About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

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We Are Not Your Props

Last week, the Internet exploded over the case of Jody McIntyre, a wheelchair user who was pulled out of his chair during a demonstration in Britain in front of a shocked crowd. I saw the Tweets rolling out live as the incident happened, with people demanding to know why the event wasn’t being covered on television; as usual, the coverage slanted towards focusing on ‘dangerous’ and ‘unruly’ protesters, as well as framing the people involved as ‘middle class’ with the goal of writing off the seriousness of the events and erasing the participation of people from the lower class who were up in arms as well.

From the corner of my eye, I spotted one of the policemen from the earlier incident. He recognised me immediately. Officer KF936 came charging towards me. Tipping the wheelchair to the side, he pushed me onto the concrete, before grabbing my arms and dragging me across the road. (McIntyre writes about his experiences)

The case caught attention as a result of being caught on video and went viral; within days, McIntyre had been interviewed by the BBC and mocked in The Daily Mail. This particular incident of police brutality started getting significant traction in discussions about the protests.

Much of the narrative surrounding this incident was righteous outrage. Seeing footage of a 20 year old man with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair for mobility being hauled out of it and being left to sprawl in the street sparked rage, and my Twitter feed exploded. It’s wrong, most people seemed to agree, for police to abuse ‘the disabled‘ when they are exercising their rights to peaceful protest. People also emphasised McIntyre’s ‘weakness‘ and ‘helplessness’ although I think he pretty amply demonstrated in his BBC interview that he is far from helpless:

Interviewer: And why then, do you think– Are you saying the police picked on your twice. Why do you think they did?

JM: I have no idea. I mean, to make one suggestion, I think in the second incident at least, I think there’s a clear element of trying to provoke protesters into violence. Personally, I see myself as equal to anyone else, but I do understand that I could be perceived as more vulnerable, so I think there was an element of trying to provoke violence from others.

Numerous incidents of police brutality were documented during the London protests, but this particular case got a lion’s share of the attention because it involved a disabled man. Another protester experienced a head injury so severe that it required surgery.

Which is a curious contrast from the way the left seems to regard other wheelchair users exercising their free speech and assembly rights. Every time there’s a significant conservative demonstration here in the United States, I see people using mobility devices being singled out for special mockery by the left. The liberal ableism starts flying when it comes to people with disabilities doing things the left doesn’t like and we are reminded that we are considered pawns when we express views the left does not like, and heroes when we’re expressing views the left does like.

It’s Tiny Tim season, so of course this case hit a number of sweet spots, as it were. McIntyre was an excellent choice ofcause celebre for nondisabled people angry about the police response to the protests because he was a symbol. An object. Dare I say it? A prop. McIntyre was ‘the disabled.’ It’s generally agreed that being mean to ‘the disabled’ is one of the worst things a person can do and unlike those pesky nondisabled protestors who were abused by police, there is, of course, no rational way he could have posed a threat to police, making his abuse at their hands ‘unjustifiable.’

I don’t know how else to say this because I feel like I have been saying it for years, and no one is listening:

We are not props. We are not symbols. We are not rhetorical devices. We are human beings. We have free will and bodily autonomy.

Every protester in London had a right to not be abused by police. Not just the disabled protester. And every person has a right to express views, no matter what they are, no matter who agrees with them, regardless of disability status. Patting us on the head when we fit with your agenda and then telling us we’re ‘clueless’ when we don’t is patronising, it is dehumanising, and it is wrong.

Jody McIntyre attended that protest in full awareness that police violence had been ongoing at the student protests and he took a calculated risk, knowing it was a possibility, just like every other protester. He’s not a hero or a rallying point because he was dragged out of his chair and hit by police while disabled: He’s a person who experienced police brutality. He pointed this out in his interview:

I would say that it’s very important not to see this as an isolated incident. This is the police’s role at demonstrations. To incite and provoke violence. They’ve done it in the past and they’re continuing to do it now. I am not the real victim here. The real victims are the students, like Alfie Meadows, who is in hospital within an inch of his life after a policeman struck him on the head with a truncheon and he needed emergency brain surgery. Now imagine if it was Prince Charles, or Camilla, or a police officer who had been within an inch of their life.

