Emily: Hi, I’m Emily Ladau.
Kyle: I’m Kyle Khachadurian.
Emily: You’re listening to another episode of The Accessible Stall.
Kyle: Are we still quarantined?
Emily: You bet we are.
Kyle: What are we going to talk about today, Emily?
Emily: Well, I think quarantine has driven us to the point that we’re ready to examine complex topics. Let’s talk about gender and disability.
Kyle: Do we have to?
Emily: Yes, because it’s really important to understand how the social construct of gender interplays with disability.
Kyle: Okay. Go tell how it goes. Tell me how it does it.
Emily: Well, that’s a hard question. I would say there’s a lot to unpack here. Wouldn’t you?
Kyle: I would, I was being stationed.
Emily: Yes, I know. This is a huge topic, and we need to give the very important disclaimer that we are going to be speaking only for ourselves. That means I’m a white woman. I’m cisgender, which means that I identify as the gender that I was assigned at birth. I’m heterosexual. Did I list everything about myself? I’m physically disabled. As a white cisgender, physically disabled straight woman.
Kyle: The only opinion matters less than yours is mine.
Kyle: No, I echo everything Emily just said, except that I’m a man, a cis-gendered man. Get ready.
Emily: Well, I think it’s important that we acknowledge that because our experiences are definitely colored by our disabilities, but we also come into this conversation having a lot of privilege.
Kyle: Absolutely, and we’re only going to be speaking strictly for ourselves, how our gender identities relate to our disabilities. We are not going to step on anyone’s toes or in anyone’s spaces where we don’t belong.
Emily: I think it’s an important lesson for everyone to remember that they can really only speak to their own experiences. I know I sound so preachy here, but I just don’t want anyone to think that, you know, I’m trying to put myself in their shoes or anything. I very much understand that I have a specific experience as the person that I am. On that note, I’m actually really interested in talking about the concepts of masculinity and femininity as it relates to disability, it’s different than talking about the social constructs of gender itself. I think that sort of performing gender is something that disabled people actually do experience in their own ways because we have so many other stereotypes placed on us, but I don’t quite know how to articulate what I’m saying. I think the point of this episode is actually going to be to unpack that.
Kyle: I think you’re absolutely right, but I would, I don’t want to say I’m going to push back on you a little bit, but I’m going to ask you a question. You brought up an interesting term that I don’t think I’ve ever heard called performing gender. You just said that, but I feel most gender expression from anybody is a performance. Like that’s what gender is. That is how we determine the gender of someone is by the way that those people CIS or trans or anything in between present themselves. Then we label those things-. I’m not saying that makes you incorrect or correct, but I am saying that I think you’re right. Having a disability sort of colors that in a way that people without disabilities just plain old don’t have.
Emily: Well, I guess when I say performing gender, I’m talking about specific things that try to push you more to one particular end of the spectrum of masculinity or femininity. You can identify as a woman and not be super feminine. You can identify as a man and not be super masculine. I think there’s a lot of in-between there, but for me, I identify as a woman and in some ways, I’m not feminine at all. In other ways, I try to push myself to be feminine because I feel I need to somehow compensate for having an apparent disability.
Kyle: I agree with that. My disability is not as apparent as yours. I mean, I wouldn’t say that I- I used to say that I have an invisible disability. I don’t really say that anymore unless I’m sitting down, but it certainly is a lot more invisible than a wheelchair strapped to my butt. I guess sort of because I know you, it’s sort of obvious to me that you would hyper fixate on certain parts of your femininity to overcompensate for the…
Emily: Appearance of my disability.
Kyle: Yes. Thank you. Sorry, it was not coming to me, but as somebody with a less apparent disability, I don’t really have that issue at least on its face where I come into those quandaries is like when I’m striking up a conversation with another man is when I’m right up against the face of like, wait, what does it really mean to be a man anyway, because I don’t even, I’m speaking broadly and stereotypes, but your average dude, I just, don’t nothing that he says is relevant to my life, which is so strange to me.
Emily: Can you elaborate it?
Kyle: Yes, I’m a man. I do not stereotypically manly things. I don’t.
