Category Archives: bad advice

Recommended Reading for 24 December, 2010

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

The Broken of Britain: The GP’s Story by Dr Jest

So there you have it. Neither Pete nor Dud would have chosen to be where they are now, and neither has asked not to work when they were capable. Indeed both have rather struggled on when reason would have suggested they ought not. And I could name you a dozen others in a similar position. All present talk of making it more profitable to work than rely on benefit may sound very noble and high minded in the marbled halls of power, where hard graft means having a lot to read and a few late meetings to go to. It completely misses the enormous efforts made by the likes of Pete and Dud to keep going against the odds, and any move to impoverish them is little short of scandalous and should be relentlessly pointed out for the evil narrow minded bigotry it is.

Sarah at Cat in a Dog’s World: PWD and TSA

From information I’d heard from TSA administrators, I thought that the body scanners would reducethe need for physical pat-downs. Little did I know that TSA would use the new technology as an excuse to conduct more invasive pat-downs! It is obscene, especially when one considers that many people with disabilities don’t have any “choice” at all. If someone is unable to stand independently for ten seconds with their arms up, or if one wears any number of medical devices or prostheses…there is no “choice.” (And no, for many people, “don’t fly” is not a realistic choice.) There is, additionally, reason for concern about the radiation from the body scanners, particularly for cancer survivors and people who have a genetic predisposition to cancer. It is now pretty clear that body scanners, far from being a panacea, are making things worse. And people with disabilities are being affected disproportionately.

At Spilt Milk: Thanks for your help, doctor.

Make no mistake: I know that this only happened to me because I am fat. If I were a thin person and I walked through his door with the symptoms I described, he would have been forced to dig deeper. To ask me more questions, to hopefully come up with a wider range of options. Maybe run more tests.

United States: Megan Cottrell at ChicagoNow: Got a disability? You’ll see the difference in your paycheck

A lot of people might assume that if you have a disability, you might not make as much money as someone without a disability. But how much less? How hard is it for people with disabilities in Illinois to get by compared to their neighbors?

India: An unnamed special correspondent at The Hindu: Social barriers keep the disabled away from workforce:

Persons with disabilities are the last identity group to enter the workforce, not because their disability comes in the way of their functioning, but because of social and practical barriers that prevent them from joining work, a study on the ‘Employment Rights of Disabled Women in India’ carried out by the Society for Disability and Rehabilitation of the National Commission for Women (NCW) has said.

Guillermo Contreras at Chron.com: State sued over care for disabled Texans

The federal lawsuit, filed Monday in San Antonio, alleges the state isn’t providing some mentally and physically disabled Texans the opportunity to move into community-based settings, which advocates say are less restrictive and more rehabilitative than nursing homes.

Lastly, here’s a transcript of a story on Australia’s 7.30 Report program called Setting Sail:

Known as the ‘Everest of sailing’ the Sydney to Hobart race challenges the most seasoned of yachtsmen on what can be a treacherous ocean voyage.

Most of the focus is on the big maxi-yachts competing for line honours. But a unique crew of blind and deaf sailors is also commanding attention.

The charity organisation, Sailors With Disabilities, has been gifted a half-million dollar fast yacht, making them eligible for the first time in the prestigious Rolex Cup.

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited. And have yourself a fabulous weekend.

What Guides To Interacting With Police Leave Out

Many organisations concerned about violations of civil rights and police brutality put out guides for civilians, providing a framework for interacting with law enforcement. These guides are usually designed to help people safeguard their civil rights and avoid police brutality while smoothing interactions with law enforcement as much as possible. The idea is that, well, people are going to come into contact with law enforcement, so they might as well have some tips on making those interactions minimally traumatic and upsetting1.

For people with disabilities, interactions with law enforcement sometimes go very wrong, very fast. We are denied interpreters, our mobility devices are taken away, we are Tased, we are beaten, we are shot. I’ve noticed an uptick in reporting on really disturbing interactions between people with disabilities and law enforcement in recent weeks, and I had a grand plan of linking to some guides just as a general resource for readers, except that I noticed that most of these guides have some extremely glaring holes when it comes to disability. They are obviously written for nondisabled people, and a lot of them have advice that is just plain not helpful, at all.

‘Look the officer in the eye at all times.’

‘Don’t fidget or twitch.’

‘Speak clearly and evenly, in a neutral tone.’

‘Hold your hands where the officer can see them.’

‘Don’t make any sudden movements.’

‘Watch your language.’

These are all things that these guides say. And I suspect that, were I to go to one of these organisations and say ‘hey, you know, these guidelines are actually not super helpful for people with disabilities,’ they would say ‘well, you should inform the officer that you are disabled as soon as you come into contact’ or ‘you should carry cards about your disabilities and hand them to law enforcement.’ Except that people with disabilities do this and we are still abused by law enforcement.

The outcome of interactions with law enforcement is highly inconsistent and is very much tied in with intersectional issues like race. Let’s say you have a situation where a person who uses a cane is pulled over and ordered to get out of the car. The person says ‘ok, but, Officer, I want you to know that I use a cane for mobility. It is not a weapon, but I do need it to stand and walk safely, and I wanted you to know that before I got out of the car.’ The race of the person being pulled over shouldn’t affect the way the officer responds to that, but it will, and the colour of your skin should not determine whether you get your mobility device seized or not.

