Wandering Upon a Gimp in the Park

After a 3.5 hour commute from DC to Penn Station, my crip comrade drove me to my crip sister Sunaura’s apartment. Our first call of duty for the afternoon was to take our service dogs (which we adopted on the same day, without planning to do so, over 4 years ago) on a walk in Washington Square Park. The children got their olfactory needs satiated. Their get their smells, whilst we got our stares. 2 wheelchair users with non-typical bodies and ridiculously cute dogs often causes quite the stir, but it is exciting doing this together because we feel powerful. The stares change meaning as we roll together, it’s really wonderful and something we have waxed poetically on about for much of our 11 year friendship.

View from Sunaura's arm-rest of Sullivan and Bailey (two small dogs) walking in the park

View from Sunaura’s arm-rest of Sullivan and Bailey (two small dogs) walking in the park

It’s a powerful truth to know expressions of ableism (i.e., stares, intrusive questions, lacking access into spaces) are much easier to handle when we are together. There is strength in our togetherness. The root of our friendship is based in disability solidarity, after meeting on the Free Our People March with ADAPT in 2003. It was likely one of the weirdest most emotionally intense experience of our lives and I’m so grateful I meet my best friend on the march.

As we experienced the gaze of many people, one person stood out as wanting crip connection. There was longing in her eyes, as she scanned our wheelchairs and our fur children. She looked to be in her twenties or so, seated in a non-power chair that has to be pushed by someone else, with no assistive device to aid in communication. Sunaura and I wheeled past giving a gimp nod acknowledging a fellow disabled person in the space. But something pulled me back.

Maybe I noticed that look in her eyes of sadness about lacking access and freedom that felt hauntingly reminiscent of feelings I had as a teenager. Or maybe it was just eagerness to interact. Or maybe I just projected a lot onto her. I felt simultaneously like we could be provoking anxiety (ableism trains us to fear disability, and try desperately to stay away from it – this is part of the reason even some of us born gimps are the only disabled person we know for much of our lives, and the first time crip socializing may be intense) or forging welcomed crip camaraderie. It’s much like my insistence on giving visibly disabled people a crip nod, to recognize that I see them and to offer props for going through the ableist world. Some don’t respond, though they notice.

Despite some back and forth of whether we should go to her, I decided we had to say hello. As I noticed her eyes tracing Sullivan’s path, I asked if she would like to pet Sullivan. She eagerly shook her head in affirmation. I lifted Sullivan up so she could pet Sully. The person with her told us her name and how she really wanted a dog but she couldn’t have one. Though there was no verbal communication between Sunaura, the young woman and I – we think we saw in her eyes a desire to wheel with us or other crips.

That feeling of her longing for crip camaraderie was solidified as a long tear slowly rolled down her cheek, as she reached for more Sullivan love.

After a few minutes, Sunaura and I wheeled away. Initially, I just needed some silence to let my tears roll down. I felt ache, I feel it now writing this. That ache reflects reemergence of my own longing for community and feeling stuck. I felt her wanting, just of a damn dog to pet – perhaps a friend to wheel with.

When we began to speak, Sunaura and I wrestled with the probability of our actions being paternalistic or otherwise ableist. I could certainly hear a change in my tone, at least when we first spoke to the woman. That weird disability tone is similar to the switch people make when talking to a cute dog or a baby – there is distance and it generally feels that it comes in a top-down format. When addressing disabled people, the higher pitched tone sounds like it is not spurred by appreciating cuteness – instead, it comes from a space of discomfort and an attempt to cover it with happy notes. Was my initial tone indicative of this being a paternalistic experience in which Sunauara and I were expressly higher on the disability hierarchy? Or can it be that even the krips who work on their politics and work to hold each other accountable these values – still screw up and express ableism?

