Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How To Be Pissy About Disability Activism

Original Post By: Jumbled Words @LJ
With Xposting @JumbledWords.Com

Translation By: Avalon's Willow


OP: I want to preface this by saying that once I had written the first draft of this post I sat back, looked at it and said “wow, I sound just like one of those ‘it’s not that I don’t get feminists and all that, but do you have to be so, you know, angry?’”. So, I tried to edit it a bit, getting out what I want to say without looking like a total, erm, moron, but I’m not sure it worked. And if I had more than 15 readers in any given day this one would stir up a shit storm, I’m sure. Sorry about that, faithful 15 readers!

Translation: People are going to call me on my words, so I want to get it out of the way right now and let people now I AM A NICE PERSON. But I just don't have the energy to care about my words offending people. So tough noogies. I AM STILL A NICE PERSON THOUGH.

OP: When the blog Disabled Feminists, abbreviated to FWD, first started I was really excited. And there has been some great posts, of which my favourites are the ones on mental health, because, well, that’s me. And it’s great to see people writing about disabilities and making them visible, but it’s making me a little crazy.

(And that, right there, in case you were wondering, makes two counts of ableist language in this post so far!)

Translation: FWD was cool when it first started. Like a whole new cool girls clique in highschool. But then they got all activist and things got stale, which is sad, because they talked about things involving me and I always like hearing more about me.

OP: They also do posts on just that (and if you’re now saying “what the hell is that?” click here for an explanation), and tell you why certain words are bad and what to use instead. In the beginning I really liked those too. I a a nerd in so many different ways, and words and writing is my #1 nerdy indulgement, so I found the first few interesting, especially the one on the term hysterical.

It’s just that the words you cannot use because they are negative towards disabled people are growing really fast. As a writer I really hate having my words taking away from me. And more than that, I hate that feeling that way makes me into somewhat of a twat. (Why, yes, I’ve been listening to a lot of Kate Nash and Lily Allen lately, thank you for asking.)

Translation:: I am a nerd. Nerds are oppressed. I like words. Words can be used to oppress. But then they started taking away all the words I like using and pointing out ablism. Giving up privilege is hard and I don't wish to anymore!

OP: Some examples on words I use on a nearly daily basis, both while talking and writing, that are, apparently, ableist are: idiot, moron, lame, weak, sane/insane, crazy, intelligent, crutch, etc. Not all of these have been mentioned by FWD, but I’ve seen them dismissed as such in comments on various places online. That’s not all of it, though. There are also phrases like “don’t be so OCD”, “what’s your damage?” and “what’s your problem?”.

And while I realise that a person who cleans their kitchen because they are naturally tidy has nothing to do with OCD, it’s REALLY HARD to do produce writing if you feel like a gigantic arse every time you use any of a long line of words. For example, as a writer of YA fiction it’s just impossible to narrate a fight when instead of “what’s your problem?” (very common in teen speak) you are suggested to use (in this post) “I understand that this conversation is upsetting, do we need to take a break” or “I respect your point of view, but I disagree” or “I think that this conversation is becoming heated and it’s time to take a step back and regroup.

Translation: Just like white people who get upset because they can't use use the word NIGGER; I am upset because I can't use words that identify me as a member of ablist society. Those FWD people are taking away my right to use words without acknowledging my privilege! They R IN MAH SPACE, STEALIN' MAH BUCKET!

Also teenagers totally HAVE TO SAY "What's your problem?" and "What's your malfunction?" and "What's your damage?" in YA Lit or else they aren't teenagers!

IT IS TOO HARD to have them say instead: "What's your problem with _ (insert noun or pronoun here)_?"

IT IS TOO HARD to have them say instead: "What is going on with you today?!"

IT IS TOO HARD to have them say instead: "Why the ___ are you acting like such a ____?!!"

OP: And really, when I say that so-and-so are using so-and-so as a crutch? I don’t mean that crutches are bad and that people using them are weak and lesser people in any way or form. And while I realise why the FWD bloggers are so insistent on this particular topic, have read the post What We Talk About When We Talk About Language and understand it, I really dislike being told that I have no idea what it’s like to be called one word or another.

