How do we embrace intersectional identities? – with Sick author Porochista Khakpour

How do we embrace intersectional identities? – with Sick author Porochista Khakpour

by Suswati Basu

American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde once said: “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Looking at identity, it is thought to be important to approach it from an intersectional perspective because it deepens the understanding that there is diversity and nuance in the ways in which people hold power. Using an intersectional lens also means recognising the historical contexts surrounding an issue which differ from region to region and country to country. 

So how do become more inclusive of different identities for others and ourselves?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area. She has been awarded fellowships from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Ucross Foundation, Djerassi, and Yaddo. Her work has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. Her first memoir is Sick:

Meera Sharma, the founder of The School of Sass and host of weekly motivational radio show, The Sass Life, airing on Hollywood’s DASH Radio. She first came into the limelight on series 11 of the hit, ITV dating show Take Me Out.

Fashion and beauty content creator Malvika Sheth with Style by Malvika

Sumbal Rana, who is a domestic violence survivor, who has been developing self love and self acceptance.

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Kimberlé Crenshaw uses the term “intersectionality” to describe this phenomenon; as she says, if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you’re likely to get hit by both. In this moving talk, she calls on us to bear witness to this reality and speak up for victims of prejudice.

The Disability and Intersectionality Summit 2018 National conference (DIS2018) took place on Saturday October 13th at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA. This is Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, author reading and discussion of Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice.

Books looked at this week:

Porochista Khakpour: Sick: A Memoir

Kimberlé Crenshaw: Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics (1989 article)

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha: Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.


Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to episode 45 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

Indiana University Criminal Justice Department Professor Roger J.R. Levesque states that an individual’s cohesive self is one that is stable and remains so even when faced with threats to one’s identity. And when one has a plethora of identities, an intersectional perspective is important because it deepens the understanding that there is diversity and nuance in the ways in which people hold power.

So how do become more inclusive of different identities for others and ourselves?

Here’s Meera Sharma, the founder of The School of Sass and host of weekly motivational radio show, The Sass Life, airing on Hollywood’s DASH Radio. She first came into the limelight on series 11 of the hit, ITV dating show Take Me Out. And also fashion ans beauty content creator Malvika Sheth on their views on identity.


Our first book comes from Porochista Khakpour, who was born in Tehran and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area. She has been awarded fellowships from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Ucross Foundation, Djerassi, and Yaddo. Her work has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. Khakpour is the author of four books including Brown Album, The Last Illusion, and Sons and Other Flammable Objects.

Her first memoir SICK is: “a memoir of chronic illness, misdiagnosis, addiction, and the myth of full recovery, chronicling the long, arduous discovery of her late-stage Lyme Disease.” She was kind enough to speak to me this week. Watch the full interview on or on the YouTube channel. Here she is on the subject herself.


Our second piece of work is from American lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw’s 1989 article ‘Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics.’

The term intersectionality was coined by Crenshaw, which is a way of understanding how multiple identities a person holds – including but not limited to race, gender, religion, class, and age – can impact them or the demographic groups they belong to within society. Here she is at a TED Talk.


In this article, Crenshaw sets out to answer one question: Why is viewing antidiscrimination theory and practice specifically, feminist theory and antiracist politics from a single-axis framework problematic? The single-axis framework Crenshaw refers to is the idea that “dominant conceptions of discrimination condition us to think about subordination … occurring under a single categorical axis”. What Crenshaw means here is that under the current antidiscrimination doctrine (i.e., the legal, social, and political mechanisms in which disadvantaged groups strive for equality), it is believed that people can only be discriminated against because of one single identity.

Crenshaw’s thesis is that viewing antidiscrimination with this framework is problematic for two reasons. First, doing so erases Black women from the “conceptualization, identification, and remediation of race and sex discrimination by limiting inquiry to the experiences of otherwise-privilege members of the group”.

This means that the single-axis framework of antidiscrimination forces Black women to fit their experiences of discrimination into the dominant conception of discrimination, which is molded by those who are only singularly disadvantaged (for e.g., white women are singularly disadvantaged because they would be advantaged if they were not women).

Second, the single-axis framework is problematic because it excludes Black women from feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse. This marginalization occurs because both feminist and antiracist movements are shaped by dominant conceptions of discrimination, which subsequently excludes the less dominant groups who are disadvantaged in so many different ways.

