Reconnecting Disability and Asexuality

Note: This post contains a brief mention of rape.

On many standard demographic questions, you may be asked to select your sexual orientation from a drop-down menu or a checklist. Most questions allow you to choose among heterosexual/straight, homosexual/gay/lesbian, and bisexual. (Many mistakenly list “transgender” as a sexual orientation.) More inclusive options may also allow you to choose among pansexual, polysexual, androsexual, gynosexual, or skollosexual. 

But for many of us, none of these terms seem to fit.

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Missing Bodies: In “Love Your Body” Discourse, Where Are Disabled Women?

Love your body! Stop hating your body; start a revolution! These are just a few of the popular third wave slogans that are fairly well-entrenched as directives, or at least as aspirations, within feminist activism both online and off. There’s Love Your Body Day, sponsored annually by the National Organization for Women (NOW), Love Your Body weeks on various college campuses around North America, and thousands, if not millions, of web pages, graphics, and digital art pieces online that celebrate this theme and encourage women to do so every day. Many liberal feminists have proclaimed that body image –and a matching emphasis on loving your body–is “the” issue for the third wave, as this widely-anthologized essay by Amelia Richards explores.

At a basic level, LYB discourse can be a very positive thing, and it’s often a good stepping-stone for women who are new to feminist ideas. But it’s this very basic quality that can limit–and does –which kinds of bodies are acceptable to reclaim, have pride in, and even love. A cursory Google search for “love your body” brings up a plethora of images of white, visibly abled, young, cisgender, straight, and/or acceptably thin women encouraging other women to love their own bodies. From this cursory Google search,  I found one image–the NOW Foundation’s LYB  2009 contest-winning poster designed by Lisa Champ–that shows a variation on the woman clip-art symbol with a (visible) disability. This single image was more than I was expecting to find, but even with this limited representation, there are still problems in how LYB discourse is built for and around abledness–not least of which is its leaving out of disabled bodies. The complex relationships that many women with disabilities of all kinds have with their bodies are left out as well.

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March of the Food Snobs

People get very passionate about food. This is understandable, because when it’s good it can provide valuable nutrients to our body as well as cherished pleasure to our palates. But passion can become zeal and, before you know it, people are telling others how to eat. They are often well-meaning, when they evangelise about how easy it is to cut out gluten or become vegan, or how evil supermarkets or plastic packaging are, but they do not take into account the reality of many people’s lives.

The line between food enthusiasts and food snobs can be a thin one, and when, “It’s easier!”, “It’s cheaper!”, etc. drown out your insistence that the intersecting oppressions of disability, poverty, racism and fat-phobia play a part, then that line has been crossed.

I was vegetarian for many years and I have to admit that I was obnoxious about it when I was a young teen. I would gleefully point out that anyone with meat on their plate was “eating a dead animal” and, although I was half-joking, I’m sure it made me a thoroughly unpleasant person to eat with. Thankfully I grew out of that particularly objectionable habit long before adulthood, but many adults continue to judge others on what they eat as if it was a simple choice between good and bad with no other context.

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What Would True Mental Health Reform Look Like for the US?

Mental health reform in the US typically comes up in one context only: in the wake of incidents of rampage violence. Such incidents are tragic and horrific, and almost as soon as they hit the news, observers decide the person responsible must have been ‘crazy,’ absolving themselves of further exploration of the incident — crazy people ‘just do that,’ and that’s how it is.

Despite the fact that this is a rampant misconception, it’s a commonly held and supported belief, bolstered by media coverage of rampage violence and mental illness. Typically, the longtail aftermath of such incidents is to demand two things: better gun control (usually from the point of view that guns need to be kept out of the hands of mentally ill people) and better regulation of crazy people — for, surely, if mentally ill people were compelled to take medication, register with government agencies, and undergo similar indignities, they wouldn’t be prone to randomly shooting scores of innocent people. (Something the vast majority of mentally ill people actually aren’t prone to doing in the first place — to the contrary, mental illness is a very serious risk factor for being exposed to violence, and mentally ill people are usually victims, not perpetrators, of violence.)

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Skepticism and Chronic Pain: A Match Made in Purgatory?

I’ve been a lurker in the online skeptic community for a long time. I am also a feminist with fibromyalgia and several other health conditions (lifelong cerebral palsy and debilitating allergic reactions amongst them).

