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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

ANGEL OF THE FLESH

I suppose that I need to explain that title a little bit. As I’ve been working on the last stage of my studies – my dissertation to be precise – I was unsure about what subject I should look into. And the more I read and thought about it, other more pressing concerns seemed to pop into my mind. The fact is that the ranting of the last posts have been more concerned with the past and the ways I dealt with my reality as a boy with a mobility impairment.


The fact is that at this stage of my life, my main preoccupation was one concerning more and
more the way other people saw me. More specifically, the way people my own age viewed me. And I guess, even though my early insecurities might have been resolved, at some point in my life there are questions that concern me as a disabled individual… questions such as:


Am I still regarded as a child or as dependent person?


Am I to content myself with being regarded as asexual, or as essentially having no sexual or emotional feelings?


Will there be ever a woman (in my case) that looks beyond what the culture and system implicitly or explicitly says about disabled people?


I know that these concerns are shared by many people with impairments but that doesn’t mean that they are not valid, unfounded or even isolating. So now my aim is to bring to the fore these concerns, and more important, the obstacles that we find in our societies that render it more difficult for me to express who I am even in places we as disabled people were traditionally excluded. Or the areas of love and intimacy…


A disabling cultural image I find in Maltese society is of course the idea that disabled people are ‘angels’ which implies that we are only uniform and all the same. More than that, such an image has implied that our relationships with others will have to remain detached or that we may share only with others within clearly set parameters. This view that we are ‘angels’ has changed of course but it still restricts the freedoms of some disabled people, perhaps most notably people with intellectual impairments.


I also know that structural changes will not dismantle these social and cultural assumptions about who I am, or about who we are. But I recognize that one of the greatest barriers to my inclusion is, I feel, the one that denies me my right to be sexual or to be a man, or for disabled women, to be women and even mothers.


The unveiling of the statue of a pregnant Alison Lapper in Trafalgar Square is, in my opinion, was a direct challenge to established norms of body image and beauty. And this is perhaps another issue that I have grappled with as I grew up… whether I was desirable or even remotely attractive. Although the case is still open in that department, the fact is that no role models exist on the media then and now for disabled people to emulate. Unless you want to follow in the footsteps of some witch, evil creature or bad guy in some Batman movie… although witches are now more popular it
seems (!)

Seriously now … talking about love and intimacy is not an easy topic. Indeed, it is a very personal issue to talk about. But to deny that these are important things in my life, or that I do not feel or think like a man, would be false and misleading. Treating me as asexual may be convenient or even nice but it’s also a form of alienation and dehumanization. For in truth, we’re not angels. Not even angels of the flesh….
Left: The sculpture of pregnant Alison Lapper, which was received with mixed reactions by the people as it challenged the notions of normality and desirability. Alison Lapper, who has no legs and no arms, has now given birth to a baby boy. For more on this, go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/news/btn/vlucas_plinth4.shtml



Friday, March 09, 2007

WOMEN'S DAY – A DAY ON…
Left: The symbol of the planet Venus, often used to represent women

It’s become a habit of mine apparently to write about events after they happen or in this case, after an international day has passed. Indeed March 8 has been recognized as the international day for women since 1909 – at least officially…

But what can I write about women without falling into the trap of speaking of women as if they are just one group? For in truth, I have met many different kinds of women in the 25 years I have been alive. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for a woman I wouldn’t be here would I? So it’s perhaps surprising to note that in spite of the vital role women have to play in our society, they are still under-represented in leadership roles. Besides that the jobs they are given are underpaid in some countries – if not undervalued.

Of course, you may say that I am writing this to win some points with my friends, who for most part are women. Although that would be partly true, it’s also true that I’ve always felt that both men and women should grow up with a respect for each other and recognition of the importance of our diversity.

