Sisters of Frida Home

Bringing disabled women together, mobilising
and sharing through lived experiences

Subscribe To Newsletter

Facebook

Disablism in GBTIQ+ Spaces

With many thanks to pseudodeviant for sharing this with us, first published on Crip the Planet.

Queer Theory has provided a really useful lens for examining the marginalising effects of existing in ways that deviate from societal norms. As a Queer Crip I found that it not only helped me find new ways to understand my sexuality and gender, but that it helped me think differently about how disablement impacted my life, both personally and systemically. I started noticing that the boundaries between my experience as a queer person and a disabled person were blurry to say the least; sure homophobia feels different to disablism, but the root cause, that deviation from what our society expects a person to be (non-disabled, straight, cisgendered, often white & male too), was the same.

It’s one of the reasons I feel so hurt by the amount of casual and systemic disablism I experience from the LGBTIQ+ community. One of the ways that this community has learned to validate itself is to set itself in opposition to disability; “I’m not crazy, it’s who I am!”, “I’m not deluded, this is my gender”, “I don’t have a mental health condition” said with a sneer, “I’m normal, not broken like them”, “My needs require radical social solutions. Disabled people just need fixing”. The often visceral rejection of disability, of other people with bodies and minds, feelings & desires that either function or are structured in a way that doesn’t meet societal norms, seems strange at best, and cruel at worst. It’s especially hard when you are a disabled queer, expected to denigrate part of your being (being a disabled person) to validate another (being queer).

Before we dive in, I should say that yes, I am well aware that these issues are just expressions of disablism in the wider world, none are completely exclusive to the LGBTIQ+ community (heck, I could write the same about some neurodivergent activists that wish to no longer be seen as disabled because they aren’t broken us crips). LGBTIQ+ spaces are one of the few places I feel like I can be my queer self, and therefore I have a massively vested interest in wanting to do my bit to challenge the way casual and systemic disablism is an accepted part of the way we fight for LGBTIQ+ liberation.

A Quick History

Why is it like this? Well a lot of it has to do with the history of campaigning around queer issues. I’m going to have to do this in a nutshell, because queer history is as vast a topic as the history of humanity. Historically homosexuality was seen as being intrinsically linked with sin; the church condemned such “sodomites” as immoral and unnatural. You see similar in the history of disablism with the notion that we were cursed, possessed, or otherwise deviant beings, suffering in some way for moral failings. Then came the move to understand and naturalise homosexuality, by suggesting it is a biological reality. We were “born this way”, we can’t help who we are, God made us this way. No longer is it the dominant narrative that sin is responsible, it’s now an “individual tragedy” of genetics. Of course, this led to LGBTIQ+ people being increasingly seen in a very similar way to how most see disabled people; as objects of pity that it is morally right for a compassionate society to “fix”. Like it or not, it’s for their own good. Homosexuality & being transgender became psychological & physiological impairments, and intersex bodies became “choices” for parents. Medical attempts at conversion and treatment began, rather than allowing for queer liberation. This had very real, very harmful implications. A friend reminded me that an example of this was clearly seen during the AIDS crisis, when a lot of funding was seen going to organisations that wanted to “cure” homosexuality instead of the disease. From the start of the process of medicalisation, demands grew for society to be the thing that changed, accepting the community, rather than converting the individual. Some groups under the umbrella achieved “official” demedicalisation faster than others; homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973, while the World Medical Organisation (WHO) waited until 1990 to remove it from the ICD. The WHO only removed “Transexualism” from the ICD in 2018, and gender dysphoria is still a DSM classification while writing this in 2020.

Because these fights for demedicalisation are very recent (and in the case of things like the gender dysphoria in DSM, and the forced assignment of binary genders to intersex children are still ongoing), the language of those campaigns is still firmly embedded in the community. Given how many still see queer bodies as inherently immoral, it should come as no surprise, given the history, that there remain people who think queer folks have a “treatable” disease no matter what the WHO might say. The issue is not that we LGBTIQ+ people want social support and acceptance and an end to unnecessary and harmful medical interventions, it is that a lot of the language used to argue for this is disablist, and reinforces disablist narratives.

I’m going to look at two of those narratives in a bit more detail now.

Image by Alexandra Haynak from Pixabay

Medical Conditions are insults

“Being gay isn’t like being mad, being gay is normal because it doesn’t hurt anyone”

This feels very obvious to me, but I feel I should start with the most basic point: There will never be liberation for the LGBTIQ+ community while its disabled members are still oppressed. Its disabled members will continue to be oppressed while anyone in society, including LGBTIQ+ people, denigrate disabled people because they are still pathologised and medicalised. As a mad crippled queer, the knowledge that many of my queer sibs see the idea of being compared to me as some dire insult is at once infuriating and deeply upsetting. Especially coming from a community that was once seen as being like me until society changed its mind. Instead of showing solidarity with those of us still left behind, contempt is shown instead.

To reinforce the idea that there are “acceptable” bodies and minds is not helpful to either community. It is crucial to challenge the norms which say some bodies/minds aren’t acceptable. The LGBTIQ+ community is still actively trying to challenge this with regards to LGBTIQ+ people, but will keep being held back while it still reinforces this norm by affirming that there are people (some of whom are queer themselves) that should still be deemed unworthy of acceptance. As long as there are socially acceptable ways of calling the functioning of some bodies and minds “wrong”, the LGBTIQ+ community will always be skating on thin ice with regards to their own liberation.

Reinforcing these ideas is a harmful thing.

Social models for us, not you

“We’re not crazy or sick, LGBTIQ+ need social support & acceptance, not to be medically labeled”

Here we look at the notion that LGBTIQ+ marginalisation comes from society not accepting them and making it hard to get things like the appropriate medical support they need, while disabled people’s marginalisation stems from their inherent wrongness.

