What Does Accessibility Look Like? My journey as an Ally in the Disability Justice Movement

Talking to my friend and working with him to find ways to navigate the education system has been extremely frustrating, as I am learning that for someone like my friend who has multiple disabilities, there are an insurmountable number of barriers that he faces to receive even the remoteness level of equal opportunity that I received when I attended post secondary.

Co-written by Weldon Haywood

I recently started tutoring a friend of mine, who has some learning disabilities.  In preparing for a workshop on Accessibility for Disability Awareness Week at Simon Fraser University (SFU), I’ve been reflecting on my journey for someone like myself, who has the privilege of navigating the world, as an able bodied person in an ableist world, with enough resources to have mental health supports.

Talking to my friend and working with him to find ways to navigate the education system has been extremely frustrating, as I am learning that for someone like my friend who has multiple disabilities, there are an insurmountable number of barriers that he faces to receive even the remoteness level of equal opportunity that I received when I attended post secondary.

It has really made me reflect on my own experience attending Simon Fraser University (where my friend is now attending) – and how easy it is to take for granted the luxury of being closer to “the norm”, and how in our ableist and able-body-centred society, it makes life incredibly easy for someone like me, and really difficult for others, like my friend.

Things like taking notes in class – which in my ableist ignorance seems “normal”, and “a given”…I don’t even think twice about taking notes in class, is on the other hand a huge feat for someone like my friend, who has to navigate the services and accommodations that are provided by the school. Without a note taker note taking could take him several hours a day (which takes away time from studying, writing papers, etc), which severely impacts his learning experience.  Whereas for someone like myself it’s not something I even think twice about.

In preparing for a workshop that I am working on with my friend on Disability Justice and Accessibility, called (What Does Accessibility Look Like? ) that is focused on the education system partially in the classroom structure.  I’ve really begun to think about the ways that we can be transforming the communities we live in, so that we can begin to operate on the notion of “assumed differences”.

Norms are really dangerous.  

As queer people, we know that the “norm” of “heterosexuality” and the “norm” of the gender binary “male vs. female” has been dangerous, and often even violent, to our communities.  As a queer, feminist, person of colour, and having been involved with organizing against the norm of patriarchal male privilege, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, white supremacy/white privilege – I wonder how much of  my own involvement in movement building has actually integrated the importance of extending that notion of including differences of our abilities/disabilities? My friend has really enlightened me on the importance of Disability Justice within our movements in creating social change and what it looks like to be an ally to people with disabilities.

One of the things that I’ve been also thinking about through my recent engagements on this topic,is that there is a difference between a rights based, civil liberties based, movement – where rights are granted to you.  This idea that disabled people “should be granted the same rights” as everyone else.

Is that good enough?

Disability Justice offers us a different, more integrated approach – that it’s not about disabled people being granted the same rights as us, it’s the transformation of communities, institution, and systems, that needs to happen so that we create a society that fundamentally appreciates differences. As my friend had expressed to me ‘equallness’ does not mean sameness, since we all learn differently it means providing creative solutions that takes into account different ways students  learn, for example having other alternatives to exams, which in the end gives equal opportunity for success for individuals like my friend.  What I have also learned from my friend is that we need to challenge what inclusion looks like, so that people with learning differences like him do not need to self advocate and approach teachers for alternative learning methods – the alternative learning methods should have already been in place, not as an afterthought.

Afterall, let’s not forget that the idea that making the effort to make something accessible is helping a “minority population” – is a complete myth.  We are not all going to be able bodied for our whole lives, we are all – yes, that’s all of us – temporarily able bodied.
Working towards transforming communities to incorporate a Disability Justice discourse should be part and parcel of the work that we do as activists…and it’s something that I will continue to work on.

Travelling Safety and Etiquette for POC’s: The Fat Black Girl & Gay Chinese Boy Edition

The ability to access spaces – and the ability to then exist in those spaces in an entirely natural and joyful way, to fully participate in those spaces – has often been a privilege I have had to do battle for.

 David and Nomonde recently travelled to Bali, and reflected together on some experiences travelling as racialized bodies

David: Nomonde is one of my dearest friends in the world – since we met in 2010 w11899797_10153467782959462_3467395100888588362_nhile we were both studying at the University of Cape Town, we have become very close friends.  Mondes is now living in Pretoria, and I’m back home in Vancouver, but every year or so, we make an effort to meet somewhere “half way” in the world to hang out, and travel together.

We recently visited Bali, Indonesia together, and something that we’ve had to talk about seriously – though we do (nervously) joke about – is that when we pick places to travel, we literally have to consider the likelihood of one of us getting lynched or gay bashed.

