#AbleismIs (Fuck Ableism)


What’s the best way to maintain inequality? Never name the fire that fuels it. The best way to hog power and control? Keep people in the dark about the ways they’re being mistreated; be it by individuals or institutions. Tell them it’s their fault. Redefine their reality. Tell them they’re losing they’re mind, that they did this to themselves, over and over until they take it for truth.

I’ve been asked to define ableism multiple times in the last few months. Each time, my stomach clenches with fear and retreat, as many different instances unfold themselves in my mind’s eye. I can’t. I think, almost instinctually. Putting the complexities of my daily life into tangible, understandable terms of oppression feels all-too-intense.

As intense as unacknowledged oppressions are, silence is worse. Silence is harmful. Silence manifests more ableism. I’m done with silence, and below is some of the ableism I experience. Add your experiences with ableism, so we can paint a fuller picture together, and hopefully dispel the power held by silence and ambiguity.

#AbleismIs a contradiction, a trap, that constantly invalidates people with disabilities and then tells them to get over their disabilities, be different, erase parts of themselves, look more ‘normal’

#AbleismIs the belief that disabilities are an excuse, born out of laziness or incompetency.

#Ableism says that disabled people are liars and/or criminals. Its baseline asserts that we could work but don’t, and if we are able to work, are scamming government funds and resources if we still have physical or monetary needs. #burdenofproof.

#Ableism locks disabled people up in institutions, presently, in many countries around the world. In Canada, the last known(abusive) institution was shut down in 2009.

#AbleismIs the assumption that everyone wants to be able-bodied,

#AbleismIs the belief that disabled people are less-than.

Systemically, #AbleismIs the structural oppression that legitimizes our poverty, unemployment, isolation, and general lack of well being. #Ableism justifies these inequalities by calling us inefficient, undeserving.

#Ableism glorifies our helpers as saints, while ignoring our names and stories.

#AbleismIs the reason why so many men still ask me if I can have sex.

#AbleismIs the reason those same men ask, “but how?”

#Ableism is this online dating text:

Screenshot 2015-11-10 16.54.55

Right. Because POF is where you find people to climb Mount Everest with.

#Ableism (internalized) tells me that I should not have other friends in wheelchairs, or with disabilities of any kind. It says that I’ve worked so hard to overcome my disability (eye roll), and thus shouldn’t have to associate with other PwDs.

#Ableism (internalized) whispers that I’m too good to date other PwD, because that’s all society expects of me and I better ‘do better’.

#Ableism (internalized) makes me a snob, isolates me from my own community.

#Ableism (internalized) makes me uncomfortable with disclosing my disability to those I’ll never see face-to-face, for fear they’ll start questioning my competency/legitimacy as a person, once discovering that I’m disabled.

#Ableism expects me to talk louder.

#Ableism wants me to learn in a standardized way.

#Ableism makes no time for mental health/sick days.

#AbleismIs the reason I didn’t know what ableism was until I was 24.

And maybe worst of all, #AbleismIs what’s made me think all these negatives are simply, “the cards I’ve been dealt.”

#AbleismIs never going to acknowledge that I was born with less spoons than ablebodied people, and #Ableism will never note that that does not make me less-than, but in fact gives me a greater filter against bullshit and time-wasting.

#AbleismIs the reason the rate of suicide for disabled people is estimated to be much higher than those of the “average” population.

#AbleismIs the reason those suicide stats are so well-hidden.

#AbleismIs the pity-smile from the passerbys at the grocery store.

#AbleismIs hiding my learning differences, because my physical differences are already too much to handle.

#Ableism causes closeted-living.

#Ableism teaches us that ablebodied people’s time is of more value than ours, that their lives matter more than ours, and that we should be grateful we are alive.

#AbleismIs ignoring or invalidating invisible disabilities.

#AbleismIs refusing to believe in the legitimacy of our disabilities.

#Ableism is, “You have brain damage? Well, you seem really smart.”

#AbleismIs the “R-word,” because when you use that word, you dissociate from the humanity of people with intellectual disabilities.

#Ableism says that I don’t understand how my body works.

#Ableism says my body is broken/deformed/tragic/something to gawk over.

