Disability and desire aren’t mutually exclusive



Sexy Sick Chic Lit is a new literary genre that was coined by Canadian authors Robyn Michele Levy and Kim Clark during the 2012 Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. It was at this festival that the two women first met and quickly realized that they had something in common — Levy has Parkinson’s disease and breast cancer, while Clark has multiple sclerosis (MS).

According to Levy’s website, the genre is “written specifically by and about women with chronic diseases and/or disabilities,” and features humorous, sassy, and sometimes even sexy elements.

Last Thursday, they performed at Slocan Hall through Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture. A dozen or so people, mostly older men and women, some in wheelchairs and others with canes, were present. Tea and snacks were laid out on a counter. The event began with introductions, aided by a translator for those with hearing impairments, before the authors took turns reading excerpts from their novels.

Levy is a visual artist and writer who previously worked for CBC Radio. Her first book, Most of Me, is a memoir of her journey with Parkinson’s. The book was shortlisted for the 2012 Steven Leacock Medal of Humour and the 2012 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction.

Clark began writing after being told that she had progressive MS. Her latest book Attemptions, features a collection of fictional stories about women who suffer from physical ailments and the multiple ways they deal with this reality.

Chronic diseases continue to carry a stigma; women and men still hesitate about coming out and talking about them. So, it was heartening to hear both women tell their stories with such humour. Their accounts give hope that, despite everything, the body is not something to be ashamed of.

Levy had her right breast removed due to breast cancer and opted out of reconstructive surgery. Clark believes that it’s important to “decide you’re interested . . . [to] decide to spend time with yourself or have the energy to be interested.”

Ultimately the books are “part of who we are and not everything about us,” says Levy, “[but] it gets the attention of the world.”

Levy’s clever use of words and powerful voice showcase her strength and confidence. In one excerpt, she describes visiting her neighbour, a dentist, in the middle of the night. If you didn’t know her disease had immobilized her left arm, the entry would read almost like a midnight rendezvous. It’s amusing then, that when she sees her neighbour, she says, “floss me,” in the same tone another might say, “kiss me.”

Clark’s excerpts introduce a girl named Mel whose MS afflicted body can only have six more orgasms. With this bizarre situation, we hear Mel trying to figure out the best way to budget this reality, as she fusses with dating sites and dating profiles. While fictional, Mel’s struggle is reflective of the realities of such a disease, mainly the difficulties of managing what used to be a simple, if not common, activity.

Sexy Sick Chic Lit is a genre that may seem geared towards women, but at it’s core it is simply about people who have suffered. Both women and men, old and young, the affected and the unaffected, can read these novels and gain something. Facing chronic diseases and disabilities is difficult, and “having a sense of humour does help,” as Levy says, because in the end, “your voice is your power,” and this is what this genre is truly about.

To find out more about this genre and other events with Clark and Levy, visit sexysickchiclit.wordpress.com.