An Interview with Sins Invalid Performer: Maria Palacios

In anticipation for Sins Invalid's first full length show since 2011, Grad Assistant Alex Locust spoke with some of the artists showcased in the event. In this interview, he asks Maria Palacios, a disabled, feminist activist based in Houston, TX, about her experiences of crip wisdom, performing alongside other disabled artists, and disability as a creative force. Tickets are on sale now for Birthing, Dying, Becoming Crip Wisdom on the weekend of October 14, 15, & 16. And stay tuned for a follow-up interview with Maria's fellow performer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha! The faces of Patty Berne, a Haitian/Japanese femme woman wearing a black headscarf with white floral patterns, looking seriously at the viewer with her brows raised, and Neve Bianco, a younger Black genderqueer femme with a delicate facial tattoo between their brows, smiling, checking out the viewer and arching one brow, floating in front of a purple/blue/green starry sky. In between them are the words, "BIRTHING, DYING, BECOMING CRIP WISDOM. save the date: Sins Invalid 2016 Performance, October 14, 15, 16, ODC Theater San Francisco A poster for the upcoming Sins Invalid performance: Birthing, Dying, Becoming Crip Wisdom 

Alex: Can you tell us more about the inspiration for the title of the event? 

Maria: The title of this year’s event came from our sharing of energy and crip solidarity. Many of us have been experiencing physical changes related to aging and how our crip bodies are adapting or mourning or just existing as aging crips. Patty Berne’s visionary artistic eye spotted the thread that was unraveling and asked us to take our memories back to childhood -to our first awareness of our sexual selves. We knew then where we were on to something and the rest is history.    

A: In your words, what does "crip wisdom" mean to you and why do you believe it is an important topic to introduce to your audiences?

M: To me crip-wisdom means learning to love ourselves and our disabled bodies despite the ablelist messages imposed upon our lives. Crip wisdom means recognizing our strength, our power, our sensuality, our pain, our scars and turning them into love, advocacy, liberating change. Crip wisdom is owning our past, owning our memories -even the painful ones – and learning from them. It means choosing to grow, choosing to rise and tell our stories through the voice of empowerment. Crip wisdom is about embracing the changes that come from living fully.  It is about being whole in the midst of a society that has labeled us broken and continues to see us that way. Crip wisdom is about sharing the lessons and passing the torch. It’s about love. It’s always about love.  

Why is crip-wisdom important? The child-like treatment of people with disabilities is something that to this day prevails. People need to realize that our lives also evolve into valuable lessons-lessons worth sharing with the world. Crip-wisdom is also important because other people with disabilities deserve to be able to see themselves through art that embodies stories they can relate to, feel validated and grow from. Crip-wisdom is important because it lets people know we are human in our ways of loving and grieving and forgiving and surviving. Crip wisdom is also about letting go, but letting go knowing that we are leaving a mark - a legacy, a story.   

A: What can the audience expect from your performance...give us a teaser?!  M: (Sexy wicked smile as I answer this question) My spoken word pieces this year are brutally honest.  One of them will make the audience think about their own feelings and early experiences surrounding masturbation.  The other piece exposes fears, and truths related to getting older.  Both presented in my poetic story-telling style and with the sexy and flirtatious sensuality I bring to the stage.    Maria sensually straddles her wheelchair in the center of a scarlet red stage Maria Palacios performing a signature piece celebrating sexuality and disability.

A: So much of disability work is focused on provision of services through a narrow lens of disability as a limiting condition. Like at the Longmore Institute on Disability, Sins Invalid really celebrates the creative force that disability generates. Can you describe the importance of promoting disability culture in order to fight for equity and justice? M: Every minority group has a history – a history of oppression and survival – a history, a movement, a fight towards collective liberation. 

Promoting disability culture and sharing all aspects of our existence as a marginalized minority group IS how we rise above the oppression and how we ensure that our stories are told they way we want them to be told -through our own voices. 

For too long, other people have been trying to live our lives, choose for us, make us invisible. Our stories, like our bodies, have been forced into silence and invisibility. Celebrating the creative force we generate, and promoting disability culture are both integral parts of our fight for equity and justice.   

A: When did you realize disability was a creative force in your life?

M: I’m not exactly sure when or how this happened since I’ve been writing, and writing about my body for a very long time. The one thing I do know is that writing about my experience as a sexual being in my disabled body is something that my artistic relationship with Sins Invalid has nurtured into the powerful and fearless poetic sexy voice I have become. Performing for Sins has unleashed an even more daring and outspoken side of me as an artist and as an advocate. 

A: You have established yourself as an advocate and feminist figure in Houston, TX. Can you share what it's been like for you to perform your work in the Bay Area disability community in comparison to Houston?

M: I love the feeling of performing in the Bay Area. The energy is alive with the heartbeat of a crip community that is unafraid to see itself through our work and our voices. I often refer to the Bay Area as “Criptopia” because of the strength and feeling of community I witness in its disabled people. Houston also has a large disability community, but we are whole different kind of animal -one that has not had too much exposure to sex and disability as it relates to the arts (or any other way for that matter lol).  Being that Texas is a more conservative State my image as an artist and as an advocate is often seen as a bit “controversial.”  My involvement with Sins, changed the way my local community sees me and my work.  I’m proud to say this has helped me bring more education about crip sexuality and more openness as I include themes of sex and disability in the workshops I facilitate.  

A: Sins Invalid is "moving into a new era of community-supported organizing" - what has that experience been like and what does that community support represent to the group (outside of financial backing)? M: Community support definitely goes beyond financial backing.  It’s more about “Stone Soup” - you know, like the story of that soldier who comes back from war and has nothing to eat, so he puts a big cauldron in the center of his community and starts boiling water having nothing but stones to put in it.   When people asked what he was doing, he told them how he’s making this delicious Stone Soup but how much better it would taste if he had vegetables to add to it, or meat, or flour, etc.  Little by little people in the community shared from what they had and the soup became this rich and abundant meal able to feed a whole community. I only love this story because it illustrates that no matter how small the contribution, it DOES make a difference. It also shows us how when we come together, we sustain each other, we become stronger as a whole. 

Sins Invalid is more than artistic advocacy. Sins Invalid is community support, it’s the voice of many voiceless experiences in communities across the nation and across the world.  Sins Invalid is Crip-Stone Soup. Our soup is rich with wisdom and love. Our soup is deliciously diverse and spiced up with the condiments of our crip lives and the living spirit of our creative force. 

Community support is about making sure our stories are shared and voices are heard. It’s about keeping the flame alive and supporting one another. When people support Sins Invalid, they are contributing to the continuation of our ability to give. Sins Invalid gives. It gives artists with disabilities an artistic platform of sexy outspoken, honest sharing. It gives the disabled community a mirror where they can see themselves and aspects of their lives and their stories that are not being told anywhere else. Sins gives, awareness and social justice, a sacred space where those of us whose bodies, minds and lives have been marginalized can find sacred liberation. 

A: What are you hoping audiences will leave the performance thinking about? M: I hope they leave remembering that our stories, our lives and our experiences are what crip-wisdom is about.