Category Archives: i’m right here

Body Image & Disability: An Entry Into The Conversation

A long time ago, I said this:

People with disabilities, especially women, have all the same pressures currently non-disabled people do to look “good enough”, with added bonus of being either non-sexualised or hyper-sexualised, as well as having people infantize them to an incredible degree.

Talking about disability and self-esteem and body image is very difficult for me. People look at me and see a woman without a disability (or a woman with a non-evident one), and I pass. I don’t get the odd looks that a woman of my age (or younger, or older) using a cane or crutches would. I don’t get the pats on the head that women who use wheelchairs report, and I don’t have people leaping out of the way when I’m using a motorized scooter.

But at the same time, women like me are often used as stand-ins for “horrible”. Whether that’s the simple of “she took off her glasses and suddenly she was beautiful!”, or the more complicated of “oh my gosh! the woman I had sex with is actually a crazy person! Quick, let us make many movies about crazy = bunny-boiler = grotesque!”, I’m well aware that women like me are bad, ugly inside, and unacceptable.

These things add a whole other layer to the conversations that many women, feminist and non, have about self esteem and body image. We are all inundated with the constant barrage of White, Long-Haired, Slender (But Not Too Slender), Tall (But Not Too Tall), Unblemished, Healthy-looking, Young women in most advertising and fashion spreads, television shows, movies, and even on our book covers.1

At the same time, though, poster children and the pity parade are a fairly common image of disabled children – whether with visible or non-evident disabilities – that present people with disabilities as weak, as undesirable, as needing of pity – and always, always, always, as children. Very rarely are images of self-possessed, happy, disabled adults shown, unless they are in one of the “he’s so brave” “look at what she’s overcome” news stories.

I don’t know how this affects other people, or how they deal with it. I know that when Don first got his cane, and then his wheelchair, his self-esteem and image of himself took a hit, and it took a while for me to convince him that yes, I still found him attractive (and I can’t tell you how much I love that wheelchair, since my sexy sexy husband now has energy!). I know for me it would be nice to see images of Actual Crazy Women who aren’t mockeries of women like me, but treated like actual people. It would be nice to see casual fashion spreads with people with evident disabilities in them, rather than only seeing “diversity matters!” posters that include maybe one (male) wheelchair user, usually white.

As I said, I find these things very hard to talk about, because in many ways I don’t even know where to start. While to some extent discussing pop culture and representations there is important, how do we, as individuals, deal with our own self-esteem issues? How do we, as a group, tackle the constant attacks on people with visible disabilities to hide parts of themselves? Make yourself more approachable by putting sparkles on your cane! Soup up your wheelchair and maybe someone will ask you a question! Hide your obvious aid-devices so that they don’t offend people! Cake on make-up so no one can see your scars!

I think there’s so much here to talk about. Please, tell me your thoughts.

  1. The last one is so ubiquitous that until just now I didn’t realise that of all the non-fiction books on my desk about disability, only one has an actual image of visibly disabled people on it. Most of them have very plain covers, or abstract-type art on them.

Normalising Accessibility

The radio station I’ve been listening to for most of my life has a habit, when announcing community events, of indicating whether they are accessible. This generally refers specifically to wheelchair accessibility, although I have heard announcers address other things, like chemical sensitivity, depending on the announcer and the event. The point is, my whole life, whenever I hear community events announced, it has been announced with a note about accessibility. That kind of does something to a person, you know?

The announcers put accessibility in the same rank of importance as event information like where the event is, when it is, what is happening, how much it costs, and who to contact for more information, tickets, reservations, and so forth. As it should be. Because all of this information could determine whether someone can attend; if something is happening this Friday at 1:00, for example, I can’t go, because I’m meeting a friend for lunch. If it costs $40 USD, I can’t go, because that’s more than I want to spend. If it’s in Lakeport, I can’t go, because I don’t want to drive that far…and so forth. The whole point of an event announcement is to provide people with enough information to determine if they want to go to an event, and if they can attend.