But then, I believe that we should also recognize the differences there are in this vast group who share the quality of being female. And that is that there is not ‘one’ women but many various people who are women. And perhaps I must also mention that it’s also a fact not often recognized that disabled women are also women. But because of the prejudice and assumptions still made in dealing with disabled people, the barriers and hurtful attitudes they come across are seldom mentioned.

There is also a history that is common with the struggle of women and disabled people. And that is one in which the environment and attitude has been constructed in such a way to cater for white, non-disabled, men who are of a certain age, strength and intelligence. Besides that, there are the stereotypes that rob both women and disabled people of their individuality or even their dignity. So I can only describe, not feel, what the experience of disabled women must be – not to mention the high risk they face of domestic violence and abuse… issues that may be sidelined on occasions by non-disabled women.

Here I take the occasion to wish belated greetings to every woman. the mothers, my sisters, my colleagues and many of my best friends …

For more info on issues facing disabled girls and women, visit:
http://www.infouse.com/disabilitydata/womendisability/7.php


For more info on women’s day, visit:
http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/women/womday97.htm

Sunday, March 04, 2007

ACCESS DENIED

When this message flashes across your screen, it usually means that you’re in sort of trouble. And yet, in real life, I have faced this message many times in my life. The moment I fully understood what it meant for society to be impaired was the time I could answer the many doubts I had about some events of my life.

As I am currently doing sessions with schoolchildren, I am even more convinced of the values I believe in. That my impairment, and the different ways I do things, shouldn’t be a reason for my exclusion. We often underestimate children when we ‘grown-ups’ discuss issues. But I really wonder why it’s so easy for children to understand that I’m not that different from other people and yet I must prove it all over again to people who are older and err… more mature (?).

Only last week, I was greeted by an educated man who assisted me to find where I had to be. The first thing I am asked, of course, is not about my purpose there or a question about my work but the number one question I, and any other self-respecting disabled person, hates to be asked…

What do you suffer from?

I answered that I mostly suffer from exclusion and from being labelled by my impairment. Unsurprisingly, he looked at me blankly not realising that this is not his darn business! And in fact that it’s not anyone’s business strictly speaking…

Well, apparently, my life should be available for public consumption. On the other hand, my rights to participate in society and to access services is not an option I should be given. For all I want is really the choice to make my own decisions. That’s after all what I understand by independence.

Instead, I am notified that some things in my life are denied from me – not because I don’t need them but because other people think that having an impairment disqualifies me from even thinking I need them. So we are made to believe that it’s our problem, or that it’s something we should ‘accept’ (hate that word).

As the UN finished its convention on the rights of disabled people, I am perhaps more optimistic. Hopefully, this convention is ratified and its protocol adopted by many member countries – including Malta (my own). Perhaps we’ll be seeing ‘access denied’ less and less as time goes on. But I would be na├»ve to ignore the fact that we are still seen to be so ‘special’ and so ‘defective’ (in the same time) that many who have impairments are even denied life and access to proper education and employment – to name just a few.

Worse still, the possibilities of forming any intimate relationships is often forfeited by a society which still regards us as ‘inferior’ or as somehow ‘deviant’. I am encouraged by the children I have been talking to over the last week (I’m not counting but I’ve talked to over 400 children for sure so far). I am hopeful that what I have tried to explain through engaging them in a discussion will leave a mark on some of them at least.

The iron curtain that separated the communist world from the western world might have crumbled and old enmities resolved. But the barriers we face as disabled people will not fall that easily. It’s not just a matter of changing the physical environment or the ways we exchange information. That’s because we need to change the way we look at each other.

Right: Picture of what remains of the Berlin wall

Picture taken by Vincitrice from: http://www.sxc.hu/index.phtml.



For this to happen, as disabled people, we should embrace our differences and impairments as equally valid and significant. Non-disabled people, on their part, should be conscious of the fact that impairment is not something that concerns only us but involves every member of the human society. But more than that, it’s also a very subjective label that can change with time…

Left: UN emblem
click here to read the UN Convention