Excerpt from Gina Stella D’Assunta’s spoken word show ‘How to Have a Body’

Total Facts Known


Fact: Faces in agony & faces in ecstasy resemble each other for a reason.

Fact: Pain is dissociative, overwhelming, all-encompassing. A knife that stabs where every joint bends, the insides of your eyelids & the walls of your cunt.

Fact: Talking about a hard thing in therapy, I feel a stir in a tender point. While I know that’s not surprising, my sudden inability to white-knuckle through it is. C’mon girl, breathe, move around a little – but that’s just not working today. It, agonizingly, becomes too intense: A ramp up from background ache, white noise, vague radio static; to pointed, incisive, insistent, greedy. I massage my own shoulder & make sounds that I don’t expect myself to – precisely identical to the sounds I make when I’m getting fucked, hard. I finally say “You are hearing me make some very… Intimate noises.” to my therapist, who graciously laughs, touches their hand to their sternum. “I must really trust you, or something,” I giggle & tap my own sternum back – but then it’s too much again. I wince, see white stars burst behind my eyelids.

Fact: Pain is also an intimacy, an invitation, a softening, an opening. Pain is your body crossing its own threshold & still holding itself upright.

Fact: I write every spike, throb, wave, undulation in stardust.


Fact: A familial friend of fifteen years will break up with you over your “frequent cancellations and reschedules” – just a few weeks after you ask, with no small amount of trepidation, if it would ever be possible for her to come to you, instead of you making the trek across town to her house for every hang-out. She is a completely physically able-bodied competitive martial artist. She seems convinced that you’re cancelling for fun, for the hell of it, to fuck with her, to be deliberately inconsiderate & disrespectful, to let her down. You have explained, more than once, painstakingly, that you actually hate cancelling; that when you cancel, it’s because you’re legitimately sick; that you asked if you could sometimes hang out in your neighborhood because some days, your body just keeps you close to home. But she doesn’t believe what she can’t understand; and she cannot understand you. She closes the door. You will spend your spring grieving.

Fact: You will spend your entire summer getting the run-around from every single government social service you receive. You will lose Food Stamps; you will almost lose Welfare; and your four-years-in Disability application will get “misplaced” by the Social Security Administration. You will have to take your elderly cat for an extravagantly expensive emergency vet visit. You will try to write; you will often fail at it.

Fact: New pain is scary.

Fact: But new pain cannot last forever.

Fact: The familial friend you met at a queer youth conference when he was 12 and you were 15 – the friend you have never once been too much for – he will call you up from Seattle, right after that friend break-up. You haven’t talked in months, but it doesn’t matter. You have the kind of relationship that always picks up where it left off. He says: “You are up against so much, and you are handling it so beautifully. You make something of out of nothing every day. You are miraculous. Fuck anyone who can’t see that.”

Fact: Your best friend of fifteen years – a fellow queer fibromyalgia patient & fellow garden witch – is living in Standing Rock now. He’s just been to an indigenous seeds conference, and in a “real life is much weirder & cooler than anything one could ever make up” plot twist, there is a queer Italian gardener at the conference, with indigenous seeds from Italy. He texts you about this, so excitedly; little snippets of his life in North Dakota beam down to you in San Francisco. You savour every note, every picture.

Fact: A few weeks later, a care package arrives: Over a dozen seed varieties; a combination of indigenous North American (his people) seeds; and indigenous Italian (your people) seeds. You love that you can celebrate your particular distinct families & cultures of origin; and the familial bond you feel with each other across those cultural differences; across thousands of miles; across only seeing each other in person every year or so, now. You plant a Family Garden. You remember you still have family.

Fact: Gardens want to grow; love & connection want to grow.

Fact: Our ancestors are talking to us, through the dirt & through each other, pretty much all the time. All you have to do is listen for it.

Fact: It takes the entire summer & a Sisyphean battle – but you get your Food Stamps back.


Fact: I am visiting a cherished long-distance lover for the first time in a year. And maybe it’s the travel stress? Or the damp weather? Or just that this is how it is some days? But I throw my hypermobile hip out – and even after an emergency doctor’s visit and a five-day course of steroids, I’m still just… Miserable.

Fact: We’re watching Brooklyn Nine Nine & cuddling in bed, trying to get in time & intimacy with each other, trying to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. When the show ends, I ask her if she’s game for a kinky pain-management experiment. “I dunno,” I say, “I feel like pain that I can eroticize might help distract from the pain that I can’t?” She gets that glint in her eye that I love so much, and grins wide. She is game for most things.

Fact: When she slaps me, smiling, I start flying right away. My hurt hip feels about a million miles from my otherwise happy body. “Could you press around my tender points?” I find myself asking, through laughter: “It might be too much, but I want to try.” I am game for most things. I lead her fingers to my collarbone, and she presses, gentle but firm. The stars behind my eyes this time are violet; fuchsia; indigo.

Fact: at first, i lied to myself that the snapshot was neither a glamour selfie nor a thirst trap — no make-up, curls pulled into a messy pineapple atop my head, a comfortable old shirt & pajama pants that do not match, my body wrecked from too little sleep & curled fetal into a maroon blanket, every last nerve ending screaming at me. but who am i even trying to kid, here? pink ombré hair is glamour, purple ombré cat-eye glasses are glamour, magenta dip nails with galaxy accents are glamour, the rose quartz & hematite in my ears are glamour, resting in a sickbed i’ve had fabulous sex in is glamour, yesterday’s hard work & sweat & grit are glamour, last night’s song & dance & salt are glamour, hoping through tears for today’s pain to abate is glamour, pushing through that pain to finish this is glamour. see? i am tired, but i am right here. desire responds to desire. i want you to reach for my curled, crippled, still outstretched hand. sick & glamourous are never mutually exclusive.

Fact: I am the Disabled MacGuyver. I am my nonna somehow stretching the polenta out till payday. I am my nonna’s nonno in Calabria, stealing from La Cosa Nostra & redistributing it back to the poor. I am the magic & grit of cripple hustler ingenuity.

Fact: Our ancestors are talking to us. Let it in. Let it flourish.

Fact: Teetering on lavender heels that I pretend are not too high, because they are the last pair of heels I can wear, adjusting my cane for the extra height & letting it guide me down a SOMA alleyway at dawn, last night’s torn fishnet stockings in my purse, indigo-magenta bruises blooming on my tits & thighs, fuchsia thumbprints marking the soft spots where my neck meets my collarbone – and would you believe me, if I told you? Nothing hurt, except what was supposed to? Would you believe me, if I told you? That for just a few hours, a hand on my throat melted the persistent chainsaw buzz that frays every nerve ending? Would you believe me, if I told you? That perversion as a pain management tool fucking works? Would you believe me, if I told you?

The holiness of your body is not up for debate.

Gina Stella dell’Assunta is a queer disabled writer, cultural worker, teacher, and performer from San Francisco. She’s performed and taught everywhere from chapels to leatherbar backrooms to the Ivy Leagues, and her work is anthologized dozens of places, including Foglifter, Sex Still Spoken Here, The Revolution Starts At Home, Take Me There, and Coming & Crying. She is currently at work on How To Have A Body, which is both a book of experimental prose & poetry about the intersections between sexuality & disability; and a solo theatrical show (which debuted at Seattle’s Gay City Arts in September 2018, and is remounting at National Queer Arts Festival in June 2019). She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. You can find her online most everywhere as @queershoulder.

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