Crenshaw defends her thesis in two parts. First, by showing how the antidiscrimination framework disregards and complicates intersectionality using three court cases as examples. Second, by showing how doctrinal manifestations of the single-axis framework marginalizes Black women in feminist theory and antiracist politics, using theoretical and political developments as examples.

From these cases, Crenshaw acknowledges that she is presenting a contradiction. On the one hand, Black women’s claims will get rejected if they are not similar to white women’s experience. On the other hand, Black women’s claims were seen as so different to white women and Black men that the court chose not to include Black women in a larger protected class.

Crenshaw argues that this contradiction is “but another manifestation of the conceptual limitations of the single-issue analyses that intersectionality challenges” (p. 149). She employs an analogy of car accidents happening at a four-way intersection to highlight Black women’s complexities that a single-issue framework include. In a four-way intersection, harm can be caused by cars coming from any number of directions, and sometimes all. However, when accidents happen at this intersection, it is not always easy to reconstruct the accident and identify where the danger came from.

From this, Crenshaw states that Black women can be harmed similarly to white women or Black men (accident came from one direction), doubly as the sum of their experiences as women and Black (accident came from two directions), and compounded through experiences unique to Black women.

Crenshaw makes several points about how intersectionality is treated within antidiscrimination doctrine. First, she argues that Black women have been marginalized in antidiscrimination doctrine, which was established with the three court cases. The current doctrine does not allow for classes to be combined. Instead, discrimination can only be classified as such if the discriminator identifies their act of harm as discrimination, or the harm perpetrated treats all people within the class in question similarly.

Additionally, the dominant conception of discrimination argues that antidiscrimination practices can only be applied if the harmed people or person would have been treated fairly or neutrally had it not been for one characteristic or class.

Crenshaw shows how the single-axis framework does not help multiply disadvantaged groups using an analogy: Imagine all the disadvantaged people are trapped in a basement with no way out. All the advantaged people are on the floor above. All the disadvantaged people stack on top of each other – from most to least disadvantaged with the least disadvantaged people at the top – and try to get to the top floor. Suddenly, a hatch in the ceiling opens to let some of the disadvantaged in. The first (and usually only) people to get to the advantaged floor are those who were the least disadvantaged to begin with. Crenshaw’s translation of this analogy is that Black women can only be represented in and uplifted by antidiscrimination doctrine if their experiences fall within singular classified identities.

Crenshaw then describes how Black women’s experiences are undermined in the feminist movement. She first uses Sojourner Truth as an example of this. In an 1851 Women’s Rights Conference in Ohio, Truth had challenged men’s claims that women were weak and frail by outlining the horrors of slavery she lived through. Truth’s experience – like that of many Black women – does two things: (1) counter the dominant understanding of womanhood that considers women as weak, and (2) highlight how the dominant understanding of women is centered on white womanhood. Truth was also discouraged from speaking by white feminists, who believed that Truth’s speech would shift the focus away from feminism and onto slavery. Thus, the experience of a Black woman was undermined in the feminist movement.
She also points out that rape is used as a weapon of racial terror on Black women and that when Black women are raped, they are not raped as women, but as Black women specifically.

The third way Crenshaw highlights how intersectionality is treated within antidiscrimination doctrine is by providing examples of how Black women’s issues are sidelined in the fight for Black liberation. As a student at Harvard University, she had a Black male friend who was one of the first members of an exclusive men’s club at the school. The club was hosting an event and inviting its first Black guests – Crenshaw and another male friend of the Black club member. Upon arrival, they feared they might not be allowed entry. Much to their surprise, the Black men were allowed in, but Crenshaw had to enter through the back door instead of the front door. Crenshaw says her personal example illustrates how Black women may not stand up to challenging gender barriers when doing so may conflict with the antiracist agenda.

She then discusses Daniel Moynihan’s report, which stated that the Black family was deteriorating because of the Black man. The Black family allegedly needs a Black matriarch to thrive. Crenshaw states that Moynihan’s argument is racist because it wrongfully applies white patriarchal norms about family on Black families.

The third piece of media Crenshaw employs is William Julis Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged, where Wilson argues that the decline in Black marriages is caused by structural economic forces that kicked Black unskilled workers out of the workforce. Wilson then says the solution is to give jobs to Black men. While this may appear as a victory for Black men, Crenshaw points out that Wilson’s analysis contained nothing about Black women workers, let alone Black childbearing women workers.

