Here’s The Ableism We Disguise as Empowerment

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In social justice circles, the phrase, “Take your power” is thrown around like a hot potato, encouraging people who have historically faced oppression to “speak up,” and “take their space.” Most of time, these sayings are meant to allow people ownership of space/time/rights that have been previously taken from them. While born of good intent, a closer look depicts a whole whack of ableism/problematic implications. Here’s why:

  1. It suggest that we’ve been denying our own agency & ability this whole time.Telling someone to take their power implies, oh-so-subtley, that we’ve been neglecting what’s been right in front of us all along. It implies that something about us needs to change, which goes against ideologies behind most social change movements.

It also assumes that power-taking is an option for everyone, which simply isn’t true. People who have experienced life times of trauma or abuse may not know how to take their power–or, might have no interest in doing so, as it is not how they have learned to navigate their lives. We need to allow room for these realities in all SJ movements.

2. It wrecks collectivity. As a kid, I had trouble speaking at an audible level.This meant that I just whispered everything, and most people never caught a damn word. I also didn’t use a wheelchair at school at first, so I frog-hopped everywhere. Combine the two circumstances and you’ll know what Kristen Age 4 was doing with her life: Crawling around Kindergarten class, whispering to kids, and hoping that someone would hear her. Soon enough, the other kids got tired of bending over to  listen, and everyone just started crawling, some whispering with me. No one thought anything of it, until one day we saw my mom standing in the door way of the classroom with what she called “happy-tears” in her eyes. Apparently something special had happened, and it made her cry.

That’s what collectivity looks like. It doesn’t necessarily mean shouting commands from the rooftops. It doesn’t mean taking space, or power. It means adapting, so that a person can be however they want.

Another thing: my whispering gave my excellent hearing, and my dad called me “Big-Little Ears,” for a little while. That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t get to live in a much quieter world for a few years.

3. It re-triggers. You get why, yeah? It seems absurd sometimes to ask someone who has been dominated or oppressed to take power. In doing so, you’ve become yet another person telling them what to do and how to do it.  Especially in the realm of people with disabilities ( both physical and invisible), who have often gone through life feeling different, not good enough, not normal, and maybe out of control of their own circumstance. These feelings of difference and loss of control can very frequently be related to experiences of violence as well, so the very last thing they probably want to hear is how to act or behave in a more acceptable way.

4. It re-enforces dominance. And by proxy, that we take dominance as the most acceptable form of taking control, negating and excluding all the other ways to do so…..

Angry wheelie out.

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Faces of Self Care

As someone who is both a supporter of women and a very sensitive human being, self care is essential in maintaining my well-being. Self care is the actions and initiatives people take to treat themselves well. It seems simple enough, but is too often complicated in application. Many times, people think self-care is the same as self-pampering, and sometimes, people (myself included) confuse self-care coping with coping that is actually self-harming (which is a nuanced issue–and debatably, certain actions can be both harming and caring, in that they are both methods of coping.)

Below are some methods of self-care, the big ones you would expect, and the little ones that get me through the day sometimes. If you are someone who self-cares, feel free to add that which gives you strength.

  1. Pulling my hair of my face. Because I like my face,
  2. Waking up earlier than I need to. Because then I’ve already done something right, even if it is only 4:30.
  3. Making myself do something I hate to do, that I have to do, so that I can be proud of myself yet again, even if it is only 4:45.
  4.  “You’re doing good enough, in that you’re doing it.”
  5. Not procrastinating. Hahahaha, yeah right.
  6. Procrastinating.
  7. Netflix, see 5, 6.
  8. Recognizing what I’ve succeeded at today. #thisblog
  9. Telling someone who deserves it to go fuck themselves.
  10. Trusting my gut.
  11. Only doing what I want to be doing. Selfish self care.
  12. Believing my perceptions, and allowing myself to feel my own feelings.
  13. Forgiving my own ongoing anxiety. Remembering that everything is one breath at a time.
  14. Remembering that my passions are great, but somehow, simultaneously, nothing fucking matters. Think about it. It’s the unbearable, beautiful lightness of being. You can’t change a damn thing. So relieving and suffocating all at once.
  15. Thinking of those who have treated me with respect, and allowing space to feel grateful for them.