The idea that you just tell the Nice Officer about your disabilities and everything is ok is quaint and all, but really does not work out in practice. I’m trying to imagine a situation where I say ‘Officer, I’m not trying to give you the sideye, I just have a very difficult time making eye contact with people.’ Yeah. That’s going to go over real well. How many cases of ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ do there need to be before we acknowledge that the ‘communication breakdown’ here is not on the side of people with disabilities, but on the side of law enforcement?

There are actually guidelines that police officers are supposed to follow when interacting with people with disabilities. There’s a video series from the United States government, and here’s another guide from the United States, based on the Americans With Disabilities Act (thanks for finding this, abby jean!). This document is pretty clear about the fact that, for example, interpreters need to be provided2. But then: ‘Your agency’s policy explains how to obtain interpreters or other communication aids and services when needed.’ This places the burden on an individual police department or agency. What if a police department doesn’t have a disability policy? What if officers for a particular agency aren’t provided with any training in interacting with people with disabilities? What happens then?

All of the guides I could find for interacting with police officers demonstrated a whole lot of ableism. They were structured and predicated around the idea that certain things are always possible, like, say, ‘speaking in an even tone’ or ‘not fidgeting’ and really didn’t provide any suggestions for those of us who actually do not find these things possible. Such guides seem to me to place the responsibility for bad interactions on civilians rather than on law enforcement, and that’s especially evident in the way that they just completely ignore disability, and the best advice they can provide on race is basically ‘watch your tone.’

I know that many of these organisations are approaching this problem from both sides. They’re providing civilians with information to help them survive now while also working with law enforcement agencies to establish better policies and programs. They’re not arguing that these interactions are one sided and are actively promoting better training for law enforcement, trying to address issues like racial and class disparities in policing.

But one thing I see repeatedly being left out, not just from guides for civilians, but also in pushes for police reform, is better training for interacting with people with disabilities. I see lip service occasionally, usually in the wake of really awful cases like Deaf folks being shot for ‘refusing’ to comply with verbal orders from police, but I don’t see much follow through. Some disability rights organisations are working with individual police departments; I’ve actually interacted directly with several police officers and provided advice and suggestions on making encounters with people with disabilities go more smoothly, but this reduces the situation to individual cases. It’s good that something rather than nothing is happening, but I would like to see nationwide policy initiatives, like very clear requirements that all law enforcement officers receive appropriate training in working with people with disabilities.

And I want to see those training programs designed by people with disabilities and law enforcement working together.

  1. Of course, such guides leave out some important topics, like who is most likely to come into contact with law enforcement, and the fact that for some people, even following these guides to the letter will not result in a positive outcome, because the deck is stacked against them from the start. A Nice White Lady and a young Native American man being separately pulled over for speeding, for example, will be treated very differently, whether or not both follow the guidelines.
  2. But only sometimes! Other times, like ’emergencies,’ it’s ok to plow on ahead without one.

Dear Imprudence: Yeah Hi I’m Actually Right Here

Back in July, the following letter/response ran in Dear Abby:

Dear Abby: I am the parent of a child with special needs. To an outsider he looks different; adults and children stare at him when we’re out. My son is not aware of their impolite behavior, but I am — and it really irks me. What should I say to these insensitive people? — Boiling Mad in New Jersey

Dear Boiling Mad: I don’t think you should say anything. It is not unusual for individuals of every age to do a double take when they see someone — or something — that is “different.” Of course staring is impolite, but unless someone makes a remark or asks a question about your son, you should ignore the person.

Abby got some reader mail in response, so she decided to run a column featuring some of the letters she received. As FWD readers know, I am not a fan of the euphemism ‘special‘ and I dislike labeling basic needs as such. However, it’s very common, so I pretty much expected a thicket of ‘special’ this and ‘special’ that in Abby’s column. But I also expected at least one letter from a person with a disability, because Abby has run letters from us in the past on topics relating to disability issues.

Were my expectations met? No, they were not. The title of the column is ‘Special-needs kids build bridges of understanding.’ Three of the five letters were from mothers of children with disabilities and they all pretty much said that we have a responsibility to educate people staring at us:

…I now regard it as an opportunity to educate them about autism. I hand them a card explaining it that contains a link to the Autism Society of America.

This tactic, rather than ignoring people, is the way to go. If more people educated others, the stares and rude comments would become smiles and support.

One letter, well, here, I’ll give you the first paragraph:

I worked with special-needs children for a number of years. I actually believe that it is good when people stare. It gives us a chance to help the child learn social skills.

And finally…

I’m one of those folks who “stare” at others. By no means is there ever a bad intent. I’m a people-watcher. I love watching people communicate in different ways, like signing. Whether someone is in a wheelchair or has a visible disability, I value each and every person.

Maybe “Boiling Mad” doesn’t understand that many of us are willing to reach out, lend a hand or just be friendly. I wish to embrace, not ignore, and I hope my behavior isn’t perceived to be offensive.

So, we heard from parents. We heard from people who are a fan, evidently, of the ‘tough love’ school of thought; staring makes you stronger! And we heard from someone who likes to stare at people.