He attended that protest because he had something to say:

“[The police] are out of control,” he said. “I have just as much right as everyone else to protest. My 16-year-old brother now believes he will be unable to go to university because of the higher fees involved.” (‘Footage shows protester dragged from wheelchair‘)

Every time our disabilities are used to leverage pity and other emotions, it’s a reminder that people think of us as consumed and defined by our disabilities. If McIntyre hadn’t been in a chair, he would have gone down with scores of other nameless protesters who were abused by police. If his abuse hadn’t been caught on video, a handful of enraged Tweets would have been the sum total of the matter. Instead, people are trying to leverage him to make political points.

This case is rare; usually when we are used as pawns to advance agendas, we are not allowed to speak for ourselves. McIntyre has been interviewed and given a voice and an opportunity to push back on some of the narratives surrounding him, breaking out of the prop mold people want to shove him in. Most of us don’t have that chance.

I’ll leave you with this:

As a result of events on the 9th December I will be pursuing legal action against the police. But I do not because I see myself as a victim. The real victims are the likes of Alfie Meadows who was hospitalised as a result of his injuries. We need justice not only in my case but also in Alfie’s case and anyone else who’s suffered in this struggle.

While this condemned government continues to promote values of inequality and attempts to widen the gap between rich and poor, I will speak up for those who do not have a voice. (‘Who’s apathetic now?‘)

Oh, Six Feet Under, I Just Can’t Get Enough of You

I’m in a marathon rewatch of Six Feet Under right now because I’m working on an ongoing series over at I Fry Mine In Butter on the show’s depiction of the funeral industry1. One of the recurring themes of the show is mental illness and a number of regular characters including Billy Chenowith and George Sibley are mentally ill. Right now I’m wrapping up the third season, where a number of mental illness-related topics come up, including depression in the case of Vanessa Diaz, who is struggling after the death of her mother, and Ruth Fisher, who is experiencing disorientation as all the people around her go through huge life changes.

Usually mental illness on television leaves me cold. When I’m lucky, it won’t actively enrage me, and when I’m not, it will leave me writhing on the floor in a state of extreme infuriation, because it seems like television series invest pretty minimal energy in actually researching mental illness and talking with mentally ill people about their lived experiences to, you know, get the depiction even vaguely right. Writing about this issue at Bitch earlier this year, I said:

Given the distorted image of mental illness that the media puts forward, it is perhaps no wonder that depictions of mental illness in pop culture rely heavily on some really harmful ideas about us, people with mental illness. We are dangerous. We need to be medicated for our own good. We are out of control. We are irrational. We lie, cheat, steal. We use our mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour. We are burdens on our families. Our lives are tragedies. We will never know love, because we can never be good enough for romantic partners.

The show’s handling of mental illness is not always pitch-perfect, but it does a better job than most in terms of providing a more honest depiction of mental health issues. It feels like the writers and actors actually know what they are doing. Either they are reflecting their own lived experiences, or they researched and paid attention to the outcome of that research. It’s the kind of show I feel comfortable recommending to people and it’s also a show I really like mining for the depth of its content. Even as on the one hand we have throwaway lines like ‘when he takes his meds, he’s fine,’ the show also has great little exchanges like this, where characters exert autonomy and also have a little fun in the process:

Billy: Oh read that part out loud.

Brenda: You’re sick.

Billy: If by that you mean suffering from bipolar disorder with occasional psychotic episodes than yes I am.

Zing!

Both mentally ill characters and caregivers come up over the course of the series and I appreciate that it avoids putting either one in a box. When Rico and Ruth are dealing with mental illness in their partners, they are not depicted as selfless saints sacrificing everything to care for their partners. They are real. They are frustrated and angry sometimes and they love their partners deeply and they try to establish boundaries and they struggle with assumptions from others. Sometimes they snap and say or do things they regret but the show also manages to avoid positioning Vanessa and George as burdens with no personality; both characters are very humanised and we see situations from their point of view instead of solely seeing them positioned as objects on the screen, like props to be moved around to advance the plot.

