Monthly Archives: June 2010

(My) Crush of the Week: Zach Anner

I’m a bit late out of the gate on this one because I actually read about Zach last week, but didn’t have time to write about him until this week. For those who don’t breathlessly follow US pop culture, Zach Anner is a man with cerebral palsy who is participating in a competition sponsored by Oprah to find ‘the next TV star.’ Controversy was sparked when accusations about rigging the vote started flying and he started getting a lot of attention online as a result.

I admit that I tuned out of a lot of the controversy about the vote, mainly because as soon as I read the words ‘wheelchair bound‘ in a headline, my eyes start glazing over and I long to take the reporter, sit ou down in a chair, and ask that ou take the time to read a primer on disability terminology before writing about disability. By the time I have shaken off my irritation, I have completely forgotten whatever it was I was reading.

Zach’s concept for a show is pretty awesome. He wants to start a travel show for people with disabilities. There are a lot of websites for exchanging information about travel, but I really love the idea of having a TV show, for several reasons. One, of course, is that I would love to see a disabled television personality. Nondisabled people would undoubtedly watch the show and would have some of their myths and preconceptions about disability busted, while also learning some things along the way, like, say, that wheelchair users are not actually completely helpless and in need of constant pity. And, of course, a travel show specifically targeting the disability demographic would, I would hope, be packed with fascinating and relevant and helpful information and travel tips.

Here’s what I love about Zach: He has a great sense of humour and a splendid presence. He’s wry about disability while also making pointed comments, like saying that a site is ‘fully accessible if you don’t mind being carried up it.’ He absolutely refuses to allow himself to be boxed into the disability-as-tragedy narrative. He’s busting myths and challenging narratives about disability and what people can and can’t do. He’s body positive.

He can be a bit of a dudebro sometimes, which is not really my thing, but in a way, that’s what is so deliciously subversive about him. He’s young, white, and male, the target demographic for dudebrodom, but he’s also disabled. Wheelchair users are expected to be either passive or angry, but they certainly aren’t expected to be sexual, and Zach turns that particular narrative on its head. That’s right, folks! Wheelchair users too can aspire to dudebrodom! This is a man who talks about wanting to hang glide naked in Paris. I’ve got to respect that.

Zach is up against a lot of misconceptions and social attitudes, a lot of which manifest in comment threads and articles across the Internet. He’s referred to as ‘cerebral palsy guy’ as though he doesn’t have, you know, a name,  and people seem bound and determined to reduce him to his disability, and to make a point of stressing how ‘inspiring’ and ‘special’ he is, with more conversation about Zach’s body than about his show concept: ‘How do you masturbate,’ a Reddit user asks him. ‘That is an excellent question, and I think that you could probably Wikipedia that, I’m not really the expert.’ Touche, Zach. Touche.

I’d like to see him win the Oprah contest because I think his concept is fantastically awesome and vitally needed, because he’s pretty damn funny, and because he’s actively deconstructing social attitudes about disability and what it’s like to be a wheelchair user, to have cerebral palsy, to identify as disabled.

So, Zach, I’m a fan. But I also have a request for you: Could you caption your YouTube videos?

Creative Work: AXIS Dance Company

On Saturday, abby jean, Annaham, and I went to see AXIS Dance Company, an integrated dance company based in the Bay Area, perform at the Yerba Buena Arts Festival in San Francisco. After some misadventures (namely us climbing way too many stairs because we went to the wrong place first), we managed to find the performance and settle down to watch.

The regular company was supplemented by other dancers, for a group of what looked like around 35 people performing a piece specifically choreographed for the Yerba Buena Gardens space. It’s an interesting space because there are all sorts of ramps and levels and things, and these were all integrated into the piece. One of the dancers told me after the performance that one of the things that made the space challenging was the concrete, which was really uneven. Visually, though, the space was really stunning, with a pouring waterfall as a backdrop for the dancers and the ability to perform on different levels, having dancers both on the main stage area and on the balconies above.

Occasionally passersby would meander through the piece, some looking deeply confused. The whole dance had a very organic, flowing feel, and I loved watching all of these individuals and bodies moving in all kinds of interesting and different ways.

The dancers at Yerba Buena. They are caught in the act of waving their arms in various directions, some bending over and twisting their bodies.

