“The doctor will refuse to see you now”: Queer solidarity for adeno and endo pain

Words: Penny Newell // Paintings: Amber Smyth

Reflection (2019) gouache on canvas

During the pandemic I was diagnosed with a condition called adenomyosis. I am a gender-nonconforming lesbian who suffers with debilitating period pain. 

Early periods in my teenage years were always strangely painful. It was a pain that I saw but did not want to see as my own. I remember spending a lot of time lying on the floor at home with feet lightly treading around me, my people going about their reassuring business.

My periods recently got really bad. I faint. I struggle to eat or walk. I usually spend 2-3 days in bed. You will often find me in a hot bath at 3am with a wet towel held to my stomach. It’s a dynamic condition. I feel okay. I feel great. I feel abundant. Yet when I feel strong, healthy, here, I have borrowed these feelings from someone else. Being okay is on loan to me.

Adeno pain is like endometriosis pain – cyclical, chronic and acute, medically dismissed, feminised, difficult to describe. The pain is usually coupled with a lengthy diagnosis and lack of acknowledgement. 

Since this started, I have desperately sought out some form of queer solidarity. Initially, I was working in Waterstones selling hundreds of hard copies of Emma Barnett’s It’s About Bloody Time. Period (2019). This followed an article from Cara Jones in 2016, where she spoke about endo pain as feminised and sexualised. Most of the stuff out there continues to follow Barnett’s model of depicting endo pain as an overlooked women’s problem. ‘Women’s health’ continues to be how mainstream journalism frames the condition. In an article published in 2018, Przybylo and Fahs attempted to speak about all dysmenorrhea (the medical term for period pain) as a crip experience. They refer to sufferers as ‘menstruators’ rather than ‘women’. They do so to ask how menstrual pain could become central to new kinds of solidarity, ‘based on alternate temporalities, cyclical experiences of time and performance’ (223). 

I could not agree more that we need to deepen our solidarity around menstrual pain and strive for queer crip social time and performance. It is estimated that people with endo / adeno pain lose around 10 hours of productivity a week. If that sounds like a capitalist formula, it is! Because here we are, living in a capitalist world where cyclical pain = bad performance at work = sacrificing social time to meet unrelenting demands of waged relations = cumulative pressure across the month, year, career. With hope, an active and flexible support network takes a share of this burden of time; they return it as time you can give to relief.

Solidarity can be foundational to imagining time away from these constrictions, to performing in the otherwise. Yet before we build solidarity around dysmenorrhea, we need to vastly complicate how we see menstrual pain as a disability (if that is indeed a necessary step). We need to ask who remains centred in this proposed solidarity circle?

Thinking about all of this made me return to Jasbir Puar’s ‘triangulation’ of the disability/ability binary with “debility” in The Right to Maim (2017). The understanding of all dysmenorrhea as disability hides the way that feminisation can be capacitating. For ciswomen chronic period pain can be seen, care can be received, and adjustments can be made. Non-transgender adeno and endo women have capacities that are withdrawn for non-binary and trans people suffering with dysmenorrhea or related experiences of pain. Trans men, trans women, transmasculine people, and transfeminine people are all capable of experiencing period pain. Yet these people are not determined as capable of this chronic and cyclical pain within the feminised regimes of menstrual disability (again, see Pryzbylo and Fahs for more on this, or see Jones’s much more recent article where she argues that people with endo need to openly claim disability.)

Passing as a cishetwoman or as homonormative presents strong opportunities for solidarity within the healthcare system, in the workplace, and in social groups. In an early consultation, a specialist stepped outside her formal chit-chat with me to recommend having a baby as a treatment. In a recent phone consultation, a GP told me that her daughter ‘swears by her moon cup for her period pain.’ Sufferers are supposed to buy into these identifications, these moments of professional collapse. Such vacations performatively invoke some prior state that I am supposed to seek to get to, beyond this queer pain. Acts of solidarity shore up adeno gender performance, compelling this body further and further, further and further away from me. With disgust, I repeatedly sense and resist such opportunities to perform as more-woman-than-me, to heal pain by closing queerness down.

Isolation&Idealisation (2020) gouache and acrylic on paper

In my limited experience, formal medical treatments leave little scope for gender queerness and queer sexualities because most are borrowed from birth control methods articulated towards heteronormative reproduction. I repeatedly tell the GP that I am a lesbian and that hormones have been recommended to me as a treatment for a disease, not as a contraceptive. These exhaustions of misgendering and anti-queerness are shared across the queer spectrum of adeno and post-adeno experiences. In a decisive moment of desperation, I wrote a letter to the GP to ask them to re-write a consent form for one such treatment, so that I could sign it. They held a practice meeting to discuss the language that they use.

