Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock + Pod 22: Henna Artist’s Alka Joshi 

Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock.
Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock.

My Wedding Henna + The Henna Artist's Bighearted Alka Joshi on Saris Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Writing #India #Pro-Choice #WomensRights #DressCodes “The Henna Artist,” by Alka Joshi is as big-hearted as the novelist! Here Alka discusses how today’s professional women of India handle dress codes. Are dress codes unbiased where you work? Got questions, thoughts, and/or experiences to share about writing and publishing? Record them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topic and about today’s guest 1:05 Alka Joshi discusses the wearing of saris in India My question for you and episode outro HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode. Alka Joshi's website and Youtube channel. About the books I'm writing. Chris Miller, the super-talented photographer and her Instagram. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Book cover of “The Henna Artist,” by Alka Joshi. Screenshot of Alka lauding “Big Magic,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Photos of me, da-AL, with henna tattoos for my wedding. Screenshot of Alka from her youtube channel. Alka’s photos from Ansal University, just outside of New Delhi: Gurgaon's news bulletin board, students, architecture staff. Alka’s photo of an architect wearing a sari. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of this blog post of “My Wedding Henna + The Henna Artist’s Bighearted Alka Joshi on Saris.”

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Note: Once you finish reading and listening here, be sure to check out Suzanne’s site for her fun post about this post.

Language… and labeling… and gender… and pronouns… Authors can be extra picky about language, as I am with the novels I’m working on.

Any serious writer knows there’s more to communication than vocabulary and grammar. Language is about how people think.

Civil rights movements in the United States really took flight in the 60s and 70s — and labels played a major role in creating positive change. When Gloria Steinem named her feminist magazine “Ms.,” many family dinners became hot debates over whether women should use Ms. instead of Miss and Mrs.

Then came arguments over switching “mailman” to “postal carrier,” and “stewardess” to “flight attendant.” The next slog was weeding out racial slurs. To this day, there are people who enunciate the phrase “political correctness“ as if they’re cussing.

For most good ideas, the masses regard those first to propose them as nuts and worse. Eventually, a grudging acceptance sets in. Finally, it’s like the entire world acquires amnesia, and believes they were born thinking that way.

Make no mistake, I am no angel. In my case, I have to slap my forehead at how difficult (long ago, for whatever it’s worth) it was for me to transition from something as basic as calling a friend Jim instead of Jimmy when he turned eighteen!

People spend entire careers studying the way people from all parts of the world communicate. Some countries designate genders to everything from rocks to the sky.

When my husband speaks English, he occasionally confuses genders because in Iran, where he was born, Farsi doesn’t employ words for it. Which gets me meandering into recommending Rick Steves’ book, “Travel as a Political Act,” where he explains how we all need to travel more so we can get our ostrich heads out of the sand. Part of why it can be harder to learn a language when we’re older is if we insist that there is only one “best” way for things like language to operate.

From as far back as when I was a kid, I questioned not pronouns, but gender roles. Back then, people sought to inspire me with their ideas about how wonderful it was that only women could bear children and be truly nurturing, but not anything else. From what “little me” saw and heard, “womanhood” amounted to life as a vessel and a slave. No, thank you.

Later, when I co-produced documentaries like this and this one, everyone assumed my male business partner was the boss. Except, that is, when we videotaped at a school for developmentally disabled adults. Wait, tell me again, who are we labeling “disabled”?

Thank you, everyone who works toward changing oppression. That includes anyone who wants to challenge how we think of pronouns. I wrote a bit about that H-E-R-E

Now Canadian author/blogger (mydangblog) Suzanne Craig-Whytock (she/her) is here to discuss pronouns from the standpoint of someone who is smart and funny, as well as who earned an Honours B.A. in English Language and Literature, and who worked as an English teacher for almost 25 years. See the books and stories she’s published.

She’s been a guest at Happiness Between Tails H-E-R-E too…

Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock.
Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock.

Let’s Talk About Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

Words are letters strung together to make sounds and are used to identify something. Seems very straightforward, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s always astonishing to me how upset people get about certain words, especially the ones in the English language that are literally the shortest words we have. Yes, I’m talking about pronouns. So what exactly is a pronoun? Grammatically speaking, a pronoun is a word that replaces a noun—for example: I, he, she, we, they, and it. There are plenty of others depending on the case, like possessive pronouns such as mine, yours, his, hers, and theirs…you get the idea. But why all the consternation about pronouns? I mean, there are some people who get outraged if you tell them your pronouns, or lose their minds if a person chooses to go by “they” instead of the binary “he” or “she”. And if someone decides to change their pronouns, all hell might break loose. (Notice that I used the plural determiner “their” for the singular “someone” in the previous sentence and that’s just fine; in fact, the use of the singular “they” can be found in the English Language as early as the year 1375.)

But why do some folks get so up-in-arms about how other people choose their own pronouns? It’s personally baffling to me. I have a degree in English Language and Literature and I taught high school English for almost twenty-five years, but I never got my knickers in a knot about pronouns—if you tell me you’re “he”, that’s what I call you. If it’s “she”, fine by me. “They”? Absolutely not an issue. Unfortunately, not everyone is as accepting, and maybe that’s just borne out of a lack of understanding.  So as someone with a certain expertise in English grammar, I’m happy to answer your questions about pronouns.

1) “Why are pronouns so important to some people? I never even think about mine.”

Exactly. You don’t have to think about yours, because you’ve never questioned or struggled with your own identity. But other people’s lives aren’t as simple, and the pronouns they ultimately choose, whether it’s he, she, or they, help them validate themselves to the world. 

2) “But boys are he and girls are she, and that’s all there is to it. If a person doesn’t use “he” or “she”, how will we all know what sex the person is?” 

First, what difference does it make to you? Why are you so worried about other people’s genitals? Because that’s how sex is assigned at birth, by someone doing a visual check and making an announcement about it. Second, birth-assigned sex is not binary. Sure, there’s male and female, but there’s also intersex. And if you’re that fixated on knowing someone’s sexual identity based on binary pronouns, it’s a good job you don’t speak Finnish or Chinese, because neither of those languages (and quite a few others) have gendered pronouns. 

3) “But people shouldn’t be able to just change their pronouns, should they?”

Of course, they should. And if you’re having trouble with the concept, consider this example: You find a caterpillar in your backyard. “Hey, little caterpillar,” you say, and that’s what you call it all summer. But when the caterpillar emerges from its cocoon and it’s transformed into a butterfly, do you still call it a caterpillar? Of course not. It’s the same with people. If a person has made a transition from one gender to another, why wouldn’t they change their pronouns to match their new identity and why wouldn’t you respect that? And if they decide that they’re somewhere in between the two genders, they can use the non-binary “they”. It’s fine—even the Oxford English Dictionary says so. 

4) “Non-binary?! But there are only two genders and you can’t switch the one you were born with!”

Sorry, wrong. Gender is a very fluid spectrum and there are many places along it. Also, gender is a social construct. Most of our ideas about gender and gender expression are based on current social behaviours and attitudes, and those are also fluid. For example, in the 1700s, men wore wigs, ruffles, face powder, and high heels. It was considered appropriate for their gender. In the Victorian period, if a woman wore pants, it was scandalous, but I’m currently sitting here typing this while wearing jeans and no one even bats an eye. And the whole idea that only girls can wear pink? That’s an eccentric, late 20th century fad. Colours are part of another spectrum, one of light that our eyes perceive, and they have no gender; in fact, it was perfectly normal for men to wear pink right up until the 1940s. Everything changes over time, and the way we use language in terms of gender is no different.

5) “But language never changes! The English we speak now is the English people have always spoken, right?”

If you really believe that, then I have only one thing to say: 

Nū scylun hergan     hefaenrīcaes Uard,
metudæs maecti     end his mōdgidanc…

Oh, you don’t understand what I said? But it’s English—in fact, it’s from one of the earliest known English poems, called Caedmon’s Hymn. Wait, let me try again:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…

Still having trouble? But that’s from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century. In English. See, the English that you speak now has changed a lot. Did you also know that there used to be more than one word for “you”? If you were speaking to or about one person you knew quite well, you referred to them as “thou” or “thee” depending on the grammatical case. If you were speaking or referring to a group of people or someone you weren’t as familiar with, you used “you”. But around the end of the 1600s, using two different ways to refer to someone started to fall out of favour, and by the 1800s, no one used “thou”, “thee” and all its other derivatives anymore. And I’m sure there was a small faction of people back then who were just as incensed: “How will we ever be able to distinguish between a single person we know and a crowd of people we don’t?! It’s outrageous!” Well, we all got over it. And now there’s only one word for “you”, which simplifies things. 

And speaking of simple, here’s the simple truth. If you’re bothered by someone putting pronouns in their bio, or you refuse to accept it when someone you know has requested that you refer to them as “he” instead of “she”, or “they” instead of “he”, or you get irrationally upset that someone you don’t even know has transitioned from one gender to another, the problem is thou, not them.

What’s your pronoun?

Fear and You + Balenciaga by roijoyeux + Pod21: Caz’s Panic Rescue

Photo of Balenciaga's “Envelope dress”, 1967, with this blog post's title over it.
Balenciaga’s “Envelope dress”, 1967.

Pandemic Anxiety by da-AL + Panic Attack Rescue by Caz Happiness Between Tails

#Covid #PanicAttack #Panic #Anxiety #MentalHealth #Relaxation #Health Have you or anyone you know experienced anxiety or panic? What helped you or them? Caz, a London blogger who worked in mental health, gives her best tips for keeping our heads during these Covid times when anxiety can do us in… Do you or anyone you know suffer from anxiety and panic attacks? Caz, a London blogger who worked in mental health, gives her best tips for keeping our heads during these Covid times when anxiety can do us in… Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topic and about today’s guest 1:05 “How to manage panic attacks,” by Caz. Windup, links, a question for you. HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode is H-E-R-E Find Caz' site H-E-R-E — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of “Pandemic Anxiety by da-AL + Panic Attack Rescue by Cas” that you can read the text version of H-E-R-E.

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Marianne Williamson, activist/author of, "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES." Photo by Supearnesh - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Marianne Williamson, activist/author of, “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES.” Photo by Supearnesh – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The following famous quote — which author/activist Marianne Williamson is proud of however zillion times it’s attributed to Nelson Mandela (H-E-R-E’s a post I wrote about him) — reminds me of how sneaky my fear of success can be.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

As a kid, I worried that setting myself apart would invite criticism, jealousy, and ostracism. Girls, I was told, must be cute and sweet so they’d be attractive to boys. Women, so it went, were destined to be wives and mothers, no more, no less.

Fears continue to gnaw at me. Now they’re sophisticated, requiring constant vigilance to upend them. Art begs an audience. When art is personal, it’s difficult to not give a damn what others might think, not to mention how wicked my own self-doubt (like when it comes to working on my novels-in-progress) can be. An hour after I was awarded an Emmy, a stranger asked me how the honor felt. My reply was blather. He reminded me that I had indeed won it…

Williamson is correct to point that that being our best benefits everyone. When I’m upset about my goals, I remind myself of her wise words.

Now for a blogger who does what he can to make sure none of us hold ourselves back…

Photo of blogger roijoyeux, his face hidden as he looks down at something he's writing.
Blogger roijoyeux.

roijoyeux, which according to Google Translate, means “King Joyful,” runs a blog by the same name. Growing up in South-Western France as a gay teenager, hearing schoolmates call other gay schoolmates “pédé” (“fag”) was a terrible thing. As a result, it was not easy to be proud of himself.

To help himself and others to be happier with themselves, ten years ago he created a blog that’s an encyclopedia of LGBT+ celebrities. To date, he’s written over 500 well-researched biographies!

He explains, “… many people are not aware that most gay men look and behave like straight men, my blog is useful for them and for my peers who have not yet realized that there is no reason to be ashamed. I know most people are not gay, but it feels great to know that so many great people are gay / lesbian. Learning and writing about their lives is one of my favorite hobbies.”

roijoyeux adds that over the decade he’s been posting, his site, “evolved very quickly in the blog you know today, showing to people that gays are not all drag queens, effeminates or perverts, since many great artists, stellar athletes and other admirable celebrities, are gay.”

Generous even at Happiness Between Tails, roijyeux quotes his role model…  “If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements…” gayinfluence.blogspot.com Terry from Virginia, who describes himself as “A diehard sapiosexual with an ever-curious mind,” started that impressive site in 2011.

Here, with the help of Wikipedia and Gay Influence, he introduces us to one of his many heroes…

Balenciaga, right, with the love of his life, Vladzio Jaworowski d’Attainville.
Balenciaga, right, with the love of his life, Vladzio Jaworowski d’Attainville.

“Cristóbal Balenciaga, the King of the great couturiers, was… gay,” by roijoyeux

Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre, born January 21, 1895 in Getaria (Spanish Basque Country) and died March 23, 1972 in Xàbia (Spain) was a Spanish fashion designer and milliner.

Actress Audrey Hepburn wearing Balenciaga, and two standard poodles.
Actress Audrey Hepburn wearing Balenciaga, and a couple of furry friends!

He is one of the greatest couturiers, unanimously recognized by his peers and nicknamed “the master” or even “the couturier of couturiers.”

If Balenciaga began well before the Second World War, it was during the 1950s that he completely transformed the female silhouette, making it evolve to finally reach its peak in the early 1960s. Among his loyal customers were the Queens of Spain and Belgium, Princess Grace of Monaco and the Duchess of Windsor as well as Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy Onassis.

Photo of United States First Lady Jackie Kennedy wearing a Balenciaga gown 1961.
First United States Lady Jackie Kennedy wearing a Balenciaga gown 1961.

The fact that Jackie Kennedy bought Balenciaga’s overpriced dresses upset her husband President John F. Kennedy because he feared the American public would think his spending was too lavish. In the 1950s and 1960s, Dior dressed the rich, and Balenciaga, the very rich. It was said at that time that a woman “went up” from Dior to Balenciaga.

Below are the most interesting details about Balenciaga’s life…

Youth

Balenciaga, who left school to work for a local tailor at the age of 13, opened his first store in San Sebastian (Spain) at 19. At the age of 24, he already had his own fashion house, a house of which he then opened branches in Madrid and Barcelona, where more than 350 employees worked.

The Spanish royal family wore his creations, but the Spanish Civil War forced him to close his stores in 1931 and go into exile first in London and then in 1936 in Paris, where he opened a fashion house on Avenue George V in 1937. The success of his Parisian house was immediate. Customers even risked their lives by going to Paris in the middle of the Second World War to admire Balenciaga’s creations.

Homosexuality

In Paris, Balenciaga openly lived his homosexuality. It was in 1936 in the French capital that he met the love of his life, Wladzio Zawrorowski d’Attainville, a Franco-Polish aristocrat who was then working as a hatter. It was Wladzio who helped Balenciaga find the funds to open his Parisian couture house. Then he became his partner.

Unlike Balenciaga, who had the elegance and class of an aristocrat but was the son of a simple fisherman and a seamstress, Wladzio was a true aristocrat, whose intelligence and wisdom impressed Balenciaga. The two men moved into the same apartment together, where Balenciaga’s mother also lived.

Photo of Balenciaga, right, with design house co-founder Nicolas Bizcarrondo, and Vladzio Jaworowski d’Attainville and a kitten.
Balenciaga, right, with design house co-founder Nicolas Bizcarrondo, and Vladzio Jaworowski d’Attainville… and a kitten!

One of their employees, Elisa Erquiaga, explained in an interview: “Wladzio was extremely handsome and well-educated and we all knew [they were a couple], but no one ever talked about it in the house.”

The Franco-Polish man was the only person who managed to calm the anxieties of the Master, his lack of self-confidence and his obsessive search for perfection on, for example, a shoulder, a fabric, or how to elegantly hide the wide hips of [writer] Colette, one of his famous clients.

When Wladzio died in 1948, Balenciaga was so devastated that he considered closing his business for a time. He never recovered from the death of the love of his life and although he had homosexual affairs after Wladzio’s death, he never sought to find new love and became very secretive and almost withdrew from the world.

It was in 1968 that the couturier finally retired (at age 73).

Photo of Dovima, a fascinating pioneer supermodel, in Balenciaga, with Sacha the dog, photo by stellar photog Richard Avedon, 1955.
Dovima, a fascinating pioneer supermodel, in Balenciaga, with Sacha, photo by stellar photog Richard Avedon, 1955.

Death and posterity

When Balenciaga died in 1972, Women’s Wear Daily magazine wrote “The King is Dead”. He died very rich, owner of several houses and apartments in Paris, at La Reynerie near Orléans, as well as in Madrid, Barcelona and Iguelda, in his native Basque country.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia, the greatest gay couturiers of the 20th century are Balenciaga and Dior, followed by Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier and in Italy Giorgio Armani and Giani Versace.

Balenciaga’s work influenced many couturiers, such as Oscar de la Renta, André Courrèges who worked in his studio, Emanuel Ungaro and Hubert de Givenchy whom he helped. The Balenciaga brand, which nowadays belongs to the French holding company Kering, is currently under the management of Demna Gvasalia, after the departure of Alexander Wang in 2015, who succeeded Nicolas Ghesquière in December 2012.

Are there ways you hold yourself back?

Ableism: Discrimination Against Disabled by The Wheelchair Teen

The act of writing forces us to contemplate things more deeply and to question what we believe. Bloggers, novelists, all writers lay ourselves bare when we publish. When we communicate our passions, readers are challenged to think — and they challenge us!

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

Thank goodness for the world of blogging (and podcasting), a Utopian alternate universe where anyone with access to a smartphone or computer, along with the internet, can send their unfiltered voices all over the world.

Without blog-topia, I would never have stumbled across a blog called, “The Wheelchair Teen – My life as a black, disabled teenager.” There she lets us into her often fun, sometimes heartbreaking life. With good humor and patience, she teaches everyone to live with joy and compassion…

The Wheelchair Teen in her wheelchair.
The Wheelchair Teen in her wheelchair.

Ableism: Discrimination Against Disabled People by The Wheelchair Teen

Hello, everyone! I’m The Wheelchair Teen and I write about my life as a black, disabled teenager. I’ve been disabled ever since I was born and a permanent wheelchair-user since the age of thirteen. I’m British but currently residing in the Netherlands with my parents and sister. Thank you so much to da-AL for allowing me the chance to write a guest post for her incredible blog to help me spread my message of equality for all disabled people. If you want to see more of me you can find me at my blog called, The Wheelchair Teen – My life as a black, disabled teenager.

Ableism is the term for discrimination against disabled people, but unlike other forms of discrimination, it isn’t viewed as negatively. Most people don’t get educated about disabilities and remain ignorant. It’s therefore harder to get angry at people when they act ableist towards me — they honestly don’t know any better. So, when I encounter ableism, I sort of just have to deal with it and let it slide  and it’s exhausting, alienating, and something I shouldn’t have to face. Ableism is everywhere, and until people start to educate themselves more about disabilities, it’s something I’ll have to continue to deal with in almost every aspect of my life. Here are the five main ways that I feel othered in society as well as things that you can do to educate yourself and help to end ableism:

  1. People treat me differently

Sometimes adults talk slowly to me or avoid addressing me by talking to whoever’s next to me when discussing me. People pick up my limbs and move them for me without my permission or make offensive assumptions. At school, I was often alone because students were unsure how to treat someone like me and would therefore ignore me altogether. People stare, point, or talk loudly and rudely about my body in front of me and assume that I can’t understand. Little children occasionally even run screaming from me when I’m in my electric wheelchair. All of this makes me feel extremely isolated, alienated, alone, and othered  and that’s not even mentioning the different ways buildings and companies discriminate against me when I leave the house or go on trips. I’ve been turned away from places that claim to be wheelchair-accessible and discriminated against by employees.

Photo of The Wheelchair Teen's electric wheelchair.
My electric wheelchair.

I talk a lot on my blog about inspiration porn which is the objectification of disabled people as two-dimensional objects of inspiration. People treat us like we only exist to inspire people. I’ve had absolute strangers pass me on the street and tell me that I’m their hero. In fact, most people either assume that my life is awful and therefore treat me with pity or treat me like I’m a superwoman simply for waking up every morning like everyone else. In reality, my life is pretty sweet. The most difficult part about my life is actually how I’m treated in society  not my actual disability. I know this isn’t the case for everyone but you shouldn’t instantly assume it’s not. I’ve been disabled for as long as I can remember  I can handle it, it’s ableism that’s the major issue for me.

  1. They don’t teach about us in school

More education about disabilities is key in our fight to help combat ignorance. I’m certain that if my classmates had known how to treat someone like me, they wouldn’t have been so hesitant to approach me. Also, if children knew more about disabilities there’d be less pointing and staring as if they’ve never seen someone like me before, not to mention the children that ran from me terrified. Libraries should include picture books about disabilities and we should be mentioned in every diversity class along with other minorities.

Photo of The Wheelchair Teen giving a presentation about disabilities to children at a primary school.
Me giving a presentation about disabilities to children at a primary school.

Ignorance can be deadly: it is estimated that between 33-50% of police violence happens against people with a disability (although it’s hard to tell because it’s rarely recorded for statistics). I cried while reading through all of the cases of police shooting disabled people that they had been called to help in the first place. It’s a serious problem that not enough people are talking about. The police force needs to be better educated when it comes to handling disabled people – whether it’s shooting a deaf person because they couldn’t hear the police telling them to stop, or firing at someone with a condition that makes it incapable for them to stand still and raise their hands. They must be held accountable and taught that their behaviour is unacceptable. And these cases need to be reported and receive the same attention as any other police brutality case.

  1. There’s no one like me on screen

Disabled people are the biggest minority in the world with around one billion people around the planet being disabled. Despite this, we have one of the lowest amounts of representation in films and TV. Only 2.3% of speaking characters in films are disabled. Growing up, I used to think I was strange because I hardly ever saw anyone like me on TV – and I wasn’t the only one. We’re talking about representation in media as low as 1% for a minority that is around 20% of the world.

Photo of The Wheelchair Teen with her hand over her mouth and the words: “Stop stifling disabled voices in media” on them.
Me with my hand over my mouth and the words: “Stop stifling disabled voices in media” on them.

95% of disabled roles are played by non-disabled actors, which is unacceptable! Able-bodied actors are critically acclaimed and win numerous awards for pretending to play a disabled person – but a lot of their performances (from the perspective of a disabled person) border on imitation and mockery. By not getting actual disabled actors to play these roles, you alienate disabled people by making them seem like mystical beings that cannot appear on screen, that can only be mimicked and impersonated. I’m not a ‘challenging acting feat’ – I’m a real person.

Meanwhile, real disabled actors struggle to get hired because people would rather see famous actors curl their fingers, twist their legs, tilt their heads, and pretend to be us for another guaranteed Oscar-nominee feel-good film. Filmmakers don’t want the real thing – they just want their own version of it, which audiences will then mistakenly believe is reality. I dream of a future where able-bodied actors playing disabled roles is seen just as negatively as actors playing other minorities when they don’t share their experiences.

  1. No one celebrates disability day

While throngs of people and numerous corporations celebrate International Woman’s Day, Pride Day, and Black History Month, the International Day of Disabled Persons goes under a lot of people’s radar. There is honestly so much beauty in being disabled, there’s so much to celebrate, and so many rights that still need fighting for. Help to raise awareness about disabilities by educating yourself and spreading the love this third of December. 

The Disabled Teen having fun in front of a carnival wall.
The Disabled Teen having fun in front of a carnival wall.

Like other minorities, multiple people throughout history have fought for the rights of disabled people. One day I was sitting in a history class at school when I realised that I knew about the suffragettes who had fought for my right to vote as a woman and the incredible civil rights activists who fought for my equality as a black person, but I knew nothing about the people who had fought for my rights as a disabled person. I did some research about disability history and I was so proud to see all of the people who had stood up for people like me. Their stories deserve to be taught in schools and history classes too. They deserve to be remembered.

  1. Disabled representation is awful

We’ve all seen disabilities used as plot devices: like the disabled or scarred villain who has a disability to show their dark, twisted mind or past on their bodies in a physical way; the action character with a child who has asthma so that tension can be built in the film when the main character has to rush to get the inhaler at a critical moment; the protagonist who ends up in a wheelchair in their weakest moment but manages to walk again once they continue to believe in themselves. And we’re all sick of it.

A disabled character created by The Wheelchair Teen for a comic.
A disabled character I created for a comic.

A few weeks ago, I burst out crying after watching a show with a character in a wheelchair that wanted to end their own life. It had been the THIRD show/film I’d seen in a row with a character in a wheelchair that wanted to do this. How can this be a theme in so many films with disabled representation? What kind of message does this send to people like me? If this is the only kind of thing a disabled person sees – what do you think they would start to believe? It made me angry. It made me feel like society thought that I’d be better off dead. Disabled people go through enough without having to put up with these types of horrible representations. (In most of them, disability was not the main focus of the show – it was just a side storyline. One was a comedy series, one was an anime, the other a romance film). I can’t believe that we’re still at this point when it comes to representation.

I’d love to see more casual disabled representation where character’s disabilities aren’t the focus of their entire existence – where they’re treated like normal characters that don’t even need to be the main focus of the story, representation where they aren’t healed at the end so people don’t think you can’t have a ‘happily ever after’ with a disability, intersectional representation where disabled characters can also be black or be members of other minorities, representation where their disability isn’t due to an accident – they’re merely born that way, etc. I’m currently working on creating a comic book about a team of disabled superheroes. It’s set in a sci-fi, Afrofuturistic world so there’s plenty of intersectional representation in it.  

Most importantly, I hope that disabled people are consulted while creating such a work. People praise films like Me Before You or Music until they hear from the actual disabled people that the film is representing and realise that they’re outraged at the bad representation. You can’t ignore the community when you make or watch films like this. Nothing for us without us. 

What can you do to help end ableism?

  1. Educate yourself and others

I recently started working on a story with disabled characters and I had to do a lot of research for it. I learnt so many new things like: the correct way to refer to certain disabilities, terms that are actually found offensive within the community, ways to make yourself easier to lip-read when talking to a deaf person, wheelchair etiquette, things that are okay to ask and things that may be rude, basic phrases in sign language, not to interact with guide dogs when a blind person is using them, etc. Education is key, I teach people about disability and even I still have a lot to learn.   

  1. Watch and read more disabled representation

There needs to be more outrage about films and books that go out of their way to discriminate against the disabled community and more attention for the ones that don’t. Read more books written by disabled authors and watch more films and tv-shows with us in them. Listen to our stories, we’ll show you that we’re much more than 2d objects of inspiration or pity.

  1. Support disabled content creators 

Apps like Tik Tok were found deliberately preventing videos with disabled people in them from going viral. More attention for disabled content creators means more normalisation of disabilities for their followers. I’m not the only one out there sharing about life with a disability. Also, add subtitles to your videos and captions to your pictures to make your posts more accessible for disabled followers.

Research citation: https://www.forbes.com/sites/joewalsh/2021/05/18/new-york-ags-investigation-into-trumps-business-turns-criminal/?sh=7ed291937332 

What do you think about media depictions of disabled people?

Holidays Capote-Style by da-AL

Gentle and cruel, personal and universal — writer/novelist/artist/actor/personality Truman Capote captured the holiday season to a “T”-ruman in his “A Christmas Memory.”

A lifelong bestie of another of my beloved authors, Harper Lee of “To Kill a Mockingbird” renown, Truman grew up queer during times when that wasn’t allowed. Hell, it’s still not allowed, not really despite the two-steps-forward/one-step-back strides that humanity has been making lately.

Truman Capote at 23, thanks to Wikipedia.
Truman Capote at 23, thanks to Wikipedia.

I happened upon Truman’s “A Christmas Memory” by chance. It’s part of his book, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s: a Short Novel and Three Short Stories,” the whole volume of which is mind-blowing. His print version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is nothing less than enchanting for how it captures the heartbreaking nuances of love and friendship, particularly between a gay man and a straight woman. (Incidentally, another book I adore along those same lines is “The Object of My Affection,” by Stephen McCauley. That novel as well is much more profound in print than in the film.)

Poster for "Breakfast at Tiffany's" from Wikipedia.
Poster for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” from Wikipedia.

Please don’t judge “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by its movie version. It’s stunning because of Audrey Hepburn, her iconic dress by Hubert de Givenchy in the movie poster above, and so forth — but its racism toward Asians is deplorable. Moreover, it’s nowhere near as deep as the fabulous book. Unfortunately, Truman seems to have actively prostituted his masterpiece novella to Hollywood. Why? Was it due to his tragic and increasingly alcoholic life?

Truman Capote, four years before his too early death. Thank you Wikipedia
Truman Capote, four years before he passed away. Thank you Wikipedia.

The story in its p.r.i.n.t.e.d. form reminds me of how this whole pandemic situation has upended our holiday season, yet in some ways “righted” them. This year I’m extra thrilled that my dear ones are in good health. I’m happier for the smaller gestures. Living “sheltered-in-place,” I’m reminded that even though we can feel alone, we never really are.

Writer/novelist/artist/actor/personality Truman Capote.
Writer/novelist/artist/actor/personality Truman Capote.

No matter how poorly we feel and badly we are treated, one kindred face can make all the difference. Here in this vintage video, Truman doesn’t tell us this — his story enables us to feel it…

How are your holidays unique this year?

Discovery + Connection in Stories by Maria Alfieri

Exciting books — thoughtful stories — across land and time, into ourselves and others, they take us everywhere! And it’s not easy to do as I write my own novels

Author/blogger Maria Alfieri, who lives in Sussex, England, is on a mission. She’s out to create peer support and community when it comes to our mental and emotional wellbeing. Her most powerful tools are reading and writing…

“Freedom.” Photo of Maria Alfieri by Flora Westbrook.

How I Rediscovered Myself through Reading and Writing by Maria Alfieri

I came to collate The Silent Scream Anthology based on my own experiences of struggling silently in dealing with my childhood sexual abuse. I developed anorexia aged 11, for which I was eventually hospitalised aged 12-13. Anorexia was a physical demonstration of a trauma I could not vocalise. I spent many years starving myself and self-harming. My anorexia developed into bulimia. All my reckless and self- destructive behaviours were a way of me yelling to the world ‘I am not okay!”

Despite gaining some control over my eating disorders, I still struggled, sometimes daily, with that inner dialogue, which told me that I wasn’t worthy. That I needed to harm myself. My mind would sometimes take me to dark places, and I would have to talk myself back from the edge.

I found a way to heal through reading, as this was the first step on the ladder to connection with others — something I’d run away from for most of my life. I’d self-isolated much of my life, as many of us do when struggling emotionally. Mostly because of a deep sense of shame and a belief that I was unworthy of belonging. But reading stories similar to mine made me realise that I wasn’t broken and that I wasn’t ‘the only one’ feeling this way. Through stories, either fiction or non-fiction, we share empathetic connections, reaffirming our humanity. They remind us that we are part of a collective. Through reading, and then writing, I came to understand myself better.

Reading and writing are part of the process of connection; firstly, connection with ourselves, and then connection with others. And connection is vital for healing, growth, and change. Writing about my past, in particular, was an extremely cathartic process. Ultimately for me, reading and writing were the tools through which I recovered the person I want to be.

They brought me into this shared community that we created through The Silent Scream Anthology — a community of courageous and inspirational people who empowered me in many ways and helped me to unravel further the depths of my own unhelpful conditioning. It is my greatest wish that The Silent Scream Anthology is the passing of the torch for its readers — the light which sparks hope in moments of darkness and a stepping stone on the path of connection, healing, growth, and change.

As a collection of raw, honest and inspirational memoirs, anecdotes, poems, and artworks about a variety of mental health topics, The Silent Scream Anthology is aimed at anyone who has ever struggled silently, felt trapped by shame and felt alone in their experiences, no matter what those experiences are.

Cover of “The Silent Scream Anthology,” by Maria Alfieri.

Prior to collating The Silent Scream Anthology, I qualified as a teacher and taught English across secondary schools before having my four children. Stories have always been an important part of my life, and today I make it my mission to promote the power of connection through empathetic literature.

What book or story has made the most impact on you?

Happy International Women’s Day Pt. 2 of 2 by Denzil

1914 International Women’s Day poster.

Happy International Women’s Day!!! Is it celebrated where you live?

1975 International Women’s Day poster.

All days merit celebrating — for the opportunity to find ourselves still players in the game of life. Each of us is of value — if it was up to me, we’d all begin our mornings with a smile, feeling and saying, “happy me, happy you, happy us in this big beautiful world!”

Regarding wonderful women — I recently found this fun book trailer that includes publishing know-how guru-ess, Jane Friedman

Belgian-British blogger Denzil Walton, who’s a guest writer for Happiness Between Tails here and here, and Part 1 of this here, posts about the wonders of Belgium (and writes for hire too!). Included at his site are some incredible Belgian women!…

Guest Blog Post: dissociative identity disorder by Mike (And the gang)

Disclaimer: I know virtually nothing about Dissociative identity disorder (DiD). How about you?

Thanks to Mike and his inner family’s courageous blog (which includes informative posts like this), I’ve gratefully gained a bit of awareness. Perhaps you, dear reader, will take the time to learn too…

Mike (And the gang) blog from the Northeast U.S.. They say of their site: “We live with Dissociative Identity Disorder. We are a close-knit family system whose mission is to educate and entertain others about the reality of what it means to live with DiD. We invite you to our website and to learn more about us! You can interact us with there, as well, if you like. Most in our family love making new friends.”

According to them, “…every human on Earth has multiple personalities. We all talk to ourselves; Have internal dialogues.”

In trying to understand, I asked what they thought of this mainstream online definition of DiD. They answered, “The descriptions of DiD are always…”Sterile.” Describing DiD from a medical perspective is completely different from the subjective experiencing of it. While science claims that alters are defense mechanisms, living with alters and becoming them – they aren’t defense mechanisms. They are individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, agendas, and disposition(s). It’s much more complicated and delicate than what’s being described in medically sterile terms….1% of the population? We would say those numbers are wrong, a bit high. Many people who claim to have DiD are actually misdiagnosed by doctors who don’t understand the disorder. Also, many therapists will erroneously suggest DiD or alters to a patient.”