I am not a modern dance critic, or particularly well versed in dance in general. Usually I look at things and go ‘oooh that’s nice’ or ‘hrm.’ I really loved the AXIS piece, though. I felt like it really played to the strengths of the dancers as individuals, highlighting them as human beings rather than presenting them as an amorphous mass of interchangeable people, which is sometimes how I feel with highly regimented choreography where everyone moves in precisely the same way. The piece had character and it sparked some thoughts in me about interconnectivity, interdependence, and community.

There was an element of play to the piece, with dancers and bystanders alike darting about in the space, and at the end of the piece, everyone locomoted to the far end of the performance area and flopped over, which I rather loved. Hey, dancing is hard work! Dancers were also waving and interacting with the audience, which was a bit of a departure from audience environments I am used to where you are expected to sit quietly and watch, not moving or expressing anything until the piece is over.

The dancers flopped over in a pile on the far left of the stage.

AXIS is about to go on tour, and if you happen to be in or around Bates, Maine; Seattle, Washington; or Lincoln, Nebraska, I would highly recommend seeing one of their performances. They return to the Bay Area in November and I suspect I’ll be going again. I think I may be on the verge of becoming an integrated dance groupie.

The dancers in a row at the curtain call.

It was also, if I may gush for a moment, supercool to get an opportunity to meet some of the dancers afterwards and talk with them about their work and their projects. I live in a pretty isolated area, and being able to bask in the Bay Area disability community for a day was really wonderful; the performance and the conversations I had afterwards sparked some reevaluations and thoughts about how I want to structure my own life and work.

Recommended Reading, June 30

A stick figure of a girl dressed in a superhero costume, captioned 'ANXIETY GIRL! able to jump to the first conclusion in a single bound!' The girl is thinking 'oh, god ... these tights are too tight. i think i'm gonna die!!'
A stick figure of a girl dressed in a superhero costume, captioned 'ANXIETY GIRL! able to jump to the first conclusion in a single bound!' The girl is thinking 'oh, god ... these tights are too tight. i think i'm gonna die!!'

Anxiety Girl, by Natalie Dee. Seen at Learning Log.

Danger Room blog at Wired – [US] Military’s Mental Health Treatment Leader Stepping Down

The director of the military’s top center for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries is resigning, after ongoing criticism of the facility’s inability to cope with the thousands of troops suffering from the “signature wounds” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton announced the decision to staffers at the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) on Monday, ProPublica is reporting. The center is at the crux of the military’s massive efforts in bolstering both psychological and brain injury-related diagnostics, treatment, prevention and research. Sutton was instrumental in creating the DCoE in 2007, and has held the top job ever since. The timing of her departure, which has yet to be publicly announced, is another indication of the armed forces’ messy, mismanaged mental health program.

restructr! – Keanu Reeves Is More Awesome Than You Think

Paul also told me that Keanu once explained to him why he was getting so many action roles. He had injured himself at some point and had fused vertebrae in his upper back or neck, so when he turned his head, his shoulders and chest tended to follow, because of his limited flexibility. “It makes me look dynamic, rather than disabled” was his explanation.

The Tyee – Canada Short Changes Mental Health

“There is a fundamental structural problem with the Canadian health care system,” former Senator Michael Kirby told a conference on Health of the Homeless today. “Mental health and addiction represent roughly 35 per cent of the disease burden in Canada, yet these illnesses receive only about 5 per cent of the resources,” said Kirby, who now chairs the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Kirby argued that this structural problem costs Canadian taxpayers dearly, and diverts treatment from other health care.

Sunshine Coast Daily – [Australia’s Sunshine] Coast Gets Funs Shot In Arm for Mental Health

MENTAL health services on the Sunshine Coast have received a $1.5 million shot in the arm. Queensland Disability Services Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk said Queensland Health had identified the Sunshine Coast region as a priority area for mental health services. The funding will benefit two non-government organisations providing support to Coast residents recovering from mental illness.

Sydney Morning Herald – Call to Change Disability Bias of Migration Law

MICHELE NISINGIZWE breaks down when she speaks of her mother in Rwanda. The 28-year-old migrated to Australia with her sister seven years ago, fleeing genocide and rape. But the sisters, of mixed Hutu and Tutsi ethnicity, were unable to bring their mother because she had a disability. Gunshot wounds sustained in a civilian attack had maimed her legs. This week the federal government said it was overhauling migration laws that could refuse people on the grounds of a disability. Regulations caused a furore when they threatened to expel a German doctor, Bernhard Moeller, in 2008 because his son had Down syndrome. In the same year, a husband and wife working as renal nurses in Brisbane had to return to Britain because one of their four children had Down syndrome.