We did not hear from anyone who gets stared at. Ouyang Dan, writing about a different advice column involving the nondisabled gaze and what to do about it, pointed out:

I get extremely uncomfortable and irritated with people who can’t manage to be polite and respect the privacy of other people. “Othering” is a concept that riles me pretty good, and othering people based on circumstances beyond their control is right up there on my list of things that will get you “unfriended” or “unfollowed” in a keystroke. Beneath that is treating people with disabilities as if they do not have a right to privacy when they are in public with you. As if their existing in a manner that you find abnormal is somehow negating their right to eat lunch without you staring at them.

Abby’s decision not to represent any people with disabilities in her column is noted. I’m willing to bet that some people with disabilities wrote in about how much they do  not like being stared at, to point out that when everyone is staring at you, it is most definitely perceived as offensive. It’s not ’embracing’ at all to feel like you can’t go to the grocery store, ride a horse, sit in the library, or do any number of other things without people gawking at you. Being stared at is not fun.

It is also not an opportunity for a teachable moment. People going about their daily business are not diversity educators. They are human beings, doing human things, and just wanting to get those things done. Having to question whether or not you want to go out on any given day because you don’t feel up to dealing with stares is not enjoyable.

I don’t know how to deal with staring. I get stared at a lot and it upsets me. Ignoring people doesn’t quite seem to work. Staring back sometimes shames them into looking away, by reflecting their gaze back on them and forcing them to consider how it feels to be stared at, but I really have a hard time with eye contact and often staring back at people forces me to meet their eyes. Sometimes I say something like ‘pardon me, is there something on my…’ and then they mumble and look away. But I definitely do not feel like it’s my responsibility to educate people when I’m going to the post office or having dinner with friends. They can go educate themselves. Or they can pay to take a workshop where I would be more than happy to educate them in a structured classroom environment.

Dear Imprudence: Just Be an Adult Already!

Here’s some nostalgia for ya, gentle readers!

My dad, who was completely AB for the record, lived alone in the home I now own, and for a good portion of my life had many of his needs taken care of by members of his immediate family. My Grammy did most of his laundry, unless my aunt happened to be there doing laundry on Dad’s laundry day. My aunt, who was a book keeper for the family business, handled Dad’s bank account; she paid his bills for him back in the days prior to auto bill pay and signed most of his checks (most of my birthday cards suspiciously looked as if they may have been signed by her as well, to this day I can not tell their writing apart in some instances). It isn’t that my Dad couldn’t take care of himself or wasn’t an adult, but that they just simply did it for him after my parents divorced and he was living alone. Of course, Dad did things in return for Grammy, like grocery shopping and yard work after she wasn’t able to do it for herself…but that is another story for another day. Some people talk about ‘love languages’, and this is one spoken by this side of my family.

I don’t know that my aunt resented having that responsibility. I don’t know if any of Dad’s other siblings, all married with kids, resented this arrangement. I don’t really care, because it was something that was worked out between them, whether spoken or unspoken. There was, more than likely, a lot of traditional and gendered reasons why this arrangement took place. It also maybe had a bit to do with my grandmother being widowed, my Dad being her only child that was single and living alone, and who had the time to spend with her, taking her to Senior Breakfasts and stopping in for coffee in the morning after his night shift. It worked for them.

Perhaps this is why, when I read this letter sent to Emily Yoffe, AKA Dear Prudence, at Slate Magazine which was passed on to me by s.e. smith, I am inclined to find the myself rolling my eyes at the letter writer (emphasis mine):

Q. Reston, Va.: I have a 30-ish sibling with a health issue that has prevented him from working for the past four years. My parents support himhis own townhouse, car, new clothes, food, medicine, etc. They do everything for him (laundry, groceries, errands, etc.) Although his illness is real, he also spends a lot of time on his social life (out on the weekends, going to bars, etc.) and dates. In contrast, my wife and I (who live 10 minutes away) are trying very hard to stay afloat in this economy with small children, a house we paid for on our own, cars we paid for on our own, etc. We don’t receive much help (even babysitting). I can’t help but feel as though I am penalized for being functional, and I feel a great deal of animosity toward my family. Now, my parents are starting to ask me to help out my “poor” brother more, when my own family is already stretched incredibly thin for time/money. If it were up to me, I’d tell my brother to start acting like an adult and do more for himself. My parents would be horrified and upset. Any advice for getting through this tactfully?

Yes, yes. My brother has more than me! And he didn’t have to work for it! It’s not fair! (Sorry, I had a flashback to… well… my whole childhood.) I would love to be him, with all the damned free time and cool stuff and the devotion of my parents!

Too bad that the special perks come with strings. In my Dad’s case it was solitude and possibly depression, which I won’t pretend didn’t show in his demeanor. In the case of Reston, Va.’s brother, it comes with unspecified (thankfully he had the tact to leave this personal info out) medical conditions. We really don’t know the extent of them. We don’t know how much mobility this person has, how it impacts his daily life, if the reason he can’t work is due to pain, or what the disability is. This is mostly because it isn’t our damned business, but the point is that the grass isn’t always greener. Sometimes it is just sod.