I mentioned the fact that the radio station does this on Twitter and got a number of intrigued responses, and the thing that struck me was how radical people thought it was, that the radio station would make a habit of including accessibility notes on event announcements. For me, it’s commonplace, and I expect to see accessibility discussed on posters and other event announcements because I’ve been socialised to expect it; a big part of the reason for this is that I live in Northern California, very close to the Bay Area, where there is a highly active disability community that has agitated long and hard for things like this. In my own town, Fort Bragg, I can’t say accessibility is great. There are a lot of issues I’ve identified and I’m sure there are many more I haven’t. And I’d note that some events here are very bad about providing accessibility information on posters, and are shocked, simply shocked, if I contact organisers to ask, so I’m not pretending that accessibility notes are universally provided, or universally useful, in my little hippie paradise. But they are there.

Accessibility notes, to my mind, serve two important functions.

The first is that they provide a service for people with disabilities. You can know, right off the bat, whether you can attend an event, especially if organisations make a point of using comprehensive accessibility notes. For example, the radio station just aired a spot on a film screening that sounds interesting. It is in an accessible venue, but is the film captioned or will there be an interpreter? Is there an audio description available? This was not mentioned. Having complete notes about accessibility saves people the trouble of making a phone call/sending an email, and also avoids the  potential situation where the person on the other end says ‘oooooh yeah, our event is totally accessible’ and you get there and find out it’s not. I think accessibility information should be default with any event announcement; you wouldn’t announce an event without the date, right?

The second purpose, one I was discussing with Anna recently, is that accessibility notes remind people that we exist. Every time you hear an announcement saying something like ‘this venue is not wheelchair accessible,’ that sends a message. Hey, there are people who use wheelchairs! Hey, they can’t get into this event! That’s not cool! Encountering accessibility notes reminds people to think about the accessibility in their own lives and it acts as a quiet reminder; I mean, really, who wants to be the person running an event accompanied with radio announcements basically saying ‘wheelchair/scooter users, parents with strollers, and possibly people with mobility impairments not welcome’?

Another area where I have noticed accessibility notes coming up more and more these days is on recipes online. In part, that’s because I tend to hang out with other people with disabilities, so it’s not like accessibility notes are a Thing in the broader online cooking/recipe exchange community, although they should be. Seeing those notes reminds people that, hey, some people with disabilities like to cook, and, hey, it is really helpful to be able to skim the notes at the top of a recipe to see if you will be able to prepare it. After all, most recipes indicate if they are vegetarian/vegan these days, and many provide notes about common allergens like wheat, dairy, and soy. All this information is considered important because it will determine whether you can make the recipe, so why not add an accessibility note? Something like ‘you will need to lift a heavy stockpot full of water from the sink to the stove’ can be a dealbreaker. (Unless you have one of those rad flexible hose things that lets you fill pots right next to the stove, in which case, can I move in?)

Having accessibility notes does not create universal access. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction, of getting people to think beyond ‘special treatment‘ by positioning accessibility as something broadly relevant to most people, and something of equal importance as ‘who, what, where, when, why, and how.’ Which, for many of us, it is.

John Stossel Wants YOU! To Be Afraid of the ADA

Not being from the US, I had this idea in my head that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) must be awesome. I mean, come on! It’s been 20 years now! Ramps to every building, disability friendly policies, accessible washrooms in every hotel lobby! I get all starry-eyed just thinking about it.

People with disabilities who have actually been in the US are probably either rolling their eyes or giggling at my naivety.

In the last few weeks, I’ve read about airlines being fined for not following the ADA, despite repeated complaints from customers that they hadn’t been, continuing issues with post-secondary education, online content, and accessibility for students who are blind or otherwise vision-impaired (no mention of blind or visually impaired teachers) and students needing to sue in order to get attention to the fact that the new content delivery system was not accessible to them (again, no mention of blind or visually impaired teachers), the Attorney General of Massachusetts needing to step in to demand movie theater chains provide accessible content in all their theaters… The list goes on, while “advocates” tell people with disabilities not to sue because it upsets the non-disabled when they do.

And maybe those “advocates” have a point. Because even though one can find example after example after example of law suits – threatened or actually carried out – before businesses, universities, and even government offices will follow the ADA and “allow” people with disabilities the “rights” they’re guaranteed in the US, some folks still feel the need to produce opinion pieces claiming these lawsuits are frivolous and that the people who take them on are parasites (Content Warning: John Stossel).

