By Sarah Cavar
This essay, whose first words were typed at 12:09 am from my bed, emerges from profoundly, critically, severely cripistemic soil. That is, this piece was born and homed amidst unruly knowledges, disobedient knowledges, and, perhaps most importantly, dangerous knowledges. About forty-five minutes ago, I received a DM from a new Twitter mutual, Professor J. Logan Smilges. They were curious about a word—a portmanteau, really—that I’ve had in my Twitter bio for, I think, at least a year now. transMad. (I feel like a sign-up page on a website, but yeah, it’s cAsE-sEnSiTiVe). I don’t recall anyone specifically asking me about it before now. Although when I’ve brought up the concept, people have seemed interested. Either way, it’s something I’ve been sitting on for even longer than it’s been up on my Twitter account; since Prof. Smilges asked me for citations, “even if they’re [my] own work!” Since I’m loath to pass up the opportunity to talk about myself and my bleary brainchildren, I happily present to you transMadness: a working text. My hope is that I will continuously add to this piece, make follow-up posts, and witness/engage with transMad meta-textual conversations not only immediately after this essay goes live, but also in many future lives. For now, let’s get started. What’s transMad, and why am I doing it
I’ll spend most of this piece looking not at what transMad is, but what it does. First and foremost, transMad cites. Even its name alludes to other portmanteaus: neuroqueer and queercrip being the best-known among them. Many people have offered many different (ever-“working”!) definitions of these terms; today, I offer co-coiner Nick Walker’s (2021) definition of neuroqueer: a verb and an adjective “encompass[ing] the queering of neurocognitive norms as well as gender norms” (p. 196). In terms of queercrip, I also return to its coiner, Carrie Sandahl (2003), who for whom the queercrip (as person and as method/movement) confuses the diagnostic gaze, bears sociopolitical witness, and performs glitchful, incongruous, confusing in(ter)ventions into possible community. At base, “queer” and “crip” appear as analogous, reclaimed slurs signifying marginalized transgression. When combined, they describe a loop, perhaps a Möbius strip: crip (ani)mates queer, queer tells-on crip. The specter of crip haunts queer—and even more explicitly, as we will see, trans—and the crip(ped) bodymind holds, moves, and fucks queerly. Who knows where “queer” stops and “crip” and “neuro” begin? Likewise, transMad, whose citational style leaves little room for diagnostic clarity amidst a pastiche of noncompliant text.
I follow scholars like Sara Ahmed and Katherine McKittrick, as well as the Cite Black Women Collective, an organization dedicated to dismantling white supremacist, cishteropatriarchal epistemological hierarchies by honoring Black women as critical, and critically-erased, producers of scholarly knowledge. transMadness owes its continued existence to a continuous refusal of intellectual hierarchy—knowledge refusing Knowledge/the knowledge of the refuse. Instead, it takes up a care-full citational praxis that Ada Hubig (2022) terms queercrip generosity. As Hubig describes, such generosity carries (re)generative power against a backdrop of disability erasure: it recenters the daily labor of crip caring, being, and knowing rather than the pity-kindness of abled charity (p. 215). In this way, queercrip generosity resignifies “care” not as an act for which disabled people pay with our dignity and freedom, but a practice always and already passing between crip kin. Likewise, transMadness commits to a recentering of collective autonomy, using citation as a technology of revisioning “knowledge” itself, and how, who, when, and for what it can be made. In addition, and following other cripistemological interventions, transMad emerges via conversations across and along crip spacetime: texts responded to a day or month after being sent, emailed-infodumps and collaborative Google Docs, voice memos when FaceTime proves inaccessible, traumajournals collectively re-visioned years after their writing. Alexandre Baril, Robyn, Willa Smart, ulysses c. bougie, J. Rzeplinski, Rachel Fox, Elliot Cervi, Bowen Cho, Iris Xie, Hannah Sullivan Facknitz, Robyn, mix. moss, J. Logan Smilges, and countless other comrades in scholarly, queercrip, and transMad conversation (and no particular order) have been crucial here. Thank you.
We whisper in the ward and hall and bedroom, bodies trembling, hands flapping.