#AbleismIs why I felt ugly as soon as I hit puberty.

#AbleismIs why I eventually decided “Fuck that, I’m pretty.”

#Ableism assumes that institutions know my priorities, and what’s best for me.

#AbleismIs responsible for the medicalization and dehumanization of my body.

#Ableism still regularly tells me I’m stupid, not good enough, and should just take what I can get out of life.

#Ableism hurts.

That’s all I have right now. My goal is to make a comprehensive list depicting what ableism looks like for all sorts of people, so contribute if you feel comfortable. Tell me, what does ableism mean to you?

Additions to #AbleismIs From Other PwD:

Jennifer Clayton says: “Ableism is…doctors telling me to find another doctor because they don’t treat people with “multiple problems.”

Ableism treats me like a dumb child, and is surprised I’ve had any accomplishments.

Ableism thinks I should be cured by now, or dead.

Ableism thinks I should apologize.

Ableism can suck it!”

Andrew Morrison-Gurza says: “#ableismis CP Warriors. Why are we fighting our disabilities and not embracing them? “
Point of reference:
Andrew also says: “‪#‎AbleismIS‬: Not knowing how to take things slow or create boundaries, because as PwD, we are rarely given the opportunity to experience consistency.”                                                                                                                                                                               Anne Killpack says: “#ableismis feeling like I have to be polite about not getting basic civil rights others get.

 #ableismis when a sign says dogs are welcome at the cafe that doesn’t let wheelchairs in.”

 Katie Calahan says: “[#ableismis ] When someone aggressively “insists” on “helping” me after I’ve politely refused their un-needed assistance several times! [#ableismis ]When my disabled friends tell me about the things they “can never have.” [Can-never-haves include],  “I’ll never get married” “I’ll never have a family” “I want to (career goal), but I’ll never be able to do that.”                                                                                                                                                                      
Odat Dbd says,: “[#ableismis ]the assumption that just because I don’t “look sick” I must be faking it. Naw man. I’m faking being well.”
Frank says:[#ableismis ] We are disabled not due to lack of our willpower, but, because society refuses to enable us. How can I compete fairly in a job market where 90% of the buildings where I COULD work, are not physically accessible to me?
Cheryl Green says: #AbleismIs the teacher complaining to me that it’s not fair I didn’t tell her I had a disability before enrolling in her class.
#AbleismIs The teachers telling me and the one other disabled student the accommodations they made for us without asking which ones we wanted or needed. And getting defensive when we told them the accommodations they chose for us felt unfair and awkward.
#AbleismIs asking me to wait for the whole rest of the class to get applause at the presentation, and then I can join them at the end.
#AbleismIs My mom reassuring me, “Well, at least you still have your intelligence” and not being able to explain what that meant when I asked her.
Send me your examples of ableism, at williamskristen519@ymail.com. Let me know if you’d like to remain anonymous.
                                                                                                                                                Recently, a group of black women with disabilities released a blog post called, “Black Women on Wheels: 6 Things You Need to Know,” The piece flies flat in the face of ableism, discusses the weight and shape of disability, and how it interacts with race and overall identity. It’s worth checking out if your looking for a little empowerment in light of all this ableism.

Here’s The Ableism We Disguise as Empowerment


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.

On Falling in Love With (Other) Wheelies

Ableism prescribes that wheelies marry each other, because that’s all we deserve—which simultaneously implies that we are both less than ablebodied people, and socially confined by our disabled circumstance.


Then of course, there’s the issue of what to do when love between wheelies actually happens, which it does sometimes, because love is stupid and has no consideration for sticking-it-to-the-man or physical barriers.The intricacies of wheelie love and sex are rarely discussed–society has a hard enough time acknowledging it happens between a person with a disability and an ablebodied person, nevermind between two people with disabilities. Today, I’d like to go off on a million tangents about why it’s worth it to consider dating a wheelie if you are one, and to stop calling wheelie relationships ‘cute’ if you’re a walkie..

  1. The Hows of it All–Disabled sex doesn’t look like this: 

Family Guy is largely defined by its willingness to make fun of everyone equally, disabled people included. Here, Stephen Hawking is caught in the coils of coitus with his (fictional) severely disabled partner, and it’s hilarious (though questionable, on-par with Family Guy’s satirical trademark).

