May 29, 2008

Moonbats See Mujahiddin in Dunkin' Donuts Ad

In an utterly ludicrous turn of events, Dunkin' Donuts has been forced to pull an advertisement it was running with Rachael Ray, a Euro-American (Sicilian-Cajun, whee!) celebrity female chef, because crazed Christianazis felt her neck scarf was too "Islamist".

Let me be utterly clear about this: Rachael Ray is a Christian white woman and a celebrity chef. She was wearing a black and white scarf with a fringe that resembles the kufiyyah, a typically North African and Near Eastern article of clothing whose name is related to the Arabic word for a napkin. This item of clothing is worn by Arabs, particularly men, everywhere, and in Palestine it was made famous because Yasser Arafat wore one on his head that was supposed to represent the Occupied Territories.

Let me take a page from Wikipedia to clarify:

The keffiyeh (Arabic: كوفية‎, kūfiyyah, plural كوفيات, kūfiyyāt) is also known as a shimagh or yashmagh (شماغ, šimāġ), a ghutrah (غترة, ġutrah), a ḥaṭṭah (حطّة) or a mashadah (مشدة) and is a traditional headdress of Arab men, made of a square of cloth, usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head. It is commonly found in arid climate areas to provide protection from direct sun exposure, as well as for occasional use in protecting the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand.

This item of clothing is worn by Westerners, especially military forces, in many areas: it is issued to British troops and is widely worn by US troops in Iraq as well.

Let's also be clear that there is an association made in the American mind with support for Palestine and the wearing of the kufiyyah, although honestly the degree to which this is known is unclear and has become very muddled since the US has been heavily involved in war in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last however-many-years the War on Error has been happening.

Let's conclude by examining the evidence: do we honestly believe that Dunkin' Donuts was attempting to slip some kind of dog whistle into their ad? Do we think that Rachael Ray and Dunkin' Donuts was secretly attempting to show their support for the Palestinians by sticking a paisley scarf around Rachael Ray's throat? Maybe they were trawling for that huge body of people who would wink slyly, in the know, and buy lots and lots of D&D coffee after seeing that ad - brown people and misguided Jewish youth, perhaps?

I roll my eyes. This is on par with Bush apologising for a US sniper in Iraq using the Qur'an for target practice when nobody even knows how many HUMAN BEINGS have died in Iraq. He is in charge of a military that is gangbanging Iraq like it is going out of style and he hasn't apologised for civilian deaths, an invasion based on pretext, or any of his other equally fucked-up notions.

Muslims all around are in agreement: the Qur'an is a revelation, not a book. Fuck that sniper, actual people die every day because of Bush's policies - Americans and non-Americans alike.

And we're kvetching about Rachael Ray wearing a goddamn scarf while she peddles a beverage that is, to misquote a great author, almost totally, but not entirely, unlike coffee.

Feminism and housing

In the apartment hunt, I've been encountering the issue of Gender in Roommates.

Currently, due to Leverett individual rooms having locks, towers can have mixed gender suites. I love both my male and female roommates and don't consider anything weird at all.

However, I am finding myself more anxious about living with guys than with girls, particularly about making sure to meet them before deciding.

I found a place that is *delightful* today and I practically would have taken on the spot. Then, I find out that the roommate who is not there is a middle-aged man. I immediately balked. He was subletting to someone else for the summer, so I had two days to meet him before he left. I got nervous, upset, and decided that it would likely be totally fine if I got to meet him, but if I couldn't I wouldn't take the chance and just wouldn't take the place.

It's not that I would necessarily be less comfortable with an older guy than a girl my age, for instance. The idea of it is more uncomfortable, and it's quite possible that person to person it would be fine, as all prejudices and stereotypes are wont to dissipate in the individual.

However, with only the demographics to go on, I am not keen on this one. I tried to explain it to my boyfriend: As a girl, while a guy isn't more likely to be bad to live with than good, I feel like there is more statistical chance of awkwardness/powerplay of emotional or physical sorts to happen. At an extreme level, while most guys aren't sexual predators, most sexual predators are guys. I feel like this goes up with age too, although that might be wrong.

So I'm trying to explain to my boyfriend: obviously I won't draw on these biases if the guy is fine, but I'm going to use them to propel me to make sure to meet him before I decide. In my opinion, the mistake would be to have these statistics and biases override his characteristics as an individual, and that it is ok to play it safe and still make decisions based on them when they are all I have and am not able to meet him.