It was a complicated emotional experience for us, and it was genuine. There was communication without needing to rely on verbal engagement. Sullivan the service dog speaks without words and opens up space for people to feel comfortable. Having ze around helps me communicate with people I otherwise would likely not speak to out of pure gimp grumpiness from often-fulfilled expectations of ableist interactions with people. In this way, Sullivan truly helps bridge gaps and open doors that I otherwise would absolutely ignore. I love that little munchkin for this and many other reasons.

In hindsight, I would have liked to offer more of myself to the person – contact information, figuring out ways to support her if she wanted assistive devices to augment her communication or whatever else she would like support around. Several months after that encounter, I continue to have no real clarity around this, as I still question if the interaction was overloaded with paternalism and projection. I hope it was a cool moment for her.

Would you have stopped? How do you recommend we engage in these kinds of interactions better? Where is the line between benevolence and paternalism? How do we know the difference between it’s good to offer help and when are we only doing so to make ourselves feel better?’


Finding YOUR krip body desirable: notes on internalized ableism and self-lovin’

Dear KripFamily,

Sending you kripLOVE, first of all. Thank you for allowing me into the circle of those you trust with a part of you that you don’t share with many others. I write to you from a place of solidarity, as a hot krip who has been passed over, deemed a friend (at best), and struggling for what seemed like forever watching from sidelines as my friends picked up folks with great ease while I sat sexually frustrated and pissed off.

The world is so fucked up for not loving and seeing the sexy rawness of our disabled bodies. We are some of the sexxxiest folks I know and I love that I finally see that. Every scar, curved bone, wobble, different type of movement and mode of thinking make me feel smitten with krip people. As much as I hope/d the world would have a different conception of disability and sex at this stage in life, I have to deal with the fact that I’m not sure this is going to change in our lives. And that whether we like it or not, no matter how fucking exhausting it is – we may have to continue to work to unravel negative perceptions of our sexuality, worth and beauty, among other human rights.

Even though bell hooks is an ableist – or seemed that way in one of her talks I saw – I dig this idea: love, like social justice, is an ongoing process, one that we make a commitment to work toward every day. When we talk about love it is not just with other people, but ourselves. I find her piece on loving blackness to be really useful. Doing mirror work has helped me too – nudity plus some questions about what you love about your body & what you would do differently if you really loved yourself. But you know my basic truth, it doesn’t matter how much I have changed through working on disability politics since the self-loathing, suicidal, closeted queer teen – I still struggle to consistently see myself as beautiful.

At a recent conference for folks with my disability, I found out about a camp for OI young ones. And I feel like a big thing I want to tell them is that you will love yourself, not every day but many days – and it’s absolutely great to revel in that. Something I never believed and am just started to be able to take in at some moments.

I’m sure this is all stuff you know, but for me – it was the catalyst to start seeing me as beautiful and some date worthyish folks (i.e. people who didn’t fetishize me or tokenize me for fun). I also had a really nice relationship with a woman who showed me I could be treated well; something I didn’t know until I was 27. She was a fellow krip; some of my krips partners taught me a lot about deeper kripsex politics and how to love myself. Other forms of resilience I use to fight against ableist conceptions of my lack of desirability or sexuality is by socializing with disabled folks – it keeps me validated in my experiences. The Bay Area really makes me feel like I breathe better, just like after therapy. I recommend an annual trip or whenever you can, to be in area where you are NOT the primary subject of the gaze = such a nice vacation from some microaggressions.

In close, YOU (all of you) are hot, brilliant and love will come to you when the universe knows it is right. (I really recommend talking to the universe about what specific traits you want in a partner. I did this for 8 months to a year before Sara came along and I got the most important things I wanted in a partner. Also, try to trust the universe will bring you what you need, which may not match exactly what you want.)

