Tribute to Mel Baggs

Mel Baggs, a legendary autistic blogger and artist passed away at the age of 39 on April 11. 2020. I learned about Mel’s video “In My Language” 2 years ago from my former student now colleague Jordan Lord’s article which they wrote for my Third Cinema class at Hunter College. When I was looking for work for this edition of Uno Port Art Films, I remember how powerful it was and wondered if we could include it. I googled to see if I can find the contact info for Mel. That’s when I learned about Mel’s untimely death this April. There is a go fund me page for Mel to cover the cost to clear the space and archive the precious things that Mel left for the world. I wrote to the organizer, and the organizer kindly put me in touch with Mel’s mother Anna Baggs. So with a blessing of Mel’s mother, we would like to share the Japanese subbed version of In My Language.

Mel did not feel her body stopped at her feet and hands but that she flowed into and connected with everything around her. She told me as a child she knew where the stars were in the day time. She could feel them. She was a spatial thinker and felt time wrap around her. She considered being Autistic as being differently wired and believed all people have value and deserve respect and equal rights and opportunities. Mel meant for the film to apply to anybody who gets written off because their communication is too unusual,” including “signing deaf people” and schoolchildren who aren’t fluent in English.

” I can identify objects by touch far easier than by sight I fall less in the dark then I do in the light because visual information is often just a distraction to me. I’ve been trying to convince people that spatial is not visual, because I am so very spatial that I used to have an automatic map of everywhere I’d ever been, yet so very much not a visual thinker and I often used the comparison of “the way blind people do spatial things”.

If it were not for the Ableism of the medical system in Burlington Vermont and the sudden abandonment of her Service Center the last year…Mel would be alive today and pursuing her poetry,art, film, and advocacy as well as contributing to research communities.

For those who wonder, Mel identified herself as Genderless. She said “Obviously this is what I actually call myself. I like that it’s a word that can be readily understood and doesn’t look or feel clunky to say. I like that it just means lack of gender, and has no spoken or unspoken secondary meaning of androgynous, or a specific nonbinary gender with genderless qualities, or something like that.” She had this absolute disinterest in the physical appearance or gender identification of friends. Friends were treasured for their inner self and the rest was irrelevant. I remember hearing of a child who’s parent asked if their new friend was black or white and the child said she had no idea but she could go back and look. I could imagine Mel doing the same as a child if asked if her new friend was a boy or a girl. It would be totally irrelevant.

RIP Mel Baggs.