Inspiration without porn

I have spent several blog posts giving inspiration porn the bad name it deserves. I think it’s pathetic that people use images of disabled people doing perfectly normal things only to feel good about themselves. Look here and here

So today I am going to show what inspiration porn isn’t.

I have a friend in my native country of Denmark whom I still haven’t met even though we live less than 5 miles apart. We are always too busy to be able to find a time to meet so our relation is mostly through different kinds of media. We publish in similar places and we interact on social media.

I think she will be proud if she saw me introduce her as a radical-lesbian-cartoonist-disability-rights-advocate, so that is hereby done.

Since we are both into women I guess the only significant difference between us is that I am not a cartoonist – even though I’d like to be one sometimes.

About three years ago Sarah virtually stopped breathing and I virtually stopped peeing. She decided it was time for a vent and I thought I’d better go on dialysis. It has been interesting to follow her progression. It was very similar to mine in the sense that we were both born with our disability and suddenly one of our vital organs quit and we had to accept the life of a cyborg. We both find a strange satisfaction in telling our friends we are cyborgs. At the same time we curse the damn machine that limits us in out daily life.

But yesterday Sarah took the cake. She jumped off the deep end and showed that being on a vent really is no hindrance if you have a dream. She decided to audition for X-Factor Denmark and (spoiler alert for those who know Danish) not only that, she moved on to the next round.

Please allow me to introduce

Sarah, the Breathless Singer

So why is this not inspiration porn? Well, Sarah is not able to breathe. She will never be a great singer, she doesn’t have the air for it. She probably doesn’t really dream about a career in music. I know for a fact she is busy changing the world in so many other ways that I am sure her passion lies there.

To me Sarah is truly inspirational because she lives out a dream.
She is doing something that transcends her disability. She will never be a singer. But she still wanted to audition for a popular TV show. She didn’t expect to move on in the competition even though she did. She has a beautiful voice but it’s by no means a ‘great voice’. Why is it not a great voice? Because there is a piece of machinery behind her back controlling the air that goes into it. All she controls is her vocal chords.

And she did that fantastically. I am looking forward to seeing Sarah next time around. You go, girl!

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I’d rather hang myself than hang myself

My wife found this image a couple of weeks ago on Facebook and asked what the bastard had to say about it. Always being one for replying to things in a timely manner, here is my short and sweet answer:

I think the headline says it all, I would not be caught dead in such a contraption. It’s inanely ridiculous that he needs to inconvenience himself publicly in such a manner in front of all their friends.

How low can one stoop in trying to live up to some ableist norm? Apparently low enough to hang from the ceiling like some crippled Pinoccio at one’s own wedding.

Hangman

I am pretty sure if my wife saw me hanging like that she’d get all excited and think it was some new kinky game I had invented. And in that case I would find it rather inappropriate in front of our wedding guests.

Inspiration porn as othering

The last couple of months has sparked a lot of debate about inspiration porn outside of the disability world. It started with the now infamous Superbowl commercials from Microsoft and Toyota, both companies feeling a need to show how people with prosthetic legs are able to lead perfectly normal – albeit bionic – lives. Granted we have come a long way with prosthetic legs – and good for those who wear them.

Those commercials showed two people who live life to the best of their ability. They have managed well for themselves. They might have some extraordinarily circumstances that make them somewhat interesting. But most people I know have extraordinary life circumstances and in that light these two were not that special.

I know a single mother of 3 who has unbearable pain. So much so she can barely get up in the morning. She needs help from her daughter to put on her socks and shoes to leave the house every day. Despite that she gets up, goes to work where she is on her feel all day long only to come home and collapse in bed at night because she has spent all her energy making ends meet in her low paying job. She is an extraordinary woman in more ways than I am able to describe. But at the same time she is not potential for a Microsoft or Toyota commercial. Why is that? She is way more disabled by her chronic pain than those two people with hi-tech bionic legs have been for a mighty long time. She truly struggles with her disability and she manages magnificently.

What is the difference between the single mom I know and the now famous cripples in these commercials?

All three do everything they can to live life to the best of their ability. But there is nothing inspirational about the single mom who gets out of bed every day despite a pain level that is unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t tried giving birth while passing a kidney stone at the same time (yes, I know such a woman as well.) People see her as an ordinary woman doing what society expects from her. Not as someone in whom we can bask in our inadequacies in the holy name of inspiration porn. She doesn’t have a visibly ‘sexy’ disability like an amputation or a sexy wheelchair (I know, I am damn sexy with my one leg and my shiny wheels – no need to tell me)

Somehow society has decided what disabilities are deemed ‘legitimate’ and which ones we’d rather not care about. And when someone is perceived as having a ‘real’ disability that person is also potentially an inspirational hero for merely living their life.