Translation: Despite the common history of the phrase "Using such and such as a crutch" to mean that the crutch being identified is preventing the individual from standing on their own two feet; despite the use of the phrase implying that standing on one's own two feet is the natural and normal state; despite the use of the word meaning the need to use a crutch signifies weakness and possible moral decay;

I INSIST THAT WHEN I USE IT I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE and it does not mean any of that! And also FWD are mean mean mean and are trying to get away with bossing me about. THEY ARE NOT THE BOSS OF ME! They don't know me, or what MY SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE ASSOCIATION IS with those words! I REPEAT THEY BE STEALIN' MAH BUCKET!

OP: You know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of spending four years of my life supportive my transgendered partner, seeing what he went through, learning how to give him his injections, prioritising buying him new binders before actual, you know, groceries, because he needed them to feel at least decent, mentally speaking, and he went through them at an alarming rate (I’m not saying he shouldn’t have any, I wouldn’t be that cruel, but perhaps using the same for more than a month or two would have been nice). And after all of that, during one of his (many) sad, sad, SAD rants, I dared to answer it with “I know how you feel,” because, you know, I had spent FOUR YEARS seeing him go through it and had heard this particular rant a hundred times before… and got thrown back at me “no, you don’t, you don’t know what it’s like, you just know what I say that it’s like”.

Case in point.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the line between making people aware of what it’s like to be disabled and overwhelm them and make them feel that no matter what they do, they’re not doing it well enough and they can’t possibly understand it because they have good legs and/or or are mostly sane, so what the hell do they know anyway, is extremely thin. Possibly invisible.

Translation: UTTER & COMPLETE BULLSHIT BABBLE with a side order of Trans creds and a bottle of tears! But you have to understand how exhausting it is to be on the outside looking in!

OP: (And also? When I have a bad day, I don’t feel “neuroatypical”, which is the word they use the most. I feel plain crazy. Or insane. Crazy is, by the way, crazier than insane, at least in my head.)

Translation: Me me me me. Also? Me. MOAR ME.

OP: So, I’ve been reading FWD for some time, becoming more and more uncomfortable with doing so. Because nearly every single day there was a new word that I was, apparently, a bad person for using. The thing that made me unsubscribe from their RSS feed, though, was their last post about Glee. It was a quite scathing piece on how wrong they’d gotten the disability angle and basically proclaimed the (able-bodied) actor playing Artie, the guy in the wheelchair, an, excuse my choice of words here, IDIOT.

It’s a long, long post, but what really got to me? This:

You know, Kevin, I can think of some very good reasons why people with disabilities might be angry at someone saying they’d been faking their disability for years. Maybe if you spent any time dealing with people assuming you were faking, accusing you of trying to “game the system”, telling you that you’re just a whiner for wanting extra time on an exam, or not been able to get into half the shops in your town because of “just one step”, you might get it a bit better.

Something that, had you even talked to someone with a disability about the issue, you might have understood.

I guess that’s why we call it acting.

And I can’t say that it was smart or thoughtful or whatever to say that he thought Artie was being dramatic when he found out the truth about Tina, but really? Focusing on the small sentence “At first I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic” rather than what came right after that, namely “But I really think Artie fell for Tina because they were set apart by their disabilities. They’re already kind of outcasts being in Glee, but within that group they shared a connection. So he based their whole relationship on that and when it went away, Artie didn’t know what to do.” is a bit, um, insert-word-of-your-choice-here-since-I-can’t-use-any-of-them-without-sounding-like-a-

Translation: TONE People! OMG! Your tone sucks! Why are you being so mean to people you should be greatful to! Why are you soooooo like, unpleasant?!!

I totally believe and agree with him that someone who is disabled who finds out the person they're crushing on has been faking a disability will be out of sorts without that HUGE THING TO HAVE IN COMMON anymore.

Crip drag? What crip drag? Excercise in privilege? What privilege?

OP:That post holds a big round up of links to blogs that write about how fucked up Glee is, and why can’t they ever get stuff right anyway? There’s like a ton of them. The only positive one I can find is this one. And okay. I knew from the start that the FWD people would lose their shit several times over Glee. And it’s a shame. Because instead of bitching about McHale sitting funny, not using his whole upper body when moving the chair (which he doesn’t, I noticed that too , and I kind of saw it because my best friend in primary school had AWESOME arm muscles from using a manual wheel chair and she won every arm wrestling competition the boys ever arranged), that his choreography sucks, that he’s just a prop, etc, etc, etc, is all but constructive.