The conversations I describe above exist not only in contrast but in combat with conventional, medically author(iz)ed renditions of transMad life: namely diagnostic codes, behavioral notes, and various forms of medico-legal documentation designed to map us, violently, onto preexisting hegemonic, cis, sane, and always-already white intellectual pathways, more concerned with working on trans(/)Mad subjects rather than engaging with our robust epistemological toolkit (Radi, 2019, p. 52). They encourage us to remove others’ names from our bodies, to reign in unruly citations, to set “boundaries” which violate Mad, crip ethics of care (see Fletcher, 2019). In truth, any framing of individual authorship in which the body text is “mine” and the citations gesture “elsewhere” belie the inherent interdependence of all intellectual life, and particularly of transMad intellectual life. transMad plural scholar mix. alan moss (2022) argues in relation to the pathologization of multiple systems: “all people, indeed all that exists, is a system that itself is constantly enmeshed in several overlapping and interconnected systems.” In short, I am full of Is, and will continue as many more. Just as disability justice helps us understand all life as interdependent and deserving of access, a transMad approach sees our selves as numerous and fuzzy. We have permission to dispense with the need for tidy texts, with our interlocutors, edits, and iterations either obfuscated entirely or exclusively relegated to a bibliography. transMad citation may thus be considered akin to visible mending, creating flamboyantly messy, multiplicitous work that does not seek to pass as objective or discrete.
Citation also constitutes and informs direct scholarly action. That is, citation does not only have the potential to reveal existing multiplicities but manifest them in pursuit of specific political aims. Here, I follow the Cite Black Women Collective, in understanding citation to constitute “a project of radical refusal with revolutionary possibilities,” inventing and re-inventing community as part of its praxis. Such a community imbues shared knowledge with transformative value, yet at the same time works to protect that knowledge from institutional capture and appropriation. Such a community engages ambivalently and, when necessary, combatively with Scholarly Discourse as such, when such discourse has and continues both to steal and delegitimize Black women as producers of knowledge, erasing them from the intellectual projects to which they have always been intrinsic. In the specific case of transMadness, and particularly in the case of Black and other racialized transMadnesses, such appropriation of knowledge can be seen in the aforementioned medico-legal documents, as well as “ethnographic” research and even unconsented-to anecdotes: the Patient is endlessly exploitable by Scholarly Discourse and silenced in their attempts to contribute to it.
This has long been true when we consider voices and texts marked as trans, as queer, as Mad, as disabled, particularly those confined to institutions, defined by late activist Dave Hingsburger (n.d.) (of blessed memory), via the “burrito test,” as spaces in which one cannot microwave a burrito in the middle of the night. We meet epistemic injustice from every angle, perhaps most notably in the diagnosis of anosognosia, or “lack of insight” into our own alleged insanity. Autistic rhetorician M. Remi Yergeau (2018a) identifies autistic people as occupying a demi-rhetorical position, in which some are seen as too rhetorically savvy to speak for “real autistics,” meanwhile those figured as “real autistics” are condemned as rhetorical unpersons with no capacity to speak at all and thus no access to the realm of “rational knowledge” about autism or anything else. (We can roughly map false tropes of “high” and “low” functionality onto this binary.) Likewise, transMad subjects—in this case, defined as subjects transed and Maddened nonconsensually by institutions of medico-psychiatric power—face access to transition contingent on their diagnostic status and perceived-sanity (Ashkenas, 2013; Finch, 2018; Small Cedar Forest, 2014). I also hid my own diagnoses in pursuit of biomedical transition. Under these conditions, transness and Madness necessarily blur, indicating a stark divide not between the “trans” and the “Mad” but between those able to survive violent institutions—myself included—and those figured as messy, as unworthy, as unprofessional, and as intellectually unproductive. Often, the boundaries between these two categories of transMadperson are blurry, tenuous, and the result of socioeconomic class, access to appropriate services and resources, and sheer luck. I follow Mad independent scholars like my friend G.J. Huxley (2021) in writing out of a “[hunger] for autonomy” both within and against institutions seeking to circumscribe psychosocial noncompliance.