The reality is, that when me and Nomonde are together – whether it be in New York, Johannesburg, or Bali – we stand out, and often makes many situations unsafe.  The negative attention that we receive ranges from awkward, judgmental stares, to literal public mockery (pointing and laughing).

I’ve also recognized that in many cases, especially when I’m with Nomonde, I have the ability to pass more than she does.  My body, my skin, my accent, breeds a reaction sometimes, and while we have shared difficult traveling situations, I also recognize the differences in the challenges that both of us face.

When we are together, for example, people usually speak directly to me only – not to her.  Servers will always hand me the bill, and not to Nomonde.

Luckily for us, we always manage to navigate these situations with humour…especially when people ask us if we are on our honeymoon! 🙂

——-

Nomonde: The ability to access spaces – and the ability to then exist in those spaces in an entirely natural and joyful way, to fully participate in those spaces – has often been a privilege I have had to do battle for. Because of racial history, my class, education, the kind of work I do – many of the spaces I move in are very white spaces and I have often had to navigate those spaces with extreme caution. My fat black body is perceived as threatening by many white people. When I laugh, or talk, I’m told I’m fighting. When I express myself passionately with gestures, wide eyes and sincerity I am perceived to be angry. Perpetually angry. Eternally threatening. A big, fat, black freak in delicate white, light spaces.

Travelling with 11903843_1006688486037601_7857794658221783731_nDavid, who I adore, and not just because he always makes me feel so safe, has only confirmed and re-emphasised how difficult it can be for non-white bodies to access spaces of leisure. From sitting in a restaurant in New York and being ignored for a solid 45 minutes until David sat down and a waiter arrived at our side seconds later, to wandering a night market in Bali (which shall henceforth be known as the Night-market of Horror) and being laughed, harassed and jeered at while just desperately clinging to some form of dignity, to the reminder that yes I am a person and I do not deserve to be treated this way. To having those spaces turn threatening and dangerous, which I have never experienced with David, not yet anyway. At home in South Africa while at concerts, restaurants and clubs with other black women I have often been physically threatened and attacked by white men ‘defending’ their girlfriends from the existence of fat black womanhood in spaces they perceive as just their own. I have been spat at, stoned, shoved and punched right in my own back yard because I am a black body ‘trespassing’ where I do not belong and so when it comes to venturing to new shores, particularly knowing and acknowledging that David and I are both highly visible as individuals and even more so as a pair, I do intense research about black and poc experiences of the places we are visiting.

We had a very interesting, and amusing, conversation in Bali after our surreal and ugly experience at the Night-market of Horror, about how white travellers often boast about ‘getting to know the locals’ and ‘avoiding the touristy areas.’ While for black and other poc moving in those ‘authentic’ spaces can very often spell extreme humiliation, if not actual physical danger, and those are simply not conversations that I hear when black women particularly speak of travelling and exploration.

I desperately want to end this on a positive note because travelling has been overwhelmingly positive for me. I am beyond privileged to have the money to see the world, to have had the education and access I have had when the majority of women who look like me and come from where I come from struggle daily for the bare minimum of life and I acknowledge that fact with immense gratitude and humility. I suppose I just want us all to remember that there are many ways to kill a person. Always remember the power and the joy that can come from genuinely seeing each other.

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Silent Pain: Rape Culture in the Gay World

If patriarchy has taught men that women are property; subordinate, unequal – that sex is for men’s pleasure, not women’s…and if heteronormativity has taught society that queer folks are inferior and deviant, and if being truly free means relinquishing our communities from these systems that use power to subjugate and hurt us…why are we allowing this sort of pro-rape culture to exist within our communities?

Grindr Guy: “Hey, you’re cute”
Me: “Thanks, you too :)”

Grindr Guy: “What are you looking for”

Me: “Friends, Fun, whatever goes”

Grindr Guy: “Can you host?”

Me: “No, sorry”

Grindr Guy: “You can come over?”

Me: “Can we meet first somewhere for a drink?”

Grindr Guy: “Why don’t you just come over, and we can fuck”

Me: “I would prefer to meet somewhere first”

Grindr Guy: “Why don’t you want to come over?”

Me: “Because I’ve never met you, and I don’t feel comfortable with that. That’s kind of where I set my boundaries.”

Grindr Guy: “Boundaries? Why? Are you scared I’m going to rape you?”

——

Adjusting to dating life after a (tumultuous) long term relationship has had it’s added stresses with the advent of these dating apps; which did not exist the last time I was single.

Time and time again, I come across (gay, cis) guys who outright refuse to respect boundaries, and to be blunt – it’s really fucked up.

