Tag Archives: sexuality

Book Review: Wildthorn, by Jane Eagland

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

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

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

Read more: Book Review: Wildthorn, by Jane Eagland

Recommended Reading for December 14, 2010

K__ at Feminists with FSD: Notes on MTV’s True Life: I Can’t Have Sex

Actual, proper terminology was used throughout the show. Chronic pelvic pain conditions were named, but some conditions that overlap were not mentioned at all (interstitial cystitis, for example, was not explored in this episode. This is a shame – interstitial cystitis is another misunderstood condition which would benefit from careful media coverage.) This episode focused on the impact of chronic pelvic pain on the women’s sex lives. And that means that while you could learn a little about life with chronic pelvic pain from this episode, for a clinical discussion and details on specific conditions and available treatments, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Carol at Aspieadvocate: I’m an Embarrassment

Yeah, I know some parents of autistic kids worry about the kids embarrassing the rest of the family in public with their unusual behavior. But for me it’s the other way around. I never shut up about autism, mine or his, and while I have every right to out myself, I’m making decisions about him that should really be his to make. Except even if he’s made different decisions about disclosure than I have, he’s not (yet) verbal enough to tell anyone.

David Gorksi at Science-Based Medicine: Death by “alternative” medicine: Who’s to blame? [trigger warning]

Of course, the implication of “Secret” thinking is that, if you don’t get what you want, it’s your fault, an idea that also resonates with so much “alternative” medicine, where a frequent excuse for failure is that the patient either didn’t follow the regimen closely enough or didn’t want it badly enough. Basically, The Secret is what inspired Kim Tinkham to eschew all conventional therapy for her breast cancer and pursue “alternative” therapies, which is what she has done since 2007. Before I discuss her case in more detail, I’m going to cut to the chase, though.

This weekend, I learned that Kim Tinkham’s cancer has recurred and that she is dying.

Arwyn at Raising My Boychick: How far I’ve come

Eight years ago I was withdrawing from college. Again. I’d started medication, divalproex sodium, and that was going to cure me; we’d packed up our possessions, bought furniture in flat boxes, and drove it most of the way across the country to this town with one redeeming feature: the college from which I had just withdrawn because it was better than flunking out from chronic absences. I did not know who I was, what good I was, if I could not do college, be a student. I could not see a future, and mostly did not believe I had one.

Linsay at Autist’s Corner: Autism-related gene spotlight: CNTNAP2

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: CNTNAP2 is a large gene near the end of chromosome 7 that encodes a cell-adhesion protein involved in distributing ion channels along axons (the long tails of nerve cells) and in attaching the fatty cells making up the myelin sheath to the surface of the axon. DIsruptions in this gene have been associated with autism, epilepsy, Tourette syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Variations at certain points within the gene that don’t alter or disrupt its expression have also been associated with an increased likelihood of autism.

Recommended Reading for August 31, 2010

Pamela Paul for the New York Times: Can Preschoolers be Depressed?

In the winter of 2009, when Kiran was 5, his parents were told that he had preschool depression, sometimes referred to as “early-onset depression.” He was entered into a research study at the Early Emotional Development Program at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, which tracks the diagnosis of preschool depression and the treatment of children like Kiran. “It was painful,” Elizabeth says, “but also a relief to have professionals confirm that, yes, he has had a depressive episode. It’s real.”

Mary Crawford for the APA Monitor: Parenting with a disability: The last frontier

Social psychologist and bioethicist Asch says that a lack of familiarity may be one reason for professionals’ biases toward people with disabilities. “Very few professionals know people with disabilities as peers,” says Asch, who teaches at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. “Their only contact with people with disabilities is in a crisis situation, where the professional is [called on for help]. So the notion among some professionals is that people with disabilities always need help and can never give help or nurturance to another human being or provide a child with security or protection.”

Naomi Jacobs for the Guardian‘s Comment is Free: Disabled people do have sex lives. Get over it.

This is not a story about “taxpayers’ money” – most disabled people who have local authority-funded care plans are only allowed to spend these on basic services such as help with washing and dressing. What it is really about is moral outrage over an isolated case, which is also a smokescreen for much more disturbing attitudes towards disabled people’s lives.

CBC News: Down Syndrome group slams Emmys

“With race, sexual orientation and disability, you are talking people’s core identity — things that are unchangeable,” she said. “What do we get out of making fun of things that people cannot change, other than degrading them and making them feel they are not part of society.”

Amber Dance for the Los Angeles Times: In the Works: Microneedle patches could take the sting out of shots

The Band-Aid-like patches, coated with microscopic needles, generally don’t hurt. Moreover, they may actually work better at delivering vaccines and some medications, according to recent research.

Quoted: Audre Lorde

The supposition that one [group] needs the other’s acquiescence in order to exist prevents both from moving together as self-defined persons toward a common goal. This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a limited and particular amount of freedom that must be divided up between us, with the largest and juiciest pieces of liberty going as spoils to the victor or the stronger. So instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves for a larger slice of the one pie.