Like I say, the show is not always perfect; I find a lot of Billy’s handling to be difficult to take, for example, primarily because the show often strips him of agency and shows him to us primarily through the lens of caregivers and people around him, rather than allowing Billy to speak for himself. In the overall balance, though, Six Feet Under is solid in its depiction of mental illness more than it’s infuriating, which is better that a lot of pop culture.

I’m so used to seeing partners and caregivers positioned adversarially, where we only see the caregiver perspective and the partner is just a lump off to the corner of the screen. In Six Feet Under, we see both perspectives and the show does things like giving people their own scenes! And monologues!  And interactions! It’s almost like it thinks people with mental illness are human beings! Sure, the show also evokes stereotypes like ‘the crazy, you know, it makes you soooo creative,‘ but sometimes it subverts and plays with those stereotypes also, challenging viewers to think beyond their assumptions.

  1. If you’re longing to read some examples, ‘Six Feet Under and the Funeral Rule‘ and ‘Marketing To Death‘ give you a taste and there are upcoming entries planned on exciting topics like the show’s depiction of independent funeral homes and natural burial. Yeah, ok, you kinda have to be a funeral nerd to appreciate this series, I suspect.

Accessible Tech: Apple iPad

Obligatory disclaimer: I was given an iPad, but not by Apple, and Apple is not endorsing, paying for, or otherwise involved in this review.

Onwards!

I was initially highly skeptical when I opened my iPad. I sort of thought ‘well, what am I going to do with this?’ Then I started using it, and people have been having difficulty separating me from it ever since. It is one of those rare gifts that meets needs I didn’t even know I had; I didn’t know, for example, that I needed an ereader1. I also didn’t know that I needed a handy portable device that would allow me to step away from the computer while still retaining some connection to the Internet. And I didn’t know how fun it would be to use.

It’s superfast. It starts up at a tap and navigation is very rapid. Web pages load fast and look great no matter which way you have the thing tilted, and oh, the tiltability is a delightful feature. The screen resolution is also fantastic, much better than my laptop, and I can view it at a variety of angles and still see crisp, clear text. Which is very handy for reading in bed, something I find much more comfortable with the iPad than trying to hold up a big book at the right angle.

The ereader iBooks, a free app, is fantastic, and for those of you looking for ereaders that let you annotate/comment on/etc. your text, it has all that functionality. (Yes, I had fun leaving random notes to myself.) I’ve been using Tweet Library for managing Twitter and in my opinion it is totally worth the price; I really need filtering and organising capability and it provides this.

Controlwise, I didn’t find everything instantly intuitive, but I very rarely do, so I would recommend taking that advisory with a grain of salt. Once I started figuring things out, it came pretty quickly. Also, for some reason I find it hilarious that the icons wiggle when you’re configuring them. Seriously, if you feel inclined for a laugh, go to an Apple store and try it even if you have no intent of buying an iPad.

Accessible tech focuses on reviews from an accessibility perspective, not a fanpersoning one, though, so let’s talk about that:

I have hand tremors, so I was expecting to have a really hard time with the touchscreen navigation. That has not been the case, by and large. It’s sensitive, but it also seems good at distinguishing between purposeful movements and inadvertent ones. You can also control it with a stylus without needing to make any adaptations, handy for people who want foot, mouth, or head controlled devices. Or cat controlled, in my case: Loki really enjoys typing because it flashes and makes clicky noises (you can turn those off if they are not your style, incidentally).

The keyboard is fantastic! I am a very fast typist and while I’m faster on a full regular keyboard, I am pretty damn fast, as well as accurate, on the iPad. It also has pretty good autocorrect, although obnoxiously it only seems to have a US English dictionary; apparently other versions of English don’t exist. It also allows you to remap keyboard layouts and languages.