Also, I know it is hard to reveal this side of our criptastic selves to the world but I really think there is tremendous value in it. Since revealing self-loathing as a teen and my continued struggle with internalized ableism, I found that people feel more comfortable expressing that with me. By making myself vulnerable, I help open space for people to talk about their hidden truths and things that make us feel shame. One person said to me recently they had been waiting to hear what I said about internalized ableism and sexual esteem her whole life. Additionally, being the crip confessor creates an honest safe space and pushes back on what we are “supposed” to do in disability politic chats – by making the body politic all the more complicated, nuanced and fucking delicious. Eli Clare said it beautifully when he stated “we need a body politic as complicated as our bodies” – and we should add minds. None of us will fall from the pillar of being a cripsex god/dess, people would be able to see that we are human and struggle with the fucked up nature of ableism and sexism (and the rest of the aspects of interlocking systems of oppression). And that even the coolest, hottest, most brilliant have a hard time finding good loves or even being viewed as sexual (or a full human).

These are my thoughts now on how to deal with the pain of being socially perceived as undesirable, looked over by people who seem interested and just wading the troubled waters of ableism. Though I will add: please try online dating (try dating outside your friend group – some people are so hungry for better [disability] politics they have no idea, until someone like us comes along)!!!!




What I Would Tell My Teenage Self about Sexuality

Recently a Canadian press asked me to write about what I would tell my teenage self about sexuality for an anthology for radical teens. I expanded what I wrote here to avoid copy-write issues and explain more lessons I wish I could tell my teenage self. Enjoy… :)

As a disabled sexologist, looking back on my teenage years I, like many folks undoubtedly, wish I had the chance to go say a few things to myself.  Perhaps had I had the chance to read this or hear this story, I could have many avoided years of self-hatred and emotional turmoil from feeling lack of desirability and the belief that would never change.

I was born with a congenital disability that makes my bones brittle. In my 31 years of living, I’ve had over 60 fractures and 16 surgeries. With all the fractures and surgeries, I spent much of my young life isolated in bed healing from injuries, amounting to at the very least 7-10 years of life alone in bed healing. That created a huge gap in my socialization process and my educational experience. When I was 15 years old, I had a surgery that took me well over six months to heal from. I was incredibly depressed, even when my friends would come visit me. They told me stories of going to parties and out on dates. I didn’t get to experience any of that until my late teens, due to healing from injuries, an overprotective mother and friends who really didn’t want their disabled friend tagging along to “cool” parties.

Naturally, I had to find something to do with my time, so I escaped into the land of fiction – in books, television and movies. For years, I considered those images to reflect reality – and none of those images included people like me. I knew all the stories about the guy getting the girl in the end, even the supposed ugly duckling (who I thought I would be) would end up happily with a man. I had my heart set on living that fiction, yet wondered how I could possibly do so in the body I am in. I would often ask my mother would I ever fall in love and would I ever sex. She assured me some wonderful man would, at some point in the far off future, be able to see past my disability and see me as attractive and brilliant. I didn’t know then that it is absolutely ridiculous and ableist (oppression of disabled people and the production of normalcy) to suggest someone would see past what would become a core part of me.

If I could go back and counter the dialog my mothers and all the fiction I consumed taught me, I would tell me a few sexual truths. The truths that media conceals with its over-sexualization of everything and its overemphasis on a body beautiful standard that most people cannot live up to. I would explain that sexuality is not just sexual activity, and it certainly is not just heterosexual penetrative sex. Sexuality is intertwined in our whole personhood, it is an experience we have for a lifetime (or as sexologists often like to say “sexuality is a womb to tomb experience”) and something that can be celebrated. To feel sexual urges and want to explore your body at a young or old age is perfectly typical. Sexual expression is a spectrum: we all do not express it the same – so we may have different tastes, those tastes may change over time, and some of us may never want to have sex.

