Here’s The Ableism We Disguise as Empowerment

stichhappy

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.

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

shrug

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.

Please Stop Talking About That #Qdoba Restaurant

You’ve seen it; the viral video that shows a Qdoba restaurant fast food employee helping a PwD eat their meal.In case you live in a blissful world where people don’t have social media, here it is:

This video has been trending on-and-off on Twitter and Facebook since this afternoon, and it’s annoying, because the rhetoric around it is all wrong.

Qdoba

News reporters and common folk alike are calling this happening an “act of kindness” and the uploader of the video said the instance was proof “that there are still good people out there.”

I will be that person, to state that this is a very well-accepted form of exploitation of PwD. Many ablebodies are watching the video with butterflies in their stomachs, wiping stray tears from their eyes, as their hearts grow three sizes.

Stop the madness. Wipe your tear. Think about the facts:

– A disabled woman needed to eat.

-This woman made an order at a restaurant.

– She then asked for help eating.

– The guy decided he could assist her, put on gloves, and she ate.

That’s it. Sorry to bore you. Nothing to see here.

As I’ve been the girl to both need help and give others help with eating, I can tell you that it’s nothing to fuss over. As someone who can usually eat without assistance, I can tell you that it sucks when circumstance demands that I need help with it. You know what makes it worse? MAKING A BIG DEAL ABOUT IT, at the expense of my dignity.

Please stop reiterating our over-glorification of human kindness, at the expense of others. It’s  oppressive to those needing help.

Goodnight.

Stage 5 Wheelie

wheeliedog

Cute wheelie dog attaching to cute human=cute overload.

Gals, I want to talk in-depth about an issue that is under-discussed in the disability ‘community’: Attachment. Attachment describes the way people connect with others, in terms of speed, intensity, and patterns of behavior, once the connection is made or lost. It has been my experience that many PwD tend to attach quickly, and somewhat insecurely, to others. Having said that, wheelies are diverse, so not every PwD has an issue bonding securely with people, and if you feel offended or excluded by this assertion, scrap this window and write me an angry letter on the dangers of discussing truths within stereotypes. Or try watching that new show Broad City, it’s quirky and conveys everything friendships lack these days .

I don’t really know how walkies attach, I’ve never been one, and I’m sure many ablebodies attach in different ways (Google attachment styles if you feel like driving yourself nuts with self-diagnosis) . What I’d like to explore are the ways in which wheelies have a tendency to form intense and potentially unhealthy friendships, and the possible reasons behind this dilemma. Cringe at my generalization, but as someone who has had attachment troubles since childhood, and a person who has many friends with disabilities who have similar issues, I believe disability and insecure attachment are at least somewhat correlated.

In case my vague personal examples aren’t enough proof that a wheelie attachment issue exists, Ottawa has a social agency and a few day programs dedicated to the social lives of people with disabilities. These agencies tend to take the stance that PwD are in need of socialization and cannot find social networks without assistance because of stigma and lack of knowledge about their disability. While stigma plays a large role, I think this issue is much more complex than this, hence why I’d like to discuss over-attachment for PwD here…

The Roots: A bit of control

Being a PwD means many things for many people, but most of us play with notions of control; Loss of it, realigning with it (over and over), finding new ways to navigate it. When your body doesn’t do what you ask of it, you must negotiate with your reality. A common way of doing this is to take things while you can get them, in abundance, because who the fuck knows when you’ll get them again. My friend Andrew does this with beverages. He needs assistance when knockin’ ‘em back, so when he does, it’s as though he hasn’t had water in a week. It’s a similar experience with food, like every bite might be his last, and therefore must be the biggest, dirtiest, most unmannered bite ever (Sorry, Drew). Since he can’t consume most food or drink without help, every ounce of help is optimized My feeling is that this ravishing of resources extends beyond Andrew, and food and drink. It contributes to how PwD see our assignments, jobs, friendships, relationships. Anything that has risk of loss associated with it is fair game to be clung to, because who knows when opportunity will show its face again.

Another aspect of control that’s a component of clingdom is physical dependence on others. Boundaries are hard to maintain, when your personal well being relies fully on other humans. This means, again, taking personal care while you can get it, working around the schedules of others regularly, and accepting limitations of available assistance. This negotiation is constant, and gives many PwD the ingrained (somewhat true)idea that much of their existence is dependent, and secondary, to the lives of the ablebodied people that help them. Lack of boundaries and a missing sense of control is a major player in the self esteem of many people with disabilities, as our lives, our bodies, and our choices, often don’t feel like our own.

All this to say, when a person who we enjoy gives us the illusion of control—over anything from movie choices to sexual positions—we are all balls in. We may hmm and haw for the sake of societal norms, but Jay-sus, we are happy with you in that moment.

How This Attachment Unfolds

In the context of friendships and sexships, unhealthy attachment in wheelie life usually sounds something like:

: “If you take the time to get close, to give me some control, you should stay, because not a lot of people get close tom me, much less give me control.” As sadsack as this may be, it’s undeniably true in my experience (oh boy…), and I believe it plays a part in the way some wheelies connect full-throttle with peers, sometimes at the expense of their dignity and best interest.

Bare with me, but making new friends is tough when you have a bunch of metal under you butt. People are confused by you. They don’t know whether to stare, or avert their eyes, often they even have trouble knowing where to stand when talking to you, if they can even bring themselves to do so.