Magnification is a SNAP. Is the text too small? Flick your fingers and it will get bigger, and it will stay crisp and highly readable. Problem being now that every time I use something with a regular screen and want to zoom, I catch myself reaching out to magnify the text. You can also shrink things back down if that’s how you want to roll.

I appreciate the rapid toggle for sound; you can snap sound off with a single button instead of having to navigate to find it. There’s also a sound control on the side to quickly bring volume up or down, if that’s desired.

There is an accessibility menu in ‘settings’ that offers features to read the text on screen (although the whole needing to see to, uhm, do anything could, you know, be an obstacle for visually impaired users since I can’t seem to find a voice control2). There are zoom and large text features as well as a flip button for white on black/black on white text.

Accessibilitywise, I’d say that the iPad definitely meets my accessibility needs, and I can see the framework in place for meeting those of others. As with any tech, though, you don’t really know until you have it in your hand, which is why I would strongly recommend trying one before buying (or figuring out a way to get the person you want to buy it for to try it first). I pretty much knew within five minutes of starting up that I was going to be in love with it, and I suspect that conversely, if it’s something you would hate, you would know very quickly!

These devices are pretty cost-prohibitive, however, although far less expensive than ‘specialty’ devices supposedly designed for accessibility with fewer features and less configurability than the iPad. There’s no way I could have afforded one for myself, with the base model starting at $500 US. 3G enabled models start at $629 US in the Apple store. So, yeah, not exactly cost-effective. I know other tablet computers are out there and prices are dropping, though! I’d be curious to know about experiences with other ereaders and tablets from commenters.

I also want to note that Apple’s labour practices are not without controversy, although unfortunately the same can be said of most tech manufacturers.

  1. In fact, I had expressed, repeatedly and in many fora, doubts that I would ever find an ereader enjoyable or functional for me personally because I had a hard time believing I would be able to read books on a screen.
  2. I do want to note that guides can be found for enabling voice control on modified iPads and it seems like a feature Apple might consider in the future.

By 21 December, 2010.    Accessible Tech  , ,  



Love and Relationships: Pity’s Got Nothing To Do With It

One of the relationship tropes that irks me most when it comes to talking about partnerships where at least one person is disabled is the idea that the relationship only exists because of pity, often paired with the idea that disabled people will take any relationship they can get out of fear that they will be alone forever, sobbing quietly in a dark corner1.

I see these paired ideas reinforced all over the place. Heck, I was watching some Six Feet Under the other day, and there’s a scene where Nate keeps pressuring Brenda as they fight about their relationship, which is kinda falling apart (this is an Alan Ball show, you think it’s going to depict happy, functional relationships?!). For those not familiar with the show, Nate has an arteriovenous malformation that plays a central role in the show and in this scene, he says that Brenda only wants to stay with him out of pity, as he’s recently told her about the diagnosis.

Brenda looks at him and basically says ‘dude, if I didn’t want to be with you, I’d leave you. I want to marry you because I love you, not because I think you’re an object of pity and I feel responsible for you now because you got diagnosed while we were together.’ It was a really nice twist on the way these stories usually play out, where we end up seeing that the nondisabled2 partner really did stay with the disabled person out of pity and ends up feeling burdened and angry and there’s a whole big scene.

I see it in advice columns, where people are told they have an obligation to stay with disabled partners simply because of the disability (or just the opposite, that disability is a get out of relationships free pass, in some cases). I see it all around me, where someone acquires a disability and everyone assumes either that the person’s partner will feel ‘an obligation to see it through’ or will leave now, because, you know, the diagnosis, it changes everything and makes it functionally impossible for the parties to love each other anymore. After the chair, of course, no one would expect the relationship to continue, although it would be very heroic of the nondisabled partner to go ahead and stay anyway. Because what would a disabled person have to add to a relationship, even one that predated the disability?

I know a lot of disabled people, a fair number of whom are in relationships, many of which are with other people with disabilities. One thing I don’t see in those relationships? Pity. Because pity’s got nothing to do with it. Although we are often framed as objects of pity and sadness by the media, although many campaigns intended to raise awareness about disability issues play the pity card hard, pity is a shitty foundation for a relationship. Relationships founded on pity don’t last. Those founded on other things, like say mutual interests or love or, gasp, sexual attraction? They last. The disability is part of the relationship, it may complicate it at times, but it’s not a relationship ender or dealbreaker, and isn’t treated as such.