Under the ADA, Olson notes, fairness does not mean treating disabled people the same as non-disabled people. Rather it means accommodating them. In other words, the law requires that people be treated unequally.

The law has also unleashed a landslide of lawsuits by “professional litigants” who file a hundred suits at a time. Disabled people visit businesses to look for violations, but instead of simply asking that a violation be corrected, they partner with lawyers who (legally) extort settlement money from the businesses.

Some disabled people have benefited from changes effected by the ADA, but the costs are rarely accounted for. If a small business has to lay off an employee to afford the added expense of accommodating the disabled, is that a good thing — especially if, say, customers in wheelchairs are rare? Extra-wide bathroom stalls that reduce the overall number of toilets are only some of the unaccounted-for costs of the ADA. And since ADA modification requirements are triggered by renovation, the law could actually discourage businesses from making needed renovations as a way of avoiding the expense.

I feel like I’ve taken apart aspects of this argument before, mostly because it seems the arguments get repeated over and over until one wants to make a Bingo Card and be done with it. But, to save me some keystrokes: Let’s Bust Some Myths: People with disabilities just want to sue the world into compliance (there’s a transcript to the video linked there in the comments 1), Needs Are Not Special and Accommodation is not “Special Treatment” (written by s.e.), Why Being Nice Isn’t Enough (which is meant to address the “just ask for accommodations!” part), “Bad Cripple” – you know, the fakers who are just scamming the incredibly generous disability system for the huge cheques they can rake in – oh, and we’ve got multiple posts just here at FWD about workplace accommodations being treated like a huge drama and a favour that doesn’t need to be granted rather than a right, people who work with actual people with disabilities assuming all people on prescription drugs are dangerous addicts, and how the opposite of disabled is not employable.

I think my favourite bit of the quote above, though, is the “If a small business has to lay off an employee to afford the added expense of accommodating the disabled, is that a good thing — especially if, say, customers in wheelchairs are rare?” I love that sentence, I want to cross stitch it on a little sampler and hang it up on my wall.

A Very Short List Of Businesses You Are Unlikely To See Wheelchair Users In:

1. Ones that don’t have a ramp to allow access to wheelchair users.

Seriously, that’s the basic criteria for shopping in this one-wheelchair-user household. We choose our restaurants, our coffee shops, our bookstores, our yarn stores, our sex toy shops, our grocery stores, our housing, our favourite tea place all on whether or not the shops themselves allow wheelchair users to enter. We don’t even go to one of the malls in the city because half the shops are too crowded to allow wheelchair user, so yes, John Stossel, if your business doesn’t accommodate wheelchair users chances are you don’t have many customers who are wheelchair users.

(Gentle reader, I cannot believe I just typed that sentence 20 years after the ADA passed into law.)

Honestly, that John Stossel is paid actual money to write opinion pieces that amount to “cripples are just sue-happy freaks, the ADA is why the Exxon oil spill happened, and service animals like snakes are ruining it for everyone else” – especially while service animals are constantly being turned away illegally – is especially irritating when we’re still fighting for something as simple as the right to be paid minimum wage for our work.

  1. Back when I wrote this I felt like I was making a very witty point by not “choosing” to be “nice” and putting the transcript up – if you wait for people to be “nice” then you wait a long time! I wouldn’t do that now because I think it’s shitty to make people sit around and wait so I can score some sort of political point.

“We’re not his kids, we’re adults, and we’re our own people”: The Trouble with the Jerry Lewis Telethon

Today is Labour Day in Canada and the US, which for many people means the end of the Labour Day Weekend Jerry Lewis Telethon. Wikipedia conveniently describes the Jerry Lewis Telethon so I don’t have to:

The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon (also known as The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon and The Jerry Lewis Stars Across America MDA Labor Day Telethon) is hosted by actor and comedian, Jerry Lewis to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). It has been held annually since 1966. As of 2009, the telethon had raised $2.45 billion since its inception. It is held on Labor Day weekend, starting on the Sunday evening preceding Labor Day and continuing until late Monday afternoon, syndicated to approximately 190 television stations throughout the United States.