— “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving” (1978), in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (The Crossing Press, 1984)

Recommended Reading for April 13, 2010

Renee Martin: I’m not a Feminist (and there is no but)

Blogs run by traditionally marginalised women do not attract the same attention by the media. When feminists are pulled from the internet for interviews, it is routinely the same white feminist voices representing the broad perspectives that are visible on the internet.

Flora: Guest Post – Heteronormativity and FSD

The vast majority of the medical profession is very heteronormative. If you are a woman, you are assumed to have a relationship with a man. If you don’t have one, you are assumed to want one. If you have one, you are assumed to be having intercourse, or to want to have intercourse eventually (waiting till you’re married etc). If you say you are sexually active, you are assumed to be having intercourse. And that even if you do other things besides intercourse, you still see intercourse as the “highlight,” as the only real important sex act.

evilpuppy at Livejournal: “I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Strangers”

The attendant standing in the front section of economy was a blonde woman probably in her late 40s-50s and I called her over to explain that I needed her assistance because I wasn’t capable of lifting my luggage due to my disability. To my surprise, the attendant rejected my request while excusing it by saying: “If I helped everyone do that all day then MY back would be killing me by the end of the day!” I asked her how I was supposed to get my luggage stowed and her answer was: “You’ll just have to wait for someone from your row to come back here and ask them to give you a hand.”

Ally: Those are These, and These are…Me

I am one of Those People. I have friends who are Those People. That World, that you seem so quick to reassure me I am not part of? The world where every statement begins with a negative prefix, a non, dis, lacking-in, etc? That world of people who need things done for them, of people who take too long to do anything on their own, and get in everybody’s way, and can’t help but be inept, no one’s blaming them, but god, do we have to humor them? I am part of that world. When you talk about Those People, you are talking about me.

Maria L. La Ganga (Los Angeles Times): Severely disabled, is she still a mom? Battle nears over visitation rights of a woman injured in childbirth [trigger warning for very graphic descriptions of medical trauma]

Abbie’s parents have been named conservators of her estate, which includes a multimillion-dollar malpractice settlement, and are asking a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to order Dan to let Abbie see her children. Dan has refused all requests, arguing that visitation would be too traumatic at their young age.

Feminism Objectifies Women

You’ve heard the term “choice feminism” right? Usually used derisively by a person who is arguing: Just because a woman makes a choice does not make it a feminist choice, we have to be able to examine issues on a systemic rather than individual level, some choices that individual feels are good for them are actually going to be bad for the group as a whole and even bad for that individual when systemic issues are taken into consideration.

Here’s what annoys me about this argument. It always comes from the perspective of a white, cisgendered, currently nondisabled, middle-to-upper-class, heteronormative, and otherwise socially privileged person.

That doesn’t mean that it’s that kind of person saying it: it means that the very idea comes from a very specific perspective, in response to a very specific situation.

And not all of us are in that same situation.

The assumption, when this person says “we have to be able to make some sort of systemic analysis and that will mean some choices have to be wrong” they are almost always assuming some specific things.

* Women have been historically locked in their homes tending their houses and families, and larger society pushes against women’s ability to participate in the workforce, and women should participate in the workforce at the highest level possible.

* Women are oversexualized, and that sexualization takes specific forms, such as high heels, lipstick, makeup, dresses.

* Women are stereotyped as demure and submissive, soft and giving, caring and intuitive.

* Women are forced into roles as family carers, encouraged to have as many children as possible and to be the primary carer to those children, stereotyped as having special natural ability to raise children.

That’s just a few.

Here’s the thing. Everything I just said above about “women”? Isn’t true for women. Rather, it is true for white women. Or cisgendered women. Or nondisabled women. It is not true for women as a class.

Yet we continually operate on the assumption that it is!

But ask some other women, sometime, what their experience has been. Many poor and lower-class women, for example, would gladly tell you that they have never had a whiff of an option to stay home with their children — they’ve been out there washing the rich women’s drawers, or sewing them in the first place, so that they can afford dinner for their family a few days out of the week. Ask a black woman about being a nanny and wet nurse. Ask both of those women, and a few mentally or physically disabled women, about when they had their children taken away from them or weren’t allowed to spend any time with them at all (apart from the time they spent cleaning up the messes of the children of those rich/white/nondisabled women they worked for).

Ask a little black or brown girl in some poor neighborhoods about being expected to be virginal (a concept that depends on whiteness from the very beginning) until her wedding day. She’ll probably laugh at you. She’s been continually harassed, abused and assaulted since age six. She’s portrayed in larger culture as an unsexual unwoman and yet every man who crosses her path sees her as a potent sexual opportunity.

Ask the little girl with developmental disabilities about sex sometime, too. No one ever sees fit to give her any information on the subject. They fight to have her sterilized, or even be forced with serious drugs and surgical interventions to stay in a prepubescent state for the rest of her life, so that no one will ever have to deal with the messy proposition of a menstruating or pregnant r*t*rd girl. And if she does get pregnant, that baby had better be aborted immediately, because she could never, ever be anything but an utter failure of a parent. Sterilization is proposed precisely so that she will never get pregnant even if she is sexually assaulted by carers — precisely because everyone knows that she will be.