(This should make apparent how dysmenorrhea-as-disability is equally determined by health literacy, class, race – my GP no doubt responded amicably as they saw me as not just a woman but a middle-class white woman, in fact, I was later made aware that they mistook my title of ‘Dr.’ as implying I am a clinician, so a white woman clinical professional – economic empowerment, nationality, and language proficiency, to name just a few productive differentials in adeno and endo gender performance.)

Invisibilising adeno and endo pain is not misogynistic. Centring adeno and endo pain as ‘women’s pain’ doesn’t make this pain any more real. Rather, this trans-erasive feminisation of adeno and endo pain forecloses the possibility for queer crip solidarity and performance. This trans-erasive feminisation is a debilitating refusal to see queer dysmenorrhea.* In the GP practice, on care leaflets explaining procedures, in phone consultations, chats with colleagues, passing discussions with well-meaning friends, queer dysmenorrhea is refused. As in: it’s time for you to go home now. Leave your body at the door. Meaning: do not bring your queer trouble here again.

I sit at my computer feeling okay and wonder how I give this time. I contemplate the accidentally doubled-doubling whereby I somehow own two second-hand copies of José Esteban Muñoz’s books. What hope does the futurity of pain resolve itself in? I give time to the queer troubles of this question. Time that is better spent otherwise I imagine, I use it to imagine the not-yet of queer solidarity. I occupy this time. I offer this time. It is a ground. 

Anna Daučíková: 


Triangulation – labouring in inklings … surveying what does not exist yet.

(One needs to take care for the quasi-skill of touching up what would become.)

Scrambled Eggs (2020) acrylic on paper

*On attending A&E on one occasion I was told in these exact words: “the gynaecologist is refusing to see you.” This was later explained to me as a “miscommunication” between A&E and Gynaecology. I experience this as the literal expression of the figurative existence of so many queer people within endo and adeno cultural narratives.

Penny Newell is a Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies (AEP) at King’s College London, working across queer ecologies and gender studies, disability studies, the history of philosophy at its intersection with performance theory, performance art and practice-based methods, and critical theories of race and the ecological (in)humanities. Penny is currently writing and making collaborative work about ‘maintenance’ as a persistent theme in critical thought, performance practice, and environmental technologies.

Amber Smyth (she/they) is a second year Liberal Arts History major at Kings College London working as an actor/ agent with a cooperative agency alongside their studies.  Focussing academically on Queer and Feminist histories, much of their artwork encompasses questions of expression of gender identity and binary systems that both restrict and inform queer experience. 

Instagram: @cheapcanvases

On an ecstatic return to the archives

File held in the BBC Written Archives Centre (WAC). A cover note reads: ‘THIS FILE HAS BEEN VETTED AND DECLARED OPEN FOR RESEARCH’ (photo credit: Beth Potter)

written by Beth Potter

As I write this, by hand at first to keep things loose and free, I sit before a document on my laptop screen, a dense 39 pages of notes. Its title is ‘BBC Written Archives visit’, and I compiled it in early September during three intense – enriching, nourishing, project-broadening, but intense – days in Caversham a few weeks ago, during which my neck cracked a thousand times and no amount of shoulder rolls saved my back from the archive ache.

The visit was long-awaited, and came almost exactly a year after I first requested material from the BBC Written Archives Centre (WAC). It felt, to be sure, ecstatic, as my supervisor had hinted it might, to be back sifting through old letters and carbon-copied memo papers, my clean hands gaining a film of tacky archive dust as I leafed my way through stacks of cardboard files. But now I’m back, at a desk, frontloaded with all the photographs (3,186 in the folder, I just checked) and notes I could accumulate in those three short days, I don’t feel very ecstatic at all; I feel daunted. What was a (paradoxically?) stiff-bodied but lively few days soaking up the experience of the archive – noting who came and went, what conversations I had with the archivists or other researchers, what things smelt like (horribly, beautifully, almost-mouldy) – has become a list of pixels on a screen again. I’ll have to read it all back through again, remember it all again, make myself experience it all again, all 39 pages and 3,186 photographs of it, I think, but this time in pixel form. And I’ve had enough of pixels this year. 