Our good friend Reston, Va.’s brother isn’t being a Good Cripple, either. While his parents are doting on him for whatever their personal reasons are, he has the nerve to want to have a social life. He even goes to bars! We all know that bar ALWAYS means loud, rowdy club where every person is inebriated from imbibing in copious amounts of cereal malt beverages until wee hours of the morning, and never a quiet place where people can sit, talk, perhaps enjoy quiet music and a couple of cocktails or just a sandwich and the [insert sports team] game. There is quite a huge difference.

Reston, Va. wants to define the terms of what adult behavior is, and the hard truth is that “adult” doesn’t mean the same thing for every person. Having 2.3 children, a house, and a car while punching a time clock every day isn’t the universal litmus test. I read this letter as more of a cry that Mummy and Daddy aren’t babysitting more often so that he can go out once and a while or aren’t helping him with expenses than anything else.

Needless to say, I was not impressed with Prudie’s answer (again, emphasis mine):

A: If your brother is capable of hanging out at bars and going out on dates, I’m wondering why he’s not capable of doing his own laundry and getting his own groceries. It sounds as if despite his real problems, your parents are only exacerbating his dependency. They’re probably worried about when they’re no longer around and are trying to line you up to fill in for them.

You need to have a talk with your parents about the present and the future. Explain that despite his illness, it would be beneficial for the entire family if your brother took more responsibility for himself. You can say you love your brother, but you don’t have the financial or emotional resources to take care of him, and you in fact think more energy needs to go into helping him be a productive member of society. If they don’t want to hear your message, that’s their business. But you need to make sure they hear yours that you can’t take him on.

I am irritated to no end the way that Prudie here equates the ability to do laundry and grocery shop with being a “productive member of society”. Also, the way that it is obvious that one activity is the same as another, and that obviously if the brother is able to do one, since she can so capably glean from the letter exactly what the brother’s limitations are, he must be able to do all the others. Clearly, being disabled means that we must sit at home, in the dark, crying about how miserable we are if we are to ask anyone for any kind of help.

Prudie might be shocked to hear that PWDs are not all forcibly sterilized anymore (though it still happens) and that many of us manage to *gasp* have sex lives. Some of us manage to accidentally enjoy ourselves with full, meaningful social calendars.

But that doesn’t negate our need for accessibility, assistance, and actual empathy. Which she lacks. But based on the letter I see her, she won’t be lonely.

I fully support this letter writer setting boundaries for what he is willing to take on with regards to the care of his brother, especially since, honestly, it seems that he is more worried about what he is not getting that is equal to or greater than his brother’s benefits. I wouldn’t want to be cared for by someone who didn’t want to be part of my life or who would begrudge me having something that gave me moments of happiness. I don’t want people like that close to me. It is why people are afraid to have Facebook pages or interact publicly: the policing of what PWDs should be allowed to do is so rampant that they even lose benefits because they aren’t disabled enough in public. Boundaries are important on both sides, though, to protect everyone, and Reston, Va. is under no obligation to hurt himself or his family financially to care for his brother.

Yoffe was so off base in her response, though, that she was holding a puck when the first pitch went out.

Also worth noting is that has seemed to leave the brother out of this conversation altogether. Everyone seems to want to talk about him and his needs, how helping him will affect them, but I see no mention of talking to him about what he actually needs or wants. It is completely possible that Reston, Va.’s brother would prefer to get his own groceries or that he doesn’t need his socks folded, it is just that no one has bothered to ask.

Turned out that during all those years my Dad was able to balance a checkbook after all. He let my aunt do it because it made her feel like she was taking care of him because he was alone, since my Dad’s family is fairly close-knit. They did things like that for each other, not because the other couldn’t do them, but because they cared for each other, and that is how some people show it.

Dear Imprudence: May I Burden You?

Gentle Readers!

I love advice columns almost as much as s.e. smith, and I especially love ou’s deconstructions of them, so I get pretty stoked when ou passes them along for the rest of us to take a crack at them.

This one comes to the the New York Times’ Social Q’s from a mother who is getting a little bothered by the imposing looks of strangers when they take her daughter out in public:

Our 19-year-old daughter is disabled. She’s ambulatory, but walks with an unusual gait and is cognitively disabled. Wherever we go, people stare at her. Not glance, they stare. Recently we were out to dinner, and the woman at the next table couldn’t take her eyes off her. I wanted to say: “This is not dinner theater, and our daughter is not your entertainment.” But I didn’t. Most times, I just stare back and hope the gawker gets the message. Is there a better way?

Paulette Mann, Rye, N.Y.

I get extremely uncomfortable and irritated with people who can’t manage to be polite and respect the privacy of other people. “Othering” is a concept that riles me pretty good, and othering people based on circumstances beyond their control is right up there on my list of things that will get you “unfriended” or “unfollowed” in a keystroke. Beneath that is treating people with disabilities as if they do not have a right to privacy when they are in public with you. As if their existing in a manner that you find abnormal is somehow negating their right to eat lunch without you staring at them. Or asking them awkward questions about their condition. Or talking about them with your friends as if they aren’t right there.