I always say that wanting to leave someone because of a disability is a shitty thing to do, although disabilities can certainly intersect with larger relationship issues and may ultimately contribute to a decision to separate. But wanting to stay with someone because of a disability is also kind of a shitty thing to do, and I hate how it’s commonly promoted and reinforced in pop culture. At the same time people are told they must stay with people who are disabled, they’re also told that disability is a burden, a ball and chain that will ultimately make the relationship miserable. This is not my idea of a good time, or anyone’s, I imagine; no one would like the idea of a partner staying out of obligation, let alone a partner stewing with resentment.

Hand in hand with the idea that pity is the sole factor in why anyone would want to be involved in a relationship with a disabled person is the thought that we are not choosy or picky about relationships because we cannot afford to be. We take what we get, according to pop culture, because we have no other option. We can’t hope for anything better so we settle for abusive relationships or relationships where we’re not happy3.

Uh, newsflash? We have lots of choices. And we can, just like everyone else, choose not to pursue relationships with people we don’t feel compatible with or aren’t interested in. We can also choose not to engage in relationships with people who are clearly pursuing or staying with us out of some strange, misbegotten sense of ‘service,’ where they are somehow ‘helping the community’ by taking one for the team and dating a disabled person even though ew gross.

Just like everyone else, we can also be involved in exploitative and abusive relationships. And sometimes disability plays a role in that as well, but pity? Also absent. There’s no ‘pity’ when a disabled person stays with an abusive nondisabled person out of fear of losing a caregiver or a home, for example.

I think many of our readers (and contributors) who have been involved with nondisabled people can relate at least one incident where the people around them made it clear that they thought their partners were staying with them out of pity. And for relationships where everyone’s disabled? The belief that disabled people only date each other out of pity and fear (rather than, say, interest in each other) is widespread; what better a person to date a cripple than another cripple, right?

  1. I am imagining a stock photo here of a sadfaced person slumping in a wheelchair facing the wall
  2. Or less disabled, although it’s rare to see two PWDs together in a relationship in pop culture simply because there are so few representations of us at all.
  3. I see the same attitude coming up with fat people, where it’s assumed that fat people aren’t desirable, so fatties will take whatever we can get when it comes to relationships because we have no choice.

Signal Boost: United States: Get Restraint and Seclusion Out of Schools!

I’ve been following the Keeping All Students Safe Act, an important piece of legislation for keeping disabled students safe in school. I’m horrified to learn that the Senate version of the bill, S. 3895, actually includes measures allowing for restraint and seclusion, which I missed when I posted about it earlier this year. (Mea culpa!)

“COPAA cannot support the current legislation because S.3895 permits restraint and locked seclusion as planned interventions in students’ education plans, including behavior plans and individualized education programs,” wrote the group’s executive director Denise Marshall. “By allowing restraint and locked seclusion as planned interventions, S.3895 weakens protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and legitimizes practices that the bill seeks to prevent.” (source)

If you are a USian with the time, please write your Senators and ask them to remove this portion of the bill. Restraint and locked seclusion are never appropriate for students and they most certainly do not belong in individualised education programmes. It’s time to take abuse off the table when it comes to options for disciplining students!

Signal Boost: United States: AHEAD 2011 Conference on Higher Education and Disability in July

The Conference and Program Committees and the AHEAD Staff are hard at work planning the AHEAD 2011 Conference to make sure attendees have an incredible time, get loads of new invaluable information and resources, meet new colleagues & friends (while reconnecting with “old” ones), and enjoy one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

For purposes of budgeting and planning, the following details may be helpful.

The Conference registration costs will be the same as they have been since 2008. For AHEAD members, the full registration will be US $475.00

The optional, and tremendously valuable, preconference institutes (between ½ and 2 full days) will cost between US $95 and US $295 depending on session selections for AHEAD members; again retaining 2008 pricing.