By all means, be upfront about what you are looking for – I’d much rather have all of this (honest) information laid out in front of me before we meet/hook up, but when someone puts down a boundary of where they feel safe, why is it that some gay guys think it’s okay to push around it?

Guys – we have some serious work to do.

We know, as gay guys, that the hurt that homophobia and heteronormativity has in society is rooted in the power that it has.  Decades of gay, queer, trans*, black, women and feminist organizing has fought to challenge the way that power is exercised in it’s various forms to hurt, oppress, and subjugate “The Other”.  Challenging the way that power is accessed, and used to hurt people is at the heart of how we can truly be free.

If patriarchy has taught men that women are property; subordinate, unequal – that sex is for men’s pleasure, not women’s…and if heteronormativity has taught society that queer folks are inferior and deviant, and if being truly free means relinquishing our communities from these systems that use power to subjugate and hurt us…why are we allowing this sort of pro-rape culture to exist within our communities?
As a survivor of rape – twice – I recognize being pushed on my boundaries is obviously a huge trigger.

But how many of us gay, guys are navigating this toxic dating community, and aren’t saying anything?

How can we allow this to continue?

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Why We Need Intersectionality: a Meta Response

If patriarchy teaches men that we need to take up space to “win”, then feminism gives us the opportunity to learn that if we have a voice, sometimes there is power in silence, and in allowing other people to speak

Laverne Cox

In response to the Feminist Current article by Meghan Murphy “Laverne Cox’s Objectified Body ’empowers’ No One“.

“[…]  If women or transwomen were truly allowed to love themselves, I doubt they’d be spending thousands and thousands of dollars sculpting their bodies in order to look like some cartoonish version of “woman,” as defined by the porn industry and pop culture. The fact that Cox’s body is seen as “subversive” because she is trans doesn’t change that. Her body doesn’t look subversive. It looks like any other objectified female body, sculpted by surgery and enhanced by Photoshop.” – “Laverne Cox’s objectified body ’empowers’ no one” – by Meghan Murphy

By David Ng

My first encounter with feminism was life changing.

When I was 14 I discovered feminism.  It was kind of an accident…I was looking to discover sexuality, but instead I found feminism.

When I was in grade 9, I joined a youth sexual health advocacy organization, where we learned about sexuality through a feminist, anti-oppression lens.  It was like I was given a new pair of eyes to see the world in.  I already had the knowledge – but now I had the words to articulate my experiences: being a racialized body – a yellow body, a gendered body, and as someone who is queer.  All of these things that I was experiencing, I could finally put a name to it.

Sixteen years later, as I read Murphy’s article on trans women’s bodies, I reflect on my own journey as a feminist activist, and how I relate to other people in my community, who intersect with my struggle.

One of the biggest learnings I have had as a feminist, is the power of owning my own struggles.  The value of looking at the way my activism starts with my own journey.  The only way that I can ever have solidarity with any one, or any other community that is not my own, is through truly engaging with my own struggles, my journey, and my truths.

Yes I may see a problematic situation over there, and over here, but I need to begin my work with my own struggle – rather than speaking about other peoples struggles – yes, they intersect with mine, but they are not my own.

I have to thank the black feminists in the second wave who brought us the notion of “intersectionality” – a concept that this entire blog and video project is predicated upon.  Black feminists (like Kimberlé Crenshaw) called out white feminists during the second wave, who were speaking for “women”, while ignoring the struggles that black women were facing.  Intersectionality implores us to contend with the multitude of ways that other facets of our journey, such as race, gender, sexuality, what sex we are assigned, affect our access to rights and privileges. Intersectionality allows me to grapple with my own positionality, in relation to my community members, so that I can begin to forge solidarity with other communities – so that we can begin to do work together.

So when I read the way Meghan Murphy writes about trans women’s bodies, I am reminded that we can have a voice without silencing and negating the voice and agency of other people and their struggles.  As a cis queer man who is a feminist, this is something that I have to remember and check in on, on a regular basis.

If patriarchy teaches men that we need to take up space to “win”, then feminism gives us the opportunity to learn that if we have a voice, sometimes there is power in silence, and in allowing other people to speak (Gayatri Spivak).

This is why I love feminism so much.  For me, it’s not about pointing fingers and making my points loud and heard – it’s not about screaming “this is oppression! this is not right!”.  Often, it’s about listening and waiting for the opportunities where we can build community and solidarity… instead of building barriers.

In love and solidarity,

David Ng

Jen & David on a bench

In response to David Ng’s response to the Feminist Current article by Meghan Murphy.