In our final book, Canadian poet, activist and educator Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha compiles a collection of essays about the politics and realities of the disability justice movement. In Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Piepzna-Samarasinha looks at the intersection of disability and the queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color communities. Here she is at the Disability and Intersectionality Summit 2018 National Conference.


Disability Justice’ is a term coined by the Black, brown, queer, and trans members of the original Disability Justice Collective, founded in 2005 by Patty Berne, Mia Mingus, Leroy Moore, Eli Care, and Sebastian Margaret.

It puts the needs of communities and individuals who are often forgotten about, like QTBIPOC, in the forefront to focus on their needs and values them. This work destroys the structure that keeps ableism in tact.

The author says disability justice must include the feelings, thoughts, and voices of disabled people. People, organizations, and policy-makers are discussing ‘disability justice’ at length while leaving out its necessary and original context.

Historically, people who were disabled were killed under colonialism and capitalism because they were seen to be unproductive and not bringing in money, and this has led to lasting shame within some marginalized communities. Now, the lives of the disabled people in those communities should be remembered.

Whilst Piepzna-Samarasinha acknowledges she is not a scholar, she says today, much of disability justice is centered on caregiving. Not all disabilities then and now are viewed as real or valid disabilities, and some disabled individuals do not want a caregiver because they do not want to be viewed as incompetent. Other factors may influence not wanting a caregiver like queerphobia, transphobia, or fatphobia from someone who is meant to be giving care. Other individuals are not seen as disabled enough to receive disability benefits, while others do not want to be seen as disabled because they fear losing rights to things like marriage or housing.

Piepzna-Samarasinha encourages the use of care webs, which are groups of individuals (who may be disabled, able-bodied/not disabled, or a mixture) who work together to provide care and access to resources for each other. Creating care webs shifts the idea of access and care of all kinds (disability, child, economic) from collective to collective while working through the raced, classed, gendered aspects of access and care.

She also spotlights care webs from the past that may not have been viewed as disabled care like the STAR House started by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. The STAR house created a safe space for trans people of color while also allowing shared access to gender-affirming supplies.

Piepzna-Samarasinha has lived experiences in care webs and helping people through different crises. She is impressed by how the community can come together to give care when the state/government may not be giving ‘good’ care or providing people with the resources they need. State-provided care can be inaccessible because of a lack of internet, shame, poor advertisement, ineligibility, or a complicated registration process. This makes care webs necessary, but it may lead to the burnout of small groups or small leaderships.

When thinking about disabilities, one needs to center the different aspects of intersectional identities. For example, many Black and brown people who clean houses for a living have developed chemical sensitivities from exposure to cleaning products, so now there is a need to reframe how chemical and fragrance sensitivities are viewed. They may suffer from asthma or cancer because they disproportionately live in areas exposed to toxic waste and pollutants as a result of systemic racism and socio-economic factors.

Able-bodied people need to attack ableism in everyday life because their able body does not last forever. We must reinforce the idea that making the world accessible for disabled people makes the world more accessible for everyone.

That said, disabled people must be front and center when addressing disability justice. If disabled people are included in discussions but have no power or leadership, that is tokenism. We see this when “abled people get ASL and ramps and fragrance-free lotion but haven’t built relationships with any disabled people”. This performative inclusion is reminiscent of the charity model, where people with more power are deemed to be the experts in the matter.

She adds people who are disabled have to think innovatively when making sure their needs are met. The fact that thinking innovatively is something people who are disabled have to do, but not something able-bodied people have to do, should not be the norm.

Additionally, people who are disabled can have what Piepzna-Samarasinha calls crip skills, a term that describes “the skills that disabled folks have”. Naming crips skills as crip skills challenges the “deficiency model by which most people view disability [that] only sees disabled people as a lack, a defect, damaged good, in need of cure”. Obviously this is a term that not all people with disabilities are comfortable with.

Some examples of crip emotional intelligence are:
– Not taking it personally when someone may be rude, short, or fumbling with words because there is an acknowledgment of what that person may be going through;
– Never assuming anything and always asking to ensure the respect of what people may need for their specific body and comforts; and
– Understanding that accessing resources (e.g., food stamps) is not always simple.

Spaces that are only for disabled individuals can create a space of healing through shared life experience, but it may make accessibility difficult. Space can expand by training abled-bodied allies to give care and paying people for their energy. These spaces allow for people with disabilities to learn new information about cross-disabilities or disabilities they may not hold themselves.