On Cure Evangelism

Note: This post was written primarily with nondisabled readers in mind.

Cure evangelism is a scourge which seems unlikely to vanish any time soon, so we may as well address it and have a little chat about what it is, why it is problematic, and what you, personally, can do about it. This is not just a problem which affects people with disabilities. Fat folks are often subjected to a form of cure evangelism from people who believe that fat is something which needs to be (and can be) cured, for example, and anyone who has ever experienced temporary disability or illness can probably think of a few examples of cure evangelism which they have experienced.

What is cure evangelism?

Put simply, cure evangelism involves aggressively pushing a medical treatment or approach to a medical condition or disability on someone, without that person’s consent, interest, or desire. It takes a lot of different forms; the pregnant woman who is informed that she must have a natural birth and that if she thinks positive enough, it will happen; the cancer patient who is informed that ‘this great herbal supplement’ worked really well for the evangelist’s friend; the asthma patient controlling asthma with acupuncture who is constantly told to start using inhalers; the person with mental illness who is shamed for not taking medications.

In all of these cases, the cure evangelist identifies that someone has a medical issue, the evangelist has an opinion on how to treat that medical issue, and ou feels entitled to share it. Cure evangelism comes from all kinds of people, including people who have shared that experience and people who  have not shared that experience. It all boils down to ‘there’s only one way to handle this situation, and that’s my way.’

Cure evangelism presupposes, of course, that only one treatment for something would be appropriate or necessary. It presupposes that all bodies and issues are identical, which means that experiences can easily be overlaid on each other: ‘if I have asthma, everyone must have asthma like mine.’ At its core, it is about assuming that other people’s bodies belong to us, are subject to our control, and are our business. Indeed, that we have a moral obligation to interfere with what other people do with their bodies. To save them from themselves.

Why is it problematic?

I think that the problematic nature of cure evangelism is multifaceted. There are the issues of bodily autonomy which I covered in the above paragraph, which become especially complicated for women, trans* folks, people of colour, and people with disabilities. Members of all of these groups have historically been treated like property and in some cases are still considered property. And I’m not even talking about the metaphorical sense in this particular case.

When you have been exposed to a culture which regards you as a publicly tradeable commodity, exercising control and autonomy become especially paramount. Being able to make decisions for yourself and your own body without the approval or consent of others is part of taking control of yourself and your identity. Thus, when people in these groups are informed that they must do something, it comes from a very entrenched culture of ownership. The person speaking often has privilege, and is exercising that privilege thoughtlessly. Many people claim to be well meaning, say that they just want people to be informed, but this presupposes that people are not informed on their own and that, moreover, it is only possible to reach one informed choice.

Another facet of cure evangelism is that it is, quite frankly, annoying. People present these things as though they are new and different and no one has ever brought them up before when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Every single time someone approaches me with a new act of cure evangelism, it’s always to tell me about something which I am already well aware of. In some cases, it might be something I am already doing. Or something which I did which did not work. Or something which I explored but decided was not for me.

When a cure evangelist is cornering me and telling me to do this or that, it puts me in a bad place. Rejection is taken as rude, so I can’t just get out of the conversation. I don’t really feel like discussing my body with other people, let alone how I take care of it, and I’m not really interested in saying ‘yes, I’m actually already doing that’ or discussing any aspect of my treatment plans with someone who is not part of my treatment. It’s a personal matter.

What you, personally, can do about it.

Don’t do it.

It’s that simple. If someone chooses to share the fact that ou is disabled, or sick, or temporarily injured with you, don’t evangelise. Now, if someone explicitly asks you for advice and suggestions, by all means, do so. But don’t do it in a pushy way. Make it clear that these are things you know from your own experience, but that mileage may vary.

When someone chooses to talk to you about ou treatment, listen. Don’t comment. Don’t judge. If that person is doing something which you disagree with, remember that it’s about ou body and ou choices. Imposing your values accomplishes nothing. If someone asks for your opinion, offer it. But, again, don’t be pushy about it. People are engaging in an act of faith and trust when they share that with you; don’t violate that.

If you feel that you have information which is simply critical, instead of volunteering it, say that you have information/advice and it’s available if that person is interested. If that person says no, respect that.

