Recently one of my best friends Robin participated in the performance of the Vagina Monologues. About an hour before the show, I was told to have another friend go to the front of the building to notify staff that my partner and I would enter the back of the building for special access. This sounded doable, I prepared by asking my buddy in the car if she would be willing to go to the staff to notify them I was in the back. It’s common to find the accessible entrance hidden – tucked away near the trash bins.
As soon as my dear friend got to the venue she called with fear and sadness in her voice. Though she was set to perform for the first time since I have known her (4.5 years), she was walking me through how I might access the space, after learning the performance venue was down a flight of stairs with no access aside from a human lift. She told me this, as I tried to shift the focus to her. This was her show night, not a night about access foibles. I kept telling her break a leg. And finally said I would call back with my decision.
After some dialogue, I opted not to be carried to see the show. No one deserves my reasoning for this decision, and my deliberating could suggest internalized ableism (e.g., I felt guilty because I didn’t want to put myself at risk to appear more able or included), I share to expose these complex aspects of ableism.
I opted out of being carried because I have to think about my energy, my bones (i.e., my brittle bones disease), and generally my body within the scarcity model. No longer are the days where I can have fun today and not think of tomorrow. I have to consider if being put in an unsafe situation at X time might cause an injury that will require X (usually more than I think) time of recovery.
Math is not my strong-suit, but I have to calculate this risk daily.
I decided to not attend the Vagina Monologues for the FIRST TIME in my life – can you believe a sex nerd (who lived on a University campus for far too long) like me never saw this?!!!- and not see my sexxxy bestie in the name of being a pragmatic gimp. No injury, no worries.
And then… my wonderful bestie, a disabled chica too, wrote a long status about how heartbreaking it was to not have me in the space for her show. It was genuine and beautiful, as she is in life. What was absolutely fascinating was reading the response of people losing their damn minds over this happening, as though it is so terribly infrequent that ALL the lawyers should band together against this extraordinary injustice.
Out of respect to her and her upcoming actual performance, I never chimed in on the thread with my surprise at their responses.
The response had me stunned. I didn’t understand how lacking access at one bar triggered such outrage: people wanted the department of justice involved and some stated they were crying. It was intense. And it was one night. Out of a million inaccessible evenings and spaces – in which barriers are erected to block the lives of all sorts of disabled people – this was one time space. These access barriers block our ability to eat delicious food. To find sexual partners. To frolic with friends. And live our goddamn lives they way we want!
This felt really mild on my spectrum of disability discrimination stories I have heard or experienced. It was absolutely shitty, no doubt! I wanted desperately to see my friend shine in all of her glory, as she should – always! I wanted to be with friends and talk about vaginas. But it didn’t kill me missing it. I should have a list to rattle off about the top 10 most excruciating access fails in my life because there have been some amazingly egregious ones – but I don’t have them.
Instead I want to live with a glimpse in the day of a life of a visually obvious gimp: a friend was just taking photos of the recent dump of snow, a few blocks from her house and within 20 minutes 4 people asked if she needed help and one if she needed a meal for the evening. This woman was dressed appropriately for the weather, taking photos, and was harassed only because she is an obvious wheelchair user.
Reading her story today did not shock me, it made me laugh because it is so common that people act this ridiculous. I hope, like one of her friends, that people are so generous when they see other people outside who may need a meal.
Please be angry WITH US!! Rage against lacking access, discrimination, and exclusion from all spaces and structures. Speak about discriminatory acts and procedures when you notice them. Don’t be the person that decides to be intrusive and pushy with ableist questions and thoughts. Read a blog, read some books, just Google it before downloading all over a disabled person. Remember that oppressive power expresses itself in similar and interlocking ways. Do not cry to the oppressed person when you figure out what discrimination is, and don’t ask us for a hug because you can feel the pain, if anything you consider treating us. Fight lacking accessible, especially to VAGINA related spaces!! Comrades??!! Join me, and as I do with you.