I discuss transMad citational practice, which, when applied to (auto-/)ethnographic writing, I term “interethnography,” in a chapter of the forthcoming Mad Scholars Anthology. I fuse both “intertextuality” and “Internet” here, the latter because so much crucial transMad scholarship e-merges in and of digital spaces. Our archives, our emblogged realities, have been foundational in shaping transMadness; though by no means do I think all transMadness is digital, I think the digital—that is, the virtual, the not-quite, and the unreal—carries in itself the seeds of transMadness. Likewise, increasingly-popular admonitions to go outside, touch grass, and emerge from [our] mothers’ basements; to, to in Sara Ahmed’s (2006) words, reorient ourselves to/ward the “real world,” also urge the ejection of transMadness from digital spaces—and of transMad people from internet discourse. In response, I call for transMadness not simply to be digitally attentive (I first wrote “attempted.”) but also to remain rooted in the digital, given the particular transMaddened possibilities only realizable through digital space (Cavar & Baril, 2021; Feraday, 2021; Haimson et al., 2021; Kohnen, 2018). How many people realized their trans subjectivity, their disabled subjectivity—whether by force or by choice—during a year spent inside? How many realized their desire to defy, to cross the psychosocial boundaries of gender and/as sanity? How many queercrip, transMad interactions occurred with the normalization of Zoom and other platforms; how many seeds of knowledge were sown via cis sane peoples’ newfound proximity to transMad citational chains?
To do interethnography is to do transMad work; this is why I tend to introduce transMadness with a conversation on citation: we need, urgently, to move from pathologies to citational pathways, to embrace circuitous, opaque, and severely-uncomfortable ways of knowing. These are the ways and means familiar to many under the umbrella of transMad, which refers to these very characteristics as cultivated within persons, texts, bodyminds, and communities. If “queercrip” calls, among other things, for a critically-embodied politic of queerness, in which the queer disabled subject produces and is produced by the entanglement of ableism and cisheteropatriarchy as well as the joyous necessity of political resistance, I describe transMadness as a likewise-Otherwise politic of enminded transness. I call for transMad, and in that breath, call for the crossing of the “borderline” toward a neurotic, psychotic, and, yes, paranoid transness, a Madness Maddening gender (and attendant to the ongoing legacy of racialized, gendered Madness), and an approach to gender that is unapologetically non-compliant, naming medico-psychiatric trauma and narrating that violence with teeth, with resentment, and with familiarity.
I came to transMadness through my own onto-epistemic exhaustion. Navigating the medico-psychiatric industrial complex, in addition to being a first-generation academic new to my doctoral studies, is at least two full-time jobs. But that’s not counting my introspective side-hustle, those down-times I sit with my/self(-hatred?) and go, “Hey, you! Listen closely: is that the trans talking, or the Mad?” I’ll admit, I’ve been asking myself a version of this question since high school, and as an undergraduate, found the unsatisfactory non-answer I’d more-or-less resigned myself to finding: it’s brainweirdness all the way down. Nowhere will I find basic, essential confirmation of my trans pieces or my Mad ones, they’ve been scrambling my whole life and will keep scrambling long after I’m gone. My brain is queer, as is the way I navigate the world. As a Madperson, I’m continuously toeing, crossing, violating boundaries between the in/appropriate and non/sensical, whether “in” my head or “out” of it. My queer, trans presentation, which can and has demurred on the perennial question of M or F, makes similar comments, given that under a cisheteronormative sexgender hierarchy, only two sexgenders “make sense,” the rest relegated to the epistemological backwater of snowflakehood. The snowflake is itself a radical transMad political position under ongoing conditions of epistemic violence, as is the position of “transtender” or “MOGAI”: committed to rewriting the hermeneutically violent conditions of binary gender via identity invention by, as the nobody system writes on their collective blog, “categorizing the uncategorizable.” If, as Stryker (2006) notes, “epistemological concerns lie at the heart of transgender critique,” then at the heart of a transMad critique lies a meta-epistemological concern (p. 8): how not only to legitimize knowledge against carceral psychosocial regimes, but also to celebrate the willfully illegitimate?