And she warns about the crash and burn model which is when care networks only emerge in response to emergencies. “Emergency-response care webs [happen] when someone able-bodied becomes temporarily or permanently disabled, and their able-bodied network of friends springs into action”. The emergency care model is not sustainable and often falls apart after a few weeks or months when it is believed the injured person will become able-bodied again.

However we have seen care work in action through various initiatives such as the 2010 to 2012 Creative Collective Access in Detroit or the CCA, which was run by femmes of colour with disabilities who made sure the event was accessible. The CCA allowed people to find access together instead of having access be an isolating task that one has to navigate independently. They were able to make all accessibility needs met such ramps, fragrance free soaps, and made sure they were there for each other throughout the conference. The CCA was rooted in intersectionality to create organizing that did not leave any aspect of someone’s identity behind;

The next point Piepzna-Samarasinha says is about healing justice, which is a shift in how we think of movement organizing work, to think of it as a place where building in many pauses, where building in healing, where building in space for grief and trauma to be held, makes the movements more flexible and longer lasting. The movement was created in 2004 by the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, a collective of queer Black and brown Southern organizers. he healing justice movement is meant to reclaim traditional healing methods within Black and brown communities while expanding what health and healing practices look like.

This includes healing that is:
– Is affordable;
– Offers childcare;
– Needs no stairs;
– Doesn’t misgender or disrespect disabilities or sex works;
– Believe people who are disabled when they say they are hurt;
– Listens to people who are disabled when they describe what they need; and
– Understands that people who are disabled are the first and last authority on their bodies and mind.

The mainstream idea of healing––one where people are either sick or well, fixed or broke–– she believes is deeply ableist. Disability justice and anti-ableist healing justice reframes this thinking “towards being autonomously and beautifully imperfect”.

In terms of capitalism, she says the bed is a home and workspace for many disabled individuals, which the capitalist model of production does not seem tor recognise. Capitalism pushes disabled people away, making them seem worthless because their bodies are not creating wealth for someone else the way capitalism dictates.

The term pink collar jobs is also problematic. Pink collar careers are highly feminized and sometimes rely on unpaid free labor, such as cleaning, childcare, waitressing, and service work. Working class or poor BIPOC men/masculine people are often not viewed as performing care work because racism and classism do not see Black and brown masculine bodies as loving or caring.

Piepzna-Samarasinha has ideas on how to make care work “economically” sound, like having consensual fair trade emotional economics, which is where both parties discuss and agree upon what is needed for care and how it will be done. This is a form of disability justice that ensures disabled folks are the experts on their bodies and consent to the care they need and want to receive.

So to sum up:

Crenshaw says in Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex that both movements must move away from their single-axis framework. Instead, she states that “the praxis of both should be centered on the life chances and life situations of people who should be cared about without regard to the source of their difficulties”. By encouraging us to look beneath the prevailing conceptions of discrimination and challenge the complacency that accompanies belief in this framework’s effectiveness, we may develop language that is critical of the dominant view and provides some basis for unifying activity.

Piepzna-Samarasinha says in Care Work that Care Work is a mapping of access as radical love, a celebration of the work that sick and disabled queer/people of color are doing to find each other and to build power and community, and a toolkit for everyone who wants to build radically resilient communities of liberation where no one is left behind.

Speaking to the wonderful Twitter Spaces folks, they made an important point that without intersectionality, we also can’t see the individual identities that we could connect with. Whether you’re an artist, photographer, dancer, or carer as well as being a male, female, non-binary, mother, father, son, daughter etc. Intersectionality helps us to provide the best support possible, but also see people as multidimensional individuals.

To end this episode we have the lovely Sumbal Rana, who is a domestic violence survivor based in Manchester and has for the past year, been developing self love and self acceptance like myself. And if you enjoyed this please hit subscribe!


You may also like


Disability Pride Month books: 7 reads to celebrate differences - How To Be... August 7, 2023 - 10:48 am

[…] Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.Piepzna-Samarasinha presents a crucial guide to disability justice, reflecting on care work’s significance and envisioning a world where care is shared communally. We look at Care Work in episode 45. […]

Amazing books by disabled authors on International Day of Disabled Persons - How To Be... August 12, 2023 - 5:26 am

[…] out episode 45 on intersectionality when I spoke to the author Porochista Khakpour, who wrote Sick: A […]


Leave a Reply

Are you sure want to unlock this post?
Unlock left : 0
Are you sure want to cancel subscription?
%d bloggers like this: