I think the series of programs outlined here is set to be very interesting indeed. ”The BBC is to mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) next month with a series of dramas, documentaries, news packages and discussions.” I obviously can’t say much at this point, but the list of disability-related dramas and documentaries promises to give me plenty to get my analytical teeth into. The DDA was obviously a very important political moment for guys like me, and it’s good to see the Beeb marking it’s anniversary.
Is it time for me to take more of an active role in disability politics and culture? Until now, I’ve just got on with life, generally acknowledging what could be called the wider community of disabled people while not really interacting with it. In fact, my biggest contribution to disability culture is probably my blog. Of course I have quite a few friends with disabilities, but like Lyn I see no reason why I should interact with my fellow cripple any more than anyone else.
Now though, I’m beginning to wonder whether I should try to assert my voice in the various disability forums a bit more. I still get the feeling that, with more and more people now defining their selves as having some kind of disability – the very definition of which seems to be widening – voices like mine are at a risk of being drowned out. More to the point, in the various online forums I keep an eye on, a few voices tend to be dominant: certain people seem to dominate and control the entire community; people who, as far as I can tell, ironically have relatively tenuous links to it. Such people seem to bully and brow-beat others so that only their voices are heard and only their opinions are perceived as valid.
In response, perhaps I should participate a bit more actively. To be honest I’ve had enough of deferring to others on certain disability related issues. Take inclusive education, for example: the dominant opinion among disability ‘activists’ is that kids with special educational needs must be educated in mainstream education at all costs. I used to defer to that opinion. Yet while I still think inclusion is a nice idea and should be implemented where at all possible, my own personal experience, both as someone educated at a special school, and who now often volunteers at one, tells me that trying to educate the most severely disabled young people among their able-bodied peers is not only impractical but downright cruel.
At Charlton Park Academy, there are students who simply could not handle life among mainstream students. My attitude towards inclusive education is therefore more nuanced than it once was, having been informed by a decade of volunteering at a special school. Those who insist carte blanche on inclusion seem to often lack the personal experience I have, and so let ideology get in the way of practicality.
I therefore think there’s room for me to start asserting my voice a bit more: As a man with moderately severe cerebral palsy who has lived more or less independently in London for the last decade, blogging, writing and making films, and who for most of that decade lived with a woman with severe CP, I think I have an experience of life others do not. Having grown up with severely disabled classmates and then having watched them die one by one; and then having lost the most incredible person I’ll ever meet, I know how harsh life as a disabled person can be. My perspective on disability is as valid as any other, if not frankly more than many, and I therefore feel it’s time I stopped deferring to others. If it is indeed true that more and more people see theirselves as disabled, isn’t it up to guys like me to make sure they know it isn’t all about blue badges and queue jumping.
My abiding interest in the olympics probably seems a bit weird given that I’m not really into athletics. To be honest I’m not really bothered about who wins what medal. Yet, since 2012, I’ve had an interest in how, every four years or so, the world comes together as one community to participate in one big sporting and cultural festival. Our collective attention is drawn onto one spot on the globe so that, for a month or so, we jointly get to explore and celebrate a city and culture. The selected city gets to show itself off to the world in a once in a lifetime event.
That’s why I’ll always see what happened in 2012, being here in London, getting to watch Lyn and the Paraorchestra play at the Paralympic closing ceremony, as one of the greatest events of my life. But it’s also why I’m interested in the olympics as a cultural and political force. As Thomas Bach explains at some length in this recent Seoul Peace Prize acceptance speech, the Olympic movement is about bringing people together in a spirit of mutual respect. As he puts it, there is no discrimination at the Olympic village. The olympics is probably the only event which draws the world together to compete in the spirit of global culture and universal respect. When I think about it, to have had the opportunity to participate in that, to have been with Lyn and her fellow musicians as they played before the entire world, is jaw-droppingly amazing. Of course, the fact that Lyn has now passed away makes such memories even more poignant and powerful.
What interests me now, though, is the city aspect of it: The IOC selects a city to host the biggest event in the world, so their selection is, in a way, highly political. To be chosen to host the Olympic and Paralympic games means that a city has made it onto the world stage; it has been given the opportunity to show itself off to the world. That is why I’m proud of the fact that London was the first city to hold the games three times – what greater honour could there be for a metropolis? – but it’s also why I’m interested in which city gets chosen. Which city will we get to explore next? How will a city represent itself in it’s bid, and if selected, how will that city choose to show itself off? How will the people of that city use the olympics to reveal itself and it’s culture to the world? I also wonder whether we need more events like the olympics which similarly draw people together, but which are perhaps based around art rather than sport?
Now that there is just a week to go until the election in America, the question I’m pondering today is, with Biden’s lead in the polls looking quite solid, can we start to hope that this time next week the nightmare will be over? Can we afford to start to breathe more easily, given that so many votes have been cast already by post and so will probably reflect opinion polls? Can we let ourselves imagine that the total embarrassment to human civilisation who Americans have called their president for the last four years might be on his way out of power? I really, really hope we can, yet if the last four years have taught us anything, it’s not to get our hopes up.
There was a worrying item on the BBC London lunchtime news about a huge rise in transphobic hate crime. Transgender people are being picked upon and discriminated against more and more, usually by people refusing to respect their preferred/chosen gender. It goes without saying that this appalls me: I saw it happen to Lyn once or twice. She took it in her stride, of course, but it made me exasperated to realise how closed minded and arrogant people could be.
Now, that being said, I want to add a small, potentially contentious caveat: when people are transgender, they are transgender. Something deep down inside of them, usually far beyond their consciousness, tells them that they were born into the wrong gender and would be more comfortable if they transitioned. Obviously in such cases nobody has any right to question their decisions, and doing so constitutes transphobia. These days, though, I get the feeling that a few people are declaring their selves trans for less innate reasons. They like the politics of it, and want a louder say in the alternative lifestyle discourse, so they emulate transgender people they know and declare theirselves trans while never having shown any sign of it in the past. It’s a type of what I call cultural intrusion, which I think is also happening in the disability community. Such self-styled ‘activists’ usurp the whole discourse and drown out those of us with genuine concerns, baselessly accusing others of transphobia when confronted.
I can’t be sure how widespread this phenomenon is, but I’m pretty sure I’ve encountered it (online) a couple of times. Such people seem to think they can speak on behalf of an entire community, taking it’s politics and language as their own, even though they might not really belong to it. To be honest I think such people should be confronted as their behaviour, in a way, mocks or devalues the turmoil genuine transpeople go through. Being trans has nothing to do with whatever ideas you may have about gender equality. The danger there is you end up sounding just as bigoted as those who misgender and bully people like Lyn.
Zark knows how it slipped my mind, but four days ago marked the end of my first year living on my own in Eltham; a year since I wrote this entry. To be honest it has been quite a traumatic year, as it has been for everyone. It barely seems two or three weeks since I was living in Charlton with Lyn, but now she’s gone and that old bungalow is empty. It really staggers me to think how quickly things changed: just a little over two years ago I was partner to the most incredible person I’ll ever meet, with visions of myself living there with her for many years to come. Now I’m a bachelor again, on my own more or less; we broke up, I got my own place and Lyn passed away. Everything has changed staggeringly, heartbreakingly quickly.
It has obviously been a rather gruelling year. Lyn’s death is the biggest blow by far. Even after I moved out I imagined I would be popping in on her for years to come. Yet all I can do now is look to the future in the hope of better times to come. If life with L taught me anything, it is that truly awesome things could be just around the corner – you just need to look out for them. So here I am, marking the end of a year I once couldn’t have imagined, sitting in my own place living a more or less independent life. Things may be difficult for everyone right now, but years like this make us realise just what we are capable of. Lyn not only showed me that I was capable of anything I wanted, but she always told me to look towards the future rather than at the past: the past, she said, has already gone, but it’s the future that you can make a difference to. I think that’s good advice for us all at the moment. I may now be mourning one of the greatest friends I’ll ever have in a year which has brought so much loss to so many, but that is no reason not to look forward to a better, brighter future.
I don’t want to say much about it as it’s perfectly articulate already, but I think anyone concerned about American politics should watch this Youtube video. In it, a US lawyer outlines precisely what his countrymen are voting for: Donald Trump is a criminal who has broken the law numerous times, both before and after becoming President. Outlined like this, it really is sickening how much Trump has already been allowed to get away with. I just hope enough of our American friends are listening to voices like this. After all, it isn’t just their future which hangs in the balance.
It may surprise you to read that I went to a house party with my old uni friend Charlie last night. Well, when I say ‘went’ I didn’t actually go anywhere, of course – old fashioned parties seem decidedly out of the question these days. Rather, everyone stayed in their respective homes and met eachother over Zoom, in an attempt to have fun and remain Covid secure at the same time.
It worked surprisingly well, and I think everyone had fun. There were four or five other groups in attendance, all in fancy dress. I wasn’t going to dress up at first, but C insisted, occasioning me to break out my pink tutu for the first time in a while. Unfortunately, most of the games C had organised involved drawing, meaning I could only watch, but nonetheless it was a lot of fun, popping back and forth between my computer desk and table for sips of beer. I think the best thing about it was the feeling of actually being involved in something, participating in a social event, for the first time in months; I think I had missed that. It felt good to see everyone together, chatting, laughing and having fun, even if it was just online. While there’s no denying that it made me slightly nostalgic for the type of real, physical house party I used to go to at university, I think this type of online get together will have to do these days. It looks like we’re all in for a pretty harsh winter, so I think we will all need things like this to keep our spirits up.
It feels like ages – literally years – since I saw my brother Mark, Kat and the kids, at least in person. I think the last time I saw them, they got me playing football! Today marks Kat’s birthday, and I really hope they’re having fun together. It has been a bit of a miserable year, so I also hope it won’t be too long until we see each other again, perhaps in the spring. Whatever they’re doing, let me just wish my sister-in-law a very happy birthday, and say that I hope Mark’s behaving himself for her!
I just came across this Stephen Colbert video which I think is worth flagging up. The election in America is just two weeks away, and, worryingly, the polls are apparently tightening. I may joke about Trump being a disgrace to humanity, but he really is: Colbert describes how his government has ordered the separation of immigrants’ children at the Mexico border, presumably to act as a deterrent. It has intentionally caused fear and misery for thousands. How can any government act so cruelly, just to stop people entering their country? More to the point, how can any country seriously be contemplating reelecting a monster like Trump?