On the surface this probably looks like a good thing, but digging a bit deeper: For many people, this is one of the few times they’ll see images of people with disabilities on their t.v. screen (and from a noted authority and beloved celebrity), and the entire thing is one drawn out pity parade.

Since 1991, protesters, including Laura Hershey and Mike Irvine, have tried to raise awareness about the way that the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and Jerry Lewis himself, treat actual adults with disability, and have discussed how these sorts of pity parades affect the public perceptions of people with disability. In 2001, Hershey wrote:

As we in the disability-rights movement keep trying to explain, our biggest problems come not from our physical conditions, but from a society that fails to accommodate us. Lewis’s telethon plays up the problems, without suggesting their sources or solutions. For instance, those sappy vignettes will make much of an “afflicted” person’s inability to wash his own hair, or get herself to the toilet, without any discussion of the urgent need for publicly funded personal assistance, or of the problems posed by the architectural barriers designed right into the layout of most private homes.
Trouble also arises from the fact that thousands of families dealing with disabilities in the U.S. and Canada are denied adequate medical care and equipment – necessities which should be basic human rights, not handouts accompanied by a drum roll and tally.

I’ve written about my disdain for both the Telethon and for the praises Lewis gets despite referring to people with disabilities as “half-persons” who should “stay at home”, and I think this is still an idea that people find very challenging. It’s easier to view these sorts of fund raising telethons as doing Good Things. They are supposed to, after all. That it’s still leaving people with disabilities begging for basic rights, access, and assistance that shouldn’t be necessary in this age of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Accessibility for Ontarioans with Disabilities Act (AOWD) isn’t comfortable to think about. That the main use of these funds is for finding a “cure” – by which they mean a pre-natal test – rather than assisting families in purchasing wheelchairs or renovating a home to make it wheelchair accessible, or in assisting people with disabilities in getting support during or immediately after a move seems to surprise people. Your money isn’t going to help actual people with disabilities. It’s going to help the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and to aid Jerry Lewis in his continued insistence that he’s a humanitarian. These are not really the same things.

Many people with disabilities have written about their perceptions of these telethons, and the damage they do, as well as the issues with giving a humanitarian award to a man who treats actual people with disabilities with such disdain. Hershey’s most recent columns are Speaking Out against the MDA Telethon and Laura’s Labor Day Weekend Column. Liz Henry wrote last year about her dose of morning rage regarding the telethon, and there are many links there that highlight the issues around Jerry’s Kids. There’s also the 2007 Blogswarm, Protest Pity, which features more than 35 blog posts about the Telethon and the Protests. You can also read From Poster Child to Protester, which may be the first thing I ever read about the protests and the Issues with Jerry Lewis.

Sometimes, though, the best way to combat the pity parade is to show people with disabilities talking about their lives, and their lived experience. Laura Hershey made this video as part of the “It’s Our Story” Project. Transcript follows:

Transcript:

The ‘It’s Our Story’ titles roll while tinkly piano music plays. White symbols of sign language and a person in a wheelchair flash against the background, which is suggestive of a US flag, with the continental United States in the blue square instead of the usual 50 stars.

The video opens on Laura Hershey, a powerchair user wearing a nasal cannula and glasses. The title of the video is “Jerry’s Kids”, and I believe she’s referring to the group “Jerry’s Orphans”.

Laura: That’s actually a group that was started in Chicago by Mike Irvin, Chris Matthews, and several other people. And I worked with them a lot organziing these protests nationally. I think what the name says is that Jerry Lewis doesn’t have the right to claim us as his quote “kids”, especially as he’s not interested in our perspective. He completely trashes people who question or challenge the telethon approach. He’s attacked us in the press, calling us ungrateful, claiming that he bought us our wheelchairs which is, you know, completely untrue.

You know, whatever ego trip he gets thinking of himself as our saviour, or our daddy, or whatever it is he thinks, we reject that.

We’re not his kids, we’re adults, and we’re our own people. We don’t belong to him.

Recommended Reading for 26 August 2010

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

Westborough News: Marines shoot calendar for male breast cancer research

They are the few. The proud part has been a bit more of a struggle.

“Most guys don’t want to reach out, don’t want to tell anyone they’ve got a woman’s disease,” Pete Devereaux said yesterday as he talked with fellow male Marines who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.