And when people are having conversations in their own community; as for example when people with disabilities are having an open thread about an issue which pertains to them, don’t butt in if you aren’t part of that community. Feel free to watch and take information away, but don’t add your two cents. The people in that conversation don’t want to hear about your relative/friend. They are talking about their experiences.

And, let me tell you, when a friend who shares a disability with me says ‘hey, guess what,’ I listen and pay attention, because it is offered respectfully and with love and from a place of shared experience. And sometimes I say things like ‘hey, I am thinking about changing medications, does anyone have experience with [medication]?’ and people who actually have experience talk to me, and I learn things, and it is good. These situations are not cure evangelism, though. They are about connecting in a place of shared experience and sharing mutually beneficial information.

(Originally published at this ain’t livin’)

Recommended Reading for June 29, 2010

sasha_feather at access_fandom (DW): Institutionalized Access

So for disabled people, suddenly the world is a lot harder to navigate because it is not designed for people with disabilities. It is designed for the “default” or unmarked human. This is a practical concern but it also sucks because it is discrimination. But this does not have to be so!

We can institutionalize access and incorporate universal design into our lives and events even in small ways. Language, attitudes, blogging practices, choosing accessible venues, listening to people and prioritizing access.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske (Los Angeles Times): Suicide is called 12th casualty of BP oil spill [trigger warning for discussion of suicide]

Tracy Kruse, 41, noticed that her sturdy husband had started to lose weight and was having trouble sleeping. He usually spent at least $30,000 outfitting his two boats for what he had thought would be a bountiful summer guiding his loyal clientele to the best fishing the rich gulf waters had to offer, said brother Marc Kruse, 52, who works for a corporate manufacturer in Mobile, Ala.

Two weeks ago, Kruse went to work for BP, turning his 50- and 40-foot boats, the Rookie and the Rookie II, into what the oil giant calls Vessels of Opportunity. He was never given a day off.

Judy Foreman (Los Angeles Times): Understanding restless legs syndrome

In recent years, the neurological condition has been linked to increased hypertension, stroke, erectile dysfunction, higher death rates from kidney disease, possibly Parkinson’s disease and fibromyalgia, and perhaps other problems as well. RLS affects 12 million Americans, according to a National Institutes of Health website, though some researchers think the prevalence is higher and some, lower.

Sady at Tiger Beatdown: Dirty Girls and Bad Feminists: A Few Thoughts on “I Love Dick”

I mean: This is basically how every terrible thing in the history of humanity has started, the decision that there’s an Us and a Them and the former is good and the latter is bad. Doing it in the name of lofty principles doesn’t mean you’re not doing it; it just means that when the problems — the self-falsification, the repression, the insistence on ideological purity rather than self-examination or originality or thought — creep up on you, you’re less likely to notice them and more likely to rationalize them. Because your aims really and truly are good.

spastigirl at dot_gimp_snark (LJ): Are You Having a Laugh? No, Not Much

It’s a shock to realise people may well look at me as an unjustified user of resources because I don’t have a physical accommodation (wheelchair, cane, crutches, service dog) to take with me everywhere. I always used to think people would assume the truth, that my disability doesn’t show much, but obviously there are beady little eyes everywhere ready to file me away as Not a Real Gimp.

Wii Fit Making Exercise More Accessible?

A black box containing a Wii Fit Plus sits on top of a white box with grey and bright green letters containing a Wii Fit Balance Board.I read recently in an issue of Family Circle Magazine (DON’T JUDGE ME!) (There was a fried chicken recipe I wanted to try out!) that “Japanese research” (could they be any more vague and list any fewer resources?) indicates that using a Wii Fit burns just as many calories as doing moderate exercise. There was no resource listed, nothing. Just a blurb stating that there was some research going on in Japan telling us that the Wii Fit was good for us. I have read on random gaming and parenting boards that there is hubbub about the Wii Fit that it is exercise vs. still being “just a video game”…

Now, I don’t really care about calories as much (or at all) as I do having access to some kind of exercise or movement that I can do without having to leave my house and trek all the way up to the base, or pay for a pricey gym membership, or exhaust my silverware drawer trying to get there, or trying to get through a class of exercise that is of a safe level for my body. Sometimes I need to move. I’ve found our Wii Fit to be small chunks of movement that I can handle when I am ready for some, and unlike a yoga class, something I can stop quickly when I am out of resources. I could go on…but you get the idea. I still prefer a good swim when I have a good day, but we all know that our bodies do not always give us what we want…

Having a Wii Fit in my house has been something useful for me, and I acknowledge that there is quite a bit of privilege there as well. There are disabilities that don’t make the amount of movement required for the Wii Fit accessible at all. It isn’t affordable for everyone (and we had the console already when the balance board was released, but the board is not required for all the games), and the games aren’t released in all countries. Even on a good day I can not always use the board safely, and sometimes my old issues with eating disorders can’t handle some of the game details that include measuring your weight and abilities to balance…

But the Wii Fit has made exercise, and moderate amounts of movement, available to some people for whom it wouldn’t otherwise have been available and accessible.

What are your thoughts, gentle readers? Have any of you used the Wii Fit and been pleased with it, as I have? What are your major complaints with the idea that it is an accessible form of exercise/movement? Love it? Hate it?

Photo Credit: Keith Williamson

Recommended Reading, June 28

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

G20 Protest Disability-Related News Stories

Image description below

Photo by Hillary Lindsay for the Toronto Media Co-Op, used under a Creative Commons License.

Emomotimi Azorbo, a Deaf man, was arrested in Toronto for stepping off the sidewalk and being unable to hear the police’s demands that he get back on the sidewalk. The police would not allow his friend, who knew Sign, to community with him, and handcuffed Azorbo, which prevented him from communicating with anyone.

According to the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Hearing Society’s Gary Malkowski said the police failure to allow an interpreter who was not an officer to assist communication violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ubyssey [University of British Columbia Student Newspaper]: Deaf man released on bail: Exclusive Photos of g20 arrest

“It was a great deal of misunderstanding from both sides,” he said. “[Azorbo] bumped into police…and the police starting yelling at them to get back, he didn’t understand. His friends were trying to tell the police that he was deaf, trying to explain the communication barrier.”

“[The police] were about to let him leave, but then he got into their faces, and then was tackled,” added Thibault. “I think he was just intimidated.”

Toronto Mobilize: Support Emomotimi!

The Spoke: Deaf Demonstrator Released on Bail [in PDF, Text only transcription]

Toronto Media Co-Op (Grassroots Media): An Accessible Movement

Disabled people were setting the pace of Friday’s anti-G20 march, says Andrew Mindscenthy.

Mindszenthy is a member of Disability Action Movement Now (DAMN), a cross-disability coalition that includes disabled people and people affected by ableism.

Globe and Mail (Mainstream Media): Deaf man arrested in G20 protest granted bail

Toronto Star (Mainstream Media): Deaf protester expected in court today

Key Quote: “Handcuffing a deaf person is like putting duct tape over a hearing person’s mouth,” he said. “It’s a violation of their human rights.”

The above links focus specifically on disability-related news stories. For grass-roots and up-to-the-minute report on the G20 protests, the Toronto Police State, the 4 a.m. arrests of social justice activists, etc:

Rabble’s Staff Blog [Independent Media]

Steve Paikin’s twitter feed [Journalist]

The Toronto Media Co-Op (part of the Dominion newsgroup) has up-to-the-minute updates [Grass-Roots Media] (Community Organizers thrown in Unmarked Police Vans en Route to Press Conference on Targeted Arrests)

Illegal Soul is bfp’s tumblr, where she is posting updates from protestors she knows in Toronto.

Sabotabby is posting updates from Toronto.

Upcoming Events

Disability News Asia: First Conference in New Zealand on Access Tourism

October 4 2010 has been set as the date for the first conference in New Zealand on Access Tourism.

The conference will look at various aspects of Access Tourism, including some of the following:

The current situation NZ and worldwide, website access and information best practice, government strategy, policy, and obligations, best practice in transport , accommodation, and attractions access, training for access in the tourism and hospitality sector, legal aspects, and quality rating for Access Tourism products in New Zealand.

Website: Access Tourism NZ 2010 Conference

Disability News Asia: 3rd International Universal Design Conference: Hamamatsu 2010

The 3rd International Conference for Universal Design in 2010 will be held in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, for 5 days from 30th of October – 3rd of November 2010.


United Kingdom: Against DWP Reforms for the genuinely sick and disabled

We believe that the constant vilification of sick and disabled claimants as work shy scroungers by the press has a great deal to do with increasing levels of harassment.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com

Once-a-week Job Search Roundup

Here’s a list of potential jobs that explicitly seek people with disabilities/disabled people, or are explicitly invited to apply, that have come across my desk this week.