From an early age, I had a strong fascination with sex. I was mocked by my step-father for staring with wonder at sexual scenes in movies. He suggested I was perverted to want to see what sex entailed at the age of 10. Despite the shame I felt because of his comments and religious teachings I learned regarding sexuality, I thankfully discovered the delight of masturbation at 11 years old.  It was a great outlet for my bent up sexual energy that had no other outlet. At that age I tried to express interest in boys and girls and it remained unrequited. If I could tell my young masturbating self a few things, it would be to breathe more (to enhance pleasure and elongate the experience of climax), that I was not going against God by pleasing myself, and I was actually teaching myself a lot about my body. I now teach my students – of all abilities – that exploring your body is one of the best ways to know what you want when/if you decide you want to engage in sexual activities with others or yourself.

Another big lesson I would tell myself is that sexuality is a human right that EVRERYONE is worthy of and EVERYONE can find someone to be interested in them. This may sound like a lie, I would have thought it was a lie, but it really is true. Developing or enhancing sexual self-esteem can be enabled through many means; radicalizing disability really helped me. I found disabled friends, learned that disability was not my fault – or my tragedy – it is political. I was supported by my father, who arguably pushed me very hard to develop my personhood and sexuality. There were moments in my mid-to-late teens that we would go to concerts and he would encourage me to hit on people. It was terrifying to try but those moments proved to be excellent learning experiences (and stories to tell later in life).

I would also explain to my teen self, that all the sexual attraction can be real. When I came home from middle school and junior high talking about crushes on boys and girls, my mother explained the feelings for the boys were real but I really just wanted to be like those girls. I believed her for years not knowing her rationale was ableist and relied on my internalized ableist notions of wanting to nondisabled that made me believe that crap. When my father told me that I was gay when I was 16 years old, I was baffled yet felt like something finally fell into place. All of those crushes and attendant feelings finally were unveiled as real.

Because I didn’t know that sexuality was a spectrum, I bounced between what I thought to be the only sexual categories – heterosexual and gay. Through the bouncing, I experienced different folks with many types of strokes. Growing up with an OB-GYN nurse as a mom kept me safe(r), as I used condoms, lube and gloves throughout my sexual life. Though I tried many types of people, sometimes sex just was not hot or even satisfying (and yes I faked an orgasm or two). Sounds terrible but if you try different types of people through the years, some fit better than others.

I would also let me know that the sometimes scary and saddening sexual trajectory I hit hit when I moved to college would help me figure out more about myself. Even with my father and new college peers coaching me, I was a terrible wreck at trying to date or arouse attraction. Despite really emphatic efforts to be like my nondisabled peers, I couldn’t do it. I tried my damndest to drink as much and bring home guys from bars. Most often I would leave clubs alone and upset because I wasn’t even getting looked at. I had a few really rough semesters when I moved away. In the spring of my first year in college, my roommates and I hosted a party in which I was, again, sexually ignored. I got so frustrated that I took several pills, chased them with liquor and hoped I wouldn’t wake up. I didn’t want to be invisible anymore.

Looking back, I realize how grateful I am that I was not successful in not waking up. It would have been a truly sad waste of life; because I grew from the experience and only months later I knew I would never, ever want to sleep with anyone at the party. I’m grateful I made it through the pain alive because it has allowed me to see how important it is to talk about sexuality. I know feelings of shame and suicidal ideations regarding lack of desirability are not unique to me, and that we can work to change these social structures.

My closing sexual lesson is that experiencing love and sex are on-going processes. I’m still learning who I am, how to give and receive pleasure, and how to love myself and others. After gaining some sexual self-esteem through many fumbles, I started to understand what I really wanted and I began hunting for it. Certainly, this method does not work for some and many find it off-putting, but it worked often for me. More subtle approaches that are recommended by my less aggressive friends include meeting people with similar interests and building friendships into something more. Additionally, online dating websites are increasingly wonderful ways to meet people and their minds, not just their bodies. I found that to be an awesome modality through the years. After years of searching for someone who fit me, it turned out that it was me that needed to get to the stage of wanting to settle down. When I realized that I was ready for love, I spent awhile asking the universe for exactly what I wanted in a partner: intellectual and physical stimulation, the ability to make me giggle (and be ok with my giggling) and a true love for ranting. This happened only three years ago, when a friend helped me write a Craig’s-List (a free online source for various activities, including dating and casual hook-ups) explaining what I wanted in a partner. My now wife’s best friend found the ad and pushed her to respond to me. We consider our first date our anniversary. I knew within weeks, she was the one I wanted and I’m terribly grateful to the universe for allowing our friends and the internet to bring us together.

Even though I’m now with someone I truly adore, the internalized ableism I struggled with during my teen years remain. There are still days when I wonder – and ask – why she would want me and not a nondisabled person. Those moments of my depressed teenage life have not left, the feelings exist in my marrow (to borrow from Eli Clare), but there are now more and more moments that I can look at myself and see how sexy I am. I can often see why she loves me and may even think I’m a catch. That lesson would blow my teenage brain apart and even though I can’t tell young Bethany this, my eyes welled up with tears as I typed knowing that I made it through, I have faith others will too and I hope more of us share our stories with people that need to read and hear them.


Learning about KripLove from Krip Hop: Part 4 – What’s in a Word?

One of the big issues before and after the Krip Hop Nation event was the language of the movement – specifically the use of the word ‘Krip.’ Many scholars and activists in the disability communities use the term ‘crip‘ in a reclaiming political sense (explained more in my about me section of this blog). Leroy Moore shifted the spelling to use a ‘k’ to distinguish Krip Hop Nation from the LA gang – the Crips. This is due, in part, to work against the racist assumptions held and expressed by many people that those who are black and disabled, must have become disabled through being shot or other forms of (gang) violence.

Regardless of the spelling – Krip/Crip – these words are inflammatory to many. Many disability scholars and activists have reclaimed these words as a form of verbal assault against the institution of ableism through defusing the history of hate in these words. Whereas, others in the disability community are adamantly against reclaiming these words and insist upon only using people first language.  People first rhetoric requires one referencing a disabled person as “a person with a disability” to signify the disability as one aspect of the person’s identity but not the central or defining featuring of it. I do not live by the people first imperative but do appreciate its purpose; more people should see disabled people as *gasp* people – not just as objects that they can violate and exclude. People first language is all fine in theory, as I agree with the idea that disabled people should be recognized as people and I explain it to my undergrads because, like the social model of disability, I think these linguistic tools reflect the first steps in disability consciousness revolution.

My real problem is when people first politics begin to impinge on the ability of freedom of self-identifying labels. *Ahem* the First Amendment. As I explained when Bridget the Midget (former adult film star) keynoted the University of Florida disability and sexuality 2005 conference – while the word ‘midget’ is abhorred by many little people, if Bridget wants to identify as a flaming turd, she should (and does) have the right to do so. We should all be able to call ourselves the labels we need to and that feel right for our realities.

From the beginning of discussions of bringing Krip Hop Nation to the university, people were uncomfortable with the language. I was asked to change the title, but refused because it is not my movement, and I will not engage in an act of oppression of labeling something that is not mine.  The university refused to label the event correctly on the event page of the University homepage because they were afraid of giving off the wrong impression about the University. I explained throughout the pre-event discussions that Krip Hop is the language of the artists, and it signifies liberation to them. Therefore, they should decide how to label themselves, not us (as historically has happened with marginalized groups of people), but ultimately it didn’t matter – people tried to censor the name but Krip Hop Nation remains Krip Hop Nation. It will not bend to the whims of people not pushing this killer movement forward.

It is of note that an interesting dichotomy popped up with the language issue. Many people first language advocates were pumped about seeing Krip Hop and talked about it. In doing so, they used disabled first language. Thus, in a not so subtle way, Krip Hop Nation helped push people to consider language without an aggressive confrontation. Moving past what might have offended some; they saw how cool the idea of hip hop and disability could be and wanted to see it for themselves –which was evidenced by the diverse crowd in attendance. Also, a large somewhat conservative disability conference in Georgia is now courting Krip Hop Nation to perform at their event, even though they may not really be ready for Krip Hop Nation. Isn’t it beautiful how art can be part of our revolution?