I wasn’t specific to disability, cuz it didn’t show up for me today. No no, it’s still here, just, not in this post.Having said that, I am immensely jealous of people that can bath whenever they want. You self-care gods, you.

Sex Party Stoppers (Reasons Why PwD Might Opt Out of The No Pants Dance)

On a perfect planet, everyone would stop ogling the PwD-friendly sex party and just come already. But things (and people) are hardly ever that easy, and perhaps talking about the reasons that people are unable or unlikely to attend is just as important as the event itself.  Below are a few reasons why PwD might not show up at our gig.

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  1. Vulnerability. Let’s just get the obvious out of the way.Differing levels of nudity can be awkward, because feelings of being exposed and seeing others exposed can be awkward, and make someone feel vulnerable or generally uncomfortable.
  2. Because Good Help is Hard to Find. “Sure, I’d love to help you go a sex party and get naked and possibly have sex with a person you met 10 minutes ago!” is not a sentence commonly uttered by caregivers, friends, or parents (who sometimes double as caregivers). This is a huuuge barrier in PwD being able to attend the party. Not only do us disabled people have to be comfortable with our own vulnerability, but we often have to find an attendant who is also comfortable, open-minded and willing to help. A situational diamond in the rough.
  3. Because Sex Can Be Hard Our culture puts so much emphasis on spontaneity, it hurts. Movies  and porn glorify sex that it so passionate and quick it almost looks entirely accidental (which is in itself, problematic..).   And for many and most of us, disabled or not, sex ain’t like that–but it doesn’t mean we don’t hold the spontaneity standard close to our hearts.

The spontaneity standard can hit some PwD pretty hard–as it often just isn’t possible with the amount of figuring that goes into great sex; and the planning that goes into our lives, generally. Andrew and I term this sex planning “sex-storyboarding,” and as much as I hate it, communicating what works and doesn’t sexually (and expressing that before, during and after sex) is the surest way to a positive sexual experience. Unfortunately, sex-storyboarding requires a lot of pre-requisites, including patience (on the part of both parties), self-awareness of likes/dislikes, position preferences, and ability to communicate these specifics. In short: Sex can be hard.

Add to that the fact that disabled people have been treated as asexual for centuries, and you have a group of people that have not yet been given the chance to explore or understand their sexual fantasies and the like. Due to lack of opportunity, they may not be aware of their sexual desires, or have indeed internalized that they are asexual, PwD may not be able to storyboard their sex, making sex even harder.

5. Because Money Sucks. The big one. A high percentage of PwD live under the poverty line, many on fixed incomes, and even those of us who are privileged enough to work often struggle to make ends meet. There are so many factors that contribute the the systemic oppression that keeps almost all disableds that aren’t Christopher Reeves (RIP) or Stephen Hawking,  broke–I’m not even sure where to start.  Ableism that keeps  us unemployed (“You just wouldn’t get the job done as efficiently in this busy environment…”). Ableism that treats us like thieves for needing help when we can’t work. Ableism that asks us to “prove” we struggle to work and “prove” that we’re disabled–even if our disability is permanent. Ableism that only hires those that drive/ bike/ run.

Lack of finances means so much–maybe it makes us unable to hire attendants. Or travel. Or pay cover. It’s just another sex-party stopper.

6. Lack of Personal Agency Y’know that ableism we just glazed over? It can kill your insides over time. This means that as a PwD, you might often feel out-of-control of your own life, as it can so often be dictated by those more able than, and the systems that govern them (think: medical system, housing system, personal care system). In terms of sex party attendance, this might result in PwD not even realizing or believing that they can actually attend.

In terms of practicality, if you’re a person with a disability that’s been institutionalized at some point (as many of us have), then you might not even be aware of your own ability to access resources (such as attendant care, accessible transit), and you might be limited in the area of personal agency. I was 21 before I learned how the Ottawa buses worked, people. Twenty-fucking-one.

