But… you don’t. You never see me anywhere. Where are the bisexual women? Where are the disabled women? I’m lucky enough to be a white woman, but apart from that – does the media ever show me? Nope.
Anthony Towler works in the film industry and used to do stuff as an extra. I was reading his blog and one story struck me.
Anthony has cerebral palsy. He was in a bar and was approached by someone asking him if he could do some work the next day. He said sure, and turned up – only to be told the director had decided it “wasn’t realistic for a disabled person to be in a bar,” so he’d been cut from the scene. He goes: “But you found me in a bar..!”
This sort of thing is typical. It’s not surprising that able people have literally no perception about what it’s like to be disabled, when there’s no representation of us in the media.
Here’s a newsflash: we do go to bars. Incredibly, we have lives outside our houses. We probably look, act, and think nothing like you think we do.
Seeing others with disability in popular media is so important – especially for children. I was stoked by this tweet:
I googled dolls with disabilities and found a new story about a company in the UK making them, a range that includes deaf and blind children. Unfortunately, I was stupid enough to read the comments. There were so, so many people saying that it’s “PC madness” to make dolls like this; that toys are about imagination, not realism.
While that might be true, I can remember being fucked up by Barbie. Until well into my teens I believed that Barbie was the ideal way for a woman to look. I prayed I’d grow up tall and skinny like her. So I really don’t believe it’s a great idea to defend dolls by saying “children want to play with something that can aspire to.” Many children with disabilities are going to have them their entire lives. Wouldn’t it be great if they could play with something that looked like them? Wouldn’t they feel less “other”?
Be kind to kids with disabilities? Nah, just political correctness mate.
Recently I had the pleasure of reading Leah Raeder (now known as Elliot Wake)’s book Camgirl. The main themes are gender and sexual identity – and disability. Vada loses the ability to use her right arm after a car accident, and along with it, her main expression of identity, her art. I could deeply relate to the frustration and depression she felt. One accident, one bad decision, and she is now denied something that used to be a huge part of her. That’s how I feel. Though it’s not entirely my fault that I got AS, in my dark moments I do blame myself. I made the decision to go to Bali. I got sick. I ended up in hospital because I didn’t get diagnosed quick enough. And because of all of that, I have to learn to live a completely different life from the one I used to have.
This novel was also the first time ever I had seen Spoon Theory mentioned in contemporary media (apart from social media, blogs etc). I got super excited. The main character uses ST to explain some of her experience of pain to her girlfriend. I was like aaahhhhhh that’s me! This is about me! In a real proper book!
I also appreciated Vada’s struggle with her sexuality. Interestingly, she’d felt comfortable identifying as bi – until she realised she might end up with a woman. Then she started to question whether she was actually a lesbian and what that meant. The characters have an incredible discussion about internalised misogyny that resonated deeply with. I remember realising when I was a teenager that I liked girls – and immediately suppressing it so hard that it took until I was 27 to admit it, even to myself. Teen me was horrified. I thought it meant I was a lesbian, and that was a death knell on anything like a “normal life.” The fact that I didn’t know a thing about bisexuality other than that it was what “attention-seeking” girls at school called themselves (or got called) is testament to the lack of bi representation. I didn’t even consider it an option for myself.
Before I came out, I had to wade through all the stupid shit said about bisexuals inside my own head. Was I attention seeking? Was it “a phase”? How much did I have to like girls to call myself bi? What if I only liked some girls? I’d never had a girlfriend, so was I allowed to call myself this? What was everyone going to think?
If we had accurate representation, this sort of angst wouldn’t be nearly as common.
Sometimes, it is seriously tough being a disabled, bi, woman on welfare. Pretty much everything I see in the media is, at best, mockery, and at worst: hatred. She wants dolls that look like her? PC bullshit. She wants to date woman and men? Greedy slut. Oh no, it’s a phase, eventually she ends up with a dude. She’s on welfare? Lazy bludger. There’s no such thing as a “deserving beneficiary” in the populist narrative (not that I would want to start creating a binary like this. It would just be nice if people could stop thinking that I’m somehow swindling this wonderful life of constant pain and exhaustion just so I don’t have to do the job I used to love).
There is, of course, a “deserving disabled person,” – that’s someone who consistently overcomes their disability to do more than most able-bodied people. Their disability is outwardly obvious and, if they ever get bitter or angry about it, the moment passes quickly and is just a necessary part of their character development.
I don’t think I’m asking that much for there to be some realistic representation of me and millions of others like me in news, movies, TV shows,books, toys. Again – especially for children and young people. If I hadn’t been so horrified at the thought of having a disability and being on welfare, I wouldn’t have fought so hard against it, and I probably wouldn’t be as sick as I am. Because I do fight, all the time. I fight constantly, to get out of bed, to continue to live as much the life I want as I am able, and to not be terribly, terribly saddened that a very vocal majority don’t think I have the right to exist. And I’m not even in the most marginalised minorities. I’m not Black. I’m not trans. They need this even more than I do.
Please. If you’re a creator of any type. Consider characters that look like us. It’s not “pandering” or PC. It’s reality. And it makes a difference.