Learning about KripLove from Krip Hop: Part 3 – KripLove is THE Revolution

Krip Hop Nation in ATL and other events like it (such as the DaDa Fest in England next month) subvert the traditional model of disability awareness by encouraging people in the crowd to acknowledge and even *gasp* celebrate disability culture. Part of the beauty of Krip Hop is that interweaves exposing the truth about negotiating the disability experience – stigma, love, desire… really everything  – with kick ass art and beats. Throughout the day the artists and panelists revealed raw emotions and a spectrum of analyses about disability.  Some of the comments expressed by the panelists and artists were not in line with my philosophy of disability, but I am working on seeing the value in the diversity of our voices. It is more honest to have variability of voices and understandings of disability rather than having a monolithic representation of disability – even if that monolith is reflective of my sexy understanding of disability.

Much of the content was emotionally and spiritually intense. I shared many of the feelings expressed about struggling to figure out ways to love my disabled body in a culture that devalues us.  I loved hearing stories of journeying to self love. Our community so rarely takes up this conversation. We speak of disability pride and political resistance– but we don’t talk about how we have to figure out ways to embrace our krip beauty and really come to a state of love. That missing dialog around love is so needed. I challenge all of us in the disability realm – disabled folks, our families, friends, etc. – to examine whether we are following dominant disability discourse by trying to “look beyond disability” to love the person or if we can have, even just brief moments, love of the whole package. Can YOU say I love disability? Maybe we need to practice together or privately in the mirror – saying I love THIS (my/your) krippy body, mind, sensory system, etc. I try to do this and certainly does not work every day. Sometimes the weathering of ableism and other isms that mandate perfection, just make it too difficult to look in the mirror and like what I see. I’ve said it before that is also difficult to hear from my partner that she sees me as beautiful and loves all of me – when I don’t. Clearly, this is an area to work on – for me and I bet for you. Let’s try to talk about this more.

The idea of loving disability and celebrating our culture causes cognitive dissonance in most people, including many disabled folks. Many seem quite hostile to the idea that disabled people can come to a place of self-love. In fact, the idea that a disabled person could love themselves is framed as delusional too many; which is in line with a guiding disability principle in our culture – we should all want to be able-bodied or assimilate into normalcy as much as possible (i.e. compulsory able-bodiedness).

This is why moments where we can have honest expressions and celebrations of disability culture – in its many forms – are so valuable to disabled people and society generally. I know many of the disabled people there really valued the moment to just breathe in KripLove and to celebrate us. The profound feeling of commonality in our experiences of difference really helped crystallize the growing feeling I have of love for my community. The after party only added to my growing KripLove, as it was a small collective of the artists and a few friends who get disability. The space we had is much like what bell hooks describes in “Loving Blackness as a Form of Political Resistance” in Killing Rage: Ending Racism – a place of emotional refuge where no one had to ask for access, hide attempts at making space easier for our navigation or explain disability basics. We could be ourselves. It was not perfect because we human and still managed to say some offensive things – but it felt really nice and cozy to curl up in a pile of KripLove! It was a perfect way to ring my 30th birthday. It’s so refreshing and recharging to be in that space after weathering the ableist world.

Group of Krip Friends: Robin, me, Keith, Ryan and Leroy in a loving pile on a couch

KripLove Pile!

The following day I spent many hours feeling KripLove surging through my body. I cried tears of joy, as I went over the event in my head and looked through our photos. This was much like the feeling I got from hosting the disability and sexuality conference at UF in 2005 – an overwhelming feeling of peace, as though I achieved something that I was supposed to do. For the UF conference, I glowed for about a week over a job well done – a well-attended event that was profound because it explored KripSex, an issue still rarely spoken of.

