merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
So I had a disability milestone moment recently. 

An acquaintance of mine posted on her Facebook the internet-famous quotation, "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs." Some asshole commented that she loves Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand, that "the West" needs to stop being so privileged and annoying, that everywhere else in the world, if you don't work, you don't eat, and that's fine by her.

I know, I know. I shouldn't say anything, because IT'S A TRAP. For two major reasons. 1) It's Facebook. 2) She's a stranger. So I should not engage. 

I did, anyway. The acquaintance OP is a social worker who does badass activist work on human trafficking issues, and I was so taken aback that someone she's friends with would be quite this snotty and oblivious that I got into it. I will admit, I was extra taken aback because the asshole's profile pic showed a middle-aged woman I parsed as African-American. Expectations of alliance aside, it's straight-up statistically hugely unlikely that she's a Republican. So did she really mean all that? 

I started by asking, um, is a world where your right to survive is directly proportional to your level of capitalist productivity a world we actually want? I have some disabilities and sometimes I can't work. Does that mean, in your world, that I don't get to eat on those days? Really? What about the elderly? Children? The chronically ill? I think we can do better than that, I think nearly *every* society has chosen to try to do better than that, and personally I work for a world in which everyone is valued for the unique contributions they bring to the whole human endeavor. (Also that Ayn Rand was one of the hugest hypocrites on the planet; uh, no, you're completely wrong that everywhere outside the G8 the old, the ill, and those with disabilities are just pitched into the sea; and other things.)

And she flat-out said, how unfortunate that you have some disabilities, sucks to be you, but you don't actually deserve to live if you can't get everything you need for yourself. Right now, this minute. And if you live in the West, you and everyone like you should damn well be grateful and say thank you to me as a middle class taxpayer that I foot the bill for you.

....

Wow. I've had people tell me they wished I were dead because I'm a vocal, visible feminist, a queer person, and a progressive. But this is the first time I've been told that I don't deserve to live because I was born with a brain that doesn't work like most other people's.

I was aghast and furious. I started drafting a reply. I started typing a bunch of sarcastic things like, "Oh, well, LUCKY ME, I married rich, you snotty bougie jerkface, so I get to live, even in a Randian capitalist utopia! Eat THAT while you're reading The Fountainhead or Dr. Mengele's Funhouse or whatever other bullshit social Darwinist fuckery you entertain yourself with, asshole. Also, you might consider reading books by people who are NOT delusional sociopaths. Then you might learn things about people with disabilities who have done amazing, world-changing things once they got what they needed to navigate the world, or about other cultures that revere their elders and do a better job of sharing resources, or, you know, human empathy. Or you could die in a fire. Asshole."

But then I calmed down and decided not to talk to her anymore. Because, really, where do you go from there? Where do you go from, "Yes, I see that you are a human being and we have a friend in common and everything, but whatever, I don't give a fuck, you are broken and you survive only on my sufferance?" What conversation is possible to have? This was not going anywhere good. 

This is a shit achievement to unlock. 
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)

(Note: I spent most of tonight writing a Very Serious Post for the Austin NOW blog, talking about why Social Security cuts are a feminist issue, so now I will relax by writing about fluffy pop culture.)

I detest most ‘reality’ television. But one of the few such shows I totally dig is So You Think You Can Dance. I resisted it for a few seasons, because I thought it would irritate me solely on the basis of being reality TV. But then the gay male roommate with whom I shared a flat in San Francisco while I was there for a summer seminar a few years ago introduced me to it, and I was hooked after one episode of sitting on the couch with him, eating ice cream, jovially bickering about our favorites, and forgetting to breathe as I watched all these incredible performers blend athleticism and art to create such ephemeral beauty. (I tell you what, that was some seriously fun fag hagging; we were both aware of the cliche and amused by it.)

A few reasons why SYTYCD is a fixture in my DVR:

  • I love dance. I own not just a DVD of Center Stage, but the soundtrack. For real, I am a dork for dance. SYTYCD is a delicious weekly buffet of all kinds of dancing. Woot!
  • The lighting, costuming, and makeup are freaking amazing! That’s got to be a hard job - so much to do every week, and very little time in which to do it. On rare occasions I’ll have a “…. seriously?” moment with the costumes, but overall I think they do an outstanding job.
  • There are tons of people of color on it - dancers and choreographers, sometimes judges - but it’s not relegated to the second-class status of a “black show” that advertisers think white (read: middle and upper class) people won’t watch.
  • The random drawing of partners results in many multiracial pairs, and I think it’s awesome that we’re visually normalizing that a little bit more. I still have such vivid memories of season 4 competitors Ade and Melissa’s incredibly moving contemporary piece inspired by breast cancer survivors. Yeah, that’s a big black dude and a teeny white ballerina, nobody found it strange, they both got to play complicated characters, and all the judges were crying at the end because the performance was so gorgeous and amazing. And from the same season, Joshua and Katee, a black man and a Japanese-Irish-American woman, rocking a Bollywood routine was, for me, a multiculturalism I can totally get behind: learning, sharing, beauty, and joy without cultural appropriation and with respect. Rad.
  • I think it’s so kickass that all kinds of dance are treated equally. “High culture” (read: rich people like and fund it) contemporary dance, “middlebrow” (read: commercial and hobby dancing) forms like Broadway and ballroom, and “lowbrow” (read: stuff poor people do) styles like hip-hop and Bollywood that are strongly associated with people of color, are set side-by-side. We watch them one after the other, and they’re just positioned as different styles rather than having icky race and class bullshit attached. That’s a big deal.
  • They make such a point of saying that dance is for everyone and (not wholly, but to a large extent) backing that up for real. A few episodes ago, they featured a performance by a couple from Axis Dance Company made up of a guy in a wheelchair and an able-bodied woman, and it was amazing. A loosely affiliated nonprofit, the horribly named Dizzy Feet Foundation, offers scholarships to increase access to dance education regardless of ability to pay. And this season, they have beginning, intermediate, and master-level routines for National Dance Day so more people can join in. And the beginning routine demo video has a person in a wheelchair doing it! That’s awesome.