I can only come close to imagining what Ms. Mann’s emotions must roll through when she wants to protect her daughter. How it must feel to want to shield her from all that uncomfortable awfulness. She is right to react the way she does, and to feel the way she does. Most of us with children want to do whatever is in our power to protect our children while we raise them to independence (or even in this case, possibly she doesn’t live at home and they are just enjoying some time out together). Here, Paulette is asking for advice on how to help with that deflection. People often turn to advice columns because it seems that they have exhausted other avenues. I applaud Paulette, actually, for taking this extra step, because I know how it feels to want to protect your child when it feels as if you can not.

I feel like the response that she received was anything but helpful to the situation that Paulette Mann drew out for us. Let’s have a look:

First off, let me apologize to you and your daughter on behalf of all the Lookie-Loo’s out there. That they don’t mean any harm is beside the point; you shouldn’t have to deal with them.

Well, Philip Galanes starts off OK. He sure got that right! *searches for cookie*

But now I’m going to impose another burden on you (as if your family weren’t shouldering enough of them). The next time you encounter a rude rubbernecker, like the wide-eyed woman in the restaurant, just smile and ask: “Would you like to meet our daughter?”

Yes. That sounds like it is exactly what she wants to do! Paulette Mann wrote to you, saying that she wants people to leave her daughter some privacy, and you want to have her now force her daughter to meet strangers! Here! Shake her hand! Come over to our table, invade her space and maybe you can ever startle her and frighten her by being a stranger! Without knowing more about this young woman, all I can say is that this is terrible advice to give to a mother who is asking for a police way to tell a stranger to piss off while her family is trying to enjoy a nice meal out. Without the Britney Spears following (a woman in another group of people I feel have invaded privacy).

Not to mention, let’s place more burden on a caregiver (because, if I don’t talk about the caregivers someone is going to run in here and call me insensitive). A parent needs another burden, amirite? As if we are not keenly aware of all the burdens we carry as parents. All we are expected to bear as we guide a child to independence. As a parent of a seemingly AB/NT child, I can not begin to understand what it is like to have that extra layer of responsibility raising a child with disabilities, but I can understand parenting from a disabled parent perspective. The pieces are different, but I am willing to bet the energies even out as they fit together similarly. “Impos[ing] another burden” is just what this mother needed, for sure. Smashing advice. Brilliant.

Oops. Was that sarcasm?

My hunch is when they shake her hand, they’ll begin to see her as a human being — with feelings and everything — and not some curiosity. Maybe then they’ll show you some of the respect (and privacy) you deserve.

It’s asking a lot, I know. But it may make a difference.

I don’t know that the best way to demand privacy is to invite others to invade it. I don’t know how that would affect her daughter. I don’t know how that would affect Paulette’s energy stores. I don’t know a how to do proofs on a Geometry test.

What I do know, is that, as a parent, this advice would have really felt hollow and a tad overwhelming. I don’t know that Galanes really had a handle on what he was suggesting. I can not imagine introducing a child to everyone who stares at her, and I can’t imagine that it would be a positive situation. Perhaps I am way off base, and I am willing to admit that if I am wrong. My own Kid would not enjoy that kind of invasion. Without knowing Mann’s daughter I couldn’t say for sure. But I am willing to wager that it isn’t a burden that Galanes had any right to place on her at all.

A special thanks to bzzzzgrrrl for the link to this letter!

Dear Imprudence: Do I Give Up Rights To Bodily Autonomy When I Leave the Dorm Room?

A recent Miss Conduct column featured a letter from a person with a common problem: Unwanted touch.

How do you convey that you’re not a touchy-feely person without coming across as rude or a prude? Ever since starting my freshman year of college, I’ve encountered a startlingly high number of males who think it’s appropriate to massage my shoulder in class, put their hand on my leg when we’re eating lunch together, or pat me on the head when they walk by me. I find this uncomfortable and would like to tell them to stop, but at the same time I know that not everyone has the same physical boundaries. In regard to innocuous things like hugs, is it ever polite or reasonable to say “No, thank you”? T.S. / Chelmsford

A perfectly reasonable question to ask, and one of particular relevance to me because I don’t really like being touched by people I do not know well, or people I know well, honestly, except in set circumstances when I can prepare for it. I know that some FWD readers have sensory issues surrounding touch, for a wide variety of reasons, and I thought this letter would be a good one to highlight for Dear Imprudence before I even read Miss Conduct’s answer.

Of course you can say no to a hug; it’s your body. Keep in mind, though, that those “males” you are in school with are figuring out their physical boundaries and social selves as well. I’m not saying this to tell you to put up with being touched in a way you don’t want, but to point out that college is a big social experiment lab, and the guys don’t really know what they’re doing, either.

So, as long as you’re all working in the same social laboratory, be a good lab partner. Assert your boundaries bluntly and with humor: “It’s hard enough to concentrate in Econ 1 – one more back rub by ‘the invisible hand’ and I’m going to pass out in there, OK?” “Did you seriously just pat my head? Oh no you didn’t.” People will get the idea that T.S. isn’t so much a touchy-feely type and will start leaving you alone. Maybe some folks will think you’re rude or a prude. The others will think you’re a nice, slightly bossy person who doesn’t like to be touched by strangers. Trust me, you could do worse.

