Every person has at least one story to tell from dealing with the past year. Sky Cubacub has several—including one of resilience.

Cubacub—who describes themself as a nonbinary queer and disabled Filipinx human from Chicago—has been named a 2018 Chicagoan of the Year by the Chicago Tribune; is a 2019/2020 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow and a Ford Foundation Disability Futures Fellow; and is a former Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree. 

Cubacub is founder of Rebirth Garments, which focuses on “gender non-conforming wearables and accessories centering non-binary, trans, disabled and mad queers of all sizes and ages,” per the company’s website. Rebirth centers the concept of “radical visibility.”

And just what is radical visibility? “The clothing line is as much about activism and education as it is about making cute, sexy, and functional clothing that’s actually fun to wear,” Cubacub says. “Radical visibility is about people with marginalized identities taking up space and refusing to be ignored. They refuse to have to assimilate to heteronormative standards.”

Rebirth, like practically every other business, had to undergo transformations this past year. “At the beginning of the pandemic, I thought I’d have to close Rebirth, but I received the Disability Futures Fellowship and grants from the Ford Foundation, Andrew Mellon Foundation, and the United States Artists.” 

Credit: Courtesy Sky Cubacub

“So I was able to switch gears with my company and offer face masks—and I have been focused on making face masks that have clear windows, which make it easier for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to understand others. Being able to read lips makes it easier for them and also for autistic folks, people to understand others with diseases like cancer, or even people who might be scared by not getting to see people smile. Also, my masks have up to 11 different attachment styles, such as velcro or magnets—options that make things easier for those with disabilities.”

Visibility has also been a factor this past year, Cubacub says, especially with their clients and friends. “There have been two sides to it,” they say. “There are more accessible events since everybody is staying home, which is cool. But it’s also showing us how these events could’ve been accessible before, but people didn’t really care when disabled folks asked for [accessibility]. 

“In a way, it’s like a smack in the face—and shows how little disabled people are valued. . . . People who are disabled or immunocompromised may not have as many people in their care networks to help them.”

“Also, people who need personal assistants face difficulties as well; they can’t fully quarantine as much as other folks because they have to have people helping them—although a lot of helpers have been reluctant [to assist] because of COVID.”

Cubacub also spoke of how those who are financially disabled can be invisible/isolated: “Even though people can go to more events than in the past, you can only do that if you have access to a computer with really good Internet. So [this situation] shows the wealth gap even more. And unsheltered people have been having it very tough.”

And Cubacub themself has been through a lot. “My main disorder has been my stomach [ailment], and nobody has still figured out the cause,” they say. “I also have anxiety, depression, and PTSD—more on the emotional/psychological end of disabilities. I have seen that folks who have emotional and psychological disabilities have harder times reaching out to people, like therapists.

“I had to do an intensive outpatient program during the fall because I was feeling so bad, but it wasn’t that great. I had to call, like, 35 intensive programs before I found the right one. I am experienced at having to call and reach out while I’m emotionally distressed—but it would’ve been impossible for [many others]. Thirty-five places? That’s so absurd. It seems like no doctors know anything about Medicaid. Luckily, things have calmed down in my brain a little bit more and, fortunately, I’ve found a little more community support.” 

And their difficulties have also involved Rebirth. As of early March, Cubacub was selling their work through Etsy, but says that working with the e-commerce website has been problematic: “[The site] seems to be queer-phobic [with others Cubacub knows also allegedly having trouble], and it shadow-bans folks. (Shadow-banning involves blocking or partially blocking a user or their content from an online community—usually so that it will not be readily apparent to the user that he/she/they have been banned.) Plus, because my name is Cubacub—and it has “Cuba” in it—they keep flagging me. They claimed I was selling stuff from Cuba, even though that’s allowed.” (When reached for comment, Etsy pointed the Reader toward the company’s anti-discrimination policy, which prohibits bias against people based on personal attributes such as race, color, ethnicitiy, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability, among others.)

And with all the turmoil they have been through, Cubacub says they’ve learned how important self-care is: “I’ve actually had mono for 15 months as well, so I’ve learned that my own health is very important. I tend to ignore my own health, so I’ve gotten better at paying attention to [myself]. If you get COVID with mono, it’s threefold worse than [mono alone], so I can’t risk anything.”  v

This coverage is made possible by support from the Chicago Foundation for Women.