What makes this clip funny is that it’s two parts ridiculous and one part relatable. By relatable, I mean, many people have seen a wheelie couple and wondered how their sex life works, the same way that I wonder how frothy milk comes out of my coffee machine every morning—I know it happens, but the hows remain a mystery.

I remember first hearing the question  “How do you ‘do it’ if you’re both disabled?” In a friend’s car, as a group of us headed to the movies. The (ablebodieded) guy asking was a friend of my friend, and he had been stealing sideways glances at me since meeting me a couple hours before. We got along well, he had a bluntness that blended with me, and I found his genuineness refreshing.

His bluntness didn’t disappoint when he worked up the gull to ask the how-tos of my sex life with my known disabled boyfriend at the time. I laughed and sighed, “It’s hard. We can’t do things the normal way.” I then moved away from the topic, but his curiosity was not lost on me, and I realized wheelie-wheelie sex is just another thing a lot of people are confused about, but, (usually) too afraid to ask.

How it’s done ain’t really your business. But I know people are gonna wonder anyway, so in hopes of dodging ignorance, I will say this: Sex for people with for two people with physical disabilities is roughly as different as your last two lays were. No situation replicates itself in the bedroom, disability or not. Disabled people are really underrepresented in media, and porn, and life, so we do often have to get creative and resourceful when it comes to fucking each other. Sex toys with titles like “The E-Z Rider”  are apparently making a name for themselves when it comes to sexual partners that have disabilities (I don’t really know why, I’d definitely fall off that quicker than Raggity Ann. I’d think more wheelie-friendly generic helpers like this wedge make more sense).

Just as people adapt to winter by buying long johns and complaining more, people with disabilities adapt to sex through figuring out their limitations, differences and similarities, as while as their sexual interests. Sex is like a fun puzzle, provided the communication is good and both parties are eager.

  1. The learning that can occur is irreplacable. When it comes to relationships and physicality, I think PwD have a lot to teach and give to each other. The first guy I every really cared about is in a wheelchair. Without exposing too much about him, I’ll say that he has a relatively severe acquired disability. When I first knew him, I tried hard to ignore that I was really super attracted to him, because I felt I was too damn good for all his wheelieness. This meant that I regularly avoided him, and when we got stuck in the same area in some student space, I started to shake, and ramble and laugh at nothing, so naturally he asked me to dinner. And naturally I coughed and laughed and mumbled “yes,”  before jetting, to go breathe into a bag.

Eventually I relaxed a bit, and the more time I spent with him, the more I learned. I watched how he did things—the way he worked around his physical limits, the way he advocated for himself, the way he negotiated so many aspects of his life. I saw how he worked around certain people’s ignorance and always cared about his best interest, even if it meant having long discussions with superiors and finding alternative solutions. I learned that he didn’t think himself lesser-than, ever, and it gave me hope.

I also saw how he looked at me, as if I was pretty for real. I never saw him look at me with confusion or disdain, or like he was hiding a moment of discomfort about my body. Once, I can remember standing up to grab something, and he looked at me with a cheerful smirk, “You’re lucky you can do that, you know,” he laughed. In that moment I felt so much gratitude, for both him and my body. It was the first time anyone had ever told me my ability-level was a blessing (besides my mother, Hi mom, hope you’re not reading this!).

As with all relationships, every dynamic is different, and while there are many great things disabled people can learn from each other, prejudice and oppression is also somewhat contagious. The happy examples to which I’ve referred were able to occur because this guy had worked on a lot of his disability baggage by the time I knew him. It’s my dreamy hope that PwD allow for the possibilities of friendship and intimacy with other PwD, without being frightened by ableist norms and society’s condescension toward wheelie couples. If the dynamic is healthy on a basic level, it’s worth the risk.

Lastly, all my current closest friends are also wheelchair users, and there’s nothing cute about it. We bad mouth each other every other word, and our ‘I love yous’ all sound closer to “You’re such a piece if garbage, but I hate life without you.” Their general distaste for my frequent need to talk about my feelings was the original fuel for this blog, in its entirety. They are the worst.