While nearly all events associated with the Conference will be held at the Washington Convention Center, housing for Conference attendees will be at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel (across one side street from the Convention Center). AHEAD has negotiated deeply discounted room rates for both single and double occupancy at US $199.00 + tax.

The overall schedule for the Conference will be:

Monday, July 11th: Preconference Institutes
Tuesday, July 12th: Preconference Institutes (Daytime) Welcome Reception (Evening)
Wednesday, July 13th: Keynote, Concurrent Sessions, Posters, Exhibits, Reception
Thursday, July 14th: Concurrent Sessions, Posters, Exhibits
Friday, July 15th: Concurrent Sessions, Posters, Banquet
Saturday, July 16th: Concurrent Sessions, Closing Plenary (ends at Noon)

If you need to register way in advance in order to encumber funds well in advance, please download the Advance Registration Form and submit it to the AHEAD Office with payment at your convenience. If you need special financial arrangements, please contact AHEAD’s Associate Director, Oanh Huynh, directly.

As always, if AHEAD may be of any assistance in your planning – please feel welcome to contact the AHEAD office at (v/t) 704-947-7779.

We look forward to seeing you in Seattle for
AHEAD 2011: Sustainable Access through Partnership!

Tons more information at the AHEAD website!

By 20 December, 2010.    signal boost  , ,  



Dear Imprudence: Speaking of Holiday Tensions…

Dear Imprudence’s recent reader livechat featured a question that made me go ‘oooh, ouch, been there,’ from a reader writing on behalf of a daughter hounded by family members, specifically her grandmother, about her weight.

Q. Grandmother’s Obsession With Weight: My daughter is a recent grad of a top 3 in the country school. She’s kind, pretty, has friends and is employed, going back to grad school. She’s a former college athlete but since school, has put on a huge amount of weight. While it’s a less than ideal situation, she’s seeking help for it. The issue is Grandmother. She’s old-school, from a certain area of the country that values looks and femininity trumps all, especially weight. She’s not at all slim herself, her kids have had eating disorders and her husband has been grossly obese for as long as I’ve known them. She’s terrible to my daughter and what she doesn’t say outright, she implies. My husband’s attempted many times to talk to her, but to no avail. We try to avoid seeing them, but during the holidays, it’ll be difficult. She always has the last word. Is there a polite way to shut her down? Sincerely, not a Belle.

I note two things about this article:

One, the grandmother is definitely behaving inappropriately and I think it’s good that the letter writer is asking for advice on how to handle the situation. I suspect the letter resonated with a lot of readers because this tends to be a time of year when these kinds of things start coming up a lot and having a little library of sharp reports to draw upon can be useful for navigating unpleasant social situations.

Two, the letter writer has got some fat hatred to deal with. Despite being disparaging about how the grandmother views weight, suggesting that grandmother’s ideas aren’t shared, the letter writer makes sure to mention that grandfather is ‘grossly obese,’ and that gaining weight after stopping high energy college athletics is ‘a less than ideal situation1.’ The letter writer notes that the grandmother is ‘not at all slim,’ evidence that she, of course, would have no room to talk, and the letter leads right there with that damning one-two punch that gets thrown at fat people: well, you’re fat, but at least you’re ‘pretty’ and ‘kind.’ And ‘have friends’ despite the fact that you’re fat! Gosh, it’s almost like fat people are human beings.

Here’s what Prudence said in response:

A: Your daughter is an adult so she’s the one who needs to handle this situation. You can have a talk with your daughter and say that you dread hearing her grandmother’s nasty remarks and you want her to be ready to parry them. “Thank you” is an all-purpose non sequitur. Your daughter can also be more direct: “It’s good to see you Grandma. You’ve expressed your feelings about my weight many times, so I know how you feel. I’d like to enjoy the holiday, so I’d appreciate it if we don’t discuss this anymore.” If grandmother won’t stop, your daughter just needs to say, “Good to talk to you. Excuse me, I’m going to see Uncle Ed.”