Emily: What’s an example of that- I’m only, I know your example bit I’m asking…
Kyle: For example, my dad is a man’s man, he’s six foot three, he’s huge muscular mechanic. Most of his life, you know, likes to fish. I’m none of those things. I’m not saying that is the symbol of masculinity, but for a lot of men, like doing things like that and behaving in that sort of way is part of what being a man is. Even things that aren’t superfluous, your hobbies, even things like how you perceive emotion, like, I don’t care about crying, but there were men who would take a knife to the heart before they shed a tear about it. Because they think that it makes them look gay or something like that’s a thing that a lot of men believe.
Emily: It’s called toxic masculinity.
Kyle: I know what I’m saying. I’m not saying that I don’t have any of it, but I’m saying, I think being disabled means that I have to have less of it because I cannot achieve the same level of what men think manliness is then your average man if that makes any sense at all.
Emily: This is super interesting to me because I would almost say that a lot of the disabled men that I know buy into toxic masculinity, more so than non-disabled men. I mean, I’ve had disabled men who act like they’re completely entitled to me.
Emily: Yes it’s this weird overcompensation for their disability. I think the way that they approach you as though they’re owed something, because the world kicked him in the nuts. If I allowed to say that.
Kyle: Well, as a man, I’m giving you a kick in the nuts path.
Emily: The thing is, I don’t actually think that disability is a kick in the nuts. I just think that sometimes the disabled men that I have encountered actually have this very odd sense of entitlement. I don’t think that you have that. That’s very interesting to me.
Kyle: I mean, I’m not going to say that I’m free of toxic masculinity. It’s implicit in society, and I’m sure it affects me in ways that I don’t even realize, but yeah, that I do not have. I do not now, nor do I ever think anyone knows me anything for any reason to ever at all.
Emily: You also didn’t mention the big example that we were talking about when we were just like brainstorming for this episode, sports.
Kyle: When we were talking off camera so to speak, I said to Emily as a joke, but it was now that I’m thinking about it, a very serious thing I said to her, do I not like sports because I don’t like sports or do I not like sports because I was born this way and I can’t play sports. They just never were interesting to me because I couldn’t participate in them? I told her that I would never know the answer because I was born this way. Do you find yourself feeling that way about things that are stereotypically associated with femininity?
Emily: Yes. I mean, although I will say that even though sports is not typically associated with being feminine, I also struggled for a while with the fact that I wasn’t really super into sports and I wondered if that was just because I can’t physically play them. I think that there’s definitely more of a disability aspect than a gender aspect, but the thing is that, men are more expected to like sports if we’re going based on stereotypes. It’s just interesting to think about how gender plays into likes and dislikes and preferences and then how disability compounds that.
Kyle: Absolutely. I think actually your example kind of nudges me toward the disability aspect more than the gender aspect, which is actually very interesting that my disability matters more.
Emily: Yes and in this case, I think disability kind of tips the scale a little bit. For me, in terms of femininity, I struggle a lot with things like very sexy outfits or wearing high heels. I know that there are wheelchair users who wear sexy outfits and high heels, but I find myself overwhelmingly uncomfortable, both from a practicality standpoint. I physically cannot do things like strap on a giant pair of high heels or stilettos. I physically cannot zip myself into some tight, sexy little leather dress over here. Sometimes I have to grapple with myself, and I feel actively bad about myself because of it. Still even knowing the gender, the social construct, even being in a solid long-term relationship with a man who tells me that he appreciates how I look. I still feel like I want to be more feminine for him.
Kyle: Yes, I mean, like if we’re talking about how we present ourselves, you know, that is another place where it affects me too. Like I can and do wear traditionally masculine clothing. I also, because I was born this way, always go for comfortable clothing first. Now I don’t think that that makes it less masculine, but it does mean that I don’t wear like a button-down shirt every day because those kind of suck to put on and that like wearing a suit looks great, but it takes me 500 years to put it on and make sure it looks nice.
Emily: Yes dexterity is a real limitation.
Kyle: Walking in dress shoes is an actual joke, right? Even things I like, I love to shave. I think grooming is like, it’s one of the most stereotypically manly things I do. It’s like a whole, it’s a hobby of mine, but I hate actually doing it. Like I love the sense and the, all the things that go with it. I love looking nice and feeling nice, but the actual act of putting it razor to my face is like a nightmare because like one slip and all of a sudden I have scars on my face that are just there forever.
Emily: I know that’s true of anybody shaving, especially with the stuff that you use. I know you use like fancy razors, but I mean, at the same time, limited dexterity really affects that. I actually was going to bring up shaving as an example for me too, because sitting in a wheelchair and not being able to physically stand means that shaving is so difficult for me, there are just areas in my body that I physically cannot reach to shave. From the longest time I decided I just wasn’t going to shave my legs. Then I decided that it made me feel good to shave my legs. I would do it, and then I would cut myself because I was reaching at an angle and I would miss spots. It was such a waste of my time. Like shaving can be literally a couple hours production for me.
I finally started paying for laser hair removal on my legs. I feel like that’s a big thing to say in a public space, especially because it’s a privilege to be able to pay for laser hair removal. I understand that like hair is a normal thing on your body and it’s okay. For me it became one of those I do not feel as womanly I do not feel as attractive as a woman because I have hair all over my legs. Therefore I’m going to pay this inordinate amount of money to get it singed off of my body. I don’t think I would do that honestly if I wasn’t disabled, I would suck it up and shave like everybody else.
Kyle: That is really interesting. Actually, man, now that I’m really thinking about it. Even though I’m a man and even though no one ever mistakes me for anything, but a man and I’ve got this, this voice that makes me sound a lot more manly than I’m. I find myself especially when I’m interacting with other men, but not always sort of. I started this sentence wrong. When women talk about how, for example, men act at a stereotypical meeting in a workplace, anything you can think of, like whatever you’re thinking right now, I’ve experienced the receiving end of that. I’ve also probably done it a few times, but like where most men are like, what is she talking about? That’s stupid. I would never do that. I’m like no it’s happened to me, and I’m one of you, you know?
Emily: Because people take you less seriously because you’re disabled.
Kyle: Yes or short or both. I don’t know. The point is whatever it is, I’m being seen as this person, as myself, whatever I am is seen by a lot of men as not a man, but like maybe less than one.
Emily: You’re not the one.
Kyle: Yes but like why, you know what I mean? Like it’s just so stupid. Because I don’t think of like my life, like I do not perceive every social interaction as this weird, like power dynamic thing where it’s like, man, if I shake his hand wrong, he’s going to think I’m like a sissy it’s like, does that really enter the head of like dudes everywhere?
Emily: See, I think it enters the heads of a lot of guys. I think that it’s different for you because of your disability. Like one thing that we were also talking about with handshakes and, there’s this expectation of a firm handshake. Even I, as silly as it is, pride myself on having a firm handshake. Some people just don’t have the grip, or maybe they’re missing some fingers or maybe they’re an amputee or maybe they’re just not able to engage in a handshake for whatever reason. I think that we placed such high value on these performances of strength and power and self-assuredness, and disabled people can’t always engage in that.
I guess in like some way, I do kind of compensate for my lack of physicality by doing other things, for example, this podcast where I have a bunch of people who listen to me. I don’t think like, I sit overcompensate, but I don’t think like if I didn’t do this show that I would be like less of a man, you know what I mean? I think that there are some people, especially if they’re just able to like really would feel that way, who feel like they have to do something else to fill a void that isn’t even real because of how they think people perceive them in the world. Like it’s just so strange to me.
Emily: Well, that was totally me with academics because I wasn’t able to play sports. One the one hand I couldn’t be super feminine. On the other hand, I also couldn’t be like this bad-ass empowered, student athlete or whatever. I realized again, that the way that we’re talking about all this stuff is very stereotypical, but we’re doing that because that was the understanding that was driven home for us. Like this is how it is in society. Your disabled body is never going to fit the mold in any direction.
Kyle: Also because people do behave this way.
Emily: Yeah and honestly, I realized that, people that we know are going to listen to this, but it comes down to my interactions in the bedroom as well. I will not get into explicit detail, but I will say that again, I’m expected to perform this role. I’m not saying my boyfriend expects me to perform this role. I’m saying like it’s been ingrained in my head based on society’s portrayals of women that I’m supposed to need is very like sexy, feminine subservient person in the bedroom. Or alternatively, this very sexy, like empowered, dominant person in the bedroom. It’s hard for me to grapple with either persona because I feel like my body cannot perform to either of those standards as much as I wish it did.
Kyle: See that’s a problem that I don’t have except for when it comes to literally physically performing unfortunately, that’s a little bit difficult, but that’s got way less to do with my gender and way more to do with my physicality.
Emily: Do you think that that impacts you? Do you think it makes you feel like less of a man
Kyle: For like maybe the smallest splits, but not no, honestly, no. If I’m like particularly down on myself, I might think about it for a minute, but like that’s a really rare thing, like by and large answers no.
Emily: That’s interesting to me, and my instinct was to be like, you’re lying, or you’re just like really comfortable with yourself in the bedroom.
Kyle: I am, I’m comfortable I’m not lying I’m…
Emily: I knew what you mean.
Kyle: I’m just so confidently. Yes I’m lying to you.
Emily: No, I knew you meant the latter.
Kyle: I think that’s because disabled sex is weird. Like it’s different and messy and like you have to be comfortable with your partner. I think like that to me, like it’s more daunting at first, but like once you’re used to somebody, you just kind of know them. I know that’s true for everybody, but like with, I imagine able-bodied people, you kind of like can ease past the awkwardness every time. With disabled people, it’s going to be awkward the first, like three times. That’s just how it’s going to be and you’re just going to have to accept that. Once that barrier is broken, it’s like fine. I don’t need to worry about that anymore. That might be why.
Emily: Well, I think that is what differentiates and obviously being comfortable with your partner, but also accepting the messiness and the awkwardness of the disabled body and recognizing that that’s just a normal human function. Our bodies are all a little awkward and weird. Like for me, everything takes planning, Montenegro is a little bit harder and I don’t even mean that just in the sense of like sex. I mean that in every sense of the word, and I’ve always wished that I could be that like manic, pixie, dream girl. I don’t even know if that’s acceptable as a stereotype anymore. I’m not up on the literature on that, this girl and the cute little hat and the sweet little sun dress and the high heels and the red lipstick and she like, dances off like a fairy and grabs the guys hand and runs to wherever she wants to take him. I mean, it’s ridiculous. The things that I’ve thought about that I just like cannot do as a wheelchair user.
Kyle: You know, what’s interesting though, I’m listening to you speak and I have to ask you this. I don’t know the answer. Are you comfortable in your femininity? Like I know that you’re a cisgender woman. I know you’re comfortable with your gender, but like, are you comfortable, with your presentation of femininity I guess?
Emily: Not always. No, because I always feel like I should be doing more, but my body as it is, makes it hard for me to wear certain clothes. My body makes it hard for me to do certain things. I find myself feeling like having the wheelchair attached to my butt detract from my womanly attractiveness. I’m very lucky to say that my boyfriend reassures me literally multiple times a day, that that’s not true. I definitely find myself grappling with that constantly. I mean, there are literally just times where I’m like, I don’t feel like enough of a woman to engage in a particular way or wear a particular item of clothing. I don’t even really wear makeup anymore. With the exception of lipstick, because again, makeup’s kind of challenging for me to put on. There’s some jewelry that’s challenging for me to put on, I’ve had to really adapt and find jewelry that works for me and clothing that works for me and shoes that work for me. It does sometimes make me feel like less of a woman and I know how ridiculous it is, but also I exist in a society that dictates stuff like this.
Kyle: That’s totally valid I don’t need to tell you that, but I just so you know that is 100% valid, but that’s strange to me though, too, because that is like, I don’t have that. That is like, and it’s probably because I’m a man. Like of course I wouldn’t have that because that would mean giving up all of this male privilege but it’s true. I do feel pretty low sometimes I do, but I’ve honest to God never have felt insecure in my masculinity or my gender. I have felt like perhaps, sometimes in rare circumstances, like I’m not manly enough. Like when I told you about like a situation work where just like these other men are squawking, like chickens with their heads cut off and I’m just sitting here like, hey, I’m also here.
By and large, I just don’t have a lot of traits that I’ve heard you describe about other disabled men and men in general that’s not to say that I don’t have any sort of toxic masculinity. I think every person has that man, woman and everything in between has a little bit of that. I think my disability is like part of the reason why I don’t have a lot of it too. I think that might be because, it’s almost weird because it’s like, well I think you’re going to see me as less of a man anyway. I’ll just be how I’m most comfortably and how you perceive me as like fine. I’ve never not been called a man. I don’t think that’ll ever happen. Because I look like one and I sound like one and I’m one but I think that that like takes a load off my shoulders where it’s like, I don’t have to perform because they don’t think of me that way anyway. They meaning like people.
Emily: Yes. Although I will say from knowing you as long as I have, and also being a disabled female human, I know that you’re like a hot commodity among, especially disabled women. My goodness. I think the hype has died down only I’d also disabled gay men as well.