Please note: I have no knowledge of these jobs, don’t endorse them, and can tell you nothing about them.

United States: Jobs for College Grads with Disabilities is a portal site for job seekers in the US.

Uganda: Handicap International is looking for a Victim Assistance Technical Advisor in Uganda (As of today it is the final job offer listed on the site):

HI is currently assisting the Ugandan authorities to prevent disability from contamination of ERW, protect most at risk groups until clearance and return is possible, and contribute to victim assistance in Western Uganda.

Based in Kampala, Uganda, with regular visits to western and northern regions, and under the supervision of the Head of Mission, the Victim Assistance (VA) Technical Advisor is responsible for supporting the Uganda Mine Action Centre (UMAC), the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MoGLSD), the Ministry of Health (MoH) and other relevant national stakeholders in the development of the below-mentioned activities.

PDF Link: There is an immediate opening for a full-time position of African Regional Officer for the Disability Rights Promotion International (D.R.P.I.) project. [Alternate Link]

The position will involve working under the direction of D.R.P.I.’s Co-Directors and in collaboration with the D.R.P.I. Project Coordinator and other researchers to:

* Coordinate a regional disability rights monitoring training including the logistics of organizing the venue; participant travel, board and lodging; printing of materials, etc.;
* Plan and supervise disability rights monitoring projects;
* Liaise with D.R.P.I. project personnel and partners;
* Seek funding opportunities for disability rights monitoring activities;
* Assist national and local organizations of people with disabilities to apply for and secure funding;
* Offer support to disability rights monitoring activities taking place in Africa;
* Develop and foster partnerships between and among disability rights and human rights organizations in Africa;
* Assist with the preparation of reports to funding bodies and international and regional human rights monitoring mechanisms;
* Raise awareness of disability rights monitoring activities taking place in Africa (by, for example, coordinating media campaigns, writing content for the D.R.P.I. website and list serv, attending and presenting at relevant meetings, etc.)
* Other tasks, as required by the Co-Directors or their designate.

If you know jobs that should be included in this round-up, please email us at admin at disabledfeminists dot com.

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood: Choosing How to Fight Your Own Demons

The cover from the book <em>The Second Summer of the Sisterhood</em> by Ann Brashares. It is lavender with darker printed names of various cities printed faintly in the background, with the title and author name in a green swirly font on the top and bottom respectively. A pair of blue jeans , rear view, takes of most of the rest of the cover, and they have random writing all over them, and an embroidered yellow and orange swirly sunshine on the left-hand pocket.Oh, Young Adult Lit you are my Bravo Foxtrot Foxtrot.

A while back I read and reviewed Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants here. I loved it, and proceeded to immediately read the sequel, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, but neglected to write anything about it. I have come to you, dearest readers, hoping for your forgiveness, and to make up for such forgetfulness. I have recently checked the third book out of the local base library and can’t possibly read it or the other books in my “To Review for FWD” stack (YES! I really have one of those!) until I rectify this situation.

If you aren’t familiar with the series and are disinclined to read my previous post, which is just fine by me (for reals) here is a quick recap (you may skip ahead here): The Traveling Pants series is about four young women, Bridget (Bee), Carmen, Tibby, and Lena, who are best friends, and who describe themselves as so close that they forget where each of themselves ends and the other begins. They grew up together having been born all within the same seventeen days, each coming from different ethnic and economic backgrounds with different household situations (although they are all fairly securely middle-class, with at least two of the families being arguably very upper-middle, and the series is squarely hetero-normative), starting with their mothers all being best friends themselves. Their mothers drifted apart after the suicide of Bee’s mother following her long depression. The girls, however, remain close right up until their first summer apart when we first meet them, and Carmen comes into possession of the eponymous Pants at a second-hand store. The Pants help them through their first summer apart, when they learn how to be together even when apart, and that the word “friends” is stronger than many people give it credit for. They learn how to be strong for each other through the life shattering events that are part of the growing, aching, and changing from childhood into young adulthood, especially as young women.

It is amazingly poignant, as it gives us stories of four young women told from four young women’s perspectives, and that is what drew me to it initially. I have many criticisms to make of the book, and I am willing to make them and discuss them openly in comments. This book is from a cis, straight, perspective. Much of it passes the Bechdel test, as in, huge chunks of it go by passing with flying colors because it is about the parts of girls’ lives that involve shit that matters to girls/young women and women as they relate to the other women in their lives, and a lot of that, funnily enough, just doesn’t always revolve around men.