This time around my joy was cut a bit short through challenges of language at the event and critiques on ways it could have been better. Maybe my skin was thicker when I was younger – because I thrived on the editorials written about how awful I was for hosting a “freak show” with an adult film star talking about disability issues – or maybe it all just means more to me now to have people really feel the message I’m trying to share about disability.

I want people to get what I am doing – trying to shift social conception around disability. I want people to be liberated from the shackles of disability oppression, because it’s not just me and my krip siblings that hurt from these ideas of bodily, intellectual and sensory perfection – it’s all of us. Disability liberation is CENTRAL TO ALL of our liberation. That is what I want people to understand: this revolution of love, especially of the Krip flavor, is for everyone. I say this because if we all really LOVED DISABILITY – just imagine what cultural doors that would open (and be wide enough, with ramps, braille notations, lights, etc.) around our collective interpretation of the meaning of bodies. This could be a huge title wave of relief for so many people who hate our bodies because our culture teaches we shouldn’t or we can’t. Dream and talk about the possibilities of this with your comrades.


Getting Emotionally Naked: Notes on an Activist Voice

I just submitted a paper to Atlantis with my good friend and colleague from SF State’s Sexuality Studies graduate program Sonny on coalitional politics and embodied scholar-activist efforts to further a theory we call bodiosexual justice.

Bodiosexual justice is a neologism (= nerd sex) that is meant to convey how our trans and disabled bodies are similarly stigmatized, how this stigma impacts our sexual health, and how our oppressions stem from similar sources thus encouraging us to work together to further embodied justice. We discussed how queer bodies – those deemed “Others” through the social construction of the imagined normate, including aging, poor, fat, raced, trans bodies, and disabled bodies etc. – are often denigrated through interlocking systems of structural and conceptual oppressions.

We shared our very personal narratives and experiences working together.  We did not speak for other identity groups who have queer bodies because we recognize that is often a part of the oppression we seek to redress.  A substantive component of the piece dealt with the practicalities of coalition building – with a lot of the focus on the role of emotional work  and honest communication in effective coalition building.  It was one of the most beautiful writing experiences of my life, largely because I reclaimed a sense of rabid activism in my writing.

Somewhere along the way in procuring degrees and mentally jerking off with more and more nerds, I lost my edge and started to feel I had to rely on other people’s voices entirely too much.  While I used citations in this piece to respect the work I build on, Sonny and I both engaged with our embodied identity knowledge as sources of expertise.  It was liberating and emotionally gratifying. It made me cry and shake a bit from feeling like I was being more honest with myself and others than I have been in a long time. I credit love, dealing with my most recent injury, and blogging with the specific intent of trying to capture in writing the way I give speeches for this reclamation of my activist voice.

Below are enhanced/altered pieces (for copyright purposes) of my crip narrative that was part of the paper:

In my ten years of working in disability culture/studies, I have journeyed from a self-loathing disabled person who struggled to admit my disability to a self-described uppity crip. My sexy comrade Robert McRuer (2006) explains that the word ‘crip’ works to build coalitions across different disabilities (parallel to the word ‘queer’) and signals proclamation of disability pride by reforming and embracing a historically derogatory word (i.e. ‘cripple’). My use of the word ‘crip’ provides me a method to deny compulsory able-bodiedness through verbal assault.  McRuer makes clear that able-bodiedness is an institution in which American culture “assumes in advance that we all agree: able-bodied identities, able-bodied perspectives are preferable and what we all, collectively, are aiming for.”

Though some disabled people strive for able-bodiedness through the search for a cure, most notoriously (and disdained among many uppity crips) Christopher Reeve and his campaign to cure his spinal cord injury, many of us embrace our queer bodies and feel better in our skin by doing so. This is true for me; as I decided at the age of fifteen to begin to use a wheelchair despite my mothers decry that I “would never live a normal life” if I did not walk. I stopped walking because I went through a cycle of several fractures stemming from having brittle bones and a femur and double tibia rodding surgery that kept me bed-ridden for about six months. It exhausted my mental health and I decided walking was not worth the psychological cost.