Hug a wheelie ❤

Ableism and Its Gray Area

Here’s a skimming of one of my struggles with the concept of ableism. I guess this would qualify as a moderate viewpoint, though a more social-justice type stance can be found here. Maybe just go read that, it’s kinder.

Ableism has long struggled to pull its weight (ha) as an “ism,” being under-acknowledged and under-discussed, despite all its social-justice potential. In fact, the term is so young that many people still don’t know what it actually means—I’d never even heard the term til I was 24, and I’ve had a disability since always. Webster’s defines it rather simply:

“Discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.”

Outside the pages of a dictionary, ableism is so much more than discrimination or prejudice against PwD. It is layered, it is sneaky, it is accidental and disguised. It’s intentional and (supposedly) justified. And there are many reasons why it keeps showing up, one of which I’ll ramble about for a few paragraphs below.

We Suck at Defining Ableism

Sure, ableism has made its way to the dictionary presently, but it wasn’t even recognized as a concept until 1981 (Link is American). You can imagine then, that people in high places, as well as all your everyday joes, are pretty fuzzy about what constitutes ableism. In a sentence, the grayish uncertainty around the topic is generally something like: “Is this prejudice against disabled people, or is it just recognizing a reality?”

Examples of this confusion include:

  1. Places of employment, every time they wonder if hiring a disabled person is actually a good idea, when an ablebodied person can do it without the physical inconveniences that come with disability.

Is this ableist, or is this business? Accommodations are expensive. Often, living with a disability is expensive, and yet disabled people are generally poor (in assets, anyway. The government might give you a pretty sweet life if you fit their requirements and throw your ambitions to be a real person down the toilet).

  1. Doctors, when they scratch their heads over “quality of life,” questioning whether or not to amputate a person’s sickly leg.

Is it ableist that the doctor’s not totally down with chopping off a leg? After all, that’s implying that living with a disability is negative, isn’t it?

  1. Helpings someone with a disability do something faster. Because disability often means that your body doesn’t do time restraints. An activity that takes 5 minutes one day can take 15 the next, depending on many factors (think: stress level, pain level, awkward angles, tiredness, illness.) The same activity can take half a second when a non-disabled person swoops in and abilities all over the place. Is it ableist to do something for or with a disabled person, in the interest of time-management? In doing so, the disabled person (probably) receives the message that their method is slow/inadequate.

The uncertainty I’m describing occurs because disability is not strictly seen as a social construct. It’s my personal belief that our failure to paint disability as something that is socially make believe, holds us back in social progression. To me, the first step in moving beyond prejudice of any kind is to throw that stereotype/myth on its face and stomp on it, the way women did when they defied the belief that all they’re good for is baby-making.  Women went and got jobs, excelled at them, and hence made it (slowly) into the workforce. And now, the idea that women only exist to reproduce is widely accepted as a social construct, even if it’s still (sadly) enforced more subtlety.

The same first step cannot be taken for disability, much of it is not socially constructed (fight me on this, as I know much of disability ‘discourse’ is garbage, but disability as inherently negative is difficult to disagree with, on a basic level). Employers tell us that we’re costly, and we know in our hearts that we are. Doctors fight for optimal health of their patient, and we agree that full ability is easier. People help us on the regular, and we know that we need it. Disability and its associated negative views are not made-up, they are sometimes based in truth.

Some Bit About How Oppression Works and Continues

I blame Darwin and Survival of the Fittest (and our begotten culture) for a chunk of our social issues, including disability. This concept was/is used as foundation to justify many different oppressions, and many nodded our heads solemnly, saying “If [the oppressed person] deserved to live/thrive/succeed, they would’ve figured their way out of the adversity.” On the flip-side of the same coin, we collectively decided that those that couldn’t “rise above”” their disadvantage, were not deserving to do so. In this way, the measure is both the culprit and the judge of the person’s oppressed circumstance.

Consciously or not, it’s with Darwin’s theory in mind that we often view disability. If people with disabilities were meant to be active members of society, they would be. They’d work with what they have to make the best of their situations. And the most deserving of them would go the furthest (I guess I’m just describing Social Darwinism?). I could take this deeper and talk about our methods of measuring success, but nah, we’re getting off track, kids.