Point is, ableism is such a strong force, that some PwD understandably think that they can’t access certain resources or venues, like a sex party. Because before now, they really truly couldn’t.

7. Safety Sometimes we internalize that we’re vulnerable, because everyone tells us we are. Sometimes we truly are vulnerable. Whether grounded in truth or stereotype, the belief that a sex party puts our safety at risk (even though the party will have safety proctors to prevent anything unwanted…) safety will likely be a factor that keeps many PwD away.

Please, add things I may have missed, my perspective is limited.

My hope is that this play party will be one of many, that this will in fact become more normalized, so that at the very least, people can move on to sensationalizing something else–and disabled people can have access to sex parties, no questions asked.

More Reasons to Have A Sex Party Including PwD

T minus 9 days til the the world ends–er uh, disabled people have a sex party. Never in my twenty some-odd years have I seen so much negativity around sex as I have when it pertains to PwD–and this party (and the coverage around it) is proof of that.

Due to all this shitty, sensationalist, off-the-mark coverage, I’ve written reasons why this party needs to happen. Because we need to take a step back and remember the facts.

Fact 1: Disabled People Are Either Hypersexualized or Infantalized. 

That’s it–as a PwD, you have no other option.People are either fascinated by the fact that you’re having sex, and hypersexualize you into oblivion as a result, or they can’t deal with your sexuality and the humanity that might demand recognition along with it. The coverage of the 2012 paralympics is a sad example of this oversexualization, discussing ideas such as small-stature as a reason for extreme horniness–  as if they are concrete, scientific and somehow acceptable.

The trouble here is that hypersexualization is dehumanizing. It makes PwD into a spectacle. Do I have to spell out why? When we fuck at the paralympics, you best believe its not because we’re hypersexual, or that we’ve lost our minds, or because of the testosterone “whizzing around in [our] bodies,” (what the actual fuck?!)…It’s because we’re human and fucking is more fun than sports.Fuck sports.

On the flip side, you’ve got the infantalization problem.I’ve blogged about this to infinity and back, so I’ll simply say this: I’m 27, and some people are still genuinely shocked to find out I’ve had sex. It breaks too many people’s brains to hear that I’m not only no longer virginly, but that I also enjoy sex (as many humans do…). People just can’t compute that a child like me would indulge in such atrocities.

So much lit has been writ on the infantalization epidemic, Google it if you want more than my personal struggles.

The fact that these two extremes are the only picks for PwD lend to the difficulty we have with seeing disabled people as people. The tendencies to objectify and/or ignore our sexuality has left us (PwD) excluded from proper sex parties, dance parties, high-school proms. We not only need this. Our humanity deserves this.

Fact 2: Exclusion is Real and Really Shitty.

I didn’t go to my high-school prom because it was inaccessible. I only went to one house party in all my 4 years. I am a prime person to pre-drink with, mostly because main events are almost never at accessible venues.

These circumstances would be a lot easier to swallow if they were infrequent. But inaccessibility is an everyday occurrence. This will be the first party to try and counter the commonplace inaccess to parties, party places, and sex and dating spaces.

Fact 3: We Deserve The Chance to Get Rejected

Someone asked me recently if I thought this party might be damaging to disabled people. They mentioned that it might efuck-yes-meme-generator-fuck-yesexacerbate current oppression and rejections, as the nature of social interactions (and sex) is competitive.My response to this was: “The worst thing we can do is protect disabled people from these sorts of things. Disabled people are people, and part of personhood is being hurt.” We have a right to the shitty side of human interaction, because we have a right to social interaction, period. Enter, sex party.

Fact 4: Comparatively, Our Sex Lives Suck

“Sexpert” and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Danielle Sheypuk tells us that PwD have much less sex than our ablie counterparts, even though able bodies report a low sexual satisfaction rate. She then states that even though she [a person with a disability] “is a catch, her Match.com guy is much more likely to date,” and find sexual partners.

Statistically, all signs point to sad when it comes to the sexual frequencies of PwD. We don’t get enough of it, not nearly enough, because most of the population is hesitant to even meet us for coffee. If you don’t believe me, watch Danielle’s talk in the link above.