Living life to its fullest is by no means wrong. It is the fact that others regard it as an inspiration that I find both wrong and disgusting. Unfortunately there are many non-disabled people who don’t get it when we protest and tell them not to use us as their magic mirror – telling them they ‘are the fairest of them all’.

In the last few years a whole industry has boomed around this idea that disabled people doing something completely ordinary are superhuman. We have become the unwilling heroes in an industry that make non-disabled people able to feel good about themselves because they can reflect their petty little lives in ours.

This feel-good industry is fueled by an objectification of people who implicitly are deemed ‘less fortunate’. And it seems to please the masses of the majority culture to no end when disabled people can overcome so-called ‘unfortunate circumstances’ and achieve some semblance of normalcy.

Recently I ran across an article by Josephine Fairley (JF) in the British newspaper, The Telegraph. The article is a poignant reminder of how people with disabilities are regarded as something different from human beings. JF not only regards inspiration porn as something good. In her view inspiration porn, is considered “progress.” The progress lies in the fact that we are now being used for her and other’s emotional absolution instead of being shunned and hidden away like we used to be in a not too distant past.

To me it’s nothing short of a tragedy. That another human being can see progress when all I see is exploitation. At the very best it’s trading one ill for another.

JF completely fails to see that inspiration porn is no better than the freak shows of yore where disabled people were exhibited and dragged around the circus ring to elicit a sense of horror from the audience. The only difference between the two types of freak show is the audience’s expected emotion. We have traded the sense of horror for a shot of feel-good, hooray for progress!

I am not blind to the fact that on the surface of things it’s better for the audience to feel good about itself than to feel horror. But regardless of the instilled emotion the result for the objectified person is not much different. We are still a symbol of that which is different, wrong and beyond the norm.

Looking at a few other articles to see what kind of woman could come to such a lopsided conclusion I was quite surprised to find out her big issue is women’s rights. How can a person be an adamant supporter of human rights for one group of people whilst joyfully gawking at another group in the virtual zoo of inspiration porn?

This can only be done through the simple mechanism of ‘othering.’ People with disabilities are essentially different from those without. We are not really people after all. We are ‘other.’ Those whom fingers are pointed at. We are basically regarded the same way people of color were 200 years ago, humanlike but fundamentally different and lesser than. We are implicitly seen as subhuman.

The fact that a (presumably intelligent) woman JF finds it in her to describe inspiration porn as progress while fighting for women’s rights tells me that we are viewed as subhuman whether it is acknowledged or not. We are simply reduced to stooges in the inspiration porn circus.

We are deviant and different by means of our physical bodies. Our deviance recreates us as a magic mirror for the majority to reflect itself in and feel good about itself. And when we are reduced to act as that magic mirror it is easy for someone like JF to fight for the rights of one minority and not for another since the other really is the Other. Subhuman and deviant.

I am such an inspiration

My whole life I have been an inspiration. Oh, I am so incredibly great and I am so amazingly able to do all kinds of things all by myself. I don’t need all the help that I seem to need. I know, because people have told me this my whole life. From certain members of my family over people I know from different walks of life to total strangers. They all tell me basically the same thing, ‘you’re such an inspiration’ and there seems to be no need for them to explain why that is so, it just is.

I particularly like the guys on the commuter train who pat me on the head and tell me how great it is to see someone like me and what an incredible inspiration I am to them… because total strangers know these things. I usually tell them that it’s good to see someone like them and how glad I am that they made it out of bed, and when they stare at me baffled I tell them that I know how hard it is for someone like them to perform such a difficult task. Most of them walk away either shaking their head or with a scared expression on their face that I so far have been unable to decipher.

But back to me, that is what this is all about.

I am categorically a brave soul. I touch on all these people lives – or should I say, hearts – merely by being alive and by going about my daily living, going to the store, eating out or taking the local commuter to where I need to go – or when I perform the amazing task of using a lift to get into my van, after all it does have several buttons (and to those who know me it’s no secret I don’t always manage to push the right one)

I bring a smile to people’s faces as I pass them in my daily routine – if I could only get paid for being so heroic and valiant.

But what I lack in income from this awesome life I lead, I get back as attention. People look at me with that smile that to some might seem condescending, a smile that I know they think is a gesture of friendliness and gratitude. Not so much because I am me, I don’t think most of them care who I am as a person. But I do know what I am to them, I am such an inspiration – not just an inspiration, but such an inspiration.

So why do I think their smiles are gestures of gratitude? I know because it is human nature. Aren’t we all grateful for who we are when we see those less fortunate than ourselves? Don’t we feel just a little bit better about ourselves when we are able to mirror our own life in their misfortune? Guilty as charged, I do. I just can’t help it, or maybe I can but it takes a lot of willpower and personal strength. No matter how I lok at it, I am still happy I am not a sub-Saharan African, deaf, gay woman with AIDS and a serious limp. I admit it, I feel thankful for not being her. I am glad to have my crippled life where I can go out in the world and be an inspiration.