The show is not unproblematic. The panel of judges does tend to be majority white. So even though Lil’ C annoys me, I would like to see him and Debbie Allen up there a lot more.

Also, there’s a ton of tangled-up gendered and homophobic bullshit. There is a lot of annoying rhetoric about what sort of movement is “masculine” or “feminine.” It is heteronormative; the dancers are sorted into male-female couples and an irritatingly large percentage of the dances have love story plots. Head judge Nigel Lythgoe said some dumbass things about same-sex ballroom couples a while back; GLAAD did some outreach and this got better, but still, that was crap.

And boy, do they deal weirdly with body size. The dance world is notorious for this, and SYTYCD is no exception. This season, sisters Sasha and Natalia Mallory both made it through Vegas, but thin Sasha was selected for the top 20 and bigger Natalia (she doesn’t even read as fat to me, she’s just considerably larger than all the other teeny tiny dancers) was not - and no real reason was given. It’s true that Natalia got diagnosed with diabetes in Vegas and of course that needs dealing with - but then why didn’t they just say that? It totally feels to me like the partnering issue she had in Vegas, when she was paired with a very small guy for a routine with serious lifts and, what a surprise, they had trouble, is the undiscussed elephant in the room here. This is also crap. Put her with a guy with enough leverage and strength to swing her around, and she’s lovely. I get that there are practical concerns here - several of the guys in the top 20 are quite small, and they’re randomly paired, so the partnering issue would come up again in unpredictable ways - but I just feel like they were first patronizing (“Awww, it’s so cute that you’re SO GIGANTIC but you’re still a good dancer”) and then silent because they didn’t know what to say. FEH.

So it’s not perfect. But it does have a lot of awesome subversive qualities, plus so much gorgeous dancing. My revolution totally has dancing in it.

merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
These are nothing resembling complete; they're just things that struck me, so I wrote them down.

From the Feminist Intersectionality panel:
- Ian Hagemann: "Ally" is not an identity you get to keep all the time. You not even have a say in whether you get it.
- Ian on how to be an ally but not speak for others: You can start with an I statement - "I have a different opinion" or "Please don't use that language around me." Or step up and make space - "I'd like to hear what (x) has to say about that" - and then step back.
- Isabel - No outgroup is a monolith. [My reaction to this: one of the concepts I recall most vividly from my social psych courses is outgroup homogeneity bias. So probably this is something we all have to work very, very hard to remember. :( ]
- Betsy - Disability accommodation != accommodation for wheelchairs. If you ask Jesse the K, who's in a chair, and Betsy, who has arthritis, about what they need, you'll get really different answers.

From the Feminist Coalition-building panel:
- Culturally relevant approaches matter. Seriously. All the time. If you ask an Inuit child, "If I have 3 apples and you have 4, how many apples are there," that child will probably not answer, "7." Community values about sharing mean that zie is probably going to say something like, "We can all have some apples." Interesting!
- How to have productive disagreement - Acknowledge that disagreement/discord is inevitable; re-acknowledge basic commonalities; start with agreement/set boundaries on what we won't argue about; commit to having a moderator
- Debbie Notkin - Often what makes us angry is feeling like the other side has all the power and we have no power to speak.
- Argue in the present, not the past.

From the Self-Reflective Revolutionary Panel:
- "Buddha, you are acting out your shit right now." Heh! Read: no one is exempt from the possibility that zie's being an asshole.
- If you get calm, the level of calmness in the universe has gone up.
- Ian - Revolution is a state change which could not have been predicted beforehand - not a logical extension, but a new thing.

From the Slacktivism panel
- Online activism != slacktivism. Online stuff can be impactful and real, and for some folks, it's all they can do. So be wary of judging.
- Offline activism can be sucky and unhelpful, too!

I wrote down many, many things that Ian Hagemann and Debbie Notkin said. Wow, they are smart and I am so grateful to be able to learn from them. I'm SUPER excited that Ms. Notkin is one of the guests of honor for next year, and I'm eagerly anticipating her GoH speech.

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