Ask the visibly disabled woman about being expected to dress up in skirts and high-heeled shoes. Everybody around her will wince at the thought of her in form-fitting, skin-showing clothing. Because, you know, “women” are oversexualized in that way. Ask her about those super-special parenting powers she supposedly has. Everybody around her will bristle at the thought of her having primary responsibility over a child. Because, you know, “women” are stereotyped as having those super-special powers.

All of these girls and women live very different lives as girls and women. The fact that they are marginalized as girls and women is one thing they share in common. But the ways in which they are marginalized are different!

A white woman is marginalized in a different way than a Latina woman is. And a Latina woman is marginalized in a different way than an indigenous woman! A nondisabled woman is marginalized in a different way than a paraplegic woman is… and a paraplegic woman is marginalized in a different way than a bipolar woman is. An upper-middle-class woman in urban New York is marginalized in a different way than a poor woman in urban New York — and a poor woman in New York is marginalized in a different way than a poor woman in Indiana.

There are different mechanisms of marginalization for different types of people — and the greater your difference from the presumed default person, the more different your type of marginalization looks than the privileged-other-than-gender woman.

And that means that what affects you, how it affects you, what issues are important to you, what is good for you and what is bad for you, is different for different sorts of people.

So we cannot, cannot assume, if we agree that “choice feminism” is misguided (and indeed, I believe that straw-ideology would be misguided — well, surely many people think that way, but that is not usually the argument that is being put forth in these discussions), that high heels, lipstick, being submissive, foregoing paid work to raise children, etc. etc. are clearly problematic under a systemic feminist analysis. Because they might be clearly problematic for one set of women — but they are not clearly problematic for the set of all women.

Actually, sensible shoes and baggy desexualized clothing might be clearly problematic for a different set of women who have been historically deprived of their right to any sexuality. Actually, full-time participation in the paid workforce might be clearly problematic for a different set of women who have already been working outside the home for centuries and have historically been denied the right to raise their own children. Actually, being aggressive and dominating or even merely appearing assertive and self-confident might be clearly problematic for a different set of women who are culturally typed as bossy, loud, demanding and unyielding and rarely read as anything but.

Given all of this, I am distrustful of anyone who argues against “choice feminism” or the idea that “any choice is a good choice for that person” because that is not the point. When people protest as you judge their choices against your standards, they are not claiming that no choice could ever be problematic. They are protesting because you are applying the standard of your particular experience against their very different experience. They are protesting because you are assuming that your experience is universal. They are protesting because you are invalidating their own experience, their own feelings and thoughts and desires, in the process. They are protesting because you are objectifying them. And it feels pretty shitty to be objectified.

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

Interview: Sex & Disability

WARNING: This post is likely NSFW, and talks about sex.

If you do not want to know anything about my sex life, you don’t want to read it.

I was recently interviewed for an article about sex & disability.

Read more: Interview: Sex & Disability

By 15 February, 2010.    sexuality, social attitudes  ,  

Guest Post: Sex and Scoliosis

This is a Guest Post by Atlasien. It was originally published here.

I’m a multiracial Asian-American woman, Southerner, third-culture kid and mommyblogger. I’ve been living in the Atlanta area for more than a decade now. I mainly blog about race and foster care adoption. My husband and I have a 7-year-old son that we adopted as an older child. I enjoy this blog, and I’ve learned a lot of important stuff about disability issues by reading here.

What does scoliosis have to do with sex?

There are a lot of connections. I guess I’ll need to start by explaining scoliosis. It’s a common disorder, but one that is often very misunderstood by the general public, as well as many non-orthopedic doctors. Most people vaguely remember a scoliosis check from their school days. Sometimes the kids are lined up in a row, and told to take off their shirts and bend over while a medical professional inspects them from the back. The experience is obviously rather humiliating and tends to cause a lot of nervous laughter.

Scoliosis — a sideways, left-right asymmetry of the spine — is the most common form of spinal deformity. It can also be accompanied by other forms of spinal deformity, like kyphosis (AKA hunchback) and extreme lordosis (AKA swayback). It sometimes comes as a package deal along with disorders of connective tissue, or with cerebral palsy and spinal bifida. In those cases, scoliosis is often diagnosed at a very early age.

The other kind of scoliosis, the much more common kind, seems to come out of nowhere. It’s known as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis or AIS. “Idiopathic” is from the same Greek root as “idiot” and basically means “we have no idea what causes it.” Though recent research has shown that it’s actually genetic, and they’ve even tracked down the genetic location (but only if you’re white, which is bizarre, because there isn’t any significant racial/ethnic difference in prevalence rate). Someone with this kind of scoliosis (usually a girl, as the incidence of more serious curves among women is 7-10 times that of men) is born with a normal-looking spine. Before puberty, the spine begins to bend and curve. Maybe it stays there… maybe it gets worse through puberty. Then maybe it stays there, or maybe it gets a lot worse close to menopause. Without major surgery, it’s essentially a one way road. In scoliosis vocabulary, when curves get worse, it’s called “progression”. “Progression” is bad. Arresting progression is good.

According to this NIH resource, “Of every 1,000 children, 3 to 5 develop spinal curves that are considered large enough to need treatment.” If you adjust for sex, the rate climbs up to almost 1% of all girls. I don’t know of any source that says actually how many girls receive treatment of which types. Treatment means to watch, take lots of x-rays, determine progression, and if it looks like progression is, well, progressing, to brace. Or in very serious cases, go directly to spinal fusion.

A pre-teen girl, front and back view, with her face obscured.  She has a metal brace that has one rod running up the front to a metal collar, and two rods in the back.  There is a fiberglass girdle across the abdomen and down to the hips.  There is a strap hooking to both sides of the metal rod in the front.  Descriptive text provided by Don.

That’s the “Milwaukee” variant of brace. It’s the kind I had. It’s made from hard plastic and steel. It’s expensive, ugly, frightening, and extremely uncomfortable. The family nickname for my brace was “The Iron Maiden”. You can climb into it and strap it on and off, and adjustments of the screws will accommodate changing body shape during puberty. I think you’re supposed to wear it until a few years past puberty, when your spine growth finally halts. The brace is an old form of treatment and it’s shown to be moderately effective at arresting progression.

Three images of the back of a young woman.  In each, there is an obvious curvature of her spine.  It's an S-style curve.  The middle portion of her back, around the shoulder blades, is off-set to the right, while the shoulders and hips line up relatively evenly.  Descriptive text by Don.

Many girls experience horror and anger when they find out what bracing is going to mean for their lives, and that it won’t even fix them, it will just probably keep them from getting any worse.

It was easier for me to accept my fate. First of all, my mother also has idiopathic scoliosis, and her curve was fairly serious. Hers is comparable to the woman pictured above. She had not been treated as a girl, and her scoliosis had slowly progressed as she went into middle age. She eventually had a spinal fusion — two long steel rods screwed into her spine — and was in the hospital for two weeks. So I had a strong motivation to make sure my curve didn’t progress as far as my mother’s. She was also a positive role model for me. I saw her as an active, glamorous woman who refused to be limited by scoliosis. I tried to adopt the same stoic attitude toward my own scoliosis. Second of all, my orthopedist said it was OK to only wear my brace 12 hours a day, which meant I slept in it, but I didn’t have to wear it to school. I think he may have subscribed to the philosophy that although the brace should really be worn 23 hours a day, there’s so much social stigma attached to it that many girls rebel, and won’t wear it at all, whereas a private bracing regimen has more likelihood of consistent follow-through.

I don’t know if it would have made school any worse. I’ve written before about the extensive racist abuse, and sexualized racist abuse, I got in late elementary and middle school.

I was harassed so much in the locker room my first year of middle school that I refused to change my clothes at all. P.E. was a living nightmare full of verbal attacks and physical threats from larger girls. I spent much of my time desperately thinking of ways I could get a medical excuse. Unfortunately, aside from my scoliosis, I was healthy as a horse. I refused to participate in activities anyway, and sat with the asthma-sidelined section. I’m still bitter about this experience because it taught me to associate healthy athleticism with emotional trauma and racist bullying. Maybe if I’d had my brace on, I could have gotten my coveted medical excuse.

It was something I never, ever thought of at the time, though. The orthopedist’s word was the word of law. And the brace was something to be hidden. I think this is a common tendency among brace-wearers. Girls that age don’t want to be seen in a brace. For photos, they’ll take off the brace. If they’re told to wear it to school, they’re mocked and stared at. At the time, I considered myself very lucky that I was able to hide my brace from other kids my age.

I don’t know much about disability theory and disablism, but I’ve been reading through blogs about it, and it’s very interesting in relation to scoliosis. I don’t identify as a disabled person/person with disabilities, and I don’t think many other people with idiopathic scoliosis do. But many of us have also gone through an intensely emotional adolescent period where we’re viewed as disabled.

One of the hallmarks of disablism is that it strips away sexuality. The prejudice against disabled people includes thinking they are not supposed to exist sexually, have sexual desire or be desired.

Being braced means going through puberty strapped and screwed in to a weird exoskeleton that incarnates the negation and emprisonment of your sexuality. Your breasts and hips are starting to grow. They might start to bump painfully against the brace. So you have to visit the doctor — often an older man — who adjusts your screws to accommodate your new growth.

The brace seems anti-sexual, but it also has positive sexual connotations. The light at the end of the dark tunnel is that the brace will “keep you normal”. You’ll get through puberty and enter into sexually desirable womanhood without too much spinal deformity… the brace will preserve you. The brace probably becomes the most significant physical object in your life, for good and for evil.

I certainly didn’t receive any counseling about my scoliosis. I don’t know if it’s common today to have counseling as part of the bracing process. If it’s not, it should be. Girls who have gone through bracing feel like it’s them, alone, against the world. Although it’s quite a common experience, by medical and social tradition, the disorder is isolated and hidden.

This study showed that bracing doesn’t affect self-image much. However, it also takes places in Sweden, where school environment I’m sure is quite different than in the U.S. This other U.S. study tells a somewhat different story: “Scoliosis was an independent risk factor for suicidal thought, worry and concern over body development, and peer interactions after adjustment. CONCLUSION: Scoliosis is a significant risk factor for psychosocial issues and health-compromising behavior. Gender differences exist in male and female adolescents with scoliosis.”

After bracing, scoliosis, and deformities of the spine in general, become almost invisible. It’s extremely rare to have a spinal deformity so pronounced that anyone can tell by looking at you when you have clothes on. People with idiopathic scoliosis “pass”. People have known me for years, even decades, without knowing I had scoliosis. Then one day they’ll see me in a bathing suit — and not even the first time they saw me in a bathing suit, but maybe the first time they really focused on my back — and they’ll burst out with something like, “OH MY GOD DID YOU KNOW SOMETHING IS REALLY WRONG WITH YOUR SPINE!!

Once it stops being invisible, it’s all of a sudden very, very visible. I guess it’s sort of like shaking hands with someone and suddenly realizing they have six fingers.

If I’m not experiencing any back pain, I rarely think about my scoliosis, although I sometimes worry about my future. Pregnancy is not a risk factor for progression, but menopause is. Right now, my thoracic curve is 36 degrees. If it gets past 40, I might need spinal fusion surgery. This is a mostly safe procedure, but it’s still really scary, and involves weeks in the hospital. Click on the following link if you’ve seen enough David Cronenberg movies that you think you can handle it (link to nightmarish spinal fusion surgery image). Spinal fusion partially reverses the curve, arrests or slows down further progression and relieves chronic pain. You’re still reasonably flexible afterwards, but there are potential complications, and I’m not considering surgery at this stage. If I refused surgery, and my curve happened to progress further, I would start to have more pain and diminished lung capacity. Past 60 degrees, I might start to experience severe and constant pain in my back and/or ribs, and my internal organs would get squeezed together and I might start to have breathing problems. Past 80 degrees I might have lung AND heart problems.

But I don’t stay up night worrying about the risks of progression. Many people have more uncertainty about their medical future than I do. For example, if I had diabetes, I might worry about having a foot amputation.

Since I grew up with scoliosis, it’s taken me a while to understand how it looks from the outside. Aesthetically speaking: not good. We’re conditioned to associate left-right symmetry with health and general well-being. People with moderate scoliosis, like me, often look symmetrical from the front, but asymmetrical from the back, and I suppose that seems eerie and perhaps even deceptive and sneaky. There’s a lot of really negative associations in popular culture (e.g. Hunchback of Notre Dame). When mean-spirited people do “retard” imitations they’ll often hunch up one shoulder and stagger in order to simulate a deformed spine.

I don’t talk about scoliosis casually because a) I don’t have any major health problems because of it, so there’s not that much to talk about b) I’m afraid of it being used against me. I’ll put it on medical history forms when I know I can be assured of privacy. It was used against me recently when I applied for private disability insurance. I thought it would be a good idea to have a separate private policy in case I lost my job for any reason. I did a ton of research, spent a lot of time talking with the salesman, and ended up with a quote that specifically excluded anything going wrong with my reproductive system AND my back. I changed my mind and decided it wasn’t worth buying since so much of my body was apparently un-insurable. They excluded my ENTIRE BACK. Hypothetically speaking, if I got in a minor car accident, and as a result developed the exact same kind of back problems that anyone without scoliosis would develop, nothing would be covered. What a terrible deal. No thanks!

The health implications of my scoliosis are not that extreme, and I don’t need any accommodations to perform any major life activities, which is why I don’t consider myself disabled.

– I have foot pain in my arch if I don’t wear comfortable shoes. I can wear platforms, but I can’t wear high heels.
– I have to be a bit careful doing things like yoga and pilates.
– I have to stay reasonably active in order to be 100% pain-free. When I get too sedentary, I start having back pain and rib pain. If I ever had an illness that forced me to rest all the time, I’d be in big trouble. Exercise and stretching are highly effective for scoliosis back pain. Other options I would consider to control pain if it ever got worse include drugs, physical therapy and adult braces. There are a gazillion alternative health “cures” for scoliosis back pain suffering, but they strike me as being of very dubious efficacy.
– I have to watch my posture
– I have to watch my weight. Excess weight leads to back pain. Being underweight might be even worse, because being underweight is connected to bone density loss, and people with scoliosis have lower than average bone density anyway.

None of these problems are really unique to scoliosis. Plenty of able-bodied and disabled people have back pain or foot pain.

This link from Eurospine.org sums it up: “Progression of scoliosis can involve an aesthetic problem and lead to functional problems. Respiratory disorders may develop in large curves greater than 80 [degrees]. Nonetheless, the mortality rates and vital prognosis in individuals with scoliosis are comparable to those of the general population.”

It’s the “aesthetic problem” of scoliosis that’s unique. Like I mentioned before, left-right symmetry is wound up with definitions of health and beauty across many different cultures. People like me are aware of this on a subconscious or barely conscious level. 99.99% of the time I forget that I don’t fit that symmetrical standard. Every so often I’m reminded, and it feels a bit painful. There are subtle psychological effects. Vague feelings of being a secret curved impostor in a straight-backed world. Times when I feel like my spine is an enemy working against me… times when it hurts to breathe and the pain makes me feel angry at my spreading rib bones, and I wish I could reach inside of myself and squeeze them back into place. Sometimes I’m bitter about the inches of height I lost to scoliosis.

Back to sex. Even without bracing, there’s still a sexual paradox when it comes to scoliosis. Have you ever seen a picture of a woman with scoliosis and/or kyphosis that was not anonymous, depersonalized, clinical, grim and depressing? Like the photos I included above? Scoliosis is profoundly unsexy.

On the other hand, when women pose provocatively, they often throw one hip to the side and put one shoulder forward.Why is that pose sexy? Maybe it makes us look femininely defenseless and vulnerable, as opposed to a masculine, stick straight pose. That’s going along with a typical sexist definition of “femininity”. There’s another less sexist possibility… the pose is also highlighting the flexibility of the spine. So in that sense, the woman is showing off her body’s capacity by bending in a certain way.

There’s a comic book artist, Rob Liefeld, who was (in)famous starting in the 1980s for drawing unrealistic women. The conventions of drawing women are in comics are easy to criticize, but Liefeld’s stuff is… well…I guess you’d have to see the spinal curvature to believe it.

Iconic Rob Leifeld drawing of a super heroine.  She's posing facing right, turning her head over her shoulder.  She has an impossibly-narrow abdomen, and spine curvature similar to severe lordosis, an inner curve of the spine.  She is not wearing very much clothing.  Description by Don.

That’s supposed to be sexy. For the audience of predominantly young men who made Liefeld very popular, it must have been sexy. This is a funny analysis of the above drawing by a group of women comic book artists:

Take note of Avengelyne’s waist and how it is thinner than her head. Minus the hair. Note how it hangs beneath her ribcage like a suspension bridge, rather than actually supporting the top of her body. (Her torso must be kept afloat by those helium breasts.) Note the scoliosis gone grossly untreated. Note the little leather bags which wouldn’t fit around a normal person’s wrist. Especially note that the artist put her in the most obvious POSE to exaggerate the spine: a profile shot with negative space between her back and arm. That’s correct – our intrepid heroine’s spine would appear yanked. Avengelyne is a SWAYback™.

The humor is partly at my expense. But I can’t help laughing. It’s a highly sexualized image, but not one that I identify with in any way.

But here’s a poster image I ran across that uses stupid sexist humor to make fun of a real woman, and I don’t find it funny at all.

A woman is facing straight on the camera, with her weight obviously all on one side.  She's curved her body to look like an S.  Text reads: Scoliosis: Making an otherwise beautiful girl look pitiful.  Image is from Motivated Photos.com, description by Anna

It really illuminates the double standard that women are subjected to. You’re supposed to be sexy so that you please men. But if it looks like you’re trying TOO hard, men (and other women) will make fun of you. If you don’t wear makeup, you’re a [insert homophobic slur]. Wear too much makeup, you’re a [insert transgender-phobic slur]. Curve your back, look sexy. Curve it too much, it looks like you’re deformed. Argh!

Thanks to my brief readings of disability theory, I realize that making fun of people with spinal deformities isn’t something I should just accept as the natural order of things, especially because this humor is connected to moral judgments of disability. That is, the idea that physical body difference reflects some kind of moral failing. When it comes to scoliosis, I think the general public halfway believes that scoliosis is the fault of the person’s family. There’s a myth that giving young kids backpacks that are too heavy will make their spines curve (totally not true). When people are adults, “she should have had that corrected” is sometimes an assumption. A lot of people don’t realize that the only sure way to even partly reverse a curve is spinal fusion, which also leaves a giant seam-scar running up your back. Another judgment is that a person with scoliosis must be poor. It’s true that I’m very lucky I had access to bracing; if I wasn’t born into a middle-class family in a rich country, my curve would be a lot worse by now. So there are major class differences in scoliosis, but ultimately, we’re all in different positions on the same boat because there is no way to permanently and completely reverse adult scoliosis.

Thanks to flickr, I did actually find some images of scoliosis that I think are beautiful and help affirm positive self-image and sexuality. I wish I’d found a greater variety of body types, but these images are great to start off with. Some are post spinal fusion.

First, here’s the typical clinical picture. It shows everything that’s wrong with the body.

A woman is facing away from the camera, with arrows pointing to various parts of body to describe them.  Head not centered over body.  One shoulder (right) higher.  One shoulder blade (right) higher and possibly more prominent.  Spine obviously curved (to the left).  One hip (left) more prominent.  Unequal gaps between the (left) arm and the trunk.  Description by Anna

Now here are the flickr pictures. They show the open possibility and vitality of a body with scoliosis.

Man with scoliosis facing away from the camera.  Someone has drawn his spine on his back with make up.
black and white photo of a woman facing away from the camera, wearing only a towel or blanket.  Her spine is curved, and her scars are visible.

man facing away from camera.  The photo is in a mirror.  One can see both his scoliosis scars from surgery and his elaborate arm tattoo.

woman facing away from the camera.  She is caught in the middle of dropping an apple behind her back, both arms curved behind her.

woman facing away from the camera.  The image is otherwise in black and white, except for her vivid red hair and lips.  She is wearing a black dress with part of the back cut out.  It clearly shows the curve of her spine.

photo is in black and white of a woman's lower torso, with a pronounced rib-cage and a pierced belly button

woman facing straight on the camera.  She is wearing both a brace, as described above, and a purple corset.

woman facing left from camera, with back facing camera.  She's wearing an back brace, and balancing on a small ball.

It’s heartening to see a bunch of pictures like that. There are more photos at this link.

When I walk, my right hip swivels a bit higher and wider than my left hip. I’ve had people tell me it looks sexy. I’ve had people ask if I’ve hurt my foot. Neither reaction bothers me anymore. The way I walk is just the way I walk. It gets me where I need to go.

Acknowledgements for this post: thanks to Thorn for commenting about this issue, and mentioning how it negatively affected your adoption homestudy due to ignorance on the part of the social worker. Also thanks to Deesha Philyaw on Twitter for mentioning the Judy Blume book about a girl who goes through bracing: Deenie. I wish I’d gotten a chance to read that book when I was a girl, and it sounds really interesting.

Guest Post: Disability and Asexuality

Kaz is a German woman in her twenties, currently doing a maths PhD in the UK. She is on the autistic spectrum, stutters, and has been dealing with clinical depression on and off since her teens; she considers all of these disabilities. She is also aromantic-tending-towards-homoromantic asexual and identifies as queer. She blogged as Zailyn at WP for a while, but can now be found at either Dreamwidth or Livejournal, where she writes about fandom, disability, feminism, asexuality, and sometimes even maths.

Kaz’s note: First of all, this is not a 101-level post on either the asexuality or the disability side of things. However, I’m aware that asexuality isn’t really an issue that is on most people’s radars, so to anyone who doesn’t know much about it I suggest you check out AVEN in general and the Wiki in particular before reading or whenever you run into something that doesn’t seem clear.

Mod Note: Kaz & I talked and I’ve put in some links to terms as they come up.

A list.  The header reads: What is your Sexual Orientation?  Typed underneath with check boxes is Heterosexual, Homosexual, Bisexual.  Written in, with a hand-drawn check box, is other.  The check box is filled in next to other

Talking about the intersection of asexuality and disability is pretty difficult, because “asexuality” gets another meaning in disability rights discourse: it’s used to refer to the various stereotypes about disabled people’s sexualities. People do often seem to realise that this is problematic when it’s pointed out to them. However, what not so many people realise off the bat is that it goes beyond just “problematic”.

The stereotypes in question actually consist of a wide variety of things tossed together, some of which are in line with asexuality but many of which seem to have little to do with asexuality or in fact to be entirely opposed to it (I am interested to see how the stereotype of the disabled woman not saying no because she feels lucky anyone wants her is supposed to relate to asexuality, for instance). What they have in common, however, seems to be: denying disabled people their sexual agency and the right to make decisions or have knowledge about their own bodies and sexualities. The stereotypes about disabled people’s sexualities seem quite in line with the common tendency to consider us childlike, helpless and needing to be protected for our own good.

Asexual adults? Are not children. Nor do we (or, at least, should we) lack agency. In fact, the very existence of the asexual movement shows that we are in opposition to a lot of these ideas! We’re organising, we’re campaigning, we’re demanding that our sexual identity should be recognised and considered valid; disabled people are stereotyped to not have a sexual identity at all. (There is a distinction between the lack of a sexual orientation and a sexual orientation incorporating lack of sexual attraction that most people miss, but that is crucially important in this context.) Taking all the stereotypes disabled people get hit with regarding sex and sexuality and claiming that they all boil down to making them like asexual people? Like me? Is something I actually find really offensive.

An example: the desexualisation of disabled people often gets used to justify giving them less extensive sex ed or no sex ed at all compared to abled people. However, saying this is because they’re stereotyped as asexual entirely misses the fact that – asexual people need sex ed too! At the moment, it’s true that a lot of us will probably need it less than most sexual people, but it is still necessary as a large portion of asexuals do end up having sex at some point in their lives. Also, if mainstream comprehensive sex ed ever gets away from the “put the condom on the banana” “tab A slot B” style of sex education and starts talking about things like sexual orientation, explicit consent, how to figure out whether sex is the right decision for you at a certain time, etc. – I’d argue that we need this kind of sex ed more than many sexual people, as being a sexual minority tends to lead to more confusion and needing to figure things out. (There’s a traumatic experience I could have happily avoided if sex ed ran more in this direction.)