With all of this in/“out of” mind, I bring transMad to my personal-creative-scholarly life. While it has become somewhat of a cliché in our humanities circles to reference standpoint epistemology and refuse the myth of “objectivity,” I hope that transMad will push us to think a little further outside, to paraphrase Gayle Rubin, that charmed circle of admissible academic discourse. Why assert our non-objective rationality when we could imagine an Otherwise of rational? What might it mean to produce irrational, uncomfortable, disorderly, and disruptive research; to engage spacetime nonlinearly (rhizomatically, and thus, neuroqueerly!), to ruminate on “fruitless” points (there’s something to be said for the anti-reproductive, anti-futurity implications, here, too), and even to refuse the constrictive logics of intelligibility itself? Not only would this open up new transMad creative pathways for those like us, those used to writing paragraphs like these, but also for those unable and unwilling to code-switch at all. And what of our nonverbal comrades, AAC users, intellectually disabled kin; our kin with “disorganized” speech, who Know through visions and voices, and whose transgressions—gendered and otherwise—resist all demands for compliance? What of our kin trapped in institutions, whose every intervention is marked as a symptom? We are all, to varying degrees, excluded and ejected from hegemonic citational chains. But a transMad epistemic approach, a transMad knowledge-praxis, foregrounds not only the edges of rationality but the edges of irrationality, the far reaches where even Mad and disabled scholars do not often travel. Here, I am thinking with Mel Baggs’s and Cal Montgomery’s decades of self-scholarship, as well as the scholar-activism of (to name only a few) Autistic AAC Underground (Twitter: @AAC_Autistic), Tania Melnyczuk (Twitter: @ekverstania), Endever (Twitter: @endeverstar) as well as my colleagues, mix. moss, cited elsewhere. Crucially, as I gesture toward above, to navigate these reaches is not to produce maps, ethnographies, articles and anecdotes, but instead to dance—citationally —with enminded difference.
Why argue for a fraction of a pie when we can, whole cloth, conjure a new one, one that only we can see? Again, I return to opacity, because opacity is critical: transMadness is unafraid to be under-understood. In fact, misunderstandings are fundamental to its birth-story: I am driven to transMadness in my attempts and failures to understand myself, in my victimization by and resistance to others’ attempts to render me/transparent. I am driven to transMadness in the inherently-contradictory effort of scholaring about the constitutively extra- or even anti-scholarly, in centering social media- and blogger- scholars (the fittingness of this introduction as a blog post inspired by a Twitter DM isn’t lost on me, given the text-message origins of cripistemology!) when the very bedrock of “legitimate” scholarship is peer-review, institutional gatekeeping, and/as access to funds.
In closing, I return to the title of this essay, specifically to the word “toward.” I used it, in part, because it’s fashionable these days to write “toward” things, but I also truly can’t think of a better preposition for a piece on transMad epistemology/praxis. transMad is, after all, a series of gestures, and often a series of failures, whether acknowledged as such by practitioners or merely marked as such by cis, sane observers. transMad is also a wandering and wondering praxis (Yergeau, 2018b), anticipating and refusing neurotypical, sane, cis supervision in both the structure of our thought(s) and in the comportment of our bodies; we think aloud in ways that are difficult to track, stealing back what we need from eliminationist institutions. Fittingly, I did a great deal of thinking about confusion, opacity, and other Mad ways of (not) knowing in my most recent session of Autonomous Mechanics, an anarchist writing workshop I’m currently taking with Elæ Moss and some other wonderful writers. During one Zoom session, my computer crashed two separate times, during both of which I was supposed to be responding to a prompt regarding plural experiences of the body/biome, and our relationships across and between selves.
Between my Notes app, a RTF file on my untrustworthy computer, and my desk planner, I wrote the following:
Written on textedit––most pre:crash
As madppl we are often told to sit
with the discomfort, to sit
with the factor of our entrails. I do not feel free in this thing or body
or paradigm. A paradigm shift,
Kuhn says, marks the boundary between two incommensurabilities. Only two,
I ask him. My body is a multiverse and none of this makes sense, not least the static on my screen.
NOTES APP /:
This, too, is Crip pastiche. By which I mean Mad pastiche. Which I remain (mean) the transgenre moment of my passing
between media. It is what happens when I’m left typing on my notes app: my bodymind, which is to say, my computer, works and unworks in ways I only claim control over. I cannot justify this claim. I cannot enforce it. I watch in horror at my screen glitch. I remember we find radicality in the glitch. In the loading please wait of it all. In the weight of all we are demanded to do by way of tech. As I type this my computer is learning how to be herself again.