Whether it’s Dawkins-style puffery on which health conditions “actually exist” versus which are “somatization disorders” or, say, discussions of chronic illnesses that reduce said illnesses to strictly theoretical exercises instead of things (albeit misunderstood things) that impact peoples’ lives, there appears to be an unwillingness to make space for–and listen to–people with those very conditions.

Now, the notion of a skeptic and atheist with a “controversial” health condition will seem strange to some, and even stranger still because of the relative absence of skeptics with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and chronic health conditions in the online skeptic community. The feminist community — even online, where things like gender, ability, race, class, age, and sexuality supposedly “don’t matter” — suffers from similar problems when it comes to including and welcoming people with disabilities, as Neurodivergent K outlined in this excellent post at Feminist Hivemind. The old second-wave canard that women are physically strong is an unquestioned assumption in many modern feminist circles — and has the effect, unintended or not, of leaving out women with disabilities who are not strong or whose health conditions prevent them from being physical dynamos. The idea that chronic illnesses and disabilities like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and related pain/fatigue conditions are bad for the feminist movement–because women with these conditions apparently fulfill the stereotype of women as “weak” and fragile–has also gained some traction in feminist theory, most notably from feminist literary critic Elaine Showalter, who wrote a book in the late 1990s positing that CFS, Gulf War Syndrome and other “controversial” illnesses were media-spread, hysteria-driven epidemics comparable to alien abduction. Add to this the blithe unconcern that mainstream feminism has with disabilities of all kinds–and with women who have disabilities–and you’ve got a fairly unsafe environment for feminists of all genders who happen to have disabilities, or who think that (GASP) disability, chronic pain, and illness are feminist issues! After a while, it starts to look like current online “feminism” is only concerned about fighting for the rights of abled women–those without chronic pain, illness(es), physical disabilities, mental health conditions or who are neuroatypical. Thanks, feminism!

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Outsourcing Care in the New Economy: Averting KanCare

In a nation as obsessed with saving money and pinching pennies as the United States, it is not surprising to see a growing turn toward privatisation. This country is privatising its prisons, turning an already extensive prison-industrial complex into a for-profit empire for firms like the Corrections Corporation of America, it’s created an entirely separate incarceration industry for ‘processing’ undocumented immigrants in detention facilities, it’s privatised schools and police forces, and even fire departments.

In that context, it’s hardly startling to see that the nation clings to notions that privatised health care is the best option (despite appalling health outcomes when compared to other Western countries), and it was perhaps inevitable that states would start to lick their chops at the thought of privatising disability services, as well.

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Lack of representation in fiction: Why is the disabled character always a cisgender, heterosexual, white man?

In fostering understanding and empathy towards marginalised groups, media representation is one of the most important tools at our disposal. Most people consume media in some form, through books, tv shows, film and comics and other types of media. Through this we learn about the world around us and the people in it from a very young age. Portraying marginalised groups accurately and sympathetically can remove some of the prejudice surrounding them, so including these characters is paramount. Disabled people are one of the groups who are still lacking accurate and respectful representation in the media.

There have been some major disabled characters in the past few years; Artie Abrams (Glee), Hermann Gottlieb (Pacific Rim), Walter Jr.(Breaking Bad), Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones), Bran Stark (Game of Thrones), Professor Xavier (X-Men), Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games) and Hiccup (How To Train Your Dragon) are among the most significant and well known. These characters all feature in popular films and TV shows and are very important for disabled representation.

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My Color is F-You Fuchsia, or, Why I Decided to Leave Women’s Studies and Academia

[Note: All names and identifying characteristics have been changed.]

The exact moment that I knew I was finished with academia–and, more specifically, Women’s and Gender Studies, which I had once adored and wanted to pursue a PhD in–was in 2010, during a graduate Women’s Studies seminar at a rather middling-tier state university where I was enrolled as an M.A. student. I distinctly remember shoving my sunglasses on my cried-out, red eyes before going to class, sitting down, and then hunching over to make myself appear smaller. It was a month before the end of the semester. Right before class, the instructor–also the head of the department at that time–had called me in for a meeting because she was “concerned” about my attendance. The first week of the term, I had met with her to discuss my accessibility needs, and give her advance notice that my ongoing chronic pain and fatigue caused by fibromyalgia would sometimes prevent me from making it to class.

She seemed okay with this in the abstract, and mentioned that she’d worked with several students with special accommodation needs. Until this health issue actually (SHOCK/HORROR) got in the way of my making it to her class three times in a 16-week semester, I figured we were okay. There was even an accessibility statement on her syllabus!

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