(All Together Now!)

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood returns us to these same young women, getting ready to go, once again on their separate ways, except that wasn’t the plan all along. In the beginning only Tibby had plans of going away to a summer film camp, and the other three girls were going to stay behind, getting summer jobs. But suddenly, Bee, dragging along some demons from her past, and new ones from the summer before, made an impulsive plan to go to Alabama to see her Grandmother.

It is Bee’s story that strikes at me the most. Bee, who during the last book was impulsive and active and defiant, who couldn’t sit still and had to run. Bee, who suddenly came home, and quit soccer — an activity which had been a huge part of her life since she was very young — and became quiet. Bee, who died her golden hair as dark as she could get it, and withdrew from everyone but the three other girls in the book who tried to give her the space to figure out who she needed to be at this time. Even then, we see that the impulsive and super-active, full-throttle life was Bee’s way of coping with her mother’s suicide. Bee had always thrown herself forward into life in hopes that she will outrun the sadness of that death, or so it seems to me, and each of her friends sometimes describe themselves as standing back and holding their breaths as Bee makes up her mind to go after something she wants, ready to be there and catch her, or pieces of her, when she gets it. Even Bee sometimes describes herself as running away from something by the end of the first book.

But Bridget has decided that she is going to Alabama to meed the grandmother that her father never allowed her to know — her mother’s mother. This flip of narrative interested me, notably because it is usually the mothers we hear about, distancing and holding their children from knowing their fathers’ families. This interested me, because here is a young woman telling her father that she has a right to know these people, that she has an agency outside of what he decided for her. Her father disagreed with how her grandmother wanted to handle Bridget’s mother’s depression, and he blames her in part for her death, and Bridget wants to meet her and decide for herself.

But Bridget is fighting her own depression.

[Spoilers Ahoy!]

A sexual encounter at the end of the first book has left Bridget reeling. And without my getting into the dynamics of whether or not this could be considered statutory rape or consensual teenage sex, Bridget has realized that she has to find out more about Marly, her mother, and this grandmother she hasn’t seen since she her mother died, in order to face that depression, before she engages in anymore activity that she isn’t quite ready for*.

So she decides, since no one recognizes the young woman depression has made her right now anyway, she goes to Alabama to meet Greta, her grandmother, and puts on a remarkable ruse of pretending to be a young girl looking for summer work, lying to Greta, and doing daily chores for the old woman. Through the summer she rediscovers her love of soccer, loses some weight (because weight and depression and blah blah blah!) that allows her to be able to put the magical Pants on once again, energizing her with the love of her friends, and gives her the strength to tell Greta the truth, which gives her the tools to realize that she doesn’t have to spiral into depression like her mother did…which was her greatest fear. That she would be helpless to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Bridget’s depression is written in a way that I find strikes me in the heart. Once again, I have to read parts of this book in a room away from others because I get all teary-eyed. The building relationship between Bridget and Greta is important, we get to see two women, separated by an entire generation, with a huge gap stolen by devastating depression, yet brought back together by the aftermath of that depression and a depression unique to each remaining woman. I love the way that Brashares takes the stories of four young women and weaves other women into them. And once in awhile she writes disability in a way that doesn’t break my heart. Or, it breaks my heart in a good way.

If you have read my previous post, and remember the story line about Tibby and Bailey, I have a quick note there.

Tibby goes to film camp, and makes a string of poor decisions in an effort to try to be clever and popular with the kids she thinks are important or cool. In the end, she winds up making a film about Bailey, which she gives to Bailey’s parents, but which also has the benefit of teaching her, again, a Very Special Lesson about people, continuing the idea that Bailey was always a plot device, and never a character all along. An event on the Pants, and not a person. Bailey becomes a personality trait about Tibby, and was never meant to become a person, so please feel free to discuss this as well.

Since I spent so much time discussing Bailey and Tibby in the last post I wanted to focus on Bridget in this post, although I feel that there will be more Bee to come.

*Bridget was very young and emotionally traumatized in the first book by the death of her mother. I read her as aggressively and almost destructively seeking the attention of Eric, the coach at her camp, and it was all very messy and complicated and I didn’t read any blame to be placed on any one person. That being said, Eric, as the older person, had the responsibility to stop the relationship if it was unwanted instead of allowing it to continue, being that Bridget was fifteen at the time of the encounter and he was eighteen. Some aspects of the relationship between Bridget and Eric make me uncomfortable, and some read to me as simply something I advocate for: Teenagers being allowed to discover sex on their own terms. Age of consent laws are awkward for teenagers, where the magic number between legal and illegal are literally overnight. I also wonder about the fallout of writing a character like Bridget seeking and having a sexual encounter and having such severe depression. It is just a thought.

Dear Imprudence: The Questions You Don’t Get To Ask

A concerned family member writes to Miss Manners:

Dear Miss Manners:

My brother served in Iraq a couple of years ago. He suffers from PTSD and was wounded. The physical wound is not one you can see, but people (family especially) will still ask him what it was like to fight in the war and even go so far as to ask if he killed anyone.

It never ceases to amaze me the way that people feel entitled to information about other people. They love to ask questions about your disability, and when a person happens to be a veteran and has seen combat, one of the first questions that comes up, almost without fail (unless that inquiring person happens to be a veteran or the family member/close friend of a veteran), is whether or not that particular veteran has killed some body.

Have you ever killed anyone?

I just can not fathom having to live with the reality of having lived through that burden, let alone having to deal w/ having to relive any of the emotions attached to that each time a thoughtless person asks “Have you ever killed anyone?”.

The letter writer wants to avoid having to stay away from a family function to keep zir brother safe from such carelessness from other family members, and honestly that breaks my heart. A PWD should not have to completely cut themselves off from friends, family, and other outside contacts to avoid triggering situations, but the reality is, this is overwhelmingly the way that it usually works.

I know for a fact that there are many veterans living in isolation because of PTSD, and yes, several of them are women, because of people who aren’t veterans, who can’t grasp what that must have been like (and not even all of us, as veterans can know what that is like), who can’t abstain from getting too nosy and triggering their PTSD. Why can’t we just have the same conversations as everyone else? Not everything in our lives revolves around our disabilities and our experiences in The Sandbox. Not everything is about the worst thing that has ever happened to us.

I like the way Miss Manners answers this letter:

Can you do this without creating consternation and even more curiosity about his condition?

She cautions the letter writer to caution the family to avoid the topic of war without creating a more awkward situation that might cause the family to avoid zir brother as if he is a ticking time bomb.

[He] will probably tell us about the war eventually, but right now it’s his least favorite topic, and I know he’d appreciate our staying off the subject.

This is the perfect way to describe this.

This is the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, the Forgotten War, many call it. My grandfather is a proud veteran and a Purple Heart recipient. He didn’t like to talk about the war with us, even when I was a shining eyed, curious young girl, who was almost never denied anything she asked of her grandfather. It was painful for him to remember, and the only time I ever saw him reminisce was when we traveled to Des Moines for his unit’s reunion many years ago.

But after I joined the Navy he sent me a letter at my A-School sharing a moment of understanding for what I was doing, and later, when my partner and I PSC-ed to Korea, he sat and talked to us for hours about what he remembered of the country. He told us harsh and sometimes beautiful stories of his memories. He told his of his marching from Pusan all the way to far North, of being picked up by Navy ships, transported back to Pusan and doing it again, after salvaging boots from the dead to cover their own bleeding feet. He tells it better, and I hope to get it recorded the next time I see him. But he told it to us in his own time, when it didn’t hurt him anymore.

I remember when The Kid’s Tae Kwon Do instructor told us of his memory of being a child during the war. A child in her class said that he was too young to do something or another well. The Master told us a story, of being eight, and of being held by his mother in a drainage tunnel and being told to not make a sound while North Korean soldiers ran over head. He was able to barely breathe, soundlessly, and stand against the side, like you see in movies, as they flashed their lights looking for people. He shared that story with us freely, and I remember the look on his face, as if he could still feel the chills of fear, like he was back there for a moment, but stronger now, sixty years later.

We have no right to ask them to regale us with the details of the horrible things they had to do to get by, to make a living for their families, to live, all because they were told it was the right thing to do. Or because they had to survive. They had a moment to think, but they have a lifetime to live with that decision.

People who live through wars will tell their stories when they are ready, because the pain will give them a moment of release, it will subside for a moment, or forget to pound them with the aggressive flashback or terror.

We, as people who have never lived through that, have no right to inflict that upon them.