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
Itâs 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; âIâm not crazy, itâs who I am!â, âIâm not deluded, this
is my genderâ, âI donât have a mental health conditionâ said with a
sneer, âIâm normal, not broken like themâ, âMy needs require radical
social solutions. Disabled people just need fixingâ. 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 doesnât meet societal norms, seems strange at best, and cruel at
worst. Itâs 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 arenât 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. Iâm 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 âsodomitesâ 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 âborn this wayâ, we canât help who we are, God made us this way. No
longer is it the dominant narrative that sin is responsible, itâs now
an âindividual tragedyâ 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 âfixâ. Like it or not, itâs for their own good.
Homosexuality & being transgender became psychological &
and intersex bodies became âchoicesâ 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 âcureâ 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 âofficialâ
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 âTransexualismâ
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 âtreatableâ 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.
Iâm going to look at two of those narratives in a bit more detail now.
Medical Conditions are insults
âBeing gay isnât like being mad, being gay is normal because it doesnât hurt anyoneâ
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 âacceptableâ bodies and minds is
not helpful to either community. It is crucial to challenge the norms
which say some bodies/minds arenât 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 âwrongâ, 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
âWeâre not crazy or sick, LGBTIQ+ need social support & acceptance, not to be medically labeledâ
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 peopleâs
marginalisation stems from their inherent wrongness.
There is a pervasive notion that, while LGBTIQ+ people wonât be truly
liberated until there is wholesale social change so people can accept
and affirm the nigh infinite ways an individualâs gender, attraction,
and sexuality present (or donât), disabled people just need âfixingâ.
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 etcâŚ), 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, weâd
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
peopleâs 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. Iâve 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 donât drip with disablist
tropes where we are broken, subhuman, suffering, wrong, unnatural, dull
& ugly? If you have one Iâd 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 isnât a
distinct line that can be drawn between our struggles. Iâm not trying to
deny transphobia and homophobia existing, or argue that they should be
re-medicalised. I am suggesting that LGBTIQ+ and disabled peoplesâ
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.
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 arenât a part/ arenât an important part of the LGBTIQ+ community.
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
Disabled Peopleâs 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
To no longer be seen as a disabled person, to
no longer be seen as impaired, to be seen as ânormalâ is a goal that
should be held by all people that are classified as having impairments.
disabled people can be liberated by medicine making them ânormalâ
(where normal is the current capitalist construction of how an ideal
worker/commodityâs body should be structured, think and function) or as
close to ânormalâ as possible. Something queer theory explicitly argues
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 ânormalâ should
be imposed on all.
This never mentions how the people that canât
be medically ânormalisedâ enough to fit within societyâs norms then
canât be liberated, leaving them as a perpetual underclass.
Iâve 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. Itâs also in part because this post has gotten long and I think itâs 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 world
Mainly Iâm pondering the question, how cleverly it wasnât directly answered, and why.
Itâs 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
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 didnât own one.
Instead I got a kitchen unit and a tea set. I think a lot of parents
arenât so gendered about toys now, and thatâs great. Girls can play with
My mum explained that Santa brought it, because Iâm a little girl, my
brother is a little boy. So, it was obvious to me that Santa didnât
realise Iâm a wrong girlâŚ That secretly Iâm a boy and nobody has
Itâs the first time I remember thinking it, as I donât
remember it starting. I remember because I thought Santa knew, as he
even knows things our parents donât. 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 Iâm not a girl.
After this, I start trying to pretend to be a girl. When I can remember.
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 Iâm sure I
donât know. Please reply if you like :-).
I just kept thinking, âIâm not a girl and Iâm in deep shit when they
realiseâ. I feared being thrown away, as they were clearly angry enough
at me, just for being a âwrong girlâ.
I started to fear puberty. I was convinced that one day I would begin
to grow a beard that wouldnât stop and I didnât know how to get a razor
because I was only 6. Then they would all know.
Maybe some girls do think this, Iâd love to know.
Then I had a little sister and she was perfect. A âreal girlâ. 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 âhaving to wear a dressâ 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 canât 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. Canât 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 âbe a girlâ 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 âcorrectâ sex, or gender is. I wonât 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 âItâs to straighten you outâ. Like other LGBTQ+ people.
By the time I realised I wasnât going to grow into a man, I was just
in time to dread my actual puberty â 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 donât want to change it. I have a
whole different body in my head, so I donât care.
Around then, puberty, I remember just wanting to tell people to call
me âA personâ. Wanting all of sex and gender just to leave me the hell
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 wasnât mine. I experienced it knowing I wasnât a girl. Right from go. Or rather â believing I was other, wrong, and very confused about it all.