Conclusion/ Plea for New Ideas

I’d love to be wrong about all of this. I want ableism to be a complete fabrication, or for the evaporation of “Disabled but [insert positive trait here]” narratives around disabled existence. I want for ableism to be thrown in the trash, but doing so might also be throwing away reality. Suggestions are welcome.

How Do We Stop Silencing Each Other? (Manliness and Disability 2)

*I wrote this post, which unintentionally became about guys and disabilities again. It’s problematic that I, as a female, write about this topic . But it’s really tough to get any of my guy friends to write about this, and I think someone should talk about it, already. So here we are.*

There’s a rather trendy, semi-controversial article being tossed around the internet right now, called, “Ladies, Please Stop Doing This on Instagram,about women showing their bare backs on the website. The piece is written by some guy who is a writer and claims his authority on the matter because he has a teeenaged daughter. He smugly asks women to stop posting bare-backed photos to the image-based social media website, as their self-esteem should be on the inside, not in the ‘likes’ button underneath their “revealing” pictures. (Ooooh, so that’s where my self-esteem is. Thanks, Mister.)

Earlier tonight, my friend and I Skyped. He has a disability, and we talk about social issues a lot. Okay, always. He shared his screen with me, said, “This is an interesting article,” and coincidentally pulled up “Ladies, Please Stop.” He smirked, baiting me to react, just a little.

I laughed, “Oh. Yeah, I commented on this article.”

“Of course you did.”

He searched my username and came across my comment. I warned him, “You won’t like what I wrote, it’s pretty feminist.” My almost-automatic disclaimer for anything I’ve said online, since like 2011.

He read my comment aloud, implementing his opinion [bolded] as he went:

“ Kdub155 •

Let’s let women [and men] do what they want, and refrain from judgement, unless it’s hurting others. Women [and men] are already told enough about what they should and shouldn’t be doing, this is simply an unimportant add-on. Ladies [Aaaand men], go on doing what you like with your bodies, as they’re yours alone.”

As you can see, he was stuck on the fact that my comment only addressed women, and shoved “and men” where I had chosen to be gender-specific. Many a feminist might feel saddened (or angered) by my friend’s addition to the comment, arguing something like, “Most things are already about men. Need we include them in every single conversation we have about women’s bodies, too??” This, in my opinion, is a completely valid and justifiable argument. Women still experience oppression on varying levels, and as such, should be able to have women-centred discussions, “healing” spaces, and otherwise purposely-segregated areas. I see women-only places as serving a need, part of that being a providing a place of safety, of understanding, of community.

While I recognize the need for issues of this nature to have some exclusivity, I feel two-fold about the affect this may have. I wish it were possible to speak candidly about one situationally-specific struggle (gender), while acknowledging and including another (disability). My Skype friend, with his insistent blue eyes and assertions that, “Guys struggle too,” creates personal conflict for me. Masculinity can be devastatingly harmful, especially for those who don’t fit able-bodied norms. Just ask a guy how “manly” he feels after he needs help eating, or going to the bathroom, or some girl calls him “cayyute” (because he’s not a real human, right? He’s a teddy bear?)

Ways Men with Disabilities Incorporate Masculinity

Manliness grasps at ablebodiedness like a squirrel to a peanut, and for guys with disabilities, this can feel overwhelming to navigate (I assume). In fact, I bet guys in any circumstance can recall a time when masculine norms have bugged or oppressed, them, if they thought long enough. The few studies which have been done on males with disabilities (unfortunately, dominated by paraplegics and quads—or people with unspecified physical impairments) show that men tend to ‘deal’ with physical disability by using any combination of three R-terms:

Reliance, reformulation, and rejection. (From: Men and Masculinities: The Dilemma of Disabled Masculinity)

These terms embody coping mechanisms and personal narratives that men with disabilities employ when thinking of themselves in relation to their environments. Different disabilities tend to breed appreciation for different narratives. The article showed that people with paraplegia (waist-down paralysis) may be more apt to rely on masculine norms, as that fits their circumstance. Think: Rick Hansen… who also reformulates masculinity and ablebodiedness, in his unabashed “Super Crip” genre (full of overcoming, triumph, and defying odds).