The shift to using a wheelchair has made me more visibly queer. This visible push farther outside the bounds of normalcy has forced me to work to reconcile the “jagged edge between [acculturated] self-hatred and pride” (as the delicious poet/activist Eli Clare wrote) because my queer body provokes daily reminders of my non-normativity, often through being the object of staring and/or intrusive questions about my body. Often I find these socially acceptable microaggressions to be more taxing and disturbing than other aspects of ableism, such as lacking physical access, because they happen so frequently. Despite the exhausting nature of being a spectacle, I find using a wheelchair to be freeing; I can now glide through life as fast as I want without the pain and struggle related to walking. And in making the decision to wheel, I have allowed myself to live my “normal” life – i.e. the way my body feels most comfortable.

Interrogating disability through my work has been revolutionary for me because it has helped shift the focus away from my body as a problem to society as the problem. This idea captures the social model of disability by moving away from the medical model through separating the personal issue (impairment) from the social issue (environmental and attitudinal oppression).

This theory often fails crips because it prevents acknowledging emotional realities of frustration noted in impairment. It creates a political impetus to be silent about our nuanced realities; this denies us the ability to confess the embodied nature of disability. This recent realization that I do not always have to pander to the requirements of the social model has been liberating because it allows me to acknowledge that it is difficult when I am in physical pain and/or frustrated with my impairment. Likewise, the daunting process of breaking apart internalized disability narratives may not end until oppression ends; therefore it is reasonable to feel sad and angry when negotiating stigma.

Much of my anger stems from internalized ableism and shame around my body.  Sonny has helped me reframe my sense of shame by stating “shame=oppression and shame=injustice… [this] helps me to feel validated in my shame because [I realize] it comes from outside, even though it is a very internal emotion.”  Even Karl Marx is in concurrence here as he wrote “shame is the fuel of revolutionary consciousness.”  Processing and talking about internalized shame is a revolutionary process.

But to be clear there is a lot to be angry about aside from internalized shame.  And being angry or sad does NOT make me a bad scholar-activist!  Anger is often the fuel of revolutionary acts.

Pervasive social assumptions about disabled people  make us justly pissed.  Some of those commonly-held disability assumptions include the belief that disabled people are childlike, dependent, and asexual or hypersexual.  These ideas compose part of disability oppression.

The effects of these misconceptions entail the legitimation and social endorsement of human rights violations exacted upon us.  A few are highlighted here.  Globally, disabled people comprise the world’s largest (650 million or 10% of the population) and poorest minority group, amounting to about 20% of the world’s poorest people. Disabled people continue to be “humanely” sterilized and killed in various places around world, including most aggressively in the Netherlands. And while eugenics is often perceived as a Nazi project, US legislation for compulsory sterilization of ‘degenerates’ – including intellectually and/or physically disabled people; especially those of color – existed nearly a decade before the Nazis started 4 Tiergartenstraße and served as its model. Disabled people are subject to countless hate crimes, often unreported and at the hands of our care-givers; yet until 2009 were not a protected class of people in United States federal legislation.

Along with denying disabled people our basic human rights, these commonly held beliefs about disability are sociopolitically disempowering. Even those of us who are not incarcerated in institutions face extreme social isolation due to lacking physical access, accessible transportation and/or adequate monetary and social support.

All of these issues have a deleterious impact on our sexual health. The World Health Organization (2006) has called for a holistic understanding of sexuality in which sexual health is defined as: a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.

This definition makes clear that disparities in sexual health are often a result of the presence of oppressive social forces, such as discrimination and coercion.Therefore, disability oppression does not just wok to make disabled people poor, subject to abuse, sterilized or killed; it also harms our overall sense of health.

I encourage everyone to get emotionally naked and join Sonny and I in this incredibly enriching intellectual orgy of embodied praxis by engaging with your emotions around your corpo(realities).