Kyle: You want to hear something fucked up though. I love being hit on by anybody, any human being, I don’t care, but I will say that it does. I feel better when they’re not disabled as that is so fucked up of me to say it means more to me.
Emily: That’s so interesting that you say that because I had this notion in my head for the longest time that I needed to date an able body man, in order to fully validate myself as a woman. I was completely turned off by the idea of dating a disabled guy as it would happen. My first serious boyfriend was also a wheelchair user. I don’t regret that. I really don’t. I appreciate that experience, but now I’m dating like a literal human tree. Who is like six foot plus all man? It’s ridiculous of me to describe it like that because he is in no way shape or form any more or less of a man than any of the other guys that I’ve dated disabled or not. I had that thought. I feel like I need to be honest and acknowledge that thought.
Kyle: I’ll say that. I’ll say that my current partner, she’s a cisgender woman and she’s blind and I don’t want to make it sound like what I just said means that when she says that I’m, good-looking, that it means less than if some rando off the street said it, it doesn’t, but if it were two people and they were both telling me that I’m good looking if a non cis person does it, I’m like, cool. If a disabled person does it I’m like, thanks. I mean, I say thanks to the other one too, but you get it. I don’t know.
Emily: I think that I have a lot more to do with the disability than with the gender.
Kyle: Yes but I think where the gender plays into it is the- in my head, the disability causes the gender to come secondary to it. Where it’s like, you are a disabled woman. You’re not a, I mean, you are a woman with a disability. I met; this is an argument over a person or identity first. I think people correct me if I’m wrong. Because I’m not trying to be you, but I think people see you as a person in a wheelchair and then as a woman.
Emily: Yes I feel like I’ve been wanting to articulate that this whole time.
Kyle: I think that’s totally fucked up by the way, I’m not in support of that. I think that’s horrible. I don’t think that…
Emily: I know, but you absolutely hit the nail on the head though. I’m not like a woman in a wheelchair; I’m a person in a wheelchair. Then they realize that I’m a woman.
Kyle: I think the reason that a disabled compliment sort of means less to me is because I think when it’s a disabled person, they’re compensating too. They are seeing me as a man first and it’s like, but are you seeing me the way they do? It’s such a weird thing. It makes no sense that it means nothing, but it’s just how I feel it. It’s so stupid.
Emily: No, I completely get it though. In somewhat related but different. There were definitely times where I either had thoughts or got comments about how, you know, it would be great if you were gay or it would be great if you were bisexual, because then it would significantly open your dating pool and like too bad. You’re not interested in dating a woman because a woman might be more accepting of you. Then on the flip side of that, you have or not, not the flip side, but like similar, but still different. You had my grandpa who I think said once and I’m probably going to get in big trouble for saying this publicly. Honestly, like it needs to be said, he was like, I don’t mind if you date outside your religion because it’s going to be harder for you to find someone.
Kyle: I think that’s the thing that people face though. I don’t think, I mean, if I don’t think you’re going to catch flag for that.
Emily: No. I mean like from my family, like I think I’m going to get to talking to you from my mother and my grandmother for like, how dare you paint your grandfather like that? Here is the thing, I’m actually not saying anything bad about him. I think that was in his own old Jewish white man, grandpa kind of way rather forward thinking of him, recognizing that I was dating in a world that struggled to accept me. Therefore he was okay with me expanding my dating options and like, believe me, there are so many things wrong with what he said, but also I see the logic because we live in a society that makes it more challenging to date when you have a disability. I don’t know if you’ve quite had that experience though.
Kyle: Not to that level no.
Emily: Has anybody ever been like, your life would be easier if you were gay?
Kyle: Yes but those were gay dudes hitting on me. They, I don’t think they meant that very seriously, but I think that’s very offensive. I really do. Like if someone says, your life would be so much easier if your sexuality was anything other than straight, first of all not one. Secondly, what are you saying? Like, well it’s too bad. You can’t just flip the switch because if you could, I would be so into you. It’s like what?
Emily: The flip side of that is well you can’t get a man. Maybe you should get a woman. That is offensive. Not because I’m offended or bothered. Like if I found myself attracted to a woman, I would date her. Absolutely but I’m not just going to settle for something or force myself to be someone that I fundamentally don’t feel like I am because you’re saying that I can’t get what I want because of my disability. It’s frustrating but then on top of that, you’re completely discounting the fact that there are so many gay people with disabilities who have a ridiculously hard time finding love as well. I mean, it’s offensive from every angle.