I told my boyfriend this, that I of course wanted to meet him and I'm sure everything would be ok, but I throw out those fears and statistics, the experience of a male temporary roommate last year possibly having had sex on my bed while drunk, etc. And I get completely pinned for being a bad feminist, judgmental, and prejudiced.

As a friend said, this boils down to: If feminists don't want women to be judged as a group, are we allowed to judge men as a group? But seriously: how do we deal with gender politics feministically (?) in terms of safety? The same friend pointed out that even while he may seem harmless in the rote extreme fears, that he is both male and older gives two positions of "power" over me, which could be used even in things like who gets to use the kitchen or whose fault it was that the living room is so dirty. Can I call myself a feminist and still try to avoid living with men because of feared potential situations like this? I think deluding myself that we are in a totally feminist world and that none of this stuff will happen just because he is a guy is the wrong course of action. What do you think?

May 28, 2008

Pope Benedict Announces Reforming of The Crusades

A brief quote from the article:

Considered by many to be the greatest religious-based warfare ever recorded, Crusades I set a new standard for bringing God into battle. While the Crusaders borrowed heavily from earlier influences such as Greeks, Romans, pre-Christian barbarians, and even the Jews and Muslims whom they fought, they fused these holy war influences with the seemingly non-violent message of Christ, making something uniquely their own.

Crusades I took the world by storm,” said Rolling Stone editor David Fricke. “But beneath its everyman popularity was a real complex, even contradictory sound, meshing ‘turn the other cheek’ with ‘hit that cheek with a mace.’”

Muwahahaha. Also don't miss this guy's Transcript of President Bush’s Address to Israel’s Knesset.

Thanks, Ginmar.

May 25, 2008

trans, genderqueer, gender variant youth in MA

Some young folks in MA, supported by MTPC, are planning and organizing the state's first ever Trans Youth Summit for folks under 24 who identify as transgender, genderqueer, or gender variant, or may otherwise fit into the "transgender umbrella."

Support these young folks planning the event by spreading the word far and wide, and letting young people you know know about the event.

MTPC can help with transportation costs, and will also pay for t-shirts and a free lunch. Folks just need to sign up soon so that the planners have a good sense of the numbers of folks attending. If you are under 24 and trans, genderqueer, gender variant, or otherwise a part of the "transgender umbrella," please sign up and attend the summit. It's just one day (Sat Jun 28), and it is the first event of its kind in Massachusetts.

More information, including registration information at the Youth Summit website.

May 20, 2008

George Takei (Star Trek's Sulu) Gets Gay Married

Woot! Huzzah! Free at last!

George Takei, who played Sulu on the original Star Trek, is getting married at the age of 71 to his same-sex partner of 21 years.


Interview with Parvez Sharma

Faisal Alam dropped this note:

Salaam folks,

Parvez Sharma, director of A Jihad for Love, had an amazing interview today with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now. Check out the interview in audio or video. Its about 30 minutes in.

I haven't viewed the clip yet because I'm in a studying place, but I am looking forward to seeing it.

May 19, 2008

Bad Questions to Ask a Transsexual

We've covered quite a bit of this material on quench before, but this is a pretty awesome overview:

May 16, 2008

A Jihad for Love

This film is playing at the Boston Gay & Lesbian Film Festival on May 18, 2008.

Parvez Sharma's Jihad for Love... it's produced by the same man as Trembling before G-d. I really want to see it.

Edit: Added link to the official film website, which indicates the US premieres will be on 4 June 2008 and general openings will follow. The play dates for the non-premieres are available here.

May 15, 2008

Update on the DSM-V Issue

This crucial bit of information has come to us from Dr. Marshall Forstein. Please read it.

Before people get overly hysterical about the Gender Identity Work group for the DSM, some things need to be made clear.

The letter you are asking us to sign onto is inaccurate in many ways and does not help our cause. Let me clarify what I know as someone who has worked with the American Psychiatric Association for many years.

1- there are TWO professional associations: Both unfortunately go by A P A

a) one is the American Psychiatric Association [this is a MEDICAL society of physicians who specialize in psychiatry]

b) the other is the American Psychological Association [this is a non- medical society of psychologists who are not medical doctors but have a PhD or PsyD or EdD in psychology, either clinical or research or academic or all.]

The American PSYCHIATRIC Association is the organization that publishes the DSM. This is a guide to diagnosis and NOT to Treatment.

Dr. Zucker, although not my preferred choice to head the work group on Gender and Sexuality, does not decide himself what the American Psychiatric Association publishes in the next DSM. In fact, there is a lengthy, and complicated process of peer review based on PUBLISHED scientific literature- in fact, the way we got homosexuality OUT of the DSM [1973] was to force the scientific program committee to produce evidence that homosexuality was an illness, and then in 1989 we removed ego-dystonic homosexuality because there was no evidence to support it and we suggested that there was also ego-dystonic heterosexuality that was a phase of people coming to understand their inner nature.

Sexual orientation is NOT even an issue for the DSM committee to consider. Transgender Identity is a bit more complicated, especially in childhood. The DSM work group will struggle with these issues in coming up with criteria for what to diagnose as a true gender identity disorder. I WANT TO EMPHASIZE THAT TREATMENT RECOMMENDATIONS ARE NOT A PART OF THIS ENDEAVOR.

Any treatment recommendations that the American Psychiatric Association makes are the result of significant process of creating EVIDENCED based research.

I am currently the Chair of the Work group on Practices Guidelines on HIV Psychiatry for the American Psychiatric Association, and so am intimately aware of the process. Guidelines go through rigorous research review for controlled studies in order to make recommendations. Hundreds of people review these guidelines before publication, and the same will be true of the criteria set forth by the work group on the DSM gender identity subcommittee.

EVEN if there is literature out there that disturbs those of us who are comfortable with the concepts of transgender identity, unless it meets peer review by legitimate journals ( i.e. non religious based periodicals) it will not be considered in the development of criteria for diagnosis or treatment.

I hope that what I have written makes us pause a bit before we do something to alienate even our supporters and friends in the American Psychiatric and the American Psychological Association who have been very pro-gay and pro-trans in their deliberations so far. There will always be a vocal minority that claim otherwise, but the process is vetted by many people committed to scientific integrity and evidence.

I have alerted the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists to the announcement of Dr Zucker's appointment and we will be addressing the implications of this within the psychiatric and psychological professional groups. I will also be talking with the Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association and the Director of the Research group that oversees the DSM to convey the concerns that people have about the "transphobia" that may emerge.

In good conscience, however, I cannot sign a petition that is inaccurate and misleading - it may do far more harm than good. Clarity of the scientific evidence, asking the right questions of the committee, and addressing the criteria that will be put forth for review before it is ever considered ready for publication is the only way we will be taken seriously.

Please let me know how I can help to keep the issues clear.

Marshall Forstein, M.D.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School Director, Adult Psychiatry Residency Training
The Cambridge Hospital
The Cambridge Health Alliance


May 9, 2008

The American Psychiatric Association has received inquiries about the DSM-V process, particularly concerns raised about the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group.

The APA has a long-standing mission to provide guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, based on the most current clinical and scientific knowledge. Through advocacy and education of the public and policymakers, the APA also affirms it commitment to reducing stigma and discrimination. The DSM addresses criteria for the diagnosis of mental disorders. The DSM does not provide treatment recommendations or guidelines. The APA is aware of the need for greater scientific and clinical consensus on the best treatments for individuals with Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Toward that end, the APA Board of Trustees voted to create a special APA Task Force to review the scientific and clinical literature on the treatment of GID. It is expected that members of the Task Force will be appointed shortly.

There are 13 DSM-V work groups. Collectively, the work group members will review all existing diagnostic categories in the current DSM. Each work group will be able to make proposals to revise existing diagnostic criteria, to consider new diagnostic categories, and to suggest deleting existing diagnostic categories. All DSM-V work group proposals will be based on a careful, balanced review and analysis of the best clinical and scientific data. Evidence accumulated from work group members and hundreds of additional advisors to the DSM-V effort will be considered before final recommendations are made.

The Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group, chaired by Kenneth J. Zucker, Ph.D., will have 13 members who will form three subcommittees:

--Gender Identity Disorders, chaired by Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, Ph.D.

--Paraphilias, chaired by Ray Blanchard, Ph.D.

--Sexual Dysfunctions, chaired by R. Taylor Segraves, M.D., Ph.D.

Each subcommittee will pursue its own charge, provide ongoing peer review, and consult with outside experts. The DSM-V is expected to be published in 2012.

Yay California!

Roundup of coverage of the CA marriage decision:

Congratulations! And stay tuned for a Quench update from our California correspondent on the celebrations tonight!

breaking news!

California Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage.

That is all :)

May 14, 2008

Updated info on anti-trans moron

This came over the TransMuslims list - a member asked a friend of his about this issue, and she responded as follows. I have no further information.

Unfortunately, the petition is not very well written, and Zucker may chair the whole committee on Sex, Gender and Paraphillia, he doesn't have direct control over anything trans related. That is in the Gender Identity subcommittee, headed by Dr Cohen-Kettenis who actually has a good head on her shoulders.

If you want to complain (and I STRONGLY recommend you do) here are the contacts you should be sending it to.

Rhondalee Dean-Royce, 703-907-7820

Sharon Reis, 202-745-5103

Zucker is pure insanity. His policy for dealing with pre-puberty transkids is to first deny them all "cross gender stimulus" (toys, TV, even drawing that corresponds to the opposite sex), then when that doesnt work to prevent them from even playing with, or contacting friends of the opposite sex. He has said "transition is an unfortunate and totally avoidable outcome in gay youth". He advises parents and school administrators NOT to provide information to fellow students so that a transyouth may be "peer pressured" (read: bullied, physically and verbally assaulted) into a gender normative role.

Blanchard is also in there, though he is heading up the paraphilia sub-comity. Blanchard his half of the half-brained idea of autogynaphillia (the other half is Bailey). Their theory is that there are only three types of transpeople

1) men who are too ashamed of being gay so they want to be women so they can be straight men
2) men who want to masturbate with a vagina.
3) liars

The sender notes, "Anyone notice a distinct lack of transmen?"

May 13, 2008

Anti-Trans Moron Appointed as Head of DMV-V Committee on Trans Issues!

I am forwarding this from where I encountered it on TransMuslims: here's a quote from a site that has more information and a petition.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently appointed Dr. Kenneth Zucker to chair the task force responsible for updating of mental health language and treatment of diagnoses such as Gender Identity Disorder (GID) for the upcoming DSM-V (Diagnostics and Statistics Manual, Fifth Edition).

Don’t let his recent appearance on NPR sounding like a nice guy fool you. At a time when the American Medical Association (AMA) is supporting stopping discriminating against and stigmatizing transgender people, Dr. Zucker is a widely recognized proponent of reparation (”ex-gay”) and aversion therapy for children and youth. These techniques have been proven to be ineffective at best and–more often–severely damaging to the mental health of people who are LGB or T.

I am looking into this more but I am mostly just making this post a flag for us... please look into it if you can.

See also:"

Thing That is Awkward: A Publick Apologee

I come before you to confess my sins.

O friends, I did in fact rent and enjoy this horrid and tawdry film, 27 Dresses, & during the viewing of which did ogle Katherine Heigl lesboppropriately, but only whilst committing the sin of enjoying a hypertawdriclicous romance film of the genre known as "extreme heteronormative chick flick", for which my excuse of lesboögling is no excuse at all.

O my friends, I compound my error by buying into the heteronormativity of said "flick" and imagining it were, in fact, me as Katherine Heigl's character, but while James Marster is in fact pretty cool I did substitute also Katherine Heigl or another hot woman whenever he did appear with Witty Male Banter.

My sins are made worse by my shame at not truly being contrite for having enjoying this film, and duly confess that I also rented another film with Katherine Heigl in't, namely Knocked Up, of which I am of the understanding is even yuckier heteronormativity (but O sweet friends, she is so hot, ever since I saw her as a youngun on that show where she were an alien, ahhhh), wherein a drunken frat boy is "redeemed" as the ideal match for her.

In an attempt to hide my sins, I do duly confess that under the pressure of feeling ill, I did rent also extreme violence movies to try to "water down" my sins, namely Hitman & Live Free or Die Hard.

HOWEVER! I did also rent Michael Clayton, which though it has George Clooney, does in fact feature the unbearably desirable Tilda Swinton, with whom I fell madly in love as a child while watching Orlando and who, over the years, has only gotten hotter. (Her portrayal of the Archangel Michael in the otherwise horrid Constantine made me swoon with desire...)

O my friends, forgive me these lapses, as I am only human.

May 07, 2008

Queer educational insect porn!

Tip from The Hater over at The A.V. Club.

Isabella Rossellini is kind of my new hero. In a new series of shorts for Sundance, she explains the reproductive processes of a series of gross bugs in a way that is so delightfully enthusiastic, absurdist, and, seriously? A bit queer, no? There's something so hilarious and wonderful about her cheerfully declaring, of her snailish penis and vagina, "I have both!" Here's the awesome trailer, and you can, and should, check out all the hysterical shorts here.

May 06, 2008

On the topic of body love...

So, for those of you who don't obsessively read the comments (it's ok, although you're missing out!), a little update: a comment by the illustrious Miss CripChick on my BADD post has been leading to a sub-discussion of, among other things, body love.

How timely it is, then, that I just discovered an extraordinary site called The Body Image Project. It's kind of like PostSecret, in that it invites readers to submit anonymous comments (and, in some cases, mixed-media "postcards" which look directly inspired by PostSecret) about things they would otherwise be ashamed to say. As the name suggests, though, these comments are all about how the posters see their bodies.

They're not all positive, mind you - not hardly. (In fact, I think the site should probably come with an ED trigger warning.) The site's stated goal is:

to have women and girls take that brave step to share their stories, break the hold these perceptions have and ultimately reveal to those who share and to those who view this site - you are not alone.

And a lot of the stories that people are sharing are incredibly painful. I'm picking excerpts here that I think are illustrative but least likely to be triggering; still, if you are likely to be distressed by depictions of ED, don't read the excerpts ***preceded by asterisks.

"Age 70":
***Next came the diet doctor. I remember my mother bringing me and the doctor taking my "before" picture. Every week I went, got pills, weighed and had a little question and answer session with the doc. One of the answers I can recall was, "if you eat from a pig, you'll look like a pig." His name was Dr. Repp in West Philadelphia. Needless to say, when I passed out one day my mother threw the pills down the toilet and I didn't go back to Dr. Repp. I think I weighed 150 lbs when I started with him; I recall losing 10 lbs in one week.

"Age 22":
I have hundreds, probably thousands, of dollars worth of tattoos on my body. I am more proud of them than anything else, but just once I want somebody to say "Oh, she would be so pretty if it weren't for all of those tattoos" instead of complimenting them. I have them so people look at the tattoos instead of looking at me, I want somebody to really see me someday, and think that I'm beautiful. Maybe someday I'll stop putting beautiful things on my body and actually believe that my body is what's beautiful.

"Age 20":
***I am standing in front of my boyfriend, naked. He is staring at me. I don't know what he is seeing. Appreciation? Awe? Disgust? He turns away. He hands me his tee shirt. So you don't get cold, he says. I turn away. Do you think I'm fat? I ask the carpet. No. I think you are too skinny. I can see your veins beneath your skin. He doesn't know what's important. He doesn't know what this means to me. He thinks girls should be big and curvy, and I think I should disappear.

Or simply, from "Age 24":
I'm a feminist, a confident woman, an advocate for body positivity - and it takes a man telling me I'm beautiful for me to believe it. I make myself sick.

Heavy stuff. But there's some hope there - some stories, not just about women with "perfect bodies" unquestioningly accepting that definition and bragging about it (though, hell, it would be nice to love one's body uncomplicatedly, wouldn't it?), but about women with variable types of human bodies and how they came to love them. And these, I think everyone should read:

"Age 61":
That said, here is what I have deprogrammed. Mother said my lips were big; I know they aren't. In fact, I think I have a beautiful mouth. Mother said my legs were fat, like tree trunks; my legs aren't small, but they're not fat either. I have the same legs as my Dad, my brothers, and 2 of my 3 children. They are solid Italian legs, but not fat. My mother's people have skinny legs. I almost like my legs. Mother told me that my butt was big. I am very proportionate. Mother said my hair was too straight and she was always putting perms in it. I love my hair. I've put back the red (strawberry blond) I had as a child. I think my hair is very, very pretty. I love my eyes; they are strikingly attractive.

"Age 22":
I think I started to be less ashamed of my body when I dropped my long hair and got my gigantic mohawk. Suddenly everyone around was complimenting me. They said things like, we love your hair, it looks like the sun. I felt powerful with my hair spiked out to look like it could kill someone. The mohawk is long gone but the feeling of confidence in being visible is still there.

And I love my body. I really do. I walk around in my apartment naked and whenever I see myself in the bathroom mirror I smile and look at how long my armpit hair is getting. Sometimes I feel like a five-year-old, sitting in the bathtub poking at my belly and thinking of how it's like a flotation device. I'll never drown.

"Age 51":
Gravity and hot flashes have begun to take their toll, but I still love my body. It is strong and healthy, hasn't failed me yet and has given life and nourishment to three wonderful children. The miracles of the workings of the human body are often taken for granted and shouldn't be. Watch a woman wrestle with news that the pregnancy being carried won't have 10 fingers and 10 toes and one has a new respect for the miracle of conception and embryonic development. Watch that child grow and learn and beat the odds of her birth and prognosis and in the end we are each a miracle in our own right. A few pounds, curves, or lack of either do not form our soul, our heart or our unique contribution to this world we live in.

Now, I understand, objectively, why this particular site is geared toward women - so for those of you who either:
  • identify as women
  • have found your body image significantly influenced by being perceived as women (and thus held to women's body standards, rightly or wrongly)

... I encourage you to submit to the Body Image Project.

But we here at Quench have a little more flexibility in our gender policy (... and, um, in our genders, most of us) - so I'd like to encourage any of y'all, of any gender, to comment here as well. I'll ask the same question they ask there:

"When you look in the mirror, what do you see?"

And I'll add another one:

"How did you come to see that?"

(... my own answer upcoming, when I'm not in class!)

May 05, 2008

Mother's Day!

Wow, there have been some really great posts lately. I hope everyone is reading and joining in with the Blogging Against Disablism Day conversations here on Quench.

On another subject - it's almost Mother's Day! I'm looking for suggestions for Mother's Day gifts that also benefit others (ie, where a percent of profits go to nonprofit work, or even referrer links that I could use to buy regular gifts that would benefit charity). Let me know!

May 04, 2008


Hey all!

I've been swamped and dealing with issues, so I didn't even read this set of articles on BADD until today.

So, yeah. In answer to a comment by M.E., I am a Quenchista and I am disabled.

I am also one of the "invisible" disabled - I suffer the unholy of triad of anxiety disorder, which in my case veers around the two peaks of agoraphobia and claustrophobia.

Maybe I didn't feel like posting at first because I thought, "Duh, who doesn't know I'm disabled, I think I must talk about nothing else sometimes." I also am sick of talking about being sick. I try to go without thinking about it, but you know how well that works.

Right now I have finals for my Arabic class. The stress is getting to me pretty badly for some reason; I switched non-crazy medications a while ago and hormones are notoriously destabilising. I sleep all day despite pretty hard attempts to move that back to the evening and I have a hard time being productive. That I was able to spend this morning memorising 8th century poetry was a great victory for me: I got half the poem down, which I haven't been able to even look at for the last four weeks.

So. I feel like I hate my disability. I accept it, mostly, grousing all the way, but I really really hate it. It made me a better person in some ways: I am compassionate because I have suffered. I don't feel like it was worth it. My life is a wreck, I cannot do the things I want to do. Plus I have nightmares and am afraid of the night time.

I feel like half of an adult. I feel unloved and unlovable. I am turning into an asexual old woman thirty years early, and it's because I am afraid of cars and public transit and crowds because some bug destroyed part of my brain.

Not pretty words for BADD. I am in a place full of anger and frustration so often. I apologise like it is a way of life for my failings. I am lava, the anger and fear radiates off of me and burns others and I hate it. My brain is broken and all my workarounds are unreliable. I am out of control - that's what disability means, right? loss of control - and my disability is obsessed with control, triggered by loss of control and no amount of practice or letting go makes it better.

So: I am a Quenchista, I am disabled. And I am angry and afraid.

May 01, 2008

Somewhere between pride and prejudice

On Blogging Against Disablism Day.

I.  I do not have disability pride.  I realize this makes me something of a political anomaly, especially among the folks who are posting today, but I see nothing positive in the train-wreck that is my neurochemistry, and if the Cure we all like to hypothesize about were found, I'd be first in line to try it.  For those of you who are new here, by the way, I'm talking about major depression and basilar migraine with aura.  And luckily, although they're not cures, there are treatments that at the moment are working pretty well - meaning that, although I still have to pretty much micromanage my life around avoiding triggers, my migraines are becoming rarer and it's been a while since the last time I seriously believed the world would be better if I weren't in it.  If I'm proud of anything, I'm proud of that.

II.  This isn't a perspective I'm particularly comfortable with.  Isn't it a sign of internalized ablism, after all, to hate one's disability, to want it cured, to view it as a source of weakness rather than a rallying point?  I'm the first one in line, in my personal and my professional life, to point out that Deafness isn't inherently worse than being hearing, and that there is definitely some logic to the idea that cochlear implants can be considered offensive.  I play devil's advocate in conversation, pointing out that nobody is entirely self-reliant, and that the difference between someone who can't grow their own food and someone who can't lift food to their mouth is only a difference of degree.  I read along with glee or fury (depending on the tone of the piece) as activists every year describe their protests of the Jerry Lewis telethon, arguing that focusing on the Cure devalues the lives they have lived and takes resources away from efforts to support them as disabled adults.  In short, it seems I'm very pro-disability - except when it comes to my own.

III.  So, if I'm not proud of having disabilities, I must be ashamed.  Once I work through that shame, I can take up the banner and see myself for the unique badass depressed migraineur that I was always meant to be.  Right?

Well, no.  I'm not ashamed, per se.  I don't believe that having a doubly-dysfunctional brain has anything to do with my worth as a person (except insofar as doubting my worth as a person is actually a symptom), and although I'm cautious about how and when I disclose, it has more to do with stigma management than any sense that I'm actually in the wrong.  No, I'm not ashamed so much as pissed off.  I don't like fighting against my own mind for the right to get out of bed in the morning.  I don't like suddenly being hit with so much pain that I'd claw my own eye out were it not for the fact that I have to remain completely motionless or the pain will get worse.  And I don't really care that Poe, van Gogh, and Kierkegaard had depression, or that Hildegard von Bingen's miraculous visions were actually the result of migraine auras: I look at them and I don't think, Wow, look how creative depression made them, but rather, Wow, I wonder how much more we could have seen of their brilliance if it hadn't been hidden in the fog of so many bad days.

And that's the thing.  So many people I know say that their disability has made them who they are in ways that they wouldn't want to change.  Mine have made me who I am in ways that I would trade in a heartbeat.  There has been no advantage to the loss of clarity they have caused me, the loss of forward momentum, the long-term and nearly permanent loss of hope.  The fact that I have recovered, for the time being, from these things is not a testament to the character-building power of adversity.  It's a testament to the power of good psychopharmaceuticals - nothing more mystical than that.  Depression and migraine aren't part of me, like some disabilities are part of the people who experience them.  They're malignant little houseguests who have long outstayed their welcome.

IV.  That's not to say that I don't feel the need for disability advocacy.  I've been on the receiving end of ablism even worse than the mere thought that maybe I'd be better off not disabled.  In academia, where the mind is everything, anything that interferes with the life of the mind is a threat; and so it is that my advisor (a wonderful woman who watches my back) warned me that the faculty considered me "intelligent but unstable," and that it was not my smarts but my sanity I needed to prove.  So it is that my graduate-studies director told me, in front of the dean of the division, that "academia isn't the place for everyone, and if you're too emotional to survive here, there's no shame in getting out now."  When I responded by asking the dean for the contact information of the university's disability services office, he said, "Well, there's really no need to be adversarial, I think.  I believe we can all just keep our wits about us and be rational about this rather than resorting to any formal proceedings."

Yeah.  In other words, don't be crazy.   If you'll just do things my way - the sane way - we'll see about letting you stay here.

I insisted on getting her contact information.  I've never used it, though.  Just knowing that I had it made a big difference in the administration's attitudes.  The fact that I could call myself what I was - a student with a disability, not just some overwrought weepy little girl who shouldn't be in grad school - gave me some power in their eyes.  Not enough to make them believe that I belonged there, but enough to make them believe that I'd dig in my heels and insist on staying.  