“This is why I love feminism so much.  For me, it’s not about pointing fingers and making my points loud and heard – it’s not about screaming ‘this is oppression! this is not right!’.  Often, it’s about listening and waiting for the opportunities where we can build community and solidarity… instead of building barriers.” – David Ng

By Jen Sung

Sometimes we do need to scream, “this is oppression! this is not right!” Right now Black America is screaming – in agony, in solidarity, in agony, in silence, in agony.

David so eloquently referenced the origins of “intersectionality”, from the depths of black feminist mobilizing. How can we talk about the experiences of others when we don’t occupy the same lived and very real embodiment of racialized and trans* lives?

Right now my body is reacting to the hypertension in America right now. I am not thinking about Meghan Murphy as she narrates the voices of others outside of her own. My body does not know what it is like living in Black America.

But my body knows what it is like to have others paint layers upon layers upon layers of racialized and sexualized expectations, assumptions and stereotypes onto its canvas. That canvas turns into a living carcass. I live and breathe inside the carvings of race, gender, sexuality, and time.

So I learn silence while my body screams – screams to break out of the suffocating coats of paint. It is debilitating.

I do not deny that patriarchy is systemic, and that it perpetuates violence against women. Nor do I deny that rape culture exists.

I also do not deny that I have privilege as a cis-woman who is aligned with her assigned gender. So I listen to those whose experiences are outside of my own. Rape culture affects us all.

I do not deny that I conform to societal standards of what is considered to be feminine, but gender doesn’t make up the entirety of my motivation to conform, and subvert — my race and sexual orientation do, too.

I embody race and queerness just as hard as I do with gender, some days it’s more, some days it’s less. They all live in the same body. My body. And my body is part of a collective of bodies that are living, breathing, dying, suffering, working, playing, listening, dancing, living.

But just because I am part of a collective of bodies doesn’t mean I get to speak for, reason, argue – on behalf of that collective. Complexities make interesting narratives that shape our world. We are enriched by the stories of others whose differences teach us to be more open. I will always have limitations to what I know because I trust in the fundamental truth that I only know what I know, and don’t know what I don’t know. Until then, I learn to listen – and listen to learn.

If supporting those who pose naked in an “objectifying” way is letting patriarchy “win”, then I must be a bad feminist. But I know I’m not. I wrote “Ask me again why I need feminism” because feminism taught me how to listen, and extend my hand out in spite of, and especially because of — difference. That is the beautiful thing about paradox.

Will Meghan Murphy listen too?

In tenderness,
Jen Sungshine

Reconstructing Gay Biracialism

I feel being mixed-race is an opportunity to interrogate how identities can be reconstructed, and envisioned into social change that mirrors the queer rights movement. When being mixed-race and gay challenges how I navigate my own sense of privilege within the queer community that has lacked acceptance, I can only think of where race and queerness intersect.

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Being biracial and gay is an interesting mix. By being mixed-race, I challenge categorical thinking and normativity that is too often encountered in our lives:

“What’s your race?” I’m asked.

“I’m half Chinese, English and a bit Scottish,” I reply.

When my biracial identity is neither accepted culturally as White nor Asian, when I am indeed literally Asian and White by blood, I feel this sense of non-belonging:

“Oh, you don’t speak Chinese?” I’m asked.

“No, but I wish I could,” I reply.

And perhaps this sense of non-belonging is perpetuated by my failure to pick up Chinese as a kid, or maybe because non-belonging feels synonymous with being gay, sometimes. When our identity becomes our sense of security, when race is so often embodied as our sense of community, when being gay severs our relationships with others and ourselves:

“So, do you have a girlfriend?” I’m asked.

“Umhh…no…” I reply.

I remember being told that being gay was a choice that would put me on “the bottom of society,” where I would find no success.

I can only think of how culture transforms our identities beyond race. I’ve noticed this insidious trend to normalize “gay culture” into something fathomable by the mainstream: the idealized body of an attractive, middle-upper class, cisgender white man who resonates images of power, authority, and acceptance (see this article). These images and identities that command respect contrast with the insecurity that “gay culture” has had to latch itself to. And in turn, much of what I feel I’ve had to embody as a gay individual has leaned towards this normalized, white, classed, “attractive” stereotyped fantasy.

I will never forget a quote by Fred Wah, a Canadian poet, who wrote about being mixed-race and his fear that his White privilege would make him become “not the target, but the gun.” I’m writing this piece so that as a mixed-race subject, I can tackle the pervasive racism and normalization within the queer community.

Of course, I think it helps that my last name, Holmes, can create this immediate sense of whiteness on paper, but how would that be different if my last name was Wong, my mother’s patriarchal name? Would people have an immediate change in expectation? Would something as trivial as a name convey different ideas about personality and culture? I think to an extent, I have autonomy over culture, but I don’t over race. How people perceive “Hawaiian, Filipino, “White”, “Asian”, “mixed”, Spanish, or however far or close people have been in guessing my “what are you?” will always portray immediate ideas from race that govern how people perceive me.