I know you want to ask now. Do I know a sub-Saharan African, deaf, gay woman with AIDS and a serious limp? No, I don’t. And if I did she I would never call her an inspiration to me. I mean, what had she done to deserve it just by being a sub-Saharan African, deaf, gay woman with AIDS and a serious limp? If she had done something amazing then, yes, I might consider admiring her. But then I would admire her for what she’d done, not for who she is. What she’d done is above and beyond her being disabled (or gay or a woman or sick, for that matter) If she had created a living for herself and she now owned a thriving business, I would say ‘good for her’ but not because of, or in spite of her obvious difficulties, but because she was an amazing person who had accomplished something for herself, regardless of the hand she’d been dealt by fate.

Why should I look at that woman through her difficulties instead of looking at her as a fellow human being? Suddenly she disappears and what I am looking at is her circumstances. She becomes a symbol, an object that I can use to mirror my own life in and feel good about myself. She becomes reduced from being a person with a disability to being her disability.

She becomes the inspiration for me, an inspiration that lives outside of me, an inspiration that takes on its own life in my thoughts and my actions. Suddenly she is no longer a person but some sort of representation of how I would like to live my life in a perfect world – except I really don’t want that, because that would mean that I also would have to bear the cross of her disability. And despite my elation about being an inspiration, I know that is not what I want.

So instead she becomes a beacon of hope that things are good in the world. I have my quiet little life that I can live without too much trouble and thank God it’s not me who is that sub-Saharan African, deaf, gay woman with AIDS and a serious limp.

But at the end of the day, who am I to know whose life is more or less difficult than mine? And that is what really curdles blood when I hear: “Dear me, you are such an inspiration to me!”

ETA: I just found this that puts the subject in a more serious light:

http://badcripple.blogspot.dk/2013/04/shane-burcaw-laughter-is-not-always.html

I have to say that ‘Badcripple’ is one of my great inspirations and it was fun to beat him to a subject. I don’t think that is going to happen too often.

Going shopping

So I went to my local supermarket today and it is not just any odd convenience store. No it happens to be the biggest supermarket chain in Denmark, NETTO, which happens to be owned by the wealthiest company in the country, Maersk, which also happens to be the largest shipping company in the world. A company that apparently is too poor to accommodate their disabled customers in a decent and worthy fashion.

I just wanted to buy some groceries and what do I see to my dismay – the one – yes ONE – parking space they have at their store has been invaded. This time not by any of the usual suspects; shopping carts, bicycles, strollers or unauthorized vehicles. No, as a celebration of the coming spring the store has decided to let it be invaded by a floral display. A floral display of all things!

This is the parking space for disabled
This is the parking space for disabled

Not as in a sudden exclamation of peace, love and happiness – after all we’re talking about a commercial outfit that is not necessarily known for their sense of aesthetics. So they are exhibiting the pretty flowers that they are trying to sell at inflated prices to their customers.

What adds insult to injury is that there are about 50 non-disabled parking spaces, most of them completely empty all around this display of cheerfulness. Spaces that could easily have been converted into flower stands if they had so chosen. But that would have meant that the entrance to the door would not have been blocked – and who in their right mind want to see where to enter the store they are going to?Yes, the floral arrangement was in fact so large that it not only blocked the entire disabled parking space as well as the sign for it (God forbid anybody was going to see it and complain) it also blocked the entire entrance to the store.

Now, in their own understanding they did afford some replacement parking. On my way out I saw one of those ‘the floor is wet’ sandwich signs. [check out the pictures] With a tiny little piece of paper saying ‘handic  ap  space’ (yes, it’s true, the paper was so small that they found it wise to divide the word up into ‘handic’ and ‘ap’) This sign was conveniently placed up against some of the flowers in the back and not even close to any of the alternative parking spaces.

Notice the disabled parking sign behind all the shelves
Notice the disabled parking sign behind all the shelves

Ok, I am no idiot, I am certain the little sign had sat close to one of the other parking spaces. But that only makes it even more moronic. First of all, who but the most goodie-goodie old ladies are going to respect such an amateurish attempt at reserving a parking space for others. And secondly, and by far worse, those spaces are not wide enough for anybody with a wheelchair to get out of their vehicle. I own a van with a lift on the side and there is no way in hell I can get out if I try to squeeze into one of those.

So NETTO and Maersk, You better do better. I have decided to spend the next few weekday afternoons at your store, parked right in the driveway that goes by that parking space so your other customers will have a hard time getting past me. I plan on arriving around 3.30 when traffic really picks up and I can easily spent a good 1½ hour browsing your store and end up buying a pack of chewing gum – if I can find one cheap enough.

The 'new' type of signage, hidden away amongst the pretty flowers
The ‘new’ type of signage, hidden away amongst the pretty flowers