Kyle: Hundred percent agree. I kind of want to, I want to say something completely unrelated and I don’t have a segue for it. I’m sorry, but…
Emily: That was enough of a segue.
Kyle: I just dudes in particular who have this idea that anything that vaguely strays from what it means to be stereotypically masculine is gay. That is a thing that a lot of men think. I know men that think that, you know, men that think that some of them might be in our families. I don’t know. It’s a very common belief is what I’m getting at that is like beyond toxic. No, because like, look, my partner, who is a woman who is cisgendered calls me beautiful a lot. She does because she thinks I am. That is great. It makes me happy. A lot of dudes would hear that and go, man, that’s gay. It’s like, no, it’s not. It’s a word like I’m sorry. I know, I know our audience is probably not filled with dudes that have this mentality, but I swear to God, dude, if you are pleased, like the faster you get out of that train of thought, the better your life will be. It’s not even true and it’s offensive and it’s just stop it. I hate it so much. Sorry.
Emily: No, but I also find myself wondering if you’re just a generally more open minded and chilled out person about stuff like this because of your disability.
Kyle: I might be but I don’t think that having a disability should be like a prerequisite to being woke about gender. Like, I feel like if that’s true, that’s a bad situation that the world is in. I’m not saying that I couldn’t have been this woke if I didn’t have a disability, but I’m saying that I think you’re right. I think I would have had to work for it more than I have because I’m already at a societal disadvantage from this angle. Let’s explore other ways that society is screwed up.
Emily: Throwing disability into the mix of any social justice congregation automatically gives you like 20 new angles to explore.
Kyle: I know I’m only talking about the ones that affect me. I know it’s like a bit of a tangent, but like, it’s just one of those things that like, I hear all the time from men that are disabled and not like it’s just not a good way to be dude.
Emily: Yeah. I mean, actually I think that it’s also really important to acknowledge, speaking of not a good way to be like disabled, doesn’t suddenly turn you into some angelic form of your gender. Like I know super- disabled men and super disabled women. I’ve also been as super- disabled woman. I know you’ve been disabled man.
Kyle: I have, and I will own that. You don’t stop being a scumbag cause your legs don’t work. That’s just not how life works. I wish it did.
Emily: I think we really need to acknowledge that flip side. Like as much as we have this internal turmoil and, you struggle with different things as it pertains to gender, it doesn’t mean that we’re off the hook for the same bad behavior that other people engage in. The sad thing is that I can pinpoint it in myself over and over again.
Emily: Which on one hand actually I think humanizes disability a little bit, because it’s like disabled people were just like you, but also, I find myself wishing that because of my disability, that I was better about it but disability doesn’t make you a good or bad person. It makes you a person.
Kyle: Sorry I have so much, so many feelings about that. You’re absolutely right. I don’t want to say but I wish there was like a word between and or but that I would say right here if such a word existed.
Emily: Well, if we’re going for conjunctions there’s or.
Kyle: Or maybe being disabled, it certainly doesn’t negate anything in like, in the ways that you were talking about. Don’t you think that like, part of why you believe the things you do and of course your whole career is disability oriented. I’m not talking about that, but like, don’t you think that part of the reasons that you have the belief that you have is because you’re marginalized in this way?
Emily: Yes. I think that I try to see my experiences as a disabled woman, as something that informs how I perceive people of other marginalized identities. I also try to focus on open-mindedness and on being an accepting and supportive person. I know I don’t always get it right. Then also, I mean, you have to acknowledge that there are disabled people who are like horrifying, homophobic, xenophobic, transphobic, white supremacist, like, you know, we contain multitudes.
Kyle: Its so funny because like, I, that, nothing’s funny about being a Nazi for you guys, but I just think it’s interesting because to me I’m like, man, maybe I am this open minded in this like, quote unquote woke because I was born this way. Like when I see it like a disabled white supremacist, I’m like, dude, who hurt you? What happened like this? You shouldn’t be this way, man. You should be on my side. Of course, I think everyone should be on our side. Well, like especially someone who’s disabled. I’m like you know, you went first. Like, come on, man. I’m not laughing about Nazis. I’m just because I’m just making that clear for the listeners. Nazis are terrible.
Emily: This is all really valid. I mean, I often find myself wishing that, experiencing one marginalized identity, by the very nature of the experience make you fully accepting of people of other marginalