Monday, April 25, 2011

Background Noise and Defensiveness

So, i don't know if you experience this, but ableism and inaccessibilities are sort of background noise for me: there all the time, always informing me, always on my mind, always impacting my life; and then there are occasions when it really flares up, then returns to background noise. This week has been like that.

Several incidents of dealing with queer, trans, feminist groups and events that are totally inaccessible when i expected something else (sometimes because i'd been told they'd be different) and other incidents where claims of things being inclusive of "all bodies" falling way short of the mark.

i often find it hard (scary, saddening, vulnerable, exposing, frustrating, useless) to talk about the ableism and inaccessibilities of my communities, and a large part of that difficulty has to do with the defensiveness, no matter how i and others approach the topic. The defensiveness that assumes that being told your event is inaccessible and that that's not ok and how can we change it is somehow oppressive or mean or uncalled for. The defensiveness that says "instead of 'just complaining', why dont you DO something??!!". The defensiveness that says "why even bother? Someone will always complain!" The defensiveness that assumes i'm even talking about just your event when talking about this stuff, instead of a whole mess of incidents that week. The defensiveness that pulls out all the reasons why it's acceptable to hold inaccessible events yet say we're "all" welcome. The defensiveness of the ENabled.

People often say "maybe if people talked about their concerns more nicely/ less angrily/ etc then we would listen and things would change?"*. i cant even tell you how many times i've heard this. It's called tone policing, and communities all over have called it out for what it is: a derailing tactic**, an attempt to deflect the conversation back onto the person bringing up an issue instead of dealing with it directly and respectfully and effectively. It hasn't changed, it is still the #1 immediate response, no matter how kindly, how sweetly, how carefully the commentary is worded by the huge variety of folks who comment on ableism and inaccessibilities. And we are a hugely diverse group of people who talk about this stuff, with equally diverse methods of addressing it, and yet things so often remain the same. i can't help but imagine that it's about something else, like, i don't know, systematic, community-wide ableism perhaps?

It can only be about something more insidious than a perception of bad manners, when ENabled folks call inaccessibilities "inconvenient", "unfortunate", "regretful" or "oops!". It can only be about something more structural when ENabled folks insist that there must be better ways to deal with it (than how we're talking about it), and that until we find those ways or until we agree that ENabled folks know what's best, shit will stay the same. It must be about more than that when ENabled folks are running the conversation, no? 

The thing is? Gimps know. We know what we're talking about. We know what it means, we know what it costs, we know how it happens, we know how to navigate it, and we know how to detect [however well-meaning] bullshit when we encounter it. We know it because we live it, every single day.

We know that inaccessibilities are actually oppressive, not just inconvenient and unfortunate. We know that the language ["you calling me out on this is oppressive/ not ok!"] simply doesn't work in reverse [like, "reverse racism" or "reverse sexism" don't actually exist, for example]; we know that it's not some kind of hardship to have folks come to you and share their experiences and feelings around inaccessibilities, but that it's a gift. And we know that already-fucked-with people dont like to think of ourselves as capable of fucking over others, but we can & do, every day. The point is to be honest about it instead of treating folks as though they dont know wtf is up.

We know what we're talking about when it comes to this, and usually we're not out to fuck you over or shut you down or make you feel bad or defeated [and honestly? if you think YOU feel all those things about this, you truly need to check some privilege. Gimps are at the shit-end of the stick on this one, every single time].

So next time, instead of complaining about how gimps come to you with our concerns, how about you do some work on how you accept those concerns? How about you say "ok, i see what you're saying, can we talk? what can i do? how can we work together to change this? how can we sustain relationships with gimps so it's not this piecemeal haphazzard approach every time, only something we consider when we need you or when you insist on showing up? How can we create real community around this?".

Yeah. That sounds good to me? How about you?

* Here's the deal: When you refuse to participate [meaningfully or at all] in the collective work of creating and maintaining the kinds of relationships with disabled folks that could help ensure ongoing resource and info sharing, connections across differences, and increased community, you don't get to come to us complaining about how you think disabled folks are being "mean" or "unfair" or "angry" or "unreasonable" etc when we point out ableism. If you do the work, while it can be really challenging at times, it also has its benefits.

If it's worth it to you, you'll do it. If it's not, you won't. And we will be right back where we started with each other. And that seems an awful waste of time a energy to me. So let's do the work ok?

** i do have a problem with the "_____ For Dummies" language (specifically regarding the "dummies" part). It's unnecessarily ableist and pisses me off in general, and specifically when dealing with issues around ableism and inaccessibilities i am hesitant to include it. You decide.


billie rain said...

hi romham!!

i'm such a big fan of your blog, and have been waiting with baited breath for a new post. and you definitely did NOT disappoint!

i get soo frustrated asking over and over again for accessibility info, often for events i am invited to, only to find out that there is none, or very little, or it's based on a very limited concept of accessibility.

every once in a while i'll go to an event or party that isn't disability conscious. one of the most recent times someone actually lit a cigarette in the space, which could have killed me. and even though my friends tried to help (some disabled some nondisabled), i ended up being the one facing the offender who was blocking the exit with their cigarette.

and let me tell you, as sweet as i usually am, when facing someone smoking a cigarette in the doorway of a room i'm trying to leave, after my friend has already explained that their action represents a threat to my survival... well, i lost it.

and what none of those people saw (except my partner), was the week i spent in bed, in agony, recuperating from the chemicals and the stress.

and people are still inviting me to events where they know there are toxic chemicals that could harm/kill me. i really don't get it.

also, the "for dummies" thing really bothers me. especially because i think that intellectual ableism is very prevalent in many disability communities.

the other thing i question about this kind of information is how they apply to folks who are not neurotypical. because often our way of thinking &/or communication styles do not fit into this model of how to communicate.

i think this aspect of how ableism affects communication needs to be taken seriously if we don't want to exclude folks whose disabilities affect thought, comprehension, behavior and communication.

well, you're awesome! and i'm really glad you posted!

sincerely, your biggest fan,
billie rain xo

romham a bear said...

Thanks so much for yer kind words, Billie.
It really is frustrating and angering for sure. And so often folks think theyre the first instance of ableism youve had to deal with and are shocked when you flip out lol. And yeah i think the part about what that other person is witness to is important: they dont perceive the impacts, they dont know how hard it is to do the work of getting to a space, only to realize its inaccessible. They dont get to be part of the drop, the pain, any of it.

And yeah, those are very much my concerns about the "Dummies" series. i want to find more ways of sharing this stuff that considers a wider range of experiences, and doesnt fuck people over in the process. Its work for sure.
im so glad youre doing the work you do, its inspiring (and not in that annoying ableist way where everythign and anything gimps do is "inspiring" lolol). i mean that knowing so many other rad folks are out there kicking shit up in their own ways, reminds me to keep going, and sometimes i need that so bad. So thank you <3

billie rain said...