Ok, so, the first sentence is strong. Go, Miss Conduct, go. That’s the way to lead things off with a bang. You are absolutely allowed to express your bodily autonomy and to say ‘no, please do not touch me,’ and that doesn’t make you rude or a prude. It just makes you someone who prefers to not be touched, for whatever reason, particularly by random people.

But where Miss Conduct goes from there? It’s a locomotive hurtling down a hill without any brakes on. Are you telling me, Miss Conduct, that college-age ‘guys don’t really know what they’re doing’ when they force unwanted intimate touch on people? Were they tuning out for the ‘keep your hands to yourselves’ lesson in kindgergarten, perhaps? Au contraire, Miss Conduct, they know exactly what they are doing, because the hand on the leg/spontaneous backrub are two moves straight out of any number of men’s advice magazines telling college-aged men how to ‘get chicks.’

You can’t tell me this is a social laboratory. By college, the same social attitudes and norms present in society in general about bodies and who gets to control them are well established. Young men handling their classmates are joining a long and venerable tradition. It’s called ‘rape culture,’ and it absolutely starts with an ‘innocuous’ backrub in some cases.

I like that Miss Conduct came up with some snappy comebacks with the goal of getting people to stop touching you without making A Scene out of it, a common problem in environments like classrooms. But even this advice leaves me with a sour taste, because it puts the burden on T. S. to fight rape culture by being ‘nice,’ if ‘slightly bossy.’ I personally favour a ‘pardon me?’ or a ‘what are you doing?’ or just a snarled ‘don’t touch me’ when I am not interested in being nice to people who are violating my personal space and exerting ownership and control of my body and I do not appreciate being told that I am under an obligation to be nice to people who are touching me without my consent.

It’s bad enough that I feel constantly forced to ‘accept’ things like handshakes and hugs when they make me deeply uncomfortable because to do otherwise is to Make A Scene. A thousand little cuts occur as I allow my boundaries to be violated in the interests of making nice, of facilitating social interactions, of just getting through an interaction so I can move on to the next thing. There’s a very limited circle of people I enjoy hugging and even fewer people I will initiate hugs with, and if some random person started rubbing my back, they would do so at their own peril. I bite and I can move pretty fast when I want to, you get my drift?

How do you respond when people force unwanted touch on you? Do you find yourself compromising your personal boundaries in order to avoid drama in social interactions?

Dear Imprudence: When to Out a Transgendered Dater? How About Never?

I know we’ve had a number of Dear Imprudences in the last week or so, but, people, there has been a lot of really bad advice out there. This Sunday’s ‘The Ethicist’ column in the New York Times was a pretty glaring example, and I thank FWD reader Molly Bandit for bringing it to my attention (Dear Imprudence tips can always be emailed to meloukhia at disabledfeminists dot com).

The letter writer says:

I am a straight woman, and I was set up on a date with a man. We got along well initially, but I grew concerned about how evasive he was about his past. I did some sophisticated checking online — I do research professionally — and discovered that he is a female-to-male transgendered individual. I then ended our relationship. He and I live in Orthodox Jewish communities. (I believe he converted shortly after he became a man.) I think he continues to date women within our group. Should I urge our rabbi to out this person? Name Withheld, N.Y.

Here’s how ‘The Ethicist’ responds:

Changed religion and sex? I feel emotionally exhausted if I get a new sport coat. But although this person behaved badly by not being more forthcoming with you, he is still entitled to some privacy. You should not prompt a public announcement about his being transgendered.

There are two questions here: What must close companions reveal to each other?And what may they reveal about each other to outsiders?

Getting to know someone is a gradual process. I might panic if on a first date someone began talking about what to name the nine kids she’s eager for us to raise in our new home under the sea. Premature disclosure can be as unnerving as protracted concealment. But as partners cultivate romance, and particularly as they move toward erotic involvement, there are things each should reveal, things they would not mention to a casual acquaintance — any history of S.T.D.’s, for example, or the existence of any current spouse. Even before a first kiss, this person should have told you those things that you would regard as germane to this phase of your evolving relationship, including his being transgendered. Clearly he thought you’d find it pertinent; that’s why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him.

As things stand, you have every right to talk this over with friends. We are entitled to discuss the most intimate aspects of our own lives — or what are friends for? But you may not distribute handbills around the neighborhood or ask your rabbi to announce this from the pulpit. Even when the clothes come off — especially when the clothes come off — we expect discretion from our partners. Few people (except perhaps the bitter foes of Tommy Lee or Paris Hilton) want sextapes, or even vivid verbal descriptions of their sexual peccadilloes, posted online. And that goes for being transgendered. We rely on our friends — and even more so partners — to respect our privacy, even if the relationship sours.

Woah woah woah woah. Hold on just a minute here, Ethicist. This column is headed ‘When to Out a Transgendered Dater,’ and the correct answer is…

Never.

Never not ever. Period. Ever. Not even if…Not even when…Never. The answer to this letter writer should have been ‘no you should not out him.’ Props to The Ethicist for using the right pronoun, absolute failing grade on absolutely everything else, from ‘you have every right to talk this over with friends’ (no you do not) to ‘that’s why he discreditably withheld it.’

Forcible outing happens all the time, especially commonly in medical settings, as commenters at The Sexist recently pointed out. It is incredibly harmful and dangerous and it is also highly unethical. It is most definitely not acceptable and I am horrified that this column ran, because it reinforced the idea that outing is up for debate and that it may be appropriate in some settings. No it is not.

Here’s Queen Emily, writing on why it is never appropriate to out transgendered people, putting it better than I could myself:

So here’s the deal: if you out us, you can do more damage than you can possibly imagine.

You can expose trans people to violence. You could get them fired. You could make it impossible for them to find work–word of mouth travels quickly in small towns or closeknit industries. They could be harassed so much they need to quit their job, or to need to move, or all kinds of things. You don’t know, because you’ve never had to live with the consequences. Just because you know and trust someone, doesn’t mean that I can. It doesn’t mean that they won’t be hateful to me, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they will be respectful of my confidentiality.

The very idea that one should even be asking if outing is ok is horrific to me. No, it is not ok, not ever. Period. End of discussion.

Related reading: Ethic Pathetic by C. L. Minou at Below the Belt.

Dear Imprudence: It’s Just A Little Bigotry! Calm Down!

On to the other letter in last week’s Dear Prudence with a response that made me, to be blunt, extremely angry. A letter writer submitted this:

Dear Prudence,
I am a proud gay man and for the last several years have worked in a high-ranking position for a company where my homosexuality has never been an issue. Recently, while a group of us were having lunch, the topic of two straight female celebrities kissing on an awards show came up. Everyone agreed that the kiss was a stunt, but one co-worker, with whom I’ve always been close, called it “trash.” She ranted about how it was indecent and that children were watching. It made me very uncomfortable that she displayed a hateful side I’d never seen before. She later apologized, saying that her comments were in no way directed to me. I accepted her apology, but I’m still very bothered by it because there was a tone of disgust toward gay people. I’ve changed around her and no longer talk to her about my personal life. She’s noticed and keeps asking me whether I’m still upset about that conversation. I say no, even though I am. I have great memories of the fun times we shared as friends, and I don’t want to bring this up because it could have an impact on our professional relationship. How do I tell her how I feel and finally put this behind me?

—Out

How does Prudence respond? Shall we predict? Possibly she will reinforce that, no, this man is not obliged to be Bigoted Coworker’s Friend anymore, and that, yes, he should perhaps bring the issue up with her, since he was obviously upset by it? Since he’s comfortable being out in the workplace and his workplace seems supportive, maybe it’s worth talking to a supervisor or a member of the human resources staff about the company’s antidiscrimination policies?

Her response was highly relevant to my interests, because while the letter writer was writing about an instance of homophobia, these kinds of interactions play out in workplaces all over the world with other dynamics involved, like race, age, disability, and gender.

And, surely, Prudie couldn’t deliver two instances of deplorable advice in the same week, right? Oh, no.

Dear Out,
When Joseph Biden declared his candidacy for the presidency, he evaluated his opponent, Barack Obama, by calling him “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” It was the kind of compliment that required an apology for its racism, yet presidential nominee Obama selected Biden to be his running mate. Which means you should let go of an ill-considered remark by someone you know to be a decent, nonhomophobic person. It’s possible your colleague’s ire was more about the slobbery, in-your-face nature of the kiss than a commentary on homosexuality. Surely, how she treats you is more indicative of her true feelings than her reaction to celebrities being deliberately provocative. It’s a mark of how comfortable she is with you that she could express her unfiltered opinion (which she won’t do again). When she saw you were upset and realized she may have been out of line, she apologized. It’s churlish and even mean-spirited on your part to accept her apology, yet behave in an obviously cool fashion. There’s nothing to be gained by re-airing the whole episode. I think you should tell her that she’s right—you’ve been letting the lunch incident eat at you, but you’re over it now, and you look forward to resuming your close relationship.

—Prudie

I am horrified and angered by this response. No, Prudence, this man is not obligated to resume their close relationship just because the woman is comfortable letting fly her bigotry in his presence. He was fairly explicit about the fact that the ‘rant’ was centered on homosexuality and how gross and icky it is. This is not an ‘ill considered remark’ from a ‘nonhomophobic person.’ It’s an unfiltered opinion, all right. And what, exactly, do Barack Obama and Joe Biden have to do with Out’s coworker?

One of the changes that we have seen, culturally, is that it is less socially acceptable, in many circles of society, to air these views, but they still skulk below the surface. When they do come out, it’s not an indicator of ‘comfort.’ It’s a reminder that there are no safe spaces, and that behind every person who words things carefully to avoid being outed as a bigot may possibly lie, well, a bigot. It’s a reminder that when people ‘forget’ who you are, they will feel comfortable assuming that you are not the Other and that, therefore, it’s ok to air their true feelings around you. Out’s coworker showed her true colours, and Out is being told to basically just let it go.

How many times have I heard people spew ableist rhetoric and then say that they weren’t talking about me? Or air their transphobia around me, thinking that I am a ‘safe’ person to air it around because they believe that I’m a cisgendered woman? If someone told me that I should just let those things slide, I’d be livid, as I hope Out was when he read this response to his letter.