I didnât experience my childhood gender training as a girl. I
experienced it as other. Instead of thinking why are girls treated this
way, I thought, âI shouldnât be treated this way because Iâm not a
This means our experiences will differ in important ways. Especially around my ability to understand womenâs 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 weâre doing so, we could consider whether itâs 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
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. – summary from Rotten Tomatoes
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
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
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 âGo, go, go!â 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: âWhere would I go?â become âWho can I trust to move me, give me
my meds, and assist me to get washed and dressed? How can I get my medical
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
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 âIt just
does thatâ; âIt’s because I didn’t try hard enough to… (reason that makes no
sense)â; âI’m just getting lazyâ – 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 RSAâs 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 RSAâs mission to enrich society through ideas and action.
Rawthmells, the RSAâs 21st century enlightenment coffeehouse, is a place where Fellows and members of the public can encounter new and inspiring ideas.
(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.
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.
Disabled men face a pay gap of 11%, while disabled women faced a gap twice as large at 22%.
Despite qualifications, disabled women have lower participation rates in higher skilled jobs and work fewer hours than both non-disabled women and disabled men.
27% of disabled women are economically inactive compared with 16% disabled men.
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.
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. In fact, one in ten experienced domestic abuse in 2012-13.
Abuse is also more severe, more frequent and more enduring.
Deaf women are twice as likely as hearing women to suffer domestic abuse.
The Serious Crime Act 2015 made âcoercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationshipâ 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 victimâs âbest interestsâ. 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 â19% of disabled women said reasonable adjustments had been made for them.â
The CEDAW Committee is concerned that âDisabled, 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 servicesâ.
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 âmenstruation managementâ rather than be presented with a range of options available to other women.
Disabled women with a mental health problem die on average 13 years earlier than the general UK population.
Nearly half of female prisoners in the UK have been identified as having anxiety and depression. This is double the rate of male prisoners. Whatâs more, nearly half female prisoners (more than double the rate for men) report attempting suicide.
The CEDAW Committee is concerned that ethnic minority and disabled women are particularly poorly represented in Parliament, the legal system and on public sector.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 introduceÂ Sins Invalidâs film,Â An Unshamed Claim To Beauty? The film was screened as part of Dis/Cinema, University of Sheffield, whichÂ facilitates film screenings with themes of dis/ability, mental health, difference, and otherness. Check out its work here and follow Dis/Cinema on Twitter atÂ @DisCinema. Below I share my introduction and slides.Â Not surprisingly the film instigatedÂ some powerfulÂ 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.
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 youâre about to witness in its Kickstarter-funded film, An Unshamed Claim To Beauty?
So I thought Iâd 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 Iâd 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 Iâm 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 peopleâs 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 âloosed into the worldâ. These threads have persisted through my own research since that very night.
So what does it mean to âpoliticise pleasureâ, 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:
âA 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 â 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 â black and brown people â 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 beautyâ.
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 â that bodies with what disabled feminist Susan Wendell (1996:45) calls âhard physical realitiesâ â 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 â 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 isnât 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: âI want to read about wheelchairs and limps, hands that bend at odd angles and bodies that negotiate unchosen pain, about orgasms that arenât necessarily about our genitals, about sex and pleasure stolen in nursing homes and back rooms where weâve been abandoned, about bodilyâand I mean to include the mind as part of the bodyâdifferences so plentiful they canât be counted, about fucking that embraces all those differences. Itâs time.â
Thank you: here is Sins Invalid. See the trailer and buy theÂ film here.
* Sorry to those who live in/love MK â I do â but it ainât no Toronto for cultureâŚ
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 â 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 â black and brown people â 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?
Â Dr.Kirsty Liddiard isÂ currentlyÂ a Research Associate within theÂ Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, in theÂ School of Education at the University of Sheffield.Â Prior to this post, Kirsty became the inaugural Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellow at theÂ School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Kirstyâs research explores the intimate lives of disabled people.Â As aÂ 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:Â Think, feel, laugh, shake, desire and moreâŚ..
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 â 17:00 GMT
Disability Action In Islington, unit 3 Marquess Estate
(“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”)
Eleanor Lisney: Disability and Sexuality workshops
Last night one of my new colleagues expressed surprise on Â mention of my children â 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 âas a caregiver, as a sex object, mother, housekeeper â 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 â 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.
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
Workshop 2: When It Doesnât Feel Good and It Isnât 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
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
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
this project was funded by
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.