Goodbye, beautiful, strong, funny Stella Young. We owe you so much, starting with that simple pronoun — “we”. Of course, we existed before you entered public life, but you did so much to build a sense of community among disabled people in Australia that it feels as though we were just scattered fragments before you entered our lives.
We use that collective pronoun so easily now because of you, and now we mourn you deeply.
When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I told friends that it was the first crap thing to have happened to me that I had no desire to write about, ever. I had always used writing to process difficult experiences, but what could I ever find to say about this?
The topics I had studied at close quarters all my life were race and gender. I associated writing about disability with what Stella referred to as “inspiration porn” — stories about disabled people leading perfectly ordinary lives that are somehow considered to be exceptional simply because they — we — are bothering to do anything at all. I wanted no part of that.
And neither did Stella. With her as the editor, Ramp Up was a disability platform with no time or space for inspiration porn.
Instead it focused on issues of justice and injustice, and it gave its writers licence to be sexual and bawdy, rather than the celibate-but-contented disabled character from your nana’s favourite daytime soap.
And funny. God, Stella was funny. Not funny in a way that was meant to soothe others (“So tragic and yet so cheerful! Most cripples are just so bloody depressing”) but sharp and biting and cutting — and funny.
Fuck-you funny — which is to say, that best kind of funny.
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Once I finally began to write about multiple sclerosis and disability, I met Stella around the traps. I was the new girl on the block and I didn’t feel particularly entitled to be there. Having said that, Stella and Ramp Up created a sense of community, I should add that it wasn’t (and isn’t) a united and tranquil community. I joked that disability politics makes Muslim politics seem straightforward and harmonious by comparison. But Stella provided a warm welcome and the confidence to enter the fray.
The closure of Ramp Up earlier this year was bullshit of the very highest order. Stella’s voice was as strong as ever. She would have kept publishing and speaking and making us laugh — and she would have kept fighting.
She refused to allow her life to be used as inspiration porn, so I’m pretty sure we ought to fight the temptation to make inspiration porn of her death. (Fuck you, Daily Life, for using the word “inspiring” in your tribute to her.)
And yet, and yet, and yet. You brought about something amazing, Stella. You didn’t inspire us by living an ordinary life while using a wheelchair. You lived a life of exceptional achievement. And we will miss you so much.
Perhaps we’re allowed to use the word “inspire” after all.