While I lack the space here to explore these extracts in-depth, I hope in the near future to explore both my and others‘ examples of transMad/anti-genre/glitchful writing. For now, I’ll say: the above is but another way to express transMadness, transMad ways of writing, of self-exploring, of introspecting in ways that implicate the many selves I necessarily engage in the introspective process. Again, citation: we’re never alone. I am instead recognizing the necessity of imparsable paths and associative messes, regardless of whether or not they can (be) fit into the realm of Scholarly Discourse as such. With gratitude to Katherine McKittrick (2021), I call upon transMad scholars of self to “[risk] the sovereignty of our own stories,” asking:
What if the practice of referencing, sourcing, and crediting is always bursting with intellectual life and takes us outside ourselves? What if we read outside ourselves not for ourselves but to actively unknow ourselves, to unhinge, and thus come to know each other, intellectually, inside and outside the academy, as collaborators of collective and generous and capacious stories? Unknowing ourselves. The unhinging opens up a different conversation about why we do what we do, here, in this place, that despises us—not focusing on reparation of the self, alone, but instead sharing information and stories and resources to build the capacity for social change (p. 31–32; emphasis added).
A transMad epistemology redirects the project of scholarly knowing, celebrates unknowings and opacities both strategic and accidental as critical to the generation of transMad lives, transMad futures.
I didn’t set out intending to write a manifesto. Still, reading the above words back by the light of day leaves me itchy. I am making grand claims, I am gesturing toward something unreal and unrealizable. I am talking about things that aren’t there, that sometimes, it seems, no one but me can see. Still, I can’t quite call this a manifesto, defined as a public declaration of policies and aims, both because I don’t claim absolute control over what might be called a transMad epistemology—as discussed above, our effort is inherently collective, collaborative, and citational—and because the verb “to aim” implies a prior state of rest. Instead, I contend our brains—particularly those who experience racialized, classed, fat, multiply-disabled and Global South/Eastern transMadnesses) were framed as broken from the start, and that breaking, that brokenness, those nouns and adjectives were the invention of cis sanity. We’ve never not lived in the epistemological cracks.
You could say we were Mad/e
CODA and further information [December, 2021]
We have never not lived in the epistemological cracks. In submitting what was until now a blog post for consideration in the aforementioned realms of capital-S, capital-D Scholarly Discourse, I open transMad knowledge to both risk and opportunity.
I have tried my best to remain faithful to the structure of this essay as presented in its original blog post form. Citations have been formatted and formalized, and several words and phrases changed to reflect a transition from “personal blog post” to academic essay (inasmuch as a gap between them exists at all). Still, what you have read is a blog post at heart.
The plain language version of the original post is available.
Ahmed, Sara. (2021). Complaint! Duke University Press.
Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Living a feminist life. Duke University Press
Ahmed, Sara. (2006). Queer phenomenology. Duke University Press
Ashkenas, Sam. (2013, April 10). Trans and Schizophrenic: When Diagnosis Impacts Transition. Autostraddle.
Baggs, Mel. (n.d.). Cussin’ and discussin’: Mel being human in a world that says I’m not. WordPress.
Baggs, Mel. (n.d.). Ballastexistenz. WordPress.
cárdenas, micha. (2011). The transreal: political aesthetics of crossing realities. Atropos Press.
Cavar, Sarah, & Baril, Alexandre. (2021). Blogging to counter epistemic injustice: Trans disabled digital micro-resistance. Disability Studies Quarterly, 41(2).
Cite Black Women Collective. (n.d.). Our praxis. Cite Black Women Collective.
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Radi, Blas. (2019). On trans* epistemology: Critiques, contributions, and challenges. Transgender Studies Quarterly, 6(1), 43–63.
Sandahl, Carrie. (2003). Queering the crip or cripping the queer?: Intersections of queer and crip identities in solo autobiographical performance. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 9(1), 25–56.
Small Cedar Forest. (2017, 24 Feb.). On transgender and plural experience. Small Cedar Forest.
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 See Robert McRuer (2010).
 See Merri Lisa Johnson & Robert McRuer (2014).
 Working, not only because I’m still working on it and hoping it works for myself and others, but also because this “piece” on transMadness is not and will not be finished when published. Even if and when published “academically,” as is now a possibility.
