I have a long Word document in which I write this blog. I often make notes for future posts and move ideas and dates about in it. For the last week the words 80-Year-Old Stella have been sitting there in bold type waiting for me to find the time to write the post. I’m writing it now, but it’s not going to be what I thought it would be.
I’m raw with sorrow and shock. I’ve just learnt of the death of Stella Young, an Australian Crip activist whose words have frequently blown me away, made me think, made me roar with laughter and screech in agreement more times than I can count. I use the word ‘Crip’ as Stella did because it made her feel strong.
Most recently I’ve loved this letter to her 80-year-old self, which inspired the post I planned to write, for the following reasons:
• She tackles head-on the subject of death and the assumption that disability equals an early demise
• She demonstrates in a creative and thoughtful way that how we talk about disability matters
• Her description of the impact the social model of disability has had on her life resonates with me
• She goes over the argument for ‘why we’re disabled people and not people with disabilities’, with humour and clarity
• She makes me feel hopeful and excited about how the world can continue to change
• She makes me feel proud to be a disabled woman, and has enabled me to understand that feeling this isn’t something to back away from, but to live by and in her words ‘practice’.
Now though, instead of writing about Stella’s letter I’m going to write one to her:
In your letter to your 80-year-old self you wrote:
‘By the time I get to you, I’ll have written things that change the way people think about disability. I’ll have been part of a strong, beautiful, proud movement of disabled people…’
I’m deeply sad that the world didn’t get to meet your 80-year-old self. You’ve left a phenomenal mark on me, a disabled woman you never met, living on the opposite side of the world. You helped change the way I think about disability, the world, and myself, and for that I’ll always be incredibly thankful.
A couple of months ago on Facebook you wrote the following in response to snowflake imagery that was being used to mark the death of a young disabled person:
“In case I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I want to make something clear. I am not a snowflake. I am not a sweet, infantilising symbol of the fragility of life. I am a strong, fierce, flawed adult woman. I plan to remain that way in life, and in death.”
That strength, passion and humour surged through everything you said and did.
Stella, I wouldn’t dream of calling you inspirational. But because of your work I want to learn more, think more and ask more questions – I can tell from my Facebook timeline that I’m not alone. My timeline isn’t filled with pictures of snowflakes – it’s filled with your writing, broadcasting and comedy. Through these, your powerful perspective will continue to change the world.
“Could the biscuits have the steamed pudding in a fight?”