Also, using the name of my sexuality for these stereotypes obscures the fact that actually, they have negative effects for me, too. For instance, there is an astounding amount of ableism in the arguments people use to try and invalidate asexuality, ranging from “you should get your hormones checked!” over “that’s a disability, not a sexual orientation” to “you’re just all autistic!” You can imagine how the last one feels to me as an asexual autistic person! Worse, parts of the asexual movement buy into this and will talk about how they’re not autistic, their sexuality is valid – unlike mine, apparently?

…hey, I recognise this argument! But wait a minute, we can’t very well call it stereotyping disabled people as asexual if it’s being used to invalidate the sexualities of asexual people.
Read more: Guest Post: Disability and Asexuality

Recommended Reading for October 30

#Antidev: Some thoughts on disability “devotees”

The issue of disability devotees — and let’s call a spade a spade here: they’re fetishists — divides the disability community at every level, from academia to, well, Facebook. It’s something women with visible disabilities encounter regularly. And I believe that, while the extremists are relatively rare, the growing acceptance of “devotees” online will trickle down into the broader social constructs around disability.

It’s widely believed that people with disabilities are viewed (in contemporary Western culture, at least) as “asexual.” The truth is more complex. We certainly do not fit the airbrushed-cover-of-Vogue ideal of beauty that is shoved down our throats. But then again, neither do all but a few supermodels on the planet; we don’t consider 99.99% of women as asexual, though. So here’s a key point: differentiating beauty (or physical attractiveness) from sexuality. To be sure, sex can be different and require a bit of creativity and patience, but most women with physical disabilities (at least, the ones I know!) have pretty normal sex lives. Nevertheless, because we can fall so far outside the norm of what is considered attractive, we (like all women) tend to conflate general beauty with sexual attractiveness, making us easy targets for people calling themselves “disability devotees” — sexual fetishists who objectify women with disabilities and reduce them to the sum of their (disabled) parts. Many women with disabilities entertain such advances, or even encourage them; when you’ve lived in a society rife with ableism it can be easy to believe that your disability defines you (and as a woman, that your sexuality defines you), and fetishists play right into that mindset.

Personal Situation

Now that I know all these things about my father I can‘t stop thinking about it (especially the new info in addition to the terrible tirade from him the day before). I don’t want to live with him anymore, but I don’t really have any other options. I need constant care and there’s no one else in my family who is able to take care of me. I know everyone says this, but he truly does love me and wouldn’t be able to take care of me like this if he didn’t. Out of everyone in my life he’s given above and beyond anyone else when it comes to my caretaking – he’s here full time and any one else is less than once a month. But I can’t stand to be around him anymore. I have so much anger. I’m angry how he treated my mother, and indirectly caused her to hurt me. But I’m angry at my mother for directly hurting me. I’m angry at my father for having such an anger problem that we had to be afraid of it. I wish I was healthy so I could just move away, but my disability is so severe that I really can’t do anything for myself and need the constant care. I don’t want to go to some nursing home – I’ve heard too many stories about that to trust it.

One time in the past when he exploded emotionally, I called a nearby shelter because it was having such an emotional impact on me. I told them about my physical situation and they said that they were not handicap accessible and referred me to another shelter. Neither shelter would be able to care for me in the way that I need it. I just don’t want to be alone in this world – it‘s not just emotional, I need a someone to physically protect me because I am that fragile. It sucks that my family sucks, but they’re all I’ve got right now and they’ve helped me in a lot of other ways.

In the news:

Via email from Ira G.: Minds Interrupted: Stories of Lives Affected by Mental Illness:

The three will be among eight Baltimoreans who will discuss the ways in which mental illness has wreaked havoc with their lives in a program called “Minds Interrupted.”

Participants wrote and edited their intimate, sometimes funny, often harrowing tales at a recent workshop that included tips on performance skills. Tickets will be sold to the show, which is being held at Center Stage, and which was modeled on the popular Stoop Storytelling series in which nonactors tell seven-minute-long anecdotes about their own lives.

The hybrid nature of “Minds Interrupted” can be perplexing: Is the evening a high-minded attempt to publicize a vexing and misunderstood social problem, or is it entertainment? And can the two categories successfully be mixed?

Five benchmarks for social assistance [Canada]

The next bold move the government must make is to stick to its guns on a comprehensive review of Ontario’s broken social assistance system.

The commitment to review Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program – made in the province’s poverty reduction strategy last December – has been agonizingly slow to get off the ground.

With the first anniversary of the strategy quickly approaching, more and more Ontarians are being forced to deplete their savings and join Ontario’s swelling welfare rolls.

As the province moves to more effectively employ resources to meet people’s needs and promote economic recovery, we can no longer afford to wait.

Student beaten to death in his Sac State Dorm Room

Scott Hawkins had Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, “that made him very obsessive about his favorite things,” his father said. He especially enjoyed studying ancient European and Middle Eastern history and was hoping he could graduate with a minor in one of those areas, his father said.

“He could go on and on about the history of Rome or the reasons that the Greek empire did this or that,” Gerald Hawkins said.

The attack was reported just before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday when one of the dorm’s resident assistants called police after hearing a loud disturbance coming from one of the suites.

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