People. We are not obligated to be nice to people who think that we are disgusting, awful, or should die. We don’t need to play makeup with people when they air their bigotry in front of us. The belief that we need to is precisely that which allows really destructive social attitudes to persist.

Dealing with these attitudes in the workplace is challenging, but the appropriate response is most certainly not to ignore them or pretend that they didn’t happen.

Dear Imprudence: My Boss Sexually Harassed Me, Should I Cover It Up?

This week’s edition of Dear Prudence had several entries that got me extremely riled up, but the one I’m choosing to feature is one from a young intern who got, well, some pretty awful advice.

The intern wrote:

Dear Prudence,

I landed a dream internship in the entertainment industry and on my first day on the job got to be part of a fabulous evening-long project that culminated in a victory party at a bar. Due to pressure from my supervisors, who were buying the drinks, and poor decision-making, I wound up too drunk to drive home. One of the bosses took me home with him, and when we got there he repeatedly tried to kiss me. This confused me, because I had been certain that he was gay. When I rejected him, saying, “I don’t understand,” he told me that he found me incredibly beautiful and sexy. Twenty minutes later, I was throwing up in his living room while he tried to play nurse and let me sleep it off on his couch. The next day he begged me not to quit, although he didn’t apologize for putting the moves on me. I intend to stay at this internship, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Do I write the incident off as a crazy, drunken night and nothing more, or confront him about it? Harassment on my first day, though committed under inebriation, is a pretty heavy issue to just sweep under the rug. What should I do?

—Harassed and Hungover

Here’s how Prudie responded:

Dear Harassed,
Get the full DVD set of Entourage and discover that yours could be considered a tame first day on the job in the entertainment industry. Certainly your supervisors should never have encouraged an intern (or any employee) to get drunk. But if you are old enough to have an internship, you should be old enough to know your own limit. Now you do, so that was a valuable evening. There is no Most-Powerful-Man-in-the-World exemption for hitting on an intern (even if the intern flashes some thong); and there’s no Hollywood one, either (especially if the intern is inebriated). Your boss gave you a revolting welcome to the industry, but at least he backed off and got all Florence Nightingale after you ralphed in his living room. Although I’d love to be there, as would any reality-show producer, when you clarify your surprise and horror at his unwanted advances by explaining, “I was certain you were gay, so I couldn’t believe you were trying to kiss me!” there are some things that are best left unsaid. His begging you not to quit indicates that he knows he behaved terribly. Now that you’ve both showered, sobered up, and returned to your desks, you need to show your boss that you have the good judgment to forget about your unfortunate start, and instead spend the rest of the summer showing that you are great at your work.

—Prudie

So, let me get this straight (haha). The intern wrote identifying what happened to her as sexual harassment. Prudie proceeded to blame the victim, basically say that she should have expected this given the industry, and then tell her to forget about it.

Prudie’s advice is bad on a lot of levels. First of all, telling someone to ‘forget about’ harassment is just a terrible thing to do. It’s not enough that he ‘feels he behaved terribly.’ If this intern is comfortable reporting and wants to go through with the process of filing a claim, she should consider doing so. Because she is obviously upset about what happened, she obviously feels violated, and she is obviously feeling uncertain about what to do, but knows what she wants to do something.

To add some victim blaming about how the intern ‘should be old enough’ was just gratuitous and so not necessary. When you are starting a new job and you are trying to fit in, you are not existing in a vacuum. You are struggling with certain pressures and attitudes and it’s not as simple as ‘just say you don’t want anything to drink.’ ‘You learned your lesson, Little Lady,’ is basically what Prudie says here, and no. Being sexually harassed is not ‘learning a lesson.’ You do not need to experience what could have turned into a sexual assault to ‘learn a lesson.’

So, on an individual level, terrible advice. Really, really terrible.  But it’s also bad on a structural level.

Here’s the thing. The entertainment industry is sexist. We know this. Amanda Hess over at The Sexist recently wrote about hiring inequalities on The Daily Show and made a really critical series of points about how sexism intersects with the show’s hiring practices. Her points are applicable to the entertainment industry in general; she talked about the way that ignorance, ingrained prejudices, and societal forces all play a role in the perpetuation of sexism in entertainment. The point here is that sexism is institutionalised in the industry, which means that rather than being an individual problem, as Prudence makes it out to be in her response, it is a structural one.

We cannot fight sexism in the entertainment industry by telling people to ‘forget about’ sexual harassment. Or by reinforcing the attitude that ‘well, it’s the entertainment industry, what do you expect?’ Women in entertainment are devalued, constantly reminded that they are worthless, and frequently told that they just need to ‘deal with’ dehumanising behaviour, including rape, sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination. Prudence very neatly reinforced all of these beliefs in her column without a second thought, apparently; presumably she does edit her columns after writing them and apparently still thought it was appropriate to submit this for publication.

The way we dismantle institutions is not by propping them up. Better advice would have included a reiteration that, yes, this is sexual harassment, a reminder that, no, this was not the intern’s fault, and a link to some resources on handling and reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. She could even have included a note that working in a notoriously sexist industry can be an uphill battle sometimes, and wished the intern good luck with her career.

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’)