^^Just cuz.

Specifically, the article depicts each R-method as such:

”[…]some disabled men continue to rely on hegemonic masculine ideals for their sense of self, some reformulate these ideals in line with their limitations, and others reject hegemonic masculinity, formulating instead an alternate masculinity for themselves. […Men] who relied on dominant conceptions of masculinity were more likely to internalize feelings of inadequacy and seek to overcompensate for them, perceiving the problem to be in themselves rather than the social structure. This reliance model of disabled masculinity was found to perpetuate the gender order. Men who reformulated masculine ideals, although distancing themselves from hegemonic masculinity, did not present a challenge to the gender order because they still perceived their dilemma as an individual project. According to Gerschick and Miller, rejection offered the most hope for change which they linked to a socio- political model of disability. These researchers cautioned, however, that none of their participants wholly fit into one of these response types. “ (Disabled Masculinity, 2012, Italics and bolding added).

This chunk of info has a wealth of implications and extrapolations that generate many questions, but right now, I’d like to point out that the men in this small sample find different ways of adapting their body image in accordance with their disability. They use differing levels of reliance, reformulation and rejection to define their circumstance to themselves and others. Masculinity is accepted, rejected and remade to changing extents, as a way of readjusting worldview. This study acknowledges the inherent contrast between masculinity and disability just by way of existing. It speaks, however briefly, to the difficulty had when the two circumstances collide.The article is also a tip-of-the-hat to human adaptability.

**Side note: Later, “resilience” was tacked onto this study, which I found interesting, because resilience was the only relevant “R” word I could think of before reading the study (As in, men see themselves as resilient, and their disability as somewhat of a battle-scar, to put it in oversimplified terms).**

Studies of this nature are few and far between, and little over 20 years old at most. My heart breaks over this knowledge, though I’m not even a bit surprised. I see the issue of masculinity in the context of disability as super important yet under-discussed, partially because disability in general is under-discussed, and partially because of the divisive aspect of empowerment.

And this is the head  of my conflict on this issue: How do we, as a society, exist inclusively without the inherent exclusivity in over-defining our situations? Even some disability-specific narratives, like “super-crip” empower some while shutting others, with more severe or degenerative disabilities, down. How do we say, “Hey disabled girl, I see your struggle, do you see mine?” without feeling like we are playing Oppression Olympics? How do we claim our situations without stealing from another’s circumstance. How do we empower without overstepping?

As humans, we can remember only 5-7 items at any time, without overload, or forgetting the middle items. I think this emphasizes our need to have a system that combats our natural ‘forgetfulness’ around issues that don’t directly affect us. A system that acknowledges at the least, and empowers at best, without silencing others.

Is this an impossibility?

**For those interested, the full academic article Disability and Masculinities can be found online, with a search and a little bit of effort. The article goes through a solid history of prominent writings on men with disabilities (which is petty puny, comparatively speaking). It also discusses the issues with failing to specify the disabilities of participants in some studies, and other limitations found by researchers. Google it!**

Not Adding Up: Manliness and Disability

Disability and manliness are like two old lovers who’ve had a horrible falling out and can no longer bare to be in the same room together. Though they actually share a lot of the same struggles, their goals are so starkly different that they wouldn’t dare try to reconnect, nevermind look each other in the face. And out of respect for the way things are, everyone abides by this, with manliness on one side of the room and disability off crying in a hopefully-wheelchair-accessible bathroom somewhere.

It’s sad really, they could totally chum-it-up if they both acknowledged their common elephant in the room: vulnerability. Vulnerability has been by both of their sides for as long as either can remember, in fact, I’m pretty sure she’s the mutual friend who introduced them.

But anyways, I super digress. Today, I’d like to talk about the way manliness and disability don’t jive (you know, beyond the obvious “disability doesn’t play nice with anyone” stuff) , a comparative example showing the disconnect, and then a shot in the dark at how to unite the two.

