Christina Crosby, 67, Dies; Feminist Scholar Wrote of Becoming Disabled
Christina Crosby, an athletic woman who had just turned 50, was three miles on her cycling program near her Connecticut home when her front spokes caught a branch. The bike stopped and threw Dr. Crosby on the sidewalk. The impact hit her face and snapped at her neck. Immediately she was paralyzed for the rest of her life.
That was in 2003. She lost the use of her leg muscles and much of her upper body. But over time, she regained limited function in her arms and hands. And two years after the accident, she returned to work part-time as a professor of English literature and feminist studies, gender and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.
Finally – by dictating with speech recognition software – she was able to write a treatise: “One body, undone: Live on after great pain” (2016). It was an unsentimental examination of what she called the “surreal neurological wasteland” that she was poured into, and that forced her to search for her self-esteem.
In bottomless grief over everything she had lost, Dr. Crosby preserved her intellect and her ability to speak. Yet sometimes her pain was beyond the reach of language.
“I feel an unassailable loneliness,” she wrote, “because I will never be able to adequately describe the pain I am suffering, nor can anyone accompany me into the realm of pain.”
Late last month she was hospitalized in Middletown with a cystitis and learned she had pancreatic cancer, her partner Janet Jakobsen said.
Dr. Crosby died a few days later, on January 5th. She was 67 years old.
In her book, Dr. Crosby, to learn proper lessons about overcoming difficulties, or to come wiser from their disastrous injury. That made it a prominent text in disability studies and activism.
The typical disability narrative “leads the disturbed subject through painful exams to livable accommodation and lessons learned, and all too often the note sounds triumphant,” she wrote. “Don’t believe it.”
Dr. Crosby decided to write about the disability after her brother, who was also disabled, passed away in 2010.
Christina Crosby was born on September 2, 1953 in Huntingdon, rural central Pennsylvania. Her father, Kenneth Ward Crosby, was a professor of history at Juniata College, where her mother, Jane (Miller) Crosby, taught home economics.
Christina was athletic as a child. She and her older brother Jefferson were age-related and physically competitive.
Christina attended Swarthmore College, where she majored in English and graduated in 1974. She wrote a column for the student newspaper called “The Feminist Slant” and helped found Swarthmore Gay Liberation. As a strange feminist, she remained committed to social justice and sexual liberation throughout her life.
She studied at Brown University in Providence, RI, where she completed her PhD in English in 1982. There she was part of a socialist feminist caucus that dealt with issues such as domestic violence. She and the caucus set up a hotline for abused women and established a women’s shelter called Sojourner House in 1976, one of the first of its kind in the country.
During this time she met Elizabeth Weed, then director of the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center in Brown, where the feminist caucus was holding its meetings. They were partners for more than 17 years and continued their relationship long after Dr. Crosby went to Wesleyan in 1982. Dr. Crosby’s papers are said to be kept at the Pembroke Center in Brown.
Dr. Crosby’s dissertation with Brown became her first book, “The Ends of History: Victorians and ‘the Woman Question'” (1991), which examined how Victorian literature excluded women from public life and raised questions about how history is told .
Though hired by Wesleyan’s English department, Dr. Crosby became a central part of the university’s women’s studies program, which she established as a major and later redesigned as a feminist, gender and sexuality study.
“She was the heart and soul of this program for decades,” said Natasha Korda, an English professor at Wesleyan University, in an interview.
“She was also a rock star on campus,” she added. “She was charismatic and lively, she had so much energy and she cut a very dashing figure.”
The students loved her, said Dr. Korda because she could make complex theoretical arguments “crystal clear” and because “she was not only an incredible storyteller, but also a great conversationalist”.
In the early 1990s, one of her students was the writer Maggie Nelson, whom Dr. Crosby advised on her thesis on denominational poetry. Dr. Crosby initially had little regard for denominational writing, but she later credited Ms. Nelson for opening her eyes to her worth when she began writing her memoir.
In 2003 the university faculty selected Dr. Crosby as chairman of the faculty. She chaired meetings and represented her colleagues in meetings with the President and the Board of Trustees.
She had just started her year-long tenure in this position when she had her bicycle accident. “Your life was brilliant,” said Dr. Jakobsen, Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Barnard, who has been Dr. Crosby’s partner and is her only immediate survivor. “Christina was a person who burned very brightly.”
In an eerie parallel, Dr. Crosby’s brother Jeff, an attorney with whom she was always closely associated, was multiple sclerosis in his twenties and quadriplegic in his late 40s. She wrote in her memoir that after her accident, her childhood fantasy of being her brother’s twin – Dr. Weed had once referred to them both as “beautiful physical specimens” – “was maliciously recognized because there we were, each with seriously incapable damage to the central nervous system, each in a wheelchair. “
Mr Crosby died in 2010 at the age of 57. It was his death, seven years after her accident, that Dr. Got Crosby to begin her memoir. It was unanimously chosen by a committee of Wesleyan students, faculties, and staff as the book all incoming students would read in 2018.
Towards the end of the book she wrote about the struggle between the fear that she would stop to mourn her past life, which would mean that she would “have come to terms with my deeply changed body” and the fear that she would not stop to grieve, a sign that she refused to move on and perhaps didn’t want to live.
“To move on, I have to actively forget who I was,” she concluded. “I am no longer what I used to be – and yet I no longer think about it. All of us who continue to live are not what we were, we will, always will. “