I’ve written about the issue of ablebodied awks 3,067 times, but I bring it up again because it contributes to the wheelie cling-on tendency. Think about it, when a large majority of people with whom you interact feel uncomfortable around you, the ones who aren’t become disproportionately important, by default. When a solid chunck of the people I see are asking me about my limitations, or looking away avoidantly, or smiling ear-to-ear in disability-related condolences, the ones who act normal around me become shining stars way too quickly. I breath a sigh of relief that I’ve found one less person I have to comfort over my disability. I feel thankful for this non-ignorant person, they have solidified my nagging suspicions that I am not an alien after all. And suddenly this person means more than I ever wanted them to.

Missed Attachments/Breakups/ThingsWherePplHateYouAfter

Other people, specifically ablebodied people, often just seem to bounce back from missed attachments, wrecked friendships and sour relationships. They’re all “Cha! Tally ho,” and they move on briskly, vodka flask in-pocket and guns ablazin’. New relationships will take awhile, but they’ll come in due time, rarely are others blatantly afraid to be in their presence. Does that seem overgeneralized? You’re right, attachments are a struggle for ablies too. Here, as contrast, I made a chart of disability-specific attachment manifestations:

Pretty colours

Whatever guys, computers are hard (Sorry).

As you can (not really) see, it  isn’t so simple for myself and some other people with disabilities. Since our rate of acceptance from others is drastically low, breakups of any kind also seem to take monumental tolls. Example (This is my way, I’m not sure it resonates with other wheelies whatsoever): I dread the end of acceptance so much that I often sabotage everything, because being alone is so much easier than my needy brand of connection. I don’t want to put anyone through that, so I blow everything up, and try to make them think it was their idea (And hey, sometimes it is). Because fear, like wheelies, stigma, and lonliness, is also a clingy, gut-wrenching bitch.

Solutions? Eeeeek. I’ve gone to so many people for solutions, on a personal level. My last counsellor said, “Kristen, what if you’re just a lone wolf?” Hmm. If I was a lone wolf– if many wheelies were just lone wolves,–would we try so damn hard to form connections that validate us, in whatever capacity we allow? Are the solutions for this individual? Systemic? I’m not a fan of imposing blame on oppressed groups, but because I struggle with the wheelie attachment issue, it seems I have done just that, here.

Where do we start in addressing this?

Wheelies Coming Home for the Holidays

This blog deals with wheelie issues, but uh, pretty sure everybody’s got something to say about the holidays. Here’s my say on stuff you notice as a wheelie going home for winter solstice, the stuff that differs from the day-to-day. This post assumes that said wheelie has the means and opportunity to move out, and as such, has the choice to visit family during designated times, though not everyone (wheelie or not) has this option.

1. It’s Back to Screaming. When you’ve had the opportunity to live on your own for awhile, you forget what it is to scream for your parent’s help, until you’re back with ‘em. When you’re not visiting the parental units, mumbling swear words to yourself and making mental notes about how to do life more efficiently becomes custom ; If you fall over, or drop a plate, or fall over again, you assess your options and then call for help on the phone if need be. When visiting the fam, there’s no helpline,things are less wheelie-friendly, and you go back to the good old days of yelling for the assistance of your trusted family members.

It goes something like this:

“Mom. I have to go pee.”

“Ok, honey.”

Mom walks upstairs, does laundry, goes pee herself, forgets you exist.

“Mom. Come back? Mom!”

Here’s a very accurate portrayal of the common occurrence of yelling for help, which I feel describes a large chunk of my early life:

^^BUDDY THE ELF.

2.You’re Overly Sensitive to the Head-pats of Relatives After entering ‘The Real World’ and realizing that wheeie condescension is a real, documented thing,(you weren’t just imaging it, all these years), your relative’s abundances of affection can feel a little off putting. Your grandma goes in for the kill, arms wide and ready to embrace for two minutes too long, and you have to remember that she’s your grandma, being a grandma, and not a douchebag who thinks it’s cool to hug you for no reason.

3. Dressing is Optional When you lived at home it was very GET-DRESSED-FOR-SCHOOL-BEFORE-PARENTS-HAVE-TO-LEAVE-FOR-WORK,-OR-GO-TO-SCHOOL-NAKED. Now that home is a vacation destination, everyone is much more relaxed about whether or not you wear presentable clothes at 3:00 on a Tuesday.

let-it-go

4. The Fucking Wheelie Chair on The Airplane. Have you seen the mechanism they use to transport wheelies from wheelchair to flight seat? Here:

aisle-chair-2

Armrests are for wimps.

I’m an adult who goes through life using a child-sized wheelchair, and that damn transport seat is too small for my butt. Seriously, I can feel my future bum cellulite folding over the sides. Thanks gravity.

5. Weird, Awkward Transfers. In wheelie life, transfers happen when a wheelie moves out of their wheelchair (gasp! Stop, you’re scaring me.) and onto another spot, or vice-verse. I like to think of it as standing to sit again (it’s incentive). From chair to sofa, sofa to chair, chair to toilet, chair to bed, you get the idea.

When you’re 17 and used to the set-up of your parents house/ apartment, you find creative ways to do these transfers, assuming your house wasn’t built with your disability in mind. When you’re twentysomething and you return to the same spot (or a similar one), the transfers you once figured with ease now seem mind-boggling. Like, How the fuck did I do this everyday. Oh, aging, you’re such an undermining sneak.

6. Aging Parents Speaking of aging, dear ma and pa are doing the slow crawl towards death, noticeably more-so every year. This means that any assistance they give during your visit becomes a bit more of a struggle and you realize with a start that everyone has an expiry date. Eventually, this will lead you to think of other “care options” like getting a boyfriend who loves you a lot or hiring a friend. But for now it’s just a simple reminder that nothing is permanent, or to be taken for granted.

Add-ons welcome, eerbody’s different.