard to get out of.

Patty: We know that Sins Invalid has strong visual imagery, the photos and the videos speak very clearly and it contradicts the portrayals folks may typically see of people with disabilities, like in a charity context such as the Jerry Lewis telethon – “give money so your kid does not end up like this”.  Mainstream images of the disabled body are ridiculously patronizing and to actually have images of people with disabilities being proud of our bodies and who we are as sexual beings – well, it’s hot, it’s really compelling.

Leroy: Yeah, typically people with disabilities don’t have control over our own images.

Patty: Right, this is true for many marginalized communities.  How long was it from the first African descended person being in film until there were black film makers?  Or with queer characters vs. people who are controlling queer cinema?  We’re talking generations! People with disabilities have been depicted as the “spectre” for too long.

Jenese:  How does the idea of reclaiming socially constructed spaces inspire, shape and facilitate your work? How do you believe the erotic combines with disability to shake up and challenge the prevalent normalcy of performance aesthetics?

Patty:  This reminds me of a conversation we hosted about a year ago in which activists and artists meet about intersecting topics, and we discussed “the gaze”. As people with disabilities, as people of color, and as gender variant people who have been the object of the gaze, we are often faced with the challenge of how we reclaim public space, how we control and subvert the gaze so that we are centered and seen.

I feel like in Sins Invalid, the performance invites people in to a space where we are controlling the terms of debate, and one of the bottom line terms is that we are all respected, both the audience and the artists.  None of us are served by abliesm and everyone is impacted.   For instance, cisgendered men certainly gain privileges and power but are also negatively impacted by male supremacy and the gender binary. Similarly, while some sectors hold power and privilege within ableism, everyone is also negatively impacted – certainly crips are more impacted by ableism, but all bodies are being policed.  Everyone has a body and everyone’s body is going to have its complexities, and there is a lot to be learned from our personal and collective strategies with our complex bodies that supports our liberation and wholeness if those stories are out there.

People with disabilities run the gambit of sexuality – some people are single, some are polyamorists, some people are vanilla, some people are into S/M, some are in long-term monogamous relationships and some are full on players. But to disregard our sexualities is a way of dehumanizing us.  We want our sexualities to be acknowledged, for all bodies and communities to be embraced as whole and complex.

Leroy: I think for people with disabilities, throughout history our survival techniques involved our art work and what we create under oppressive conditions, and getting down with that history really inspires us to do Sins Invalid.

Jenese: How do you feel about your role influencing communities of color around issues concerning sexuality and disability?

Patty: I mean, people are marginalized based on many components of power relations and the ways in which black and brown bodies been exoticized and fetishized is a parallel to the ways in which people with disabilities have been fetishized, objectified and medicalized.  There are also parallels with the fetishization and objectification of people who are gender variant or intersex. These are all manifestations of oppression, and they are not the same but we really recognized the linkages of these oppressions. This is why we centralize gender variance as much as we centralize race as much as we centralize disability, because all of our communities have had WRONG inscribed on our bodies. We really hope the audience sees the parallels and that it challenges people not just around disability but around how many communities have been dehumanized and people are viewed as the “other”.

We work with majority queer and majority people of color in the show, but would love to have more of our audience members be from communities of color. I still think the queer community is still struggling with white privilege and marginalization based on race, and since the majority of our audiences are queer we see that reflected.  Similarly, the disability rights world is a very white dominant world.  The disability rights movement has not addressed the specific conditions in which disabled people of color live and so we really attempting to engage all these audiences. We need our brown and black people in the theater with us!!!