Beth Potter’s boots: an image of situatedness? (photo credit: Beth Potter)

I’m grateful, though, to my archive self who, true to her name, archived the archive as she went. Just before lunch on Day 1, I/she writes , ‘Right now my mouth feels a bit like Steedman’s, a bit furry, breath dusty, musty, lips dry, but they also feel like they have ink on them, cakey.’ A moment later, Lu, the archivist, tells me how she’s so happy and lucky to work there: she loves that as an institutional archive – a corporation, even a business archive – the documents show the care (or not – she side-eyes) that the corporation gives its contributors and puts into its work. She’s been vetting the material I’m looking at today for months, and says she’s enjoyed noticing how the business-speak of correspondence between the corporation and the circuses they employed for Outside Broadcast entertainments has elided into personal catch-ups: great show, new contract in the post soon, and thanks for having the kids over for dinner on Friday, Ronnie, love to your wife; you must both come over soon. I trace these relationships through the archive as I follow Lu’s footsteps across these files. Occasionally she places a black rectangle over some information I’d love to see, redacting, institution looming over a photocopied page. I experience three concurrent timelines: the time of writing these documents; then Lu’s timeline, her hand popping up in December 2020 when they thought the archive would re-open, then May, then July, then here she is again in August, dating a slip to vet the file as my visiting days approached; then me, today (or not today – in September – I forget when I am). 

But maybe it’s four timelines, actually, for one is hidden from me entirely: is its own elisions and gaps, the things I assume have happened or still do not (will never) know about. Case in point: a show that has all the planning documents for it, scripts written, cameraman contracted, but which never materialised (or would it ever have been material?) – no ‘Programme as Broadcast’ record splicing the file into a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ transmission like there usually is, but instead a letter lamenting the failure of the OB connection at Winkfield, individual apology notes to each circus act – how fantastic you looked in rehearsal, such a deep shame, nothing we could do, sometimes the live line just drops and that’s that. I find myself wishing I could see that show, but there is no trace: no recording to call up and watch as it stutters, or which will show me the behind-the-scenes aftermath of confusion and vast disappointment at a Christmas Day failure live on the BBC in 1957. But then I think, I never called up the recordings that broadcast without a hitch anyway, never saw those either: did the show not happening really make any difference to me here, now? 

The BBC WAC gardens (photo credit: Beth Potter)

Reading my archive of my archive trip puts me right back there again, a form of time travel to just two weeks ago when I was there (I know I should’ve written this blogpost earlier, kept it fresh, but maybe writing by hand and letting my memories spill onto the page directly from my hand is helping). I’m back in this imaginative space I’ve constructed, thinking about the frustration and potential of the gaps – and all the while sure that I too am now eliding, here in writing, am forgetting (I should have written this on my way back home on the bus, I was too tired then, but isn’t tired and loose better than forgetful?).

At lunchtime on Day 3 my phone photographs of yellow page after yellow page of script drafts (not aged: this BBC producer liked using mustard yellow card for camera scripts, so hold your clichés) are interrupted with a photo of some trees and a fence. I have taken a walk around the BBC WAC, on the compound of BBC Monitoring Services (apt, I think: they’re monitoring, I’m monitoring, my walk round the back of the compound has inevitably been captured on CCTV – they are funny with security here; I’m not supposed to take photos of the building). This is the place where BBC staff have kept tabs on international media since before World War 2, where they listened to Soviet Radio through the Cold War, and where they are still listening – even now. And now the archives are here too, throwing a surveying eye backwards; and now I am here, documenting it all, every last bit: page, tree, fence, bench – there’s even a picture of my boots by the reception intercom while I stand and wait for them (them) to let me in, and a close-up of a gate round the back of the compound. This one is of a fence that seems to bifurcate my own mental mapping of the BBC site – but that must be wrong, surely, as a metal sign on the fence reads



And I think: what do they think I’ll find in the next file? 

A wire fence with a notice reading “WARNING: POLICE DOGS TRAINING IN THIS AREA” (photo credit: Beth Potter)

Statement of Solidarity

We stand in solidarity with those at the University of Roehampton who are facing cuts in the Drama, Theatre & Performance, and Dance departments. 

Sixty per cent of Roehampton’s performing arts students are Black or from other minoritised ethnic backgrounds. Cutting these programmes that have been so successful in supporting Black British and other under-represented students is especially misjudged, at a time when HE institutions should be urgently decolonising and diversifying their spaces. We condemn the Vice Chancellor’s decision to cut funding in the very departments which support historically under-represented artists and cultural producers, and provide space for them to excel.  

As TaPRA and others have suggested, these cuts are also ideological in nature, in line with the UK government’s short-sighted bias against the arts and humanities and its instrumentalisation of HE to these ends. 

Please consider signing the petition to oppose the proposed £3.2 million cuts. 