INCITE! Blog: Reflections from Detroit: Reflections On An Opening: Disability Justice and Creating Collective Access in Detroit

We would not just think about disability as separate from class, age, race, queerness, family, children, gender, citizenship, violence, but we would understand it as intimately connected.  We would think, not just about “conference and workshop time,” but we would also think about social time and what social spaces were accessible and how we would make sure no one was isolated or left out.  Because in our movements much of the relationship building, socializing and bonding is done in very inaccessible ways in very inaccessible places—we know this all too well.

New York Times: When Battlefield Humor Backfires (Extra Trigger Warning)

And so the doctor’s determination not to lose a contest of wills undermines the opportunity to have successful discussions about treatment. The patient instantly senses that the doctor distrusts and dislikes him, and this, coupled with the patient’s lack of respect toward authority figures, leads to a rapidly deteriorating situation, often ending in a discharge against medical advice — much to the team’s relief.

NPR: Administration To Appeal Ruling in Stem-Cell Case

The Justice Department said an appeal is expected this week of the federal judge’s preliminary injunction that disrupted an entire field of science.

Judge Royce Lamberth on Monday threw the research community into disarray when he said a federal law invalidated Obama administration guidelines on human-stem-cell research. He concluded that two researchers challenging the Obama stem-cell policy stood a good chance of success as the case moved ahead in the courts.

The judge said any scientific projects using human embryos required their destruction, which flouts a longstanding federal law.

Something More Than Sides: Dear Doctor: Actually, I *Am* Sick

Let’s completely ignore the actual health concerns in exchange for shaming a young girl. Classy. And let’s not forget the fact that, were I suffering from an eating disorder, this is not the way to broach the subject. I left that appointment feeling shamed and humiliated, and with no answers.

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An open letter to non-disabled people who use disabled parking spaces

Dear abled/non-disabled people without disabled parking placards who use disabled parking spaces anyway,

I don’t care if you want to use the space “because it’s so convenient.”

I don’t care if you only “need” to use the space “just for a minute.”

I especially don’t care if you back up your illegal use of said disabled parking space with some bizarre justification like, “But some people FAKE being disabled to get these permits, so what’s the difference?” or “Well, if a person in a car with a blue placard shows up, I’ll move” or “But there isn’t anyone disabled who needs to use the space here right now, so what’s the harm?”

The harm is that I or other disabled people are so often witnesses to your saying these things, and we are presumably expected to not react at all to your taking advantage of something that is not for you. I personally do not own a motor vehicle, so while I don’t need a disabled parking permit, I also don’t need your entitlement complex and your basically telling me — a person with disabilities — that some of the regulations intended to benefit me and people like me are rules that can be bent by you if it’s the most convenient option for you, an able(d) person.

Just don’t do it. It’s illegal and carries penalty of a possible fine for a reason.

This sort of legislation? Is not intended to benefit you, or be a convenient thing that you can take advantage of when you feel like it. Most of the world is already set up for you. These “convenient” parking spaces don’t have to be set up for your use, too.

Today in Journalism: Woman Dances, World Reels In Shock

Last night, The Learning Channel in the United States aired a special on JoAnne Fluke, a dancer from Kansas. Since I’m writing about this on FWD/Forward, I think you can guess that JoAnne Fluke is a disabled woman. Fluke has caudal regression syndrome, a congenital condition of the lower spine. She was given a prognosis of less than three days at birth, and at 34, she’s winning wheelchair dance competitions. She’s a highly competitive dancer and she’s also interested in promoting wheelchair dance and raising awareness about the disabled dance community, two topics highly relevant to my interests.

She was profiled by a number of news outlets in the publicity ramp up to the TV special, and it’s really…interesting to see how journalists choose to depict her. The TLC special is called ‘Dancer With Tiny Legs,’ and thus it comes as no surprise to see titles like ‘The Tiny Dancer: Despite Small Webbed Legs, Woman Dances, Dreams.’ I see this kind of narrative a lot when it comes to talking about disabled dancers; there’s shock and surprise that, gee willickers, they can, like, dance and stuff! And set goals and work to achieve them! It’s so…wait for it, it’s in the first paragraph of the article…

…this amazing woman who suffers from a rare birth defect has gone against all odds and become a competitive ballroom dancer — and an inspiration to all those that she meets.

Inspiring! Of course, the illustration the article chooses to use is not an action shot of Fluke dancing. Instead, she’s posing on a floor with her dance partner, with the angle of the shot emphasising her partner’s long legs.

What’s fascinating about this particular profile is that it includes a sentence that’s actually quite neutral:

But while most people let their childhood dreams slip away…

I like that the article makes a point of simply saying ‘most people.’ Not ‘people with disabilities.’ ‘Most people.’ Because, the truth is, yeah, most people do let their childhood dreams slip away because they lose interest in them as they grow older, or for a variety of other reasons. Most articles about people with disabilities doing ‘inspiring’ things stress that their disabilities should have precluded their chances at ‘realising their dreams.’ This article points out that disability has nothing to do with whether you achieve your dreams or not.

Alas, it goes downhill from here. She has an ‘amazing story.’ ‘Despite’ her disabilities, she has ‘managed to create an able-bodied life for herself,’ because, as we all know, the nondisabled life is the thing that all of us aspire to, right? We all want to be normal. She puts on makeup! She drives her own truck! Wow, she really is just like a normal person! Who knew people with disabilities could drive, right? And put on makeup!

Fortunately, Ronnie Koenig at AOL Health stops writing at this point and lets Fluke answer some interview questions. The questions all read like a pretty common array of supercrip and good cripple stereotypes; how are you so strong? How come you never seem bitter about your disabilities?

Fluke’s responses are kind of a mixed bag, for me as a reader. I like that she points out that actually she’s not ‘super optimistic’ about her disabilities all the time; she talks about having a pressure sore, for example, and finding that frustrating. But she also reiterates a bit of some old narratives about disability. She talks about how she could have had it worse, and she gets her strength from G-d, etc.

But she also stresses that her disabilities have nothing to do with her being a dancer. It’s not despite or because of, as she puts it: ‘I’ve been a dancer since I was two years old. It has nothing to do with having disability or not having a disability.’ She also points out that achieving goals is about identifying those goals, getting to know yourself, and then working towards those goals, sound advice for anyone, of any ability status. And she points out that her goals don’t stop with dancing and promoting wheelchair dance, that she’s interested in becoming a Paralympic athlete.

However I feel about her responses, I do like that this profile gave her an opportunity to speak for herself, instead of filtering information about her through a lens. I got to learn about how she personally feels about her disabilities. So many profiles of people with disabilities I read feature interviews with family and friends, with everyone talking about the subject of the profile. In this piece, the usual narrative was reversed, and the subject talked about herself, which is the way it should be.

I’m not stoked about some of the language used about her in the intro, along with the rather patronising nickname that gets reiterated through the article, but I’m glad Koenig chose to profile her by allowing her to profile herself, for the most part. This is a step in the right direction, although I would have loved to see more neutral interview questions that didn’t set her up as a Supercrip from the very start.

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.

Yes, I have a limp, and no, it’s not really any of your business

I have dealt with disability, in various capacities, for my entire life — this started when I was born three months prematurely and was affected by cerebral palsy (left hemiplegia, if anyone really wants to know) as a result.

I know what you might be thinking: You cannot possibly have CP, Annaham! CP is always severe.  It’s always noticeable to people other than the person who has the condition. CP always sticks out, blah blah blah, insert other sundry stereotypes about CP here (because there seem to be a lot of them).

And you’d be partially right, sort of like how my left leg is partially paralyzed. Oh, people notice my limp. Sometimes, they even point it out to me or concernedly ask about it, as if I am too stupid to notice that one of my legs is too short and that my left foot constantly makes a valiant effort to make up that difference:

“Are you okay? You’re limping.”

“You have a limp.”

“What’s wrong with your foot?”

“Why do you have a limp?”

Now, since I have no obligation to a.) respond, b.) educate these potentially well-meaning folks about my condition, or c.) give a shit, I have developed a coping strategy that works best for me, and it is to ignore these people and/or pretend like they might be talking to someone else. Surprisingly, it usually works, particularly when I do not care about seeming rude.