Translation: OMG! I TONE ARGUMENT some MOAR! Why are you disabled people so bitter and lacking in positive feedback??!!! Props to my crip creds!

OP: We have a show which is centered around a) a Jewish (I think? Did I make that up?) girl with two dads (Rachel), b) a black, fat girl (Mercedes), c) an extremly effeminate gay boy (Kurt), d) a disabled guy (Artie), e) a shy, Asian girl with a stutter and blue highlights (Tina), and f) a white, handsome footballer (Finn). All but f) are things you do see on TV from time to time, but often they are the token oddball in a group of mostly white, straight, pretty characters.

And here’s the thing. I’m white. I’m a woman. I’m fat (but only if you ask some people, to others I’m definitely not despite having to shop for plus sizes exclusively and belonging in neither camp is kind of irksome at best). I’m a lesbian. I’m more or less crazy (depending on the day). So I could have my own issues with this show.

I could, if I wanted to, bitch about the fact that Kurt is such a stereotype of a gay boy. I could bitch about the fact that Rachel’s dads obviously schooled her in musicals from an early age (she says she was one the first time she felt a connection to the role of Maria in West Side Story) which is even MORE stereotyping. Really, there is more to gay people than that, and would it kill them to bring a lesbian on the show, there’s four gay men (Kurt, Sandy the former drama teacher and Rachel’s dads) now you know and not a single gay woman…

I could be sulky that Mercedes don’t have nearly as many awesome songs as Rachel does, and claim that it’s because she’s fat or a woman of colour, rather than cherish her awesome dress sense and personality, both which are rare among curvy women on TV.

I could. But I don’t.

Translation: Third Time To Call TONE Is The Charm! Also behold my further minority creds and WONDER. Also also? Totally fatter than normal people, but not obese y'know? But totally dealing with fatphobia and homophobia and could point out where GLEE goes wrong there, but I won't, cause I, unlike you joy spoiling FWDs am totally grateful just to be represented! Why can't you kiss ass just like me? Shit is tasty, yo!

OP: Because, come on. Fox wants to make money. Fox wants to get a lot of viewers.

Translation: And everyone knows that black people, fat people, gay people don't sell! TV execs say it all the time. So they're totally taking a risk having so many undesirable, not normal bodies up there!

OP: The point is, I will take what I can get. This is not an ideal world. Any time I get a gay character, a fat character or a character with a mental illness that DOESN’T turn out to be a crazy axe murderer I’ll cheer. Even if the gay character is a gay boy with a higher voice than mine who knows how to dance and seriously, all gay men aren’t like that. Because I’m so used to be fucking marginalised and ignored. And while I realise that is the exact deal for disabled people too, maybe giving a bit of leeway to the actor and writers that manage to produce an at least semi-decent character in a wheelchair would be a good idea.

Translation: Because I suck shit, you have to suck shit too! How dare you demand better! Don't you know demanding and being the squeaky wheel results in backlash?! Why are you being so mean that you can't let the rest of us who're grateful just to be smiled at by the popular, white, middleclass people, be able to abase ourselves in peace?! You word stealers! You... you activists you, with the basic human dignity for everyone and shouting for broad spectrum representation!

OP:And last but not least? FWD bloggers and others keep saying “go out and talk to a person with a disability and you’ll get it”. Me? I would be insulted if a person, actor or otherwise, claimed to know exactly what it’s like to be depressed or manic just from talking to me once. Almost as much as I would hate that person striking up a conversation with me JUST because I am “neuroatypical” (sorry, can’t use that word without those inverted commas). I’m more than that, you know. A lot more.

Translation: Besides your idea that TPTB should go out and get to know someone who's disabled as a person first would fail. And also no body wants to know they're the token friend of some Hollywood type. They want to imagine they actually count! You would be robbing them of that by promoting 'Friend A Crip' - which you so totally are. You are not at all saying broaden horizons, see past physical differences, listen to life experiences unlike you're own and engage with wonderful people. You're advocating FRIEND A CRIP and I'm totally worth more than that, cause I'm specialer than you.