It’s our time to change the stats. Our time to change the dehumanization. Our time to rock the boat a little. And ladies and folk, we need a sex party to help us do that.

We Need to Talk About Fear

Actually, I need to be doing so many other things, but the topic of fear has been laid on my heart like a brick.

Fear as it pertains to disability is somewhat of a given. It’s fear of the unknown, It’s also fear of letting go of long-held and abided-by beliefs and stereotypes. It’s all-encompassing and ever-denied by many ablebodied people. And I want to talk about why it’s so damn prevalent.

My experience with people that fear me (and they exist by the truck load) generally shows up in one of 2 shitty ways:

1. The person straight up says, “Your disability scares/confuses me.” Other versions: “I’ve never had a friend in a chair before,” “I don’t think I can be what you need.”

2. The person says I’m awesome, that they won’t treat me differently, or pity me, or whatever, and then treat me differently anyhow.

These are umbrella generalizations of the way fear is communicated to me, but they’re good starting points. Both are awful to hear, in any form, and both speak to a much bigger problem:

An inability to ask questions.

As a society, we’ve started to put on big “accept-everyone-as-they-are” uniforms, These uniforms are one-size-fits-all and comfy as all get out. They’r less constrictive, and represent a common agreement among many of us to be less judgemental. But when it comes to disability issues, these suits fail us. They fit all wrong, taking in and letting-out in all the wrong places.

I can’t keep up with my own weird metaphor, but what I want to say is this–We need to do the leg work before we become accepting of disability. (ahahah, leg work. Disability. #ableistlarry expressions). How can we possibly accept without knowing exactly what it is we are accepting?

I recognize that it’s not for others to judge us, and that asking too many questions, or the wrong questions, exposes an entitlement on the part of the asker. But I think that our overall frowning on said questions has made way for deceit and confusing behaviour when people feel afraid of disability.

This means that day-by-day, people say stranger and stranger shit, to cover the things they cannot ask and mask the guilt they feel around being unable to accept parts of disability. “I don’t think I can be what you need,” (which is both presumptuous and sets a harsh boundary), is born of an inability to explore, perhaps a lack of want-to-know. The question, if it were able to be stated without fear might look many different ways, like:

– How the fuck do you get through life?

– So, like, do I have to help you with a lot, or?

-How severe is your disability?

As much as I roll my eyes at disability questions (can’t I just forget about it for like, one day?) I’d take this over the alternative. Because disability is not an abstract concept. It isn’t socially constructed as race is. There is a very real, pretty poignant difference here, and just as I deserve to be treated as a person, you deserve to know what being friends with me might mean.

Now that it’s finished, I’m not sure I agree with this post. Thoughts?

Wheelie Dating Struggles: The Case of the Casuals

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The struggle is still happening. Here’s what’s come up recently.

Casual dating is virtually impossible. And that sucks. Because I live in a world where nothing is casual–people come to help me at pre-booked times, and many aspects of personal care are discussed as though the world might fall off its tilt, even if it’s just about not having paper towels or something. A lot of what I can and cannot do revolves around the care I’m able (or unable) to access. This makes a lot of my life feel whatever the opposite of casual is–intense?

Anyway, I’ve tried to dilute intensity for both myself and others by taking a dog’s age to get to know sexual partners. My figuring is that if I know them well-ish, I can feel safe(r) and eventually explain just how disabled I truly fucking am, without watching them walk away. But therein lies the horrible truth: Nothing about vulnerability is casual. 

It’s a shitty conundrum, really, because I’m dying to have consistent casual sex, if only to say that I can. Also getting laid consistency is really…nice. So all my intensities take a back seat and I pretend to be more [able], [independent], [closer to “average” in whatever way I can fake]. I don’t tell them that I need help showering. I don’t mention that I attach to others quicker than you can say cool whip. And I definitely don’t let them know that  I can’t do a five-day work week because 3 days of work completely drains me.