Prudence covered the first topic with some pretty solid advice. But she didn’t touch the second. Was it a good move?

I think there’s a solid argument to be made for covering the question ostensibly being asked in the letter and focusing on the issue of making the daughter feel more comfortable at family gatherings while choosing to elide the letter writer’s own embedded bigotry, with the goal of not alienating the letter writer and making sure the advice gets where it needs to go. On the other hand, though, what is the daughter internalising at home around the letter writer, and how are comments made by the letter writer contributing to the distress she experiences as a result of family pressure about her weight?

But I’m not sure the logic here is that complex; I honestly suspect those snide comments slid right past Prudence when she was drafting her response, because they’re a reflection of attitudes that are so common, so widespread, so ubiquitous, that they don’t even attract attention unless you’re specifically looking for them. They just pop right past.

Yes, that’s me, looking for something to get offended about. No, really, I think that these kind of dogwhistles and codewords are evidence of the uphill struggle we have when it comes to fighting social attitudes. This is a situation where the letter writer could have used some advice too, and didn’t get it.

  1. Newsflash: What happens when you stop engaging in athletics? You tend to put on some weight as your body adjusts.

By 18 December, 2010.    Dear Imprudence  , , ,  



It’s Okay Not To Holiday

A whole lot of people are celebrating holidays right now, and it seems like the holiday season is a source of stress for many of those people, particularly people with disabilities. Stress about attending family events and dealing with judginess or inaccessible houses. Stress about being required to go to holiday parties for work. Stress about being forced to observe religious traditions you don’t follow in the interests of not causing ‘a scene.’ Stress about hosting events and cooking and making sure everyone’s happy. Stress about buying presents. I see the stress everywhere; everyone I talk to is unhappy, everything in my RSS is exploding with holiday-related stress, and it seems more like the season of misery than cheer for a lot of people.

Maybe that’s not the case for you! Which is awesome. If you love the holidays and look forward to every single aspect and are just bursting with excitement, well, you  might not like this next part very much: I don’t celebrate the holidays. I don’t buy presents, I don’t send cards, I don’t put up ornaments, I don’t attend parties, I don’t cook mammoth amounts of food, I don’t travel to be with family. This is in part because I’m not religious; we celebrated Christmas when I was a kid but it was purely secular and as soon as I grew old enough not to resent the fact that everyone around me was getting presents, we stopped. The last holiday event I attended was a Passover Seder a bunch of friends hold every year.

But it’s also because I hate social gatherings, I hate the fraught social minefield of handling cards and presents and things, I can’t deal with large crowds of people and Smells and all of the things that are usually present. So I pretty much check out during the month of December, when the United States is caught in a flurry of Christmas, 100%, all the time. People seem shocked and horrified that I don’t celebrate even a little.

And, you know, a lot of people seem to view me with pity when they find out I don’t have plans for Christmas dinner or what have you. They seem to think that I must be really sad about this, about ‘not having anyone to celebrate with,’ and I’m usually deluged in invites to attend events, which I politely turn down. It was only very recently that I realised very few people are willing to come out and say something I think is pretty important:

It’s okay not to holiday.

If you don’t want to celebrate at all, for whatever reason, that is okay. It’s also perfectly okay to decide that you want to limit what you do during the holidays, again, for whatever reason. Maybe you have limited energy and you want to budget it to do something you care about, like lighting the Yule Log, and you’d like to politely turn down things that will be drains on your energy. Maybe you just plain don’t want to go to the holiday party where everyone will stand around drunk and talk in increasingly loud voices about nothing in particular. Maybe the thought of dealing with family makes your hair change texture and you really just want to spend a few quiet days at home, perhaps alone, maybe with partners or friends. Whatever. It’s okay.

You don’t need my permission for any of those things, of course. But I know that sometimes I find it helpful to be reminded that it is actually okay to take care of myself. I can request or refuse things and not explain them. I can make choices designed to protect myself, whether it’s from really indifferently cooked turkey or from relatives I can’t stand being around. And you can do that too; you don’t owe anyone your time, or your energy, or anything else.