There is a pervasive notion that, while LGBTIQ+ people won’t be truly liberated until there is wholesale social change so people can accept and affirm the nigh infinite ways an individual’s gender, attraction, and sexuality present (or don’t), disabled people just need “fixing”. This simplistic approach does no one any favours. Of course there are disabled people out there that would like relief from undesirable impairment symptoms (pain, fatigue, frightening visions, high stress etc…), but even if you magically got rid of those, the majority of us would still be seen as impaired. People would still develop impairments and become disabled. We would still require aids and adaptations and access to medical care (which is a social issue in and of itself). The negative stereotypes about disability would still exist. We would still be marginalised, we’d just be in less pain while it happened. Much like LGBTIQ+ people, us crips also need widespread social change to be liberated. I get very frustrated listening to LGBTIQ+ people try to argue that their marginalisation comes from society not accepting them and making it hard to get things like the medical support they need, while disabled people’s marginalisation stems from their inherent wrongness. Disabled people that need medical interventions to help manage impairments are apparent proof of this, while LGBTIQ+ folks that need them to help live their lives are somehow different. I’ve tried to pick into the reasons that one should be considered impaired and the other not; that one should be considered disabled and the other not; and I draw a blank. I struggle to see how the LGBTIQ+ community can suggest that there is a need for a social model of difference/queerness/impairment for a dysphoric trans person undergoing a medical transition to manage a body that causes a degree of emotional/physical suffering & additional marginalisation, but not for a disabled person taking medication, or having prosthesis fit to manage a body that causes a degree of emotional/physical suffering & additional marginalisation. Where is the difference? What answers are there that don’t drip with disablist tropes where we are broken, subhuman, suffering, wrong, unnatural, dull & ugly? If you have one I’d like to know because this genuinely gets to me as a queer (and genderqueer) crip.

In saying all this I want to stress that I do not seek to undo the progress of the Trans community by pointing out the similarities in aspects of our struggles. More I seek to point out that there isn’t a distinct line that can be drawn between our struggles. I’m not trying to deny transphobia and homophobia existing, or argue that they should be re-medicalised. I am suggesting that LGBTIQ+ and disabled peoples’ transgression of societal norms around mental & bodily structure/function/feelings/desire are very similar, and both require those norms to be thoroughly challenged. That disabled people also require social interventions, especially when they have had any medical interventions they personally want to have to help manage/alleviate any symptoms they might find undesirable, and are now simply trying to live their lives as disabled people.

Reproduced Disablism

I want to leave this piece by talking a bit about some of the core disablism that is reproduced by talking about disabled people and queer liberation like this.

  • That disabled LGBTIQ+ people aren’t a part/ aren’t an important part of the LGBTIQ+ community.
  • That to exist with an impairment, as a disabled person, is so widely understood to be a negative thing that to suggest it to someone is to insult them.
  • Disabled People’s bodies/minds are in some way unnatural and abnormal, even though impairments are extremely common, often part of evolution, something that generally develops in us all as we age and so on.
  • To be disabled is to be an aberration that needs either correcting through doctors or spiritual interventions, or if that fails, some sort of tragedy that dooms the individual to the lowest class of existence. Immediately othering and marginalising disabled people.
  • To no longer be seen as a disabled person, to no longer be seen as impaired, to be seen as “normal” is a goal that should be held by all people that are classified as having impairments.
  • That disabled people can be liberated by medicine making them “normal” (where normal is the current capitalist construction of how an ideal worker/commodity’s body should be structured, think and function) or as close to “normal” as possible. Something queer theory explicitly argues against.
    • That this should go beyond helping those who wish to alleviate pain or other individually undesirable symptoms of their impairment, and that medical interventions to make them “normal” should be imposed on all.
    • This never mentions how the people that can’t be medically “normalised” enough to fit within society’s norms then can’t be liberated, leaving them as a perpetual underclass.

I’ve not dedicated any space to talking about disablism in the form of frequently inaccessible spaces, and the additional pressures in many parts of the community to conform to specific bodily standards that are unattainable for many disabled people. This is in part because I think they are a symptom of underlying disablism and living in a neoliberal society. It’s also in part because this post has gotten long and I think it’s time to stop

😉

To try and summarise all of this, I believe that disablism is still rife in LGBTIQ+ spaces & communities. I think one of the ways we can help combat this is to challenge the idea that there is a clear and distinct boundary between disablist oppression and homophobia & transphobia. There is at least a partial overlap because of a common root; both groups are seen to deviate from societal norms around bodily form and function, and expression of thoughts and feelings. As a result both groups experience moral & spiritual judgement for their difference, both experience a conflict between wanting access to any chosen medical interventions and not wanting to have medical interventions forced upon them, both want social change and to challenge norms, both have to deal with difficult stereotypes about their sexuality and attraction. Another way is to ensure that compassion, respect and solidarity arealso built where differences lie. We are stronger together, compassion is punk AF and smashing social norms is revolutionary

🙂

pseudodeviant
West Midlands, UK
A queer crip navigating the wor
ld

Wrong Girl: childhood and gender conditioning

Many thanks for sharing this piece with us, friend who wishes to remain anonymous. First published on Letter to Gender Critical Activists

There’s something I have been pondering, since reading this blog, on Letters:
https://letter.wiki/conversation/896

Mainly I’m pondering the question, how cleverly it wasn’t directly answered, and why.

It’s occurred to me that many people may not realise that many transgender children are not socialised in the exact same way as our non transgender peers. Therefore to assume we were raised the same way as people assigned the same sex as us, is a mistake. As the above article says, beautifully, we *fail* the gendered socialisation.

I cannot speak for anyone else, especially not transgender women. I can say that, anecdotally, my experience seems not that dissimilar to others in terms of the fact that our childhood socialisation is often different to that of our non transgender peers and siblings.

I am not an academic, so this will not be a peer reviewed piece linking evidence. This is a personal anecdote about my experience. No doubt there are proper evidential things within the plethora of gender studies work.

I do not usually discuss my personal life, hence choosing a faceless blog.

Content note for short references to sexualisation and to parental bullying and violence.

As soon as I realised sex existed and gendered ways of doing things, it was clear to me I was a wrong girl.

It was clear because my mother made it very clear that I kept doing it wrong.

Toys are not gender, but pay attention to the behaviour.

The first Christmas I remember, I wanted a football. I was nearly 4. We didn’t own one.

Instead I got a kitchen unit and a tea set. I think a lot of parents aren’t so gendered about toys now, and that’s great. Girls can play with anything.

My mum explained that Santa brought it, because I’m a little girl, my brother is a little boy. So, it was obvious to me that Santa didn’t realise I’m a wrong girl… That secretly I’m a boy and nobody has noticed.

It’s the first time I remember thinking it, as I don’t remember it starting. I remember because I thought Santa knew, as he even knows things our parents don’t. I felt surprised, and a bit sad.

I tried so hard that day to be a good girl, I made so much water tea until they made me stop and told me off. I got the message that I still wasnt getting it right. I felt so anxious and guilty, as I dont want them to know I’m not a girl.

After this, I start trying to pretend to be a girl. When I can remember.

I get told off, and sometimes hit, for a number of gendered misbehaviours not excluding sitting wrong, standing wrong, being to brash, being too loud, talking too much, being too intelligent, not having enough common sense, asking too many questions, being too opinionated, walking wrong, falling over too much, getting too dirty, playing with nature, playing marbles, climbing trees, damaging my clothes, not playing with girls, the list is endless and many of you can list it yourselves.

Did you think, gosh being a girl is pants? Did you think, is a boy being better? Did you think, this is just how it is for girls? Did you ever wonder what being a boy is like? What did you think, as I’m sure I don’t know. Please reply if you like :-).

I just kept thinking, “I’m not a girl and I’m in deep shit when they realise”. I feared being thrown away, as they were clearly angry enough at me, just for being a ‘wrong girl’.

I started to fear puberty. I was convinced that one day I would begin to grow a beard that wouldn’t stop and I didn’t know how to get a razor because I was only 6. Then they would all know.

😊

Maybe some girls do think this, I’d love to know.

Then I had a little sister and she was perfect. A “real girl”. Soon she was a great comparison for our mum.

When you keep getting your gendered behaviour wrong, the training gets more often and tougher. They try to hyper gender you, or give up, or a bit of both.

My little sister got it right from the beginning somehow, and I wondered about it. How did she know?

Any butches (butch women and trans butches) reading will no doubt be familiar with “having to wear a dress” for family / special event / function / school / etc, and I share that horrible experience.

At the same time, sometimes I wanted beautiful sparkly clothes and things, but I would be told I can’t have them, because I would just spoil them. I climbed a tree once in my favourite dress, I got in a lot of trouble. I secretly kept it, and still own it.  Can’t win for losing.

Proper girls like my sister have those nice things, but not me.

😊

My interest in all kinds of clothes remains

As you get older, if you are still getting your gendered behaviour wrong, it can get worse.

I have a much hated photograph of myself at 12 years old, still actually trying to “be a girl” so hard that I look ridiculous. I still feel humiliated, just seeing it.

Some of us trans folk may be pushed towards early sexualisation, with whoever people think our ‘correct’ sex, or gender is. I won’t discuss that here, as the consequences are well known to feminism, and extend to most transgender people too (of all backgrounds). In our case just add in a little “It’s to straighten you out”. Like other LGBTQ+ people.

By the time I realised I wasn’t going to grow into a man, I was just in time to dread my actual puberty – and hate that with all the passion of many other transgender people (also well well documented, not going into that here). I seem to have similar dysmorphic view of my body as many other trans folk, although I don’t want to change it. I have a whole different body in my head, so I don’t care.

Around then, puberty, I remember just wanting to tell people to call me “A person”. Wanting all of sex and gender just to leave me the hell alone.

And there I stay.

All of the common ground above we have, but one thing is very different, surely.

I did not experience sex and gender socialisation as a girl. As soon as I was given it, I knew it wasn’t mine. I experienced it knowing I wasn’t a girl. Right from go. Or rather – believing I was other, wrong, and very confused about it all.

I didn’t experience my childhood gender training as a girl. I experienced it as other. Instead of thinking why are girls treated this way, I thought, “I shouldn’t be treated this way because I’m not a girl.”

This means our experiences will differ in important ways. Especially around my ability to understand women’s issues.

I cannot tell you all the differences, only you can tell me, in a way, but maybe if we talk together kindly in a space without judgement, we can find out.

And while we’re doing so, we could consider whether it’s at all fair to assume that any transgender people are raised like other same-sex children, or gender socialised like other children, and especially whether we experience it the same way non transgender people do.

I think this is the basis of many wrong assumptions, which make it hard to even ask the right questions about what is going wrong between us.

37 seconds: A review of the realest film you will see this year

This is a perspective instigated by the current (2020) Japanese film, 37 Seconds, written by a young disabled woman. She wishes to remain anonymous. F writes about similar parallels in her life as a young disabled woman.

In 37 Seconds, 23-year-old comic book artist Yuma, physically disabled due to profound cerebral palsy and emotionally stunted by her well-meaning but overly protective mother, forges her own unusual path to sexual awakening and independence while at the same time discovering love and forgiveness.
– from Rotten Tomatoes

from Berlinist Film Week 37 Seconds Description of Yuma, a wheelchair user with a pink dress and flower in her long hair, smiling at 2 people in sequinned dresses. they are on a street.

Warning: some nudity and sex scenes in the film

Netflix has a new hit film that it’s not even advertising. I’d ask them to, as it’s the film we all need right now.

37 seconds follows the journey of 23-year-old Yuma, a wheelchair user who has cerebral palsy, lives with her mother, and has a job as a manga artist. Recurring themes of rejection, stigma, control, and other ableist nonsense are explored and removed, leaving Yuma free to live her own life.

This offers a starting point for a conversation that hasn’t yet been had: To what extent do young disabled people feel safe? How can we do more to support them?

*** SPOILERS HERE ***

From the very beginning, we are shown exactly how much control over her own life Yuma is allowed to have, and how others do not see her for who she is.

Her mother treats her like a child, or less than a child. She shows little respect for physical boundaries or privacy, doesn’t let Yuma freely choose her clothes, and doesn’t show any interest in Yuma’s thoughts and feelings. Her boss casually steals some of Yuma’s pay and lies to her about it, and then carries on taking credit for her work.

Almost every scene adds another layer of defeat for Yuma. Seeking recognition for her talents, she sends some of her work to a publisher, who tells her it’s too similar to the work of her boss. Similar? It’s the same – the work he’s comparing it to is her own.

So she starts to push harder to find her own job where she will be respected. An editor of an adult magazine refuses to hire her until she has experience of what she’s drawing.

Online dating is the first step on the path to her new job, and a faulty lift leads her to new friends, new clothes, drunken partying and falling asleep in the car on the way home.

This is behaviour typical of a 20-something year old, and most parents would shrug, tut, and discuss safe behaviour choices.

Yuma’s mother is not most parents. She’s spent years protecting Yuma from everything, giving up her time to do the things that she’s certain Yuma can’t do without her (though she never gives Yuma the chance to try). Then suddenly, she finds everything: the practice sketches for the adult magazine, beautiful dresses, and a plastic penis.

Yuma arrives home very drunk, having refused her friend Toshi’s offer to make sure she gets home safely. She sneaks in, closing the door almost silently behind her, and quietly heads to her bedroom, where her mother sits waiting.

The second she refused Toshi’s accompanying her, I felt afraid for Yuma. Her mother’s level of control had been so high for so long, and yet futile. Yuma and her mother’s relationship had been set in stone, then shattered. Instead of waiting until the morning to talk it out, Yuma’s mother starts to shout. And then turns to physical violence. And then neglect. At every stage, Yuma is trying to assert the truth, and at every stage her mother rejects it.

The next morning, her mother has taken her phone, and places a lock on the door. She’s a prisoner in her own home, with no way to call out for help.

We don’t know how long this goes on for. The next scene is Yuma at a physiotherapy session. Asking to use the toilet, Yuma rushes out of the building and out of her mother’s control. It’s notable that Yuma didn’t feel that she could ask the physiotherapist for help.

She stays with Toshi. She quits her job. She meets her uncle for the first time, and then travels with Toshi to meet her twin sister she never knew existed. Her sister revealed that she’d always known about Yuma, and had been afraid to contact her because she’d been told she was disabled.

It’s not explained why their father left. But learning the whole truth – another layer of rejection – prompts Yuma’s self-acceptance at last. She feels glad that she was the second born twin, who didn’t breathe for 37 seconds. As I understand it, she feels it’s better to have been hurt by the actions of others than to have caused pain to others by your own actions.

It’s a cleverly written film. Viewers are given just enough of the other side to see that the social stigma surrounding Yuma’s sister was her only source of information, and that this had kept them apart. We saw that Yuma’s mother, who is never identified by name, had had a daughter taken from her, and the idea of Yuma being taken away by the world was too much.

But that doesn’t excuse her behaviour. Her pleas to the police officer to find her daughter who can’t yell for help sound hollow given her earlier choice to lock Yuma in the house alone.

Her mother chose to ignore that her daughter was an adult. She failed to support her to grow into the young adult she wanted to be. She failed to listen. She chose to react with violence. She chose to lock her in. That’s not OK. That’s very not OK!

What’s more not OK is that this film is only fictional in the specifics. The ingredients are factual.

I whispered “Go, go, go!” as Yuma left the physio clinic. But where was she going? Her Plan A had been to check into a hotel, and had she stuck with that plan, I’d have been worried what would happen when the money ran out. Instead, the perfect solution appeared: Toshi.

This is where the reality of the film breaks down for me. How many disabled teens and young adults know an accessible safe place away from their parents with someone who understands and respects them and has a wheelchair accessible vehicle to get them there? And who can accompany them to another country (somehow without her passport) just like that?

In the real world, that doesn’t happen. Someone in Yuma’s position would have very few options of where to go; very few options of how to get there; and have very few people who could be there during that time.

For young adults who do have support needs, it’s harder. Questions like: “Where would I go?” become “Who can I trust to move me, give me my meds, and assist me to get washed and dressed? How can I get my medical equipment?”

Yes, social services solve these problems every day. They meet these young people and do the best they can. And that’s fine, if you trust them. But when every doctor, nurse, social worker, OT, TA, teacher and other grown-up has treated you like a mascot, or pet, or simply not as a person, are you going to trust a stranger with your future? When you have a parent who keeps telling you that others are incompetent, and then the professionals reinforce that by failing to act professionally; are you going to trust them? When you’re told that many children with your condition are given up for adoption, and you’re lucky, and if you say the wrong thing you’ll be take away and put in The System; you’re going to feel ungrateful and ashamed.

Yes, I cried at 37 seconds, because I understood some of how Yuma felt. I remembered some of how Yuma felt. No, I don’t have a twin sister, or any skill at drawing. But I remember what it was like to live in a situation that made me feel very afraid; afraid to speak up, afraid to do anything that might be frowned upon, afraid to be anything other than what they wanted, which wasn’t who I was.

That was a long time ago now. I grew up, and I left home, and I started to find my own self. I discovered new talents. I discovered what music I really like. I discovered that actually people seem to like me. I discovered that if I speak to the right person at the right time in the right way, I will be listened to. I discovered it’s OK to not agree with people and to make up your own mind.

I forget these things sometimes, start to revert to old habits which protected me. Good friends remind me that I don’t need to do that anymore. They encourage me to be the me that I want to be, and nothing else. For the most part, they themselves have experienced rejection or control in one form or another – they understand things I’ve never told them.

I know so many Yumas. They’re easy to spot, if you know the signs.

People wearing clothes that don’t reflect their personality – bought and chosen by someone else.

People not asking or asking hesitantly for the things they need, even from paid PAs or Care Assistants – afraid of the consequences of being annoying or too much of a burden.

People who never have any money, but don’t know whether they’re accessing the right benefits – the paperwork is handled by someone who doesn’t involve them.

People dismissing their own medical issues as “It just does that”; “It’s because I didn’t try hard enough to… (reason that makes no sense)”; “I’m just getting lazy” – someone else has told them that a new symptom isn’t important, or is made up, or is somehow their fault.

People not sharing ideas or joining in with what’s going on around them and which interest them – waiting to be given permission.

People avoiding eye contact and not talking for themselves, and then suddenly saying a thousand words with a look when the person with them moves away for a moment – there’s something that they want to say, but can’t.

The solutions are simple. Support the kids, and support the parents. Let the kids have space to grow, and make friends, and join in with what’s fun for them. Let parents have space to be themselves outside of the parenting role. Give them the knowledge they need to understand how to support their kids to develop into adults. Give kids the knowledge to understand how other’s view of disability is not the only way, and to find their own way.

To anyone reading this right now who has lived or is living any part of Yuma’s story, I’d offer the following advice:

– Remember you are not them. Their actions do not make you a Bad Person. Your choices are your own.

– Not everyone is like that. There are some kind and friendly and fun and supportive people out there who can be trusted. There are some people who are the opposite. There are some who are middling. Go find the people who find the best in you.

– Find a way to organise your thoughts and express yourself. Art, dance, cookery, music, writing. Anything that gives you the chance to be you.

– You don’t have to do this alone. When you feel the time is right, seek support. Maybe from a friend or family member, maybe from an organisation, maybe from a professional; anyone who you feel comfortable with. Ask their support, tell them what you want to happen, and let them go with you as you navigate this, in your own way, in your own time.

– If you see someone who needs some support and you have the time, energy and knowledge, offer your support to them. Even if they say no, they’ll know someone’s there for them.

Yuma’s story is so many people’s story. But it doesn’t have to be.

Sisters of Frida displayed at Rawthmells, RSA’s new coffeehouse

We are proud to be one of the first to be displayed at the new Rawthmells, the RSA’s 21st century enlightenment coffeehouse. it is an honour!
The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce is a London-based, British organisation committed to finding practical solutions to social challenges, with a Fellowship that is a global network of 29,000 people supporting the RSA’s mission to enrich society through ideas and action.

Rawthmells, the RSA’s 21st century enlightenment coffeehouse, is a place where Fellows and members of the public can encounter new and inspiring ideas.

Address for the RSA House 8 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6EZ.

(There is a separate entrance for level access entry – ring the doorbell to gain entry.)

Through a system of changing displays, coffeehouse guests will be exposed to the best new ideas from our Fellowship, stories from the archive, briefs and designs from the Student Design Awards, and the work of the Royal Designers for Industry appointed each year.

Changing displays in the Gerard Room, the first room as you enter the coffeehouse, place a spotlight on the innovative and interesting work of Fellows around the world including that of Sisters of Frida’s.

Sisters of Frida were awarded a Catalyst Grant by the RSA in 2016 to run a series of workshops which focused on neglected conversations about disabled women and sexuality. Read more in the blog written by co founder Eleanor Lisney

Do drop in to have a look if you are a RSA Fellow and let us know what you think by commenting below or writing to [email protected]

https://www.thersa.org/fellowship/coffeehouse/displays

https://www.thersa.org/fellowship/coffeehouse/displays/sisters-of-frida

Group of women, 2 wheelchair users, with a colourful textile banner saying 'Sisters of Frida' Hear the voices

With the SOF Banner outside no 10 downing street for Processions 10th June celebration for women getting the vote (photo with the display)

Disabled Women: Facts and Stats

We often get asked why we campaign for the rights of disabled women. Here are a few reasons.

 

Employment and Pay

  • 35% of disabled women (and 30% of disabled men) are paid below the National Living Wage in the UK.[1]
  • Disabled men face a pay gap of 11%, while disabled women faced a gap twice as large at 22%.[2]
  • Despite qualifications, disabled women have lower participation rates in higher skilled jobs and work fewer hours than both non-disabled women and disabled men.[3]
  • 27% of disabled women are economically inactive compared with 16% disabled men.[4]
  • Lone parenthood reduces female employment generally by 15%. However, disabled female lone parents are more than half as likely to work than non-disabled female lone parents.[5]

 

Violence and Abuse

  • Disabled people experience more domestic abuse than non-disabled people. Disabled women are significantly more likely to experience domestic abuse than disabled men.[6] In fact, one in ten experienced domestic abuse in 2012-13.[7]
  • Abuse is also more severe, more frequent and more enduring.[8][9][10]
  • Deaf women are twice as likely as hearing women to suffer domestic abuse.[11]
  • The Serious Crime Act 2015 made ‘coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’ a criminal offence (s.76). The Act provides that it is a defence for a perpetrator to show that they believed themselves to be acting in the victim’s ‘best interests’. This was intended to cover carers. We believe this defence risks preventing disabled women and people with learning disabilities from seeing their abusers brought to justice.

 

Health and Medical Care

  • UK maternity care does not meet the needs of disabled women. A 2016 study revealed that only “19% of disabled women said reasonable adjustments had been made for them.”[12]
  • The CEDAW Committee is concerned that “Disabled, older, asylum seeking and Traveller women face obstacles in accessing medical health care and that Disabled women have limited access to pre-natal care and reproductive health services”.[13]
  • Disabled women, particularly with learning difficulties, are at risk of forced sterilisation in the UK or are encouraged to consent to sterilisation as a form of ‘menstruation management’ rather than be presented with a range of options available to other women.

 

Mental Health

  • Disabled women with a mental health problem die on average 13 years earlier than the general UK population.[14]
  • Nearly half of female prisoners in the UK have been identified as having anxiety and depression. This is double the rate of male prisoners. What’s more, nearly half female prisoners (more than double the rate for men) report attempting suicide.[15]

 

Public Life

  • The CEDAW Committee is concerned that ethnic minority and disabled women are particularly poorly represented in Parliament, the legal system and on public sector.[16]

 

You download this as a factsheet here: Disabled women – Facts and Stats 2017

[1] Equality and Human Rights Commission. 2017. Being Disabled in Britain. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-disabled-in-britain.pdf

[2] Papworth Trust. 2016. Disability in UK 2016 Facts and Figures. http://www.papworthtrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/Disability%20Facts%20and%20Figures%202016.pdf

[3] All Party Parliamentary Group for Women and Work. 2016. Women Returns Annual Report 2016. https://connectpa.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Women-and-work-Annual-report-low-res.pdf

[4] TUC. 2015. Disability and employment. https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/DisabilityandEmploymentReport.pdf

[5] The Poverty Site, 2011 http://www.poverty.org.uk/45/index.shtml

[6] Adding insult to injury: intimate partner violence among women and men reporting activity limitations. Cohen, M. et al. 8, 2006, Annals of Epidemiology, Vol. 16, pp. 644-651

[7] Public Health England. 2015. Disability and domestic abuse: Risk, impacts and response. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/480942/Disability_and_domestic_abuse_topic_overview_FINAL.pdf

[8] Adding insult to injury: intimate partner violence among women and men reporting activity limitations. Cohen, M. et al. 8, 2006, Annals of Epidemiology, Vol. 16, pp. 644-651

[9] Prevalence of abuse of women with physical disabilities. Young, M. et al. 1997, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vol. 78, pp. 34-38.

[10] Partner violence against women with disabilities: prevalence, risk and explanations. Brownridge, D. 2006, Violence against women, Vol. 12, pp. 805-822.

[11] Women’s Aid. 2015. https://www.womensaid.org.uk/16-days-deaf-survivors-and-domestic-abuse/

[12] Hall J, Collins B, Ireland J, and Hundley V. (2016) Interim report: The Human Rights & Dignity Experience of Disabled Women during Pregnancy, Childbirth and Early Parenting. Centre for Midwifery Maternal and Perinatal Health, Bournemouth University: Bournemouth. http://www.birthrights.org.uk/2016/09/maternity-care-failing-some-disabled-women/

[13] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women : Great Britain, November 2014, available at: https://nawo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CEDAW-concluding-observations-EHRC-and-NAWO.pdf

[14] Equality and Human Rights Commission. 2017. Being Disabled in Britain. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-disabled-in-britain.pdf

[15] Light, M., Grant, E. and Hopkins, K. (2013), ‘Gender differences in substance misuse and mental health amongst prisoners: Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) longitudinal cohort study of prisoners’. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/surveying-prisoner-crime-reduction-spcr

[16] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women : Great Britain, November 2014, available at: https://nawo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CEDAW-concluding-observations-EHRC-and-NAWO.pdf

Other resources

Sexuality and Dis/ability

 

READING LIST: intersectional disability & disabled women

 

More articles/blogs/podcasts

 

Daley, Michelle

Intersectionality and its relevance in social care for Disabled Women

Rise Up Against The Harm And Killing Of Disabled Women Through Myths (Huffington Post)

Parker, Lani

Sideways Times is a UK-based platform for conversations which in different ways link together struggles against ableism, white supremacy, capitalism and heteropatriarchy.

Exciting new project on skills development for Sisters of Frida!

about eleven/twelve women looking/listening intently. some are wheelchair users.

Participants at a previous Sisters of Frida event

New peer led skills development course for disabled women

(Start date  and venue TBD probably September now.)

Sisters of Frida is proud to announce a new peer led skills development course for disabled women.

Following our successful projects ‘Disabled women’s voices from the frontline‘ and Disability and Sexuality, Rosa funding is funding us to further develop disabled women’s skills and leadership in a space led by and for disabled women. This exciting project will span 12 months and will give the participants opportunities to

  • develop facilitation skills
  • presentation skills
  • and research skills
  • identifying your own specific skills

The project will be split into two parts. The first part will consist of three sessions aimed at building facilitation skills and confidence for the participants we will then go on to design a further seven sessions tailored specifically to the needs of the group and individuals within the group. You will have a mentor who will support you in gaining skills in the area of work which you are interested in you will then share the skills and knowledge through a facilitated workshop designed and facilitated by you.

 

Ideas for topics include

  • disabled women and domestic violence
  • sexuality and disabled women
  • building campaigns and spaces wich work for all disabled women
  • working with disabled young people
  • arts and self-expression
  • re thinking work for/with disabled women
  • building support networks in challenging interpersonal violence

The list is not exhaustive and will be led by the participants. There are limited spaces on this program, please get in touch if you are interested to [email protected]

rosa fund logo

Kirsty Liddiard: Dis/Cinema: An Unshamed Claim To Beauty?

Reposted from Kirsty Liddiard’s blog with kind permission.

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to introduce Sins Invalid’s film, An Unshamed Claim To Beauty? The film was screened as part of Dis/Cinema, University of Sheffield, which facilitates film screenings with themes of dis/ability, mental health, difference, and otherness. Check out its work here and follow Dis/Cinema on Twitter at @DisCinema. Below I share my introduction and slides. Not surprisingly the film instigated some powerful discussion which followed themes of privilege/power and race, class, gender and nation; the beauty industry and the economics of (bodily) shame; how we culturally come to be repulsed by otherness through fear; and our own experiences of being/enacting the spectacle of disability. A big thanks to Dis/Cinema and everyone who came along to contribute to such a stimulating night.

Sins Invalid poster

Introduction

When I got invited to facilitate this session, my immediate thought was, how on earth does one introduce Sins Invalid? What can I possibly say that can prepare you for the transgressive beauty that you’re about to witness in its Kickstarter-funded film, An Unshamed Claim To Beauty?

So I thought I’d begin with a story of the first time I saw Sins Invalid. It was live, at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). I had just graduated my PhD, in which I’d spent three years working with disabled people to tell sexual stories, and moved to Toronto in order to undertake my first postdoctoral position at the wonderful School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University.

This was a massive move for me, particularly culturally, as I’m from Milton Keynes, which, as much as I love it, really is where culture goes to die*. Everything I saw that first week of living in a new country, far from home, was new, rich, and vivid. But seeing Sins Invalid, and sitting with its audience, opened me up to the possibilities of politicising pleasure, (or disabled people’s lack of intimate justice to pleasure, sexuality and love), through art for the first time; that art, politics and power enable silenced stories to be ‘loosed into the world’. These threads have persisted through my own research since that very night.

So what does it mean to “politicise pleasure”, and why is it important to advocate for disability justice, the politic centred in the work of Sins Invalid? Activist Mia Mingus describes disability justice as a truly collaborative and intersectional movement that brings the body back in; as that which proudly centres accessibility; and which shatters the inherent Western, ableist and neo-colonial myth of independence. Patty Bearne, Co-Founder and Director of Sins Invalid, defines disability justice like this:

‘A Disability Justice framework understands that all bodies are unique and essential; that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We know that we are powerful not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them. We understand that all bodies are caught in these bindings of ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation state and imperialism, and that we cannot separate them. These are the positions from where we struggle. We are in a global system that is incompatible with life. There is no way stop a single gear in motion — we must dismantle this machine. Disability Justice holds a vision born out of collective struggle, drawing upon the legacies of cultural and spiritual resistance within a thousand underground paths, igniting small persistent fires of rebellion in everyday life. Disabled people of the global majority — black and brown people — share common ground confronting and subverting colonial powers in their struggle for life and justice. There has always been resistance to all forms of oppression, as we know through our bones that there have simultaneously been disabled people visioning a world where we flourish, that values and celebrates us in all our myriad beauty’.

(Bearne, 2015)

http://sinsinvalid.org/blog/disability-justice-a-working-draft-by-patty-berne

For me, Sins Invalid offers us a new lens through which to come to know, see, and feel bodies in ways counter to the dominant culture. It makes space to think about bodies, self and desire in affirmative ways – that bodies with what disabled feminist Susan Wendell (1996:45) calls ‘hard physical realities’ – bodies that droop, sag, spit, dribble, spasm, ache and leak in ways deemed inappropriate (Liddiard and Slater, fc; Morris 1989; Leibowitz 2005) and minds that confuse, forget, hallucinate, or take longer to learn are not non-human or subhuman, but can open up new ontologies of pleasure and alternative economies of desire.

Disabled people have long had their intimate citizenship and justice deprioritised – dominant discourse renders our sexual lives, selves and bodies at best as unimportant, secondary to things like housing, care, education, and legislation; as if civil life is detached from intimate life; like the personal isn’t political. We might think, in the current age of austerity, where in the UK and beyond, successive governments have served to denigrate disabled people, our communities and our families, that access to sexuality and intimacy is of lesser importance. That in a new world order controlled by Trump, May, LePenn and others, sexuality becomes, once again, the very least of our worries.

But austerity, neoliberal-ableism and global instability inevitably proffer new forms of precarity that drive us, at best, back into the normative body and self: meaning now is the time to politicise the impacts of such forces in our intimate lives; to claim, as the wonderful Tobin Seibers affirms, a sexual culture of our own.

Asserting, celebrating and living our own pleasures at this time in our history offers radical counter narratives. We can affirm the vibrancy of disability life through pleasure and desire in the face of social and literal death that austerity brings to our communities, and at the same time chip away at the normative boundaries of human pleasure which deem it unnecessary and grotesque for a range of marginalised bodies: disabled, fat, queer, Crip, black and POC, and genderqueer and Trans bodies. It is important, in times of such existential precariousness, that pleasure and sensuality (regardless of their form) are not relegated to luxury, but are means of survival and thus necessary for creativity, vitality and disability future.

I want to end with the words of the wonderful Eli Clare (2002: no pagination). Words which speak to the very bringing together of pleasure, politics and power that Sins Invalid demands: ‘I want to read about wheelchairs and limps, hands that bend at odd angles and bodies that negotiate unchosen pain, about orgasms that aren’t necessarily about our genitals, about sex and pleasure stolen in nursing homes and back rooms where we’ve been abandoned, about bodily—and I mean to include the mind as part of the body—differences so plentiful they can’t be counted, about fucking that embraces all those differences. It’s time.’

Thank you: here is Sins Invalid. See the trailer and buy the film here.

* Sorry to those who live in/love MK – I do – but it ain’t no Toronto for culture…

 

 

Text - Sins Invalid Unahamed Claims to Beauthy

“Aesthetic Experience ” Allison Estergard (acrylic on canvas0. Showing this month at International Gallery of Art, Alaska, US (Photo courtesy IGCA)   Text – Sins Invalid: An Unashamed Claims to Beauty, Dr Kirsty Liddiard Research Fellow, The School of Education
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @kirstyliddiard1    https//kirstyliddiard.wordpress.com
: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/education/staff/academic/kliddiard

Disability Justice

Disability Justice – A Disability Justice framework understands that all bodies are unique and essential, that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We know that we are powerful not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them. We understand that all bodies are caught in these bindings of ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation state and imperialism, and that we cannot separate them. These are the positions from where we struggle. We are in a global system that is incompatible with life. There is no way stop a single gear in motion — we must dismantle this machine. Disability Justice holds a vision born out of collective struggle, drawing upon the legacies of cultural and spiritual resistance within a thousand underground paths, igniting small persistent fires of rebellion in everyday life. Disabled people of the global majority — black and brown people — share common ground confronting and subverting colonial powers in our struggle for life and justice. There has always been resistance to all forms of oppression, as we know through our bones that there have simultaneously been disabled people visioning a world where we flourish, that values and celebrates us in all our myriad beauty.” (Bearne 2015) http://sinsinvalid.org/blog/disability-justice-a-working-draft-by-patty-berne

 

 

‘I want to read about wheelchairs and limps. hands that bend at odd angles and bodies that negotiate unchosen pain, about orgasms that arent necessarily about our genitals, and sex and pleasure stolen in nursing homes and back rooms where we’ve been abandoned, about bodily – and I mean to include the mind as part of the body – differences so lentiful they cant be counted, about fucking that embraces all those differences. Its time.’ (clare, 2002:no pagination)

Discussion... In what ways did the film surprise you or touch you? what was your favourite part/scene in the film? Why? Was there anything about the film you didnt like or agree with? In what ways did the film make you think about disability, sexuality and/or activism in a different way to before? In what ways in current society are we made to feel shame about our bodies, disabled or not? How can we make (more) space for the arts, performance, activism, solidarity and justice in the Academy? In what ways might we enact disability justice – an appreciation that ‘all bodies are unique and essential and that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met (Bearne 2015) – in the Academy/Higher Education?

—–

 

Kirsty Liddiard is a white woman with short hair, she has short hair and a black top on.

 Dr. Kirsty Liddiard is currently a Research Associate within the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield. Prior to this post, Kirsty became the inaugural Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Kirsty’s research explores the intimate lives of disabled people.  As a public sociologist (see Burowoy 2013) and activist scholar, Kirsty centres co-production in her research, and views the effective, ethical and accessible communication of knowledge as a form of social, political, and economic justice. She lives happily in a little village with The Boy and The Kid. Kirsty is a Steering Group member.

Disability and sexuality film day: Sat 26 Nov, Islington, London

After the 4 workshops on disability and sexuality, Sisters of Frida is presenting films which explore themes of disability and sexuality.

Films to make you:  Think, feel, laugh, shake, desire and more…..

With food and discussion

Please note the films contain controversial themes, they also contain scenes of nudity and frank explicit discussion of sexual acts and sexual desire as well as scenes depicting violence.

We welcome all self-identified women. We also welcome FtM, genderqueer and intersexed persons who, in terms of lived experience or identity, have experienced oppression as women in the past or present.

Date and Time

Sat 26 November 2016, 12:00 – 17:00 GMT

Location

Disability Action In Islington, unit 3 Marquess Estate

St Paul’s Road, London N1 2SY

View Map

 

Please register at the event brite  or write to [email protected]

Poster of a smiling woman holding a glass with a straw in her mouth. There is text announcing awards for the film

Margarita, with a straw 

(A rebellious young woman with cerebral palsy leaves her home in India to study in New York, unexpectedlyfalls in love, and embarks on an exhilarating journey of self-discovery.

With Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta)

 

and Sins Invalid

Image of webpage with naked person in bath tub

Sins Invalid: The film

(“Sins Invalid is a performance project on disability and sexuality that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized from social discourse”)

 

Please register at the event brite 

or write to [email protected] 

Eleanor Lisney: Disability and Sexuality workshops

Last night one of my new colleagues expressed surprise on  mention of my children – she said she had no idea I had children. She did not mean it to be malicious but the fact I have children prove surprising to most folks. I think, to be brutally honest, most people do not expect disabled people to be sexual beings let alone have offspring.

And for disabled women it is doubly problematic. Consider the stereotype of being a woman –as a caregiver, as a sex object, mother, housekeeper – you get the picture? Many of those roles are not seen to be within the capacity of disabled women. All the media, films of disability and sexuality are from the perspective of disabled men where they have their needs fulfilled by non-disabled women. Examples, Me Before You (even if he did not think it was enough to keep him living), The Sessions, there not many based on the needs of disabled women (excluding Children of a Lesser God).

There is not much space afforded to disabled women on sexuality and how to factor in disability in the search for companionship, romance, relationships and sex. The narratives are missing. I was made aware how much so when I joined the group of women who went to the first workshop (there are a series of four workshops) lead by Sisters of Frida steering group members, Lani Parker and Dyi Huijg, on Dis/ability and Sexuality. This workshop was titled Crip Sex, Because We Want It Our Way

As disabled women we have a wide range of experiences, positive and negative, around disability, sex and sexuality. Disabled women are sexy, sexual, passionate, loving, caring, desirable, hot, beautiful, strong and much more! Our experiences of sexuality are also affected by different kinds of oppressions such as ableism, racism, sexism, heteronormativity, classism and age.

 

In this workshop we will explore what sex means for us as disabled women, non-normative sex, positive self-image, exploring sex alone and sex with others

 

I felt we really shared our experiences as disabled women intersected by faith, culture, and sexual orientation. We examined the differences with impairments, acquired and from a young age, we spoke about chronic illnesses, the barriers and effects of medication and age. Does sex alleviate pain, do we/should we have sex when we are in pain? We compared the attitudes of social workers, medical practitioners and partners – in and out of relationships, domestic abuse from families, society and community pressures.

 

I cannot wait for the next session. I hope more people will come to visit this wonderful space where we afford each other sisterhood and non-judgemental sharing.

workshops

Themes and dates of the workshops

Workshop 1: Crip Sex, Because We Want It Our Way (finished)

In this workshop we will explore what sex means for us as disabled women, non-normative sex, positive self-image, exploring sex alone and sex with others.

Date: Sat 30 July

Time: 12-4pm

 

Workshop 2: When It Doesn’t Feel Good and It Isn’t Right

In this workshop we will discuss negative experiences and difficulties we have around sex and sexuality, our boundaries, consent, privacy and ableism in relationships.

Date: Sat 27 Aug

Time: 12-4pm

 

Workshop 3: Disabled Desire: Sexy and Sensual Possibilities

In this workshop we will discuss positive experiences we have and want to have around sex and sexuality, pleasure, and what it means to desire and be desired.

Date: Sat 17 Sept

Time: 11.30-3pm

 

Workshop 4: Sex: Getting What You Want and Need

Here we will build on the other workshops, and discuss how to develop confidence and feel empowered to do and want sex differently, challenge internalised oppression and other obstacles, and talk about how to put our desires and needs into practice.

Date: Sat 22 Oct

Time: 12-4pm

this project was funded by

logos of RSA and New Unity

 

 

 

— ——

Eleanor Lisney

Eleanor Lisney is a founder member and coordinator of Sisters of Frida. She is an access advisor, an NUJ member on the New Media Industrial Council and the Equality Council. She is also on the British Council Disability Advisory Panel and the web team of the International Network of Women with Disabilities.