Mike (And the gang)’s daughter, Katy Mae, describes the experience of a dominant split, “which can be a terrifying and mystifying experience to have,” here…

Image by Mike (And the gang) of Kayleigh with her pigtails in.

“Streetlights” by Katy Mae

Streetlights pass but time stands still; Mouths move but with no sound,

There are no longer, my memories, to hold on to; Disappeared in the night.

Not able to shiver, not able to cry,

This night is different but there have been many like it.

A blank stare, a whisper in the night,

lights pass in the night; Mouths move but there aren’t words -Just noise.

Who are we now, with no destination; no place to call home,

red lights pass in a blur; my own comfort to a place unknown.

There are no longer dreams, no more nightmares in this place

memories slip away while faster cars pass.

Who are we now and why must we go,

another stop away from nowhere.

The radio plays, my favorite song whose title I can’t recall,

not that it matters; My former life is now gone.

Replaced with a ghost whose name no one knows,

There’s no time to breathe, no time to whisper for help.

No longer awake, no longer asleep; Who are we now?

life, oh life, it comes to a halt while I still breathe.

Where are we now; I’ve forgotten my name again,

remember it, whoever I become; Whom I fear the most.

No one to hug as we travel alone in our world; This cold, lonely place,

still someone speaks; Still, just noise and static.

I’d rather stare ahead and forget who I am becoming,

please don’t stop; The passing lights are an illusion of escape.

Who are we now and where are we going; your voice has changed,

the sun is rising and I can’t remember my name,

How did I end up in this cold dark car,

and why with you; Who are you?

Linear Amplitude: I’m in an art installation! by da-AL

da-AL modeling for Connie DK Lane's Linear Amplitude art installation
Here I am, modeling for my friend’s upcoming show.

Yeah! My friend, artist Connie DK Lane, is having another show (here’s an installation she did to honor lives lost to COVID-19 here, this was an earlier show — and this is another I performed in). Please join us. Below are her official info and description…

Info for Connie DK Lane's Linear Amplitude art installation

“Connie DK Lane’s work is born of her emigration from Hong Kong and evolved from contemplations on belonging, memory, and being. By combining aspects of lived experience and creative imagination, Lane’s art beckons viewers to meditate on their own complexities. Artist reception March 23, 2 to 5 p.m. with a performance at 3 p.m. The show runs through April 29.”

What’s the last art show you attended?…

Happy 2019 New Year from 1919 by da-AL

vintage photo from Argentina of a New Year's celebration
1919 New Year’s, my grandmother celebrating with friends and family. Abuela sits in the middle with flowers in her hair.

A lovely cousin recently gave me a copy of this photo of my grandmother, Julia Vaccaro who was an Italian-Argentine of Buenos Aires — ringing in 1919 with family and friends! Like the United States and so many other places, Argentina is a country of immigrants.

My grandmother's mother, dressed in a dark dress, stands in the middle.
My grandmother’s mother, Rosa, dressed in a dark dress, stands in the middle.

It fascinates me to see such an old photo where everyone appears relaxed and candid. The man who’s wearing pajamas in the tree — did he just wake from a nap in what could be a hammock to his left? Is the woman below worried he’ll fall or does she think he’s crazy? At the bottom, the man toasting looks comfy in his socks. That young boy who seems to have skinned his face is my cousin’s dad. The large woman in the dark dress is my great grandmother. Whatever the woman told the flapper in the middle, it’s given her pause for thought…

Close-up of my grandmother, 1919 New Year's celebration.
Close-up of my grandmother, 1919 New Year’s celebration.

Wishing each of you, dear readers, a New Year filled with joy, vibrancy, love, and good fortune!

With optimism and love,

da-Al

Guest Blog Post: Who is Family? by K E Garland

Photo of author/blogger K E Garland
Photo of author/blogger K E Garland.

Holidays and New Year celebrations are when messages about what family should and shouldn’t make me want to gag. They generalize everyone into one big homogenous lump.

That’s when I step back and take stock of the people I know. It does my heart good to see that we’re individuals — and that includes our families, the ones we make, or our lack thereof.

What are your thoughts on family?

Here blogger and author of books, K E Garland, describes how being adopted shapes her concept of family…

K E Garland

Being adopted has shaped the way I view who is family and who is not. When I found out I was adopted over thirty years ago, I saw the people around me in a different light. I saw them as strangers, yet I still accepted them as family because they had taught me to do so. I instantly realized that any combination of people could make a family.

img_8185In this way, I accepted my mother and father as my family unit. These were the people who’d decided to raise me from infancy as their own. They loved me, and I them. But when my mother died and my father gave up his parental rights, I began to question the definition. Was my adopted father not my father anymore simply because the Court said he wasn’t? I mean the Court deemed him my father in 1974, and so he was. Was…

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