 Expanding on Legacy Russell’s (2012) Glitch Feminism, Jenny Sundén (2015) writes: “my understanding of gender in relation to glitch is not only a possibility of critiquing the system by sliding between identifications. My main argument is, rather, that gender itself is characterized by glitch, by malfunction, in its basic mechanisms. An understanding of gender as glitchy at the core, and transgender as something that makes such glitchiness all the more obvious, places trans- at the center of glitch feminism and gender theory.”
 For more on the politics of citation, see Sara Ahmed (2017); Cite Black Women Collective (n.d.); Katherine McKittrick (2021).
 The Embroiderers Guild of America defines visible mending as: “an ornamental approach to repairing an item. Rather than trying to mask the area where the item was damaged, the goal is to highlight these imperfections in a creative, eye-catching way.” Visible mending shirks clothing-cure.
 Smith, Christen. A., Williams, Erica. L., Wadud, Imani. A., Pirtle, Whitney. N. L., & Cite Black Women Collective. (2021).
 A small further sampling* of writers, performers, and/as scholars of racialized trans(/)Madness include:
- LaMarr Jurelle Bruce
- Octavia E. Butler
- micha cárdenas
- Samuel R. Delany
- Alicia Elliott
- Akwaeke Emezi
- Frantz Fanon
- Johnna Hedva
- Nalo Hopkinson
- Bhanu Kapil
- Toni Morrison
- Therí Alyce Pickens
- Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
- Ntozake Shange
- Rivers Solomon
- Kai Cheng Thom
- Esme Weijun Wang
*I include these names in bulleted list form so as not to “crowd” the impact of each person listed here, and allow the “marginal” footnote instead to interrupt the body of the page.
 “Attempted” is a strange word. In some mainstream mental health circles, it’s sometimes used without an object to refer to suicide, “suicide” being the gap, the hanging pause, in front of the phrase “[They] attempted.” I find it interesting and troubling that the verb “to attempt”—to try—carries such a pathological connotation when/as applied to Mad practice (and suicide is, indisputably, a Mad and Maddening practice, regardless of one’s personal relationship with the term itself). The “attempt”, of course, implies no guaranteed outcome, and, when casually used, even implies blockage or hardship: the Madperson is continuously attempting, never doing, because to do requires foresight constitutively denied to us.*
*I wonder, then, whether transMad epistemology could be described as perpetually-attempting. Perhaps I could even take up the trendy language of post-humanist, feminist “partiality,” describing a cyborg transMadness that seeks, celebrates when/that/because it cannot find. A mind ever-lost and -lo(o)sing.
 micha cárdenas’s (2011) term, “transreal,” is illuminating here. She writes: “The transreal is the embracing of an identity that is a combination of my ‘real’ body that I was born with and my personal history with another identity that I have written in flesh, in words, in pixels, in 3-dimensional models and across multiple strata or communications technologies. To say I am transreal is a strategy for embracing a gender that exceeds daily reality on Planet Earth and says back to all the people who have tried to make me choose between man or woman that I choose to be a shape-shifter, a dragon and a light wave” (p. 30).
 Intimately related to the concept of embodiment, enmindment refers to the particular relationship each of our minds has with the socially-contingent strictures/structures of sanity, and in explicit opposition to the Cartesian-dualist binary of rational-mind and irrational-body.
 M. Remi Yergeau, 2018b.
 Baggs, who died in April 2020, kept numerous blogs. I include two in the bibliography of this paper: Ballastexistenz (June 2005- March 2018) and Cussin’ and Discussion’ (October 2015-April 2020).
 After Stefano Harney & Fred Moten (2013). They imagine a necessary, fugitive space in but not of the Academy and normative academic discourse, in which study might be redeployed (and necessary resources might be stolen) as a liberatory tactic rather than a tool of compliance.
 Of The Operating System and Liminal Lab.
 Thomas S. Kuhn (1970).
 Q: Is the manifesto* a(n inherently) Mad project?
A: Given the extent to which they’re made fun of, even playfully, I don’t think this is too far off the mark.
*The manifesto is a semi-organized mode of “ranting and raving.” I want to think about the unruly architecture of Mad complaint, of “path[s] of more resistance” (Ahmed, 2021, p. 7).
Sarah Cavar is a writer, editor, and Cultural Studies PhD student at the University of California: Davis. Their areas of focus include Mad, trans, science & technology, and critical disability studies. Cavar’s work straddles the “creative” and the “scholarly” and lives at http://www.cavar.club.
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