I don’t know what it is about certain bodies and the fact that some people feel entitled to treat said bodies as if they are public property. This body-as-public-property trope is commonly wielded at people with bodies that, through no fault of theirs, don’t fit the expected “norm” and who may be marginalized because of it: women, non-white people, fat people, trans and genderqueer people, people with disabilities, and others. And woe betide you if you fit more than one — or even several — of these non-normative categories, because then people might feel really entitled to comment on your body or its workings (or non-workings), if these things are at all apparent. In my fairly limited experience, it seems as though certain bodies and their parts constitute some sort of threat to an established order (in my case, this would be the abled order in which “normal” legs or feet do not have limps) that needs to be constantly pointed out and then monitored for the person’s “own good,” whether they are fat, disabled, unexpectedly gendered or not-gendered, or otherwise.

It seems vaguely panopticon-ish, and more than a tad creepily paternal: Hey, she has a limp, but she must not know it! We need to tell her for her own good, so that she knows and can maybe work on correcting it. No matter what the person’s intentions are (because these intentions may be sort of twisted “good samaritan” intentions), that’s the subtextual message that I get when somebody decides to inform me about my limp. Regardless of intentions, this sort of monitoring mostly ends up looking creepy and awkward for all involved. Some “good samaritan” may want to focus on my limp and how out-of-place or weird it looks, but just because I am out in public — limp and all — does not make the way that I move around (when I am not in too much pain to move, that is) any random stranger’s business.

Damn Y’all White Wolf

My [biggest] fandom is White Wolf’s Exalted. I’ve complained about it before and I’ll complain about it again.

I build characters because it’s fun and I often spend a lot of time working at it trying to make a person rather than a collection of attributes. Right now I’m working on a character who I actually have an expectation of playing and as ever I’m borrowing much from my life and some from various other places. This person is a rabbit (specifically this rabbit) shapeshifter with a very big hammer. Ou has told me ou doesn’t speak and I try to listen to my characters when they tell me things.

Also disabled folk can damn well be heroes. They don’t have to ‘overcome’ their conditions neither. I will try to not fuck this up too badly. Transient dysphasia and aphasia are conditions I have personal experience with but not full-time.

Thing is: Because I’m making a new character I’m taking an enormous hit on experience and power — the character I’ve been playing has more than twice as many experience points as the GM is giving me for my rabbit person. Ouch. (But I’m getting to tell a new story.) So I may do something I’m not entirely comfortable with: Use the Flaw system built into the game.

See, you can get points to buy Cool Shit by taking Flaws. Some of them are okay, like being wanted by authorities or being widely known as a demon or whatever. Some of them are more problematic, like missing body parts, mental illnesses, communication and sensory impairments.

Here’s the one for not speaking:

Mute
Cost: 1 pt. or 4 pts.
Your character is unable to speak normally. For one bonus point, the character is simply unable to speak above a whisper, while complete dumbness1 grants four bonus points. A character with the one-point version automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks that require public speaking but faces no penalty on social attacks as long as his target can hear him, which requires the target’s player to succeed on a (Perception + Awareness) roll at difficulty 2.

A character with the four-point version of the Flaw automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks based on verbal communication and suffers a -5 penalty on all social attack rolls made for her unless the attack expressly has no verbal component. While there is no universal sign language in the Age of Sorrows, the character and her allies can communicate through an informal sign language if each of them commits one Linguistics slot to it.

Just kind of as an aside they tell us there are no widely-known gestural or tactile languages. None. There aren’t regional languages even. Anyone wanting to use one has to make up their own and teach it to whomever they want to communicate with. Deaf people wanting to build a community are going to have a tricky time of it in canon Exalted.

Sometimes I hate my game. I could use those four bonus points but that’s some horrible shit. But not using this mechanic isn’t going to make it disappear from the game either (there’s another player whose character made use of it — as a hot blind assassin chick). The casual disablism is not exactly unusual for gaming (and this isn’t even the worst example of disablism ((or casual bigotry)) I could pull from Exalted) where currently non-disabled developers assume a currently non-disabled audience and write accordingly. Because heroes are CND or super-crip amirite?

So yeah. I’ll probably do it. I’ll just feel icky about it. :(

Cross-posted: Aperiodically Legible.

  1. Hi there, dumb means does not speak! I have not missed you.