Kiss My Ass

Photograph of Ju's brace viewed from behindJo began by spraying the brace a metallic silver with a blue tinge. Metal is inorganic: disabled people are regarded as less than organic and/or as inseparable from our inorganic aids. Metal is associated with hardness, power: pink with softness, weakness. Metal is androgynous: pink femme. And unlike the surgical pink plastic, metal does not pretend to be flesh; perceived as artificial, the brace/borg separated itself from me.
 

Close-up photograph of the dolpin and yin-yang symbols on the back of Ju's brace Jo then added a dolphin image to the back of the brace, as it's one of my favourite symbols. Since 1994 I have worn gold dolphin studs in my ears, and in 1996 I had a dolphin image bleached into my hair to celebrate the end of the summer. I loved seeing wild dolphins when I visited the Gulf Coast of Florida, and was disappointed not to have seen a dolphin in Cornwall when I spent 18 months there. (Many sightings were reported to me, but my work and illness meant that I spent much of the time indoors.) When Jo showed me her first work on the brace, I wanted to be able to make sense of it as a whole. To me, this dolphin symbolises my spirit rising up above adversity - in this case the dolphin literally rises up above the site of my impairment. The Yin-Yang symbol which Jo incorporated reminds me of the philosophy which I learn in Tai Chi, as well as the principles of Chinese medicine and the wholeness of androgyny. It particuarly recalls to me the Chi Kung exercise where you repeat: "I love and accept myself the way I am." Here the symbol is used playfully; the dolphin balances the symbol of balance. In doing so it also parodies performing dolphins - sometimes I feel like a circus exhibit.

Underneath the dolphin Jo added a shattered CD, which is very symbolic since it is placed partially over the area where my spine is deteriorating. It also reminds me that the CD is fast becoming obsolete, illustrating the speed with which technology changes - I like the challenge of change. Aside from this, I like the way in which it reflects light and is transformed by light; and the colours remind me of the incredible rainbows which chase across Mounts Bay where I lived for nine months in 1996/7. Jo engraved the CD with ju90, my name in cyberspace: as a borg, the brace turned me into Miss Gosling; as a cyborg, it recognised me.Close-up photograph of the shattered CD on the back of Ju's brace, reflecting rainbow colours

Close-up photograph of a ring, with two opals surrounded by nine diamondsBecause of the dolphin, I saw the surface of the brace as an underwater environment. I therefore asked Jo to add some green to the silver, partly to increase the underwater effect, and partly to reflect the colours of one of my favourite rings. This ring originally belonged to my father's mother, who gave it to my mother on the eve of my parents' wedding as they had been unable to afford an engagement ring. In 1991, when my mother remarried (my father having died in 1979), she passed it on to me, and if I don't lose it I will eventually pass it on to my niece. Green is calming, positive; symbolising growth, spring, hope; the nineteenth century signifier of "inversion" and escape; and the colour of my eyes. It is one of my favourite colours. I saw the airholes as analogous to air bubbles, so in order to heighten this effect, Jo added green phosphorescent paint to the steel washers which she had glued around the holes. She also outlined the dolphin in phosphorescent paint, as if it was leaping out of the water (the ocean being naturally phosphorescent) and added an eye: when stared at, the dolphin stares back.

Photograph of Ju's spinal brace viewed from in frontI liked what Jo had done initially with the front of the brace, but felt that the gold shells which she included had a costume jewellery effect which was too femme for me. Continuing with the underwater theme, I saw this area of the brace as the bottom of the sea, with the mirrored glass and earring which I wanted very much to retain representing shipwrecked treasure or, more prosaically, broken bottles. I wanted to increase this effect and also to make the brace more personal, so gave Jo some shells that I had collected in Florida, which Jo painted green.Close-up photograph of crystals, shells etc on the front of Ju's brace To augment this I gave Jo my crystal collection, which would have the added advantage of giving the brace personalised good vibes. Since I could no longer carry my crystals in a trouser pocket, it made the brace more functional as well. To develop this aspect further, I asked Jo to turn a decorative loop attached to a shell into a functional loop to which I could attach keys or ID. As I could not wear trousers with pockets under the brace, or the "bum-bag" in which I had been used to carrying a phone, Psion, shades and wallet over it, the brace had further drained my identity by preventing me from carrying things; this was a small way of redressing the balance.

Close-up photograph of one of the buckles on Ju's braceAlthough the nylon webbing straps which tied me into the brace were hideous, I did not want Jo to replace them because they had been riveted into the plastic. (If not, we would have opted for something with more of a BDSM feel.) To make them more comfortable, and to avoid the padding riding up over my shoulders and changing my silhouette still further, Jo stitched the padding under the straps, improving the overall appearance considerably. When the rest of the brace was finished, though, it was obvious that the straps needed more work if they were to blend in. The fact that they were white also meant that they would get grubby quickly, and so would look even worse as time went on. Another friend of mine, Joy Wotton, is a devotee of Liberty, and supplied the answer in the shape of their trimmings counter. I found a plastic net ribbon there which reflected greens and oranges, rather like the CD, and which also had something of a fishing-net connotation. I stitched this by machine to the front of the straps, sewing the edges underneath by hand. I then painted the buckles chrome, to contrast with the steel silver of the rest of the brace, and used the same paint on the leather which Jo had used to cover the polystyrene padding on the edges of the brace.

My brace now became my friend and my protector, the exterior mark of my interior pain, a removable, tattooed, exoskeleton, my armour.

Close-up photograph of the "Kiss My Ass" aluminium label on Ju's spinal braceI loved having Jo's label, Kiss My Ass, on my left shoulder, particularly when people tried to dis-able me. The fact that the label is made of aluminium means that it is hard and unyielding, reflecting its self-centred sentiment - other designer labels are soft and signify the display of yourself for the pleasure of others. The aluminium is also apt because the brace itself is inflexible, as are the needs which my impairment imposes. And it transformed the feminising effect of the brace from submissive to dominant: "Miss" Gosling/Borg was now Mistress ju90/Cyborg.


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Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90's ABNORMAL: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure is available now for just 3.09 for the Kindle or in a limited-edition hardback with full-colour art plates for 20 inc UK postage and packing. Book cover