I think  I’ve gotten better at communicating  that “Friends with Benefits” is an appropriate label for whatever type of relationship I’m gunning for, even though the process by which I do this seems anything but casual or friendship-y. This title allows me the freedom to fuck, without the burden of another’s judgement. In other words, I can escape your ableism, I don’t have to pretend like our lives our similar, because you won’t ask me about my day. I don’t have to watch you realize how different me and my circumstances really are–and then reject me on that basis. I don’t have to watch you take an interest in me because of my difference, and then lose that interest when you realize there’s nothing to see here. All this is curbed by never exposing myself in the first place.

Except, in my experience, sex doesn’t work like that. Not my sex anyway. I all-but have a check-list  of things I need from a sex friend– attractive, kind and the world’s best communicator, laughs at my jokes, the usual. Because to me, this person can’t just be a hot bod. They also have to be someone that can handle physical vulnerability in a partner. And if you are one of those people, well, that sucks, because I’m going to want more than casual from you. I’m going to want to be your friend and buy you things and making Christmas stockings with the names of our to-be kids on them and shit. Because you’re a fucking unicorn.

And here I am, back at square one, wondering how I can have my cake and eat it too.

Rachel Dolezal Take-Aways

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Let’s be blunt: The Rachel Dolezal situation confused almost everyone.Questions around privilege, deceit, trans-race, and victimization began popping up everywhere, and many queries still go unanswered. Though the conversations around Rachel’s “true” identity and motives are far from over, I have a few take-aways:

1. Trans identities go beyond gender. Duh, right? Some people are born feeling like they’re in the wrong bodies when it comes to gender. Some feel like they should be disabled, but have been born with full physical abilities. Some people simply identify more strongly with something that doesn’t align with their reality. In the words of Laverne Cox’s character from OITNB “Me and reality haven’t really gotten along.” And…So? In the words of my little sister, “Kids should be able to feel however they want to feel.”

2. The outcry against Rachel Dolezal is mostly due to her deceit. Maybe it’s still unrealized, but people seem to be more upset about the fact that Rachel lied about her heritage than the fact that she identifies as black. “Passing” as black is seen as manipulative.

3. In a more trans-comfy society, maybe such deceits wouldn’t happen. On the whole, we’re still not OK with people who claim to deal with oppressions because of their trans identities. Those of us that are born into a certain minority feel a sort of possession over the issues we face, and sometimes feel like those who identify with– but were not born into the marginalized group to which we belong– are stomping all over our sweat and tears and stealing our resources/culture.

It is this sense of ownership that might add to someone’s motive to lie about their roots. If we were more accepting of how people identify, and less focused on the burden of proof  and possession of our own spaces, maybe things like being trans-racial wouldn’t show up as these big, bomb-shell surprises. Possession and ownership in the right doses can empower, but in the wrong doses–those that ask for legitimacy and proof–can exclude.

4. Oppression Olympics happen, especially in activism. Sometimes, layers of oppression can serve as currency in social justice circles, giving us clout–and many times, rightfully so. The more oppressions you deal with, the more people you can relate to, and the deeper the understanding you can bring to your work. The downside to this is that sometimes people start to compete for their “right to fight in the fight,” and lose sight of the collective goal.

Short from being in Dolezal’s head, we can’t really say whether or not Rachel purposely used her ability to pass as black to gain power within her field of work, or if she wanted to be black so badly that she didn’t dare admit to being born white–or both. Maybe in a few days they’ll be an explanation, but regardless, I think we need to at least talk about the ways in which oppression olympics contribute to issues like Rachel’s.

5. Rachel’s lies are not “the norm” for women. Articles have been showing up about the extent of Dolezal’s lies. This makes me heed a warning to the internet: Rachel’s story is not typical.

Some news stories are framing her situation as another case of a woman who lied and exaggerated (re: victimization) for personal gain, and I’ve seen many comments that enforce the distrust of women, based on Rachel’s deceit. What I’m saying is, our society has a general distrust of women, a default to see them as dishonest and cunning and batshit crazy. I caution against this–especially against using Rachel’s story as backing for this belief. Rachel lied, probably a lot, as she claimed to be black for (at least?) 6 yrs straight–but her lying does not prove or enforce anything about the truthiness of women generally. Be mindful of that trope when you’re guilty-pleasure reading more details on her case later.