Manliness: The Norm of Norms

Way back a little bit after dinosaurs, being manly was the only acceptable plight of being. This dates back to Aristotle (and probably before him), who said that women have “improper form” and are “monstrosities.” A woman named Nancy Tuana has renamed this the view “Misbegotten Men,” which clearly indicates that men were seen as the ultimate normative standard.

Add time and a population pregnant with– well– women, and this standard evolves into bland old gender stereotypes with men at the centre and women being all hysterical and such. As a society that commonly defines ourselves by our affinity for dichotomies, we see men as natural and women as unnatural. Ideas of stoicism and strength are quickly elevated and idealized.

Oops, Disability

If throwbacks to early histories tell us that manliness was the only way to go, you can only imagine the type of stuff being said about disability. More than just a deviation, disability was/still is considered an anti norm, a spectacle, often “exhibited as freaks,”(Integrating Feminist Theory, 7). Exploited for what I call points of difference from ablebodied norms, disability was the opposite of anything anyone wanted to see, outside a circus setting. It’s the furthest away from our standards of manliness and beauty as you can get, a direct reminder of human flaws, a stiff shot of non-conformity.


The thing that unites disability and manliess is that they’re both unachievable essentializations; one is a desired standard and the other a fascinating performance. They exist in the realm of human categorization, of measurability, and both do an adequate job of denying human’s humanity. Moving up to present-day, I have two examples of vulnerability, one portraying men, and the other people with disabilities. Both photo collections, the first depicts ablebodied men in their gitchies, in a space where they feel comfortable, baring their unaltered bodies for the viewers. It’s poignant, and by way of exposing vulnerability, very de-sexualized (since norms tell us manliness and vulnerability cannot coincide). The second photo grouping, which shows disabled people also in their underwear, aims to bring up sexuality in the realm of disability.

It’s interesting that two photo essays with almost exactly the same requirements(near-nudity in home spaces to demonstrate realness) can have completely different narratives propelling them. Taking pictures of ablebodied men in their homes, whilst stripped-down is exposure, vulnerability, while capturing disabled people at home in their nickers is apparently sexing them up. This distinction is reinforced by the comments below each post, with the article featuring ablebodied men inciting intelligent, discussion- driven comments like:

I was intrigued with the notion of getting away from violent imagery to portray masculinity, but as I scrolled through the photos what struck me was that — with the exception of the man holding the flower — they all look melancholic. Is that the message — take away aggression from men and they look like they lost their best friend? A man without aggression can be giddy, lively, loving and funny, too.


I’m off to the gym.

The article conveying disabled people “stripped” on the other hand, provoked uncomfortable reactions like:


“What did I just see…?”

“We really don’t need to see naked pictures of anyone,”Quite silly, being that none of the people portrayed in these photos are full-frontals, and shadows and angling are used very appropriately.

And, my personal favourite:


Since an article often speaks through its comments, this tells me that either the readers of Daily Mail UK are their own breed of trolls, or that they have simply internalized a chunk of discomfort around disability and sexuality that they haven’t yet gotten around to shaking off. Naturally, I submitted a hefty comment on re-evaluating societal standards of acceptable sexuality, but it was moderated, and the post was then closed to commenters. There’s 3 minutes of life I’ll never get back.

Maybe commenters of the able-bodied photo essay were just more open-minded than your average Joe on Daily Mail, but even so, I think this speaks volumes about what we’re open to discussing—male concepts of vulnerability and its implications—and what wer’e not—sexuality of persons with disabilities. This is fascinating, because it seems that both articles have similar end-games, in that they want to change norms around sexuality, and yet they are received with starkly different reactions by readers.

I don’t have concrete answers for the gap we face with acceptance of vulnerability, in the contexts of manliness or disability, but I like to think reminding others of their commonalities (deviation from the norm, disapproval from the mainstream, unachievable standards of performance), we can move towards more positivity on both fronts. Because divided we fall,or whatever.

Wheelie Wannabies & The Basics of Body Integrity Identity Disorder

In high-school, I had this really confusing dream that I was pregnant. Somewhat strangely, the dream didn’t focus on who the father was or how I would raise the kid, but rather the fact that I was (miraculously) pregnant, and the fact that I now walked. I woke up sweating, going over the images in my mind. In the dream, I looked down at my belly: I was wearing a green shirt, had a lovely baby belly, and was standing in the sand. I felt wonderful and free, but everyone in the dream kept asking me: “How did this happen?”. The reoccurring question got louder and more frequent, and I became anxious, not knowing whether the question referred to my walking or the thing growing inside of me.

It was the first dream that I remember (vividly) where walking was acknowledged as being different from my everyday reality. Up until then, I walked in all my dreams, without the underlying feeling that it was suspicious or wrong. It’s how I saw myself, and it made sense.

It’s in the inverse way that I’ve come to understand Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), a label describing when people have a desire to be physically disabled, when in reality they are not. In the interest of better understanding all kinds of people, and putting aside misconstrued beliefs about people with BIID, I invite you to read on.

What is BIID?

BIID is a disorder in which people (most commonly) want to have amputation or paralysis, usually of their lower limbs. It most often manifests as a desire to amputate the lower left leg below the knee.Its frequency is largely unknown, as a lot of people with BIID are ashamed or even baffled by by their desires(and the stigma attached), and the disorder is rarely studied.

Why Does BIID Happen?

Within the small pool of lit that exists on BIID, it’s sometimes called a mental illness, though majority of research suggests that it is a “body mapping” disorder. The body mapping theory claims  that the part of the brain that “maps out” body movement (specifically the right Parietal Lobe) is likely malfunctioning in someone with BIID. For example, in this sensationalized videoclip, the BIID person undergoes a brain scan which shows no evidence of the effected limb existing on his brain-map. As a result of this disconnect, people with BIID often feel like their unwanted body parts are foreign objects, alien to themselves and their identity.

Take a moment and envision what this must be like. To look down, and see a body part that doesn’t connect with who you are. The closest (and probably most pathetic) link I can make for us non-BIIDs is that feeling of chilling-fear you get when your hand has fallen into a numb pins-and-needles sleep and it feels so dead that for a minute you can’t move it. It just lays there, useless, and your only thought is “it’s like this isn’t even my hand.”…

Someone who identifies as having BIID was willing to chat with me, and agreed with a link I drew between Phantom Limb Syndrome and BIID. PLS is a much more commonly understood syndrome, in which people physically mourn the loss of limbs. I stayed in a hospital with a bunch of post-op amputees when I was 19, and almost all of them would complain about pain in their legs and feet–the legs and feet which had been taken from them, for whatever reason. The two syndromes are comparable in that they both display symptoms which do not allign with reality; one feels the pain of a limb lost, while the other grieves its existence.

If for no other reason, I believe BIID should be discussed simply because of how emotionally taxing it is on those it effects, as well as their friends and family.I have read post upon post of people discussing the emotional toll this incongruency takes on them, and have heard stories of people self-mutilating/amputating, freezing (as is seen in the above clip) and even shooting themselves in the foot to make their body match their perception.And this isn’t the half of it–there are medical costs and soiled relationships and accessibility issues to contend with, on top of having to prove the legitimacy of your desires to everyone you know. It’s high time we stopped challenging BIID suffers and started listening.

The Social Side of BIID:

When I first started asking questions about BIID, I wondered if there was a link between helplessness, or wanting to be babied, or a desire to be dependent on others. What I found was a pretty hard, “No.” People with this circumstance do not generally crave the social atmosphere that inevitably accompanies disability–many admit that this is one of the most difficult things to deal with, when thinking about becoming disabled. But it isn’t about envying how disabled people are treated. It’s usually not about wanting the wheelchair. It’s about ridding oneself of parts they feel don’t belong.

My main hope is that everyone can stop being afraid of what we don’t understand. Frankly, there’s nothing to fear–If the manual for your body doesn’t tell you that you have lower extremities, it’s only logical that you want them gone, just as it’s logical for me and my fully functioning body map to want the able bodiedness I see as normal. BIID has nothing to do with disability, and everything to do with matching one’s body with the way they see themselves.

As always, there is more to discuss here, like the terminology used to describe people with BIID, the links (some exist, but not always, and not formally) between BIID and Devoteeism, and the general ethical issues which further stigmatize many with BIID–but I’m out of space. Next time, perhaps.