Read Dr Kélina Gotman’s letter in response to the proposed cuts here.

Read about the Vision for Roehampton here.

Launch: Performance@ Postgraduate Reading Group

8 photographs signed ‘V Queniaus’ showing a woman reading and posing, including a double-exposed negative containing an unidentified subject, which the artist has erased.
André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, May–June 1860. Image source: The Met online archive.

We are excited to announce the launch of the Performance@ Postgraduate Reading Group.

Meeting online once a month, our aim is to read, discuss, and share our own and others’ work in an exploratory and supportive environment.

In each session the group will either read a combination of theoretical texts and performance studies works, talk through thorny research questions, or share our own works-in-progress. We hope that our diverse interests and the range of angles with which we approach performance research will encourage fertile points of discussion. As interdisciplinary humanities researchers, we are eager to investigate how our work intersects and diverges across the field of performance studies.

All meetings will be held online for the foreseeable future. While the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has necessitated this arrangement, we are motivated by the way that our geographical remoteness – and our desire to remain connected – has the potential to bring together scholars who would normally be unable to meet and engage in discussion. As such, we invite scholars from King’s, UCL, and beyond to participate.

The first session will take place on Tuesday 13 October, from 16:00-17:30. Please email beth.potter@kcl.ac.uk to receive both the recommended reading ahead of the session, and a Zoom link. 

Restaging the Past: Historical Pageants, Culture and Society in Modern Britain

by Paul Readman, Professor of Modern British History, King’s College London

Restaging the Past is a new book is from UCL Press, available for free open-access download here: https://www.uclpress.co.uk/products/123496. Also available for £25 in paperback.

Restaging the Past is the first edited collection devoted to the study of historical pageants in Britain, ranging from their Edwardian origins to the present day. Across Britain in the twentieth century, people succumbed to ‘pageant fever’. Thousands dressed up in historical costumes and performed scenes from the history of the places where they lived, and hundreds of thousands more watched them. These pageants were one of the most significant aspects of popular engagement with the past between the 1900s and the 1970s: they took place in large cities, small towns and tiny villages, and engaged a whole range of different organised groups, including Women’s Institutes, political parties, schools, churches and youth organisations.

Pageants were community events, bringing large numbers of people together in a shared celebration and performance of the past; they also involved many prominent novelists, professional historians and other writers, as well as featuring repeatedly in popular and highbrow literature. Although the pageant tradition has largely died out, it deserves to be acknowledged as a key aspect of community history during a period of great social and political change. Indeed, as this book shows, some traces of ‘pageant fever’ remain in evidence today.

Find out more about Paul Readman’s Historical Pageants project here.

Paul Readman, Professor of Modern British History, Department of History, Vice-Dean (People and Planning) for Languages & Literatures, King’s College London. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/people/paul-readman; paul.readman@kcl.ac.uk

Burning Questions

by Corrie Tan, Ph.D. Candidate, Theatre Studies, King’s College London and National University of Singapore

Integrity and Intimacy Panel Discussion Zoom screenshot, ArtsEquator and HowlRound Theatre Commons. The panelists are, clockwise from top left: puppet artist Maria “Ria” Tri Sulistyani (Yogyakarta), cultural critic and activist Katrina Stuart Santiago (Manila), dance artist Bernice Lee (Singapore) and moderator Corrie Tan (Singapore).

Throughout July and August 2020, the Southeast Asian arts platform ArtsEquator organised a four-part series of online talks titled Burning Questions. COVID-19 has exposed the extreme precarity of the arts sector in the Southeast Asia region, and ArtsEquator hoped to offer a space for regional voices to dialogue and discuss some of the difficult questions facing the transnational arts community during the pandemic. This panel on July 28, “Is There Still Hope for Integrity and Intimacy in Online Performance?”, investigated the various possibilities around keeping intimacy alive between artists and their audiences against the backdrop of social distancing and restrictions on travel worldwide.

The panel was facilitated by Corrie Tan, contributing editor at ArtsEquator and a third-year doctoral candidate on the joint PhD programme between King’s College London and the National University of Singapore. This panel featured three practitioners from the region: dance artist Bernice Lee (Singapore), cultural critic and activist Katrina Stuart Santiago (Manila) and puppet artist Maria “Ria” Tri Sulistyani (Yogyakarta). Questions that surfaced included: What does it mean to maintain the structural and foundational integrities (ethics, credibility, honesty) of artistic practices and cultural labour, even if the way practices now unfold may take different shapes or forms? What new intimacies of care and reciprocity might be formed?

