Morgan Outlaw

learning to live here

Listen to the audio version.

The body and the self walk into a bar. I'll give you a guess who gets dragged out, bloody and bloodied by the other.

They tell me the body is a home, a refuge, the last safe place. I tell them home for me has always been hostile, a refuge has always been left me more in need of shelter than ever, a safe place has been a fairy wonderland I can't seem to find my way into, no matter how many rings of mushrooms or flowers I fling myself into.

They tell me the body is beautiful, tell me to thank my legs for carrying me, my hands for performing tasks–they don't listen when I tell them my body is a tumor that metastasized and annexed anything I could have once thanked. They just tell me to thank my body, thank the doctors who gave me the chemo pills, for shedding fourteen pounds in two weeks, tell me my sickness is beautiful and desirable.

They tell me above all else my body is mine, but they don't listen when I tell them it was taken from me at age five, age ten, age eleven, again at thirteen and seventeen and nineteen. By men looking to plant flags and secrets in my flesh, by a gender that isn't mine but no one will let me give back, by diagnoses and surgeries and the tumor that replaced it, by everyone who tells me how things are: by them.

They tell me, tell us our bodies and our selves are synonyms, that our selves are as broken and useless as our bodies–and christ, what they do to our bodies– our bodies are not empty yet–do they not know or do they not care?

Or do they just forget. Do they forget that a body, be it a tumor a shelter, a refuge a home a prison a container–do they forget a body contains something besides sickness? Do they forget me?

My forgotten self has tried to force a refuge of this broken body from this fear and this grief. Hiding from a maelstrom in a wrecked car, storm sirens blaring as it approaches, glass glittering frame creaking–okay yes you're right, I would be better off in a reinforced storm cellar, but we all have to hide somewhere don't we? And you know damn well there's not a house around for miles.

So back to the crash site, back to the twisted rusted metal slicing my hands as I hold on for dear life–

but oh my, dear, is it? Or am I just trying to convince myself it is?

–just shut up and grab my hand, pull me to safety, take me to a home and patch up my

hands and thank them for me, if you care that much. Or don't. Why would you? I'm just a body, the self attached by a few tendons maybe, knotted around the viscerae in the heart of the tumor. Just a body, at best aren't I?

And what happens to a body?

These, our bodies are looked away from, politicized, fetishised, jabbed with cattle prods, left to rot, experimented on, gassed, abused, deprived of touch or having it forced upon us, deprived of the autonomy required to consent to or deny that touch, had its ability to create life clinically removed; our bodies are made not our own.

We are monsters, harassed: stared at, gawked at, glared at, laughed at. We are monsters, forgotten: ignored, denied, banned, isolated, jailed, or otherwise shut away for fear that our monstrosity might be catching; we are quarantined in jails or in institutions notorious for cruelty; we are targeted, lobotomized, euthanized: put down like wild dogs. We are trod upon by doctors working towards the betterment of humanity, we are obstacles on the path of enlightenment, we are left behind as 'genetic unwanteds' for the sake of progress.

If I do everything they say, if my condition gets better, if I please them, if I take the pills that make me cough blood, the ones that make me sleep for 20 hours, the ones that are usually delivered as poison in an IV, if I do well, if they somehow manage to do something right, the doctors parade me in front of their colleagues, publish me in magazines and journals–if my condition doesn't improve, well it must be my fault and so I am foisted onto another doctor or left out in the storm. Oh please mister doctor sir, I'll be good this time.

Our bodies have the life torn from them out of ‘mercy'; we are turned away from safety; we are used as objects, our experiences are feel-good porn or sob stories or horror stories or punchlines; we are silenced, pitied, moved, put away, put down, kept in; we are colonised, infantilized, desexualised, other-ed, feared, hated, pitied; we are rarely loved and even more rarely are we allowed to exist, are we allowed to be anything more than a broken body; burdening–are we allowed to be a self, a me, a we a she they he xer zer

We are shades of our selves, living half-lives in a war zone made flesh. That's what you want, right? You force machines on us, surgeries and therapies that harm more than heal, force paleo diets and snake oil, force shock treatments and sedative pills, force us into this role, this sick role, sick sickly and sickening.

We are murdered, by caretakers or parents or lovers or doctors–its hard to tell the difference most days. Our bodies are just bodies. Bodies for quietly smothering with a pillow. Bodies for grave robbers and the self-centred nature of performative grief. My body, our body, bodies.

Bodies we cling to, car wreckage in a tornado on a lonely stretch of highway. Bodies we tie our selves to, like a balloon firmly knotted around the wrist of a child. Bodies that are gardens painstakingly tended to despite being in the heart of the war zone. Bodies we protect through foreign invasions and civil wars, they always go hand in hand. Bodies that we try to thank, try to love, try to reclaim as our own despite the conquering forces that trampled upon them.

The body and the self walk into a bar. They share a drink, share pained smiles and dry humour. When they walk home, their shoulders brush and their mouths wear each others' names. The body and the self go to bed together. The next morning, when pain wracks the body with spasms, skin stretched too tight over bones all sharp angles stabbing at nothing, the self holds its body with gentle hands. The body holds its self with gentle hands.

I hold me with gentle hands.


M. Outlaw is a soon-to-be graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University, with a Bachelors of Interdisciplinary Studies in Disability Theory, Studies, and Advocacy. They hope to go on to graduate school and continue studying disability through an interdisciplinary lens while working as an advocate, as well as eventually publishing an autoethnobiography and establishing a non-profit to ensure the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ elders. Outlaw is queer, multiply disabled and proud.