Tag Archives: coming out

Recommended Reading for November 16, 2010

Peggy Orenstein for the New York Times Magazine: The code-words of breast cancer awareness

Fast-forward to today, when, especially during October, everything from toilet paper to buckets of fried chicken to the chin straps of N.F.L. players look as if they have been steeped in Pepto. If the goal was “awareness,” that has surely been met — largely, you could argue, because corporations recognized that with virtually no effort (and often minimal monetary contribution), going pink made them a lot of green.

But a funny thing happened on the way to destigmatization. The experience of actual women with cancer, women like Rollin, Black, Ford and Rockefeller — women like me — got lost. Rather than truly breaking silences, acceptable narratives of coping emerged, each tied up with a pretty pink bow.

Ally at Every Crooked Step Forward: Where I Write About (Not) Coming Out

I could have lied. But I couldn’t lie. I didn’t know asexual was anything, then, so I just said no, and then was forced to sit through all the speculation. They didn’t know, and I didn’t know enough to argue with them. People assumed I was undesirable, because of the CP, and I didn’t argue with them, though I wanted to because the assumption hurt, but the hurt was hard to explain, under the circumstances. People assumed I was too brain damaged to understand sex, and I couldn’t explain otherwise, because simply having no desire was enough to tell sexuals I didn’t understand.

Lisa at Sociological Images: Illustrating a “Normal” Life Course

By organizing birth control needs according to age, the slide show teaches viewers a socially-approved timeline for our sexual, marital, and reproductive lives.   Teen sex is invisible, having children in your 30s is ideal, and the end of a relationship is an option but, as Corina points out, not having children is not.

Wheelchair Dancer at cripwheels: Broken

Regardless of the state of Tommy’s mind and body, it is we who are broken.  It is we who drink in glorifications of war and heroism in the movies and kill the political systemic message of such poetry by treating it as individual expression.  It is we who refuse to provide support and systems of support to help our veterans; it is we who shame and silence them into a stiff upper lip.  We are the ones who both stare and look away.  Homelessness doesn’t respond to swelling music and huge parades.  PTSD isn’t best treated by ignoring it.

Crazy Mermaid at Bipolar: Crazy Mermaid’s Blog: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Unlike Breast Cancer with their irascible pink color, and Heart Disease with their “wearing red” campaign, Mental Illness doesn’t have the awareness in the public eye that those campaigns and others such as Multiple Sclerosis or other equivalent organizations.  Why is that?

David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine: Homeopathy for fibromyalgia: The Huffington Post bombs again

As you might be able to guess, because fibromyalgia is a syndrome of unclear etiology with a wide variety of physical complaints, widely varying severity, and a clinical course that waxes and wanes, it is a woo magnet. Indeed, many conditions that scientists do not yet understand well and/or for which we do not yet have particularly good treatments are woo magnets.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Coming Out In a Dangerous World

Irish novelist Marian Keyes recently came out about her depression and just published an update for her fans. The decision to openly discuss her depression is being widely covered in a lot of circles, as any disclosure of mental illness by a prominent figure tends to attract attention. Stephen Fry is also a public figure who has written about depression and discussed it publicly. Carrie Fisher is another example.

Something that often gets said about disability and mental illness in particular is that if people just came out, the stigma would go away. That people have an obligation to come out, to talk about their conditions with others, to educate, to dispel myths. This insistence that people, especially public figures, somehow owe it to the world to talk about their personal lives is really frustrating and it illustrates a profound lack of understanding.

It’s true that coming out may, over time, erode stigma, but at a great cost to the people who come out. It places the burden squarely on people who are experiencing oppression, not on the society that creates that oppression. It is not up to individuals to fight stigma and ableism, using their own bodies as a battleground. It is up to society to hold the mirror to itself and to examine its own complicity in the development and perpetuation of stigma.

The case of Marian Keyes is of particular interest to me because, as Meg at fiction_theory points out, there is a great deal of ableism in the publishing industry. There’s a pervasive myth that writers in particular are often mentally ill, that mental illness and creativity are linked, yet, at the same time, being openly mentally ill and working in publishing is a highly stigmatised position to be in. Editors and publishing professionals routinely belittle mental illness, making it no small wonder that writers would be reluctant to openly discuss mental illness. Aside from the obvious desire to not openly attract abuse, disclosures can kill a publishing career.

There’s also a lot of internalised ableism that expresses itself in how people deal with public disclosure of mental illness. Keyes wrote:

I know I’ll be criticised for saying all this, I know it sounds horribly selfish, when life is such a precious gift and many people desperately want to be alive and are denied it, but honestly, I’ve had no control over it.

I have no doubt that her fears of being criticised for being open about mental illness were well grounded, but there’s also a certain amount of self defeat between the lines. It almost seems like she feels like she needs to be guilty about her depression. This thread is consistent throughout her update; she constantly reminds us that she feels bad about not appreciating her life more, as though she bears some personal responsibility for her depression and should just try harder. Even as she’s telling us that these attitudes are not productive, she’s reinforcing them.

I’m well aware that I have an enviable life and there are bound to be people who think, “What the hell has she got to be depressed about?” But whatever has been wrong with me isn’t fixable by an attitude shift. Believe me I’ve tried (Mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, gratitude lists…)

This speaks to a lot of social attitudes. Ideas about who is ‘allowed’ to experience depression, about how people should just snap out of it. At the end of her piece, she says:

I hope you’re all well and if you’re not – and some of you may not be, one of the things I’ve learnt is that this sort of headspace is far more widespread than is openly acknowledged, so many of us are hanging on, almost overwhelmed with desperation and feeling like it’s our fault, that what’s wrong with us is just self-pity or negative thinking or innate defectiveness…

Yet, she concludes with a note of feeling guilty. Surely, someone with such a privileged life can’t be allowed to be depressed!

There are layers within layers here. If there wasn’t such a stigma, coming out wouldn’t be such a loaded act. If society wasn’t so ableist, Keyes might not have internalised so many attitudes. If the publishing industry wasn’t so judgmental, perhaps Keyes might be able to neutrally state that she has depression, to thank her readers for their support, and not have to feel like she needs to justify it, or apologise for it.

And if society wasn’t so determined to place the burden of fighting oppression on the oppressed, Keyes’ admission wouldn’t have been a political act.

Stop and think: invisible access for invisible disabilities

[This post was originally posted at Hoyden About Town on May 4, 2007.]

This is my first personal post about being sick. A “coming-out”, to some of my online friends. And a whole lot of elaboration, for those who know I’m sick, but don’t know the details. It’s taken me ages to write, and I haven’t re-drafted it: here are my musings, in the raw.

Becoming Sick

I have moderately severe chronic fatigue syndrome, or something that looks very much like it. I first got sick two and a half years ago, quite suddenly. After a few months of feeling just a bit off, not bouncing back with my self-prescribed generic good-food-and-fun-and-exercise cure for tiredness, I suddenly crashed. Over the course of about two weeks, I crashed hard. I became unable to work, and daily living was full of what suddenly seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. I dropped things, felt off balance, walked into things, had large-muscle twitches, thermoregulation problems, I was suddenly blanketed in pain. My short-term memory came and went and I couldn’t concentrate on more than one thing at once, a huge change in cognitive function for me. Most noticeably, activity didn’t pick me up like it always had in the past. Before, if I felt a little off I could go for a bike ride or a swim or a choir rehearsal or a night out dancing, and feel invigorated by it. After, I’d walk a couple of blocks then flump down absolutely exhausted. This was the first time I’d ever felt like this, and it didn’t make any sense! Continue reading Stop and think: invisible access for invisible disabilities