Ria talked about her company Papermoon Puppet Theatre’s recent show A Bucket of Beetles (premiered August 2020), which incorporated barter exchanges into its ticketing framework for local Indonesian audiences who might otherwise have struggled with the financial investment of a theatre ticket. Ria also highlighted a series of Instagram Live conversations she hosted with puppeteers from around the world in a gesture of cross-border solidarity. Katrina talked about the advocacy work and food distribution she’s doing with her non-profit organisation PAGASA (People for Accountable Governance and Sustainable Action), and how her intermediary role as a cultural critic helped build a culture of trust and support in the thick of the Duterte regime. Bernice shared about her work with children as various workshops transitioned to the digital sphere, but also her long-time practice of #ghosting and how she’s been playing with the female gaze online. She also introduced her experiments with touch and the intimacy of being in domestic spaces with various branches of a collaborative long-term project called Tactility Studies (for which Corrie is dramaturg).

Through discussions of their work and current practices, the panel mapped out a sense of how intimacy and spectatorship has transformed across the cultural capitals of Manila, Yogyakarta and Singapore, and the possibilities of building expanded transnational relationships.

Corrie TAN (she/her) 陳霖靈; Ph.D. Candidate, Theatre Studies; Department of English Language & Literature; Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; National University of Singapore; Block AS5, 7 Arts Link, Singapore 117570; corrie.tan@u.nus.eduwww.corrie-tan.com

COVID-19 letter of solidarity from Performance@

To whom this may concern,

We are writing to let you know that we are still here. On Wednesday 6th May, the Performance@ administrators met with Kélina Gotman to talk about how to launch Performance@ in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was invigorating to hear each other’s voices and to see each other’s faces on our screens at home.

A conversation.
Our topic of conversation was seemingly simple: What does the scheduled launch of this performance network look like now? This simple question provoked a series of deeper meditations: Who is involved, now that we are not, per se, geographically restricted? How do we demarcate the boundaries of this network at a time when borders and divisions are changing, moving, devolving, and inevitably, re-appearing in new forms, more tangible than ever? And how should we launch? On whose terms, where, when, with what technological affordances? What would be an adequate event, a sufficient gathering, an apt happening? By which we really mean to say, what is performance now?

We find ourselves in a time of deep questioning, of social and economic upheaval, of lifestyle and habitual change, and of loss. Through the collective trauma of COVID-19, many of us have lost physical contact. We have lost contact with loved ones, with the elderly, with the rhythms of our day, with ourselves even. We have lost contact with our sense of normal, whatever that may be. This loss of contact almost feels like a unifying experience, perhaps allowing solidarity in a time of extreme solitude. Our bereavement for contact feels inimitably bound to matters of corporeality, liveness, presence, embodiment,– that is, bound to long-established frameworks for understanding performance. And so perhaps this, more than even, is the best time to be launching Performance@?

Everyone decides to walk. Or at least, it feels like a decision. People smile as you pass them, it’s quiet and across the street a sheet of newspaper drifts naturally on the breeze. There is no traffic. Your phone buzzes in your pocket. Two different people who have never met instantaneous send you the same Snoop Dogg meme. You smile. A bird sings in a tree. You have walked for 45 minutes. This is a new route for you. You remember to side-step around the couple with a pushchair. It’s easier for you. They thank you with a nod. Their child is wearing a mask. It is 245pm. You cannot remember what you did this morning. Tomorrow you will Facetime your Nan on her carer’s iPad. She is hallucinating, with COVID-19 they later realise. You teach her how to close her eyes and count her breaths, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, … She seems almost to fall asleep, almost.

Security vs. Morality.
Someone remarked on Instagram the other day that this is the first time their tendency toward rebelliousness had conflicted with their moral compass. The securitisation of social distancing via the police-enforced state of “lockdown” re-articulates behaviours we might otherwise see as respectful, thoughtful, sensible, through a legal framework. What does performance studies look like in a time when the command of law over how bodies may co-exist in space has so radically shifted? That my body may not legally come into the same 2-metre sphere as yours is a remarkable event in the history of global biopolitics, demanding swift critical reflection. Performance studies is poised to commence this interrogation, whenever we are recovered and ready to do so.

A letter.
It seemed like the best thing to write this letter. The internet is amass with COVID-19 statements, policies, regulations, restrictions, people reduced to figures of precarity, mobility and mortality. A letter is first and foremost an address. Maybe the letter says something of note. Maybe you lift a phrase from the letter, pin it to your wall, to remind you to respond. But if nothing else, a letter is a point of contact. It says: we are still here. It says: you are still here. It says: we are here together.