What I have done since then is formed a network of sorts - an underground information railroad of female grad students with mental illnesses.  We trade reports on who the most punctual psychiatrists on campus are, what new meds each of us are trying, how we're coping with the stress of grad school and the tightrope walk of depression, which administrators are sympathetic and which to avoid.  We're not particularly proud, but we're not going be shamed, either.  We're savvy, we're in control, and we're fighting the ablism that hits us the hardest, with the tools we have.  And, you know what? It works, more or less.

V.  My life is worth living.  Most days, I believe that.  But I don't believe that my disabilities have any effect on the equation one way or another - except that, if I had never had them, I would probably have a longer time in which to lead a worthwhile life.  In my case (and I don't want to generalize to other disabilities, or even to other people with my exact same diagnoses), disability is not a crucial part of my identity, except by accident, so the prospect of removing it from my life isn't a judgment on who I am.  But the fact is, it's here - and accident or not, it's a part of the person other people see as me.  You can offer me help on my terms, but don't you ever offer to "help" me by shutting me out of opportunity on the grounds that I "might not survive it."  I may fail the Internalized Ablism Litmus Test, but I'm still activist enough to protect myself.

Disability, Being an Ally, Invisibility, and Outness.

This is my post for Blogging Against Disablism Day. A friend suggested that I post a bit of a "status report" of where I am as a non-disabled ally. I have a few more substantive posts on the way in coming weeks so don't expect this to be the end of it. Please, if you have the energy, criticize it and call me out on things that I say that are offensive. I'm very early in my journey to learn more.

I don't really think of myself as non-disabled. I don't know if that is something that I need to work on and change. I can remember a time in my teens when I didn't think of myself as white and didn't believe race affected my life. Now, I understand that I was just a part of an unmarked category and so able to use my privilege to pretend to myself that nothing in my life related to my race. However, in a way being non-disabled is different - it's not having a disability that I know of, or not having a disability yet. In the disability communities where I am involved, there are so many people with such different disabilities that everyone is impacted by different barriers in their lives. In a way, it's like we are all allies to each other in that very few people have experiences around disability that are similar to each other's.

I spend a lot of time around people with disabilities - some have physical disabilities, some mental health issues, and some both. As far as peers, I have a partner, close family members, and close friends who I know have physical disabilities and/or mental illnesses.

I think of myself as someone without a physical disability but as an ally to people with physical disabilities. I am actively involved in various projects designed to make change at policy and community levels, and on a personal level try to host activist and social events in the most accessible spaces possible. I understand variable movement restrictions in a very intimate way as my partner and I trade off household tasks depending on whether it's a good day or a bad day. Perhaps because of the intimacy of asking these questions and sharing these experiences with someone so close, I have found myself able to comfortably travel through disability-spaces, particularly physical-disability-focused spaces with increasing ease. As an ally, I am confident in myself, know why I am there, and feel like I am playing a role that makes sense.

In mental health/illness related spaces, I often feel more confused. In my experience, there is more emphasis on disclosure or non-disclosure. I don't know if it is true, but it feels like there is more of a fuzzy line between being a person living with mental illness and not. When I have been involved in mental health related disability work, I tend not to disclose my status as a person who at least is not aware of any mental illness I do have, if I have one. It feels like each person disclosing their status applies some amount of pressure on others to disclose. Kind of like how great it is to have straight or non-trans allies committed to LGBT work because it gives people who aren't willing to be out the opportunity to be involved but to blend in. Or perhaps it's because I'm not confident enough in myself as an ally and not ready to be called out each time I fuck up. Or because I somehow think that if I say, for example, that I don't have a certain condition in my life, I am saying that that I judge or dislike people with that condition. In any case, I sort of blend in - I mean, everyone has issues so there is a level of empathy that just makes sense. However, I also know that my own issues, even my experiences of trauma, tend not to get in the way of what I want to do, or to hinder my daily life. I don't know if there is a "right way" to be involved.

But like my involvement in physical disability work, a lot of my involvement with mental health related disabilities is not on some organized picketing of a building. It's about asking someone how their day is going and wanting to hear the truth, or quietly taking on part of a coworker's project when he just can't do it that week, or stopping a bigot from spewing hurtful shit at least for today, at least for now. I don't think that these kinds of interactions make me an ally. They are basically the bare minimum necessary to make me a decent human being.

So maybe I'm not an ally after all.