Yet, how, as individuals can we facilitate dialogue and movement surrounding this phenomenon? How do we start talking about race, gender, class, and the continuum of privilege and disprivilege when we are expected as a social justice movement to be focused solely on a singular issue? Is it tolerance, patience, respect, and understanding that are needed to understand each other from a privileged and marginalized vantage?

I think the answer lies within our lived experiences. I think back in history when interracial marriage was banned, when fears of miscegenation in post-colonial North America became a social threat. When homosexuality was greeted by the death penalty.

If anything, I feel being mixed-race is an opportunity to interrogate how identities can be reconstructed, and envisioned into social change that mirrors the queer rights movement. When being mixed-race and gay challenges how I navigate my own sense of privilege within the queer community that has lacked acceptance, I can only think of where race and queerness intersect. I think of how we can construct this façade to normalize “gay culture” within ourselves, and how we can connect historical racism to contemporary challenges faced within and beyond the gay community. Being mixed-race is a product of social change away from racism, and in turn, I see challenges within the queer community as an opportunity to connect in solidarity.

– Andy Holmes

Love Intersections: The Philosophy, The Love!

Check out our new trailer!

Jen, one of the co-founders of Love Intersections talks about the philosophy behind Love Intersections – the project itself, an intersection of art, activism, and love.

Love Intersections: Art as an Expression of Our Activism from David Ng on Vimeo.

Generous Spaciousness

I’ve struggled to talk about spirituality for a long time.

When we initially conceived Love Intersections, I decided that my own intersections with spirituality is something that I wanted to explore.  Our journeys navigating the world as spiritual beings, our beliefs and how they shape who we are.

After attending ‘Generous Spaciousness’ last Friday in Vancouver – a series of dialogues about the intersection of faith and sexuality facilitated by a group called New Directions – I was really inspired by the conversations that I heard.  The concept of New Directions is to have a space where community members, including Christians, can come together and engage with an honest dialogue with each other about topics related to faith and spirituality.  Rather than lecturing churches and Christians to “be” more queer affirming, their approach is to have a space where people can hear each others stories, and be listened to.

I was really blown away by the whole event.  As someone who grew up (and to a certain extent, still identifies as an) Evangelical Christian, “honest dialogue” about (Christian) spirituality only existed  in my imagination.  The “traditional” church model is a deeply entrenched top-down model: “The Truth” is literally delivered from the pulpit – and of course, there is no questioning of “The Truth”.  I reflect upon how much misogyny and homophobia is delivered from sermons that I’ve had to suffer through, and how much of the root of these issues is the fact that there is no avenue to dialogue on how “the truth” is being interpreted from scripture, and how our spiritual lives are deeply compromised by this top-down model…a top down model that has traditionally, for 2000 years, reinforced patriarchy, misogyny, and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities.

I grew up in the era of “I Kissed Dating Good Bye” – a popular abstinence based youth movement, which demonized (quite literally) any premarital sexual relations to the extent that even kissing was evil.  I was literally taught that dating was a modern concept of the past 50 years, and that it leads to morally apprehensive behaviour.  I was taught that sex ed was an apparatus of the devil to promote promiscuity, and that condoms were actually perforated and didn’t protect you from STDs.  As a budding activist, I remember the shockwaves that went through my church when I, very vocally, as a 16 year old, began questioning the church leaders who were imposing these factually untrue, and very discriminatory things on us youth.

While I recognize that my experience as a youth in church is an extreme example, I wonder how many other layers of my spirituality are deeply affected by this top down model.  How can we engage honestly with our own spiritual lives, if the model of the organization where we receive our spiritual guidance – i.e. The Church –  itself doesn’t allow for any spiritual accountability or dialogue?  If my spirituality, as a Christian, is rooted in my deep and personal relationship with God, then shouldn’t we be talking about my lived experiences too, and how they are fundamentally related to my spirituality?

What was beautiful about the dialogue on Friday with New Directions, was the amount of honesty that was allowed in the space – something that is rejected and feared by the “traditional” Christian Church model. I was really moved by how vulnerable people were allowed to be in a space to discuss such a difficult subject.

My hopes, is that Christians today can continue to challenge the systems within their own church organizations that enforce a model that silences people and reinforces oppression. As an organization that literally preaches how love is the greatest commandment of all, I hope that we can begin to transform our own communities so that we can do exactly that – love more.

In love and solidarity,

David Ng