Writing in November, I talked about the pressures many people experience around food and the holidays:

It’s hard, I know. There is no one easy solution; not all of us have the choice to opt out of obligations, not all of us can speak up at the table, not all of us have a choice about where we eat and when and how and what is in front of us. There may only be small, small things you can do to assert your space and your right to exist, and I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I’m not going to say ‘just don’t go to holiday dinner if you don’t want to’ because I know it’s not that easy, and I know you’re a grownup, and you can make that choice if you want to. But I am here to tell you that I support you in whatever choice you make, in any choice you can make that will increase your happiness levels at a time of year when things are often grim.

You are allowed to do whatever small things you need to do to make the holidays, whether you celebrate or not, easier for you. That might be politely suggesting that you cannot host the family holiday party this year even though you really want to because it eats a lot of energy. It might be offering an alternative to something you cannot or do not want to do; ‘gosh, I would love to attend dinner at your house but I think it will be a little overwhelming, why don’t just you and I go out for lunch the day before to catch up?’ It might be asking your family to please respect the fact that your identity is not up for debate or discussion. Whatever small or large action you decide to take, remember that you, too, are a human being with boundaries and limits and that you deserve to be treated with respect.

By 17 December, 2010.    life changes, normality, othering  , ,  



Signal Boost: Canada: 2011 Women’s Worlds Conference in July

The 2011 Women’s Worlds Conference is taking place in Ottowa from 3-7 July, 2011. Here’s some information about the theme of the conference, which may be relevant to some of our readers!

Inclusions, exclusions, and seclusions: Living in a globalized world

The theme of Women’s Worlds 2011 is “Inclusions, exclusions, and seclusions: Living in a globalized world”. Why? Where globalization and women are concerned, provocative questions abound:

Does globalization include, exclude, and/or seclude women?

As global hierarchies realign, how are gender roles and identities evolving?

How are social identifications like power, privilege, citizenship, and nation affected?

Ours is an increasingly integrated world – one where boundaries are shifting under growing flows of capital, goods, power … and people. Who and where we are as individuals and communities becomes less clear within this contemporary, globalized context.

Around the world, women are grappling with changing political, cultural, economic, social, and environmental realities. And the effects of numerous crises – be they economic, ecological, or health-related – intensify obstacles to women’s equality.

Globalization has contributed to the destabilization and marginalization of women and communities. Yet certain consequences have yielded positive results for women. Globalization has meant enhanced communications and organizing – trans-national connectivity that must be deepened as women’s organizations and networks struggle to sustain themselves and maintain resilience in the face of forces that oppose women’s equality.

Women’s Worlds 2011 will be a place for the exploration of these complex matters through reflection, learning, and sharing a variety of ideas and experiences – especially those of women most deeply affected.

Information about attending the conference can be found here.

By 15 December, 2010.    signal boost  ,  



Book Review: Wildthorn, by Jane Eagland

I have been reading rather a lot of young adult fiction lately and there are a number of books I’d like to write about, but this one in particular seems worthy of discussing here because one of the central themes of the story is institutionalisation. Please be advised that I’ll be getting into plot details in this post; I didn’t find any of the revelations I’ll be discussing particularly shocking because they were fairly transparent to me, but if you prefer to approach books unspoiled and let them unfold naturally for you (as I do!) then you should not read further!

To give you some time to navigate away, here’s the publisher’s writeup on Wildthorn:

They strip her naked, of everything—undo her whalebone corset, hook by hook. Locked away in Wildthorn Hall—a madhouse—they take her identity. She is now called Lucy Childs. She has no one; she has nothing. But, she is still seventeen—still Louisa Cosgrove, isn’t she? Who has done this unthinkable deed? Louisa must free herself, in more ways than one, and muster up the courage to be her true self, all the while solving her own twisted mystery and falling into an unconventional love . . .  Originally published in the UK, this well-paced, provocative romance pushes on boundaries—both literal and figurative—and, do beware: it will bind you, too.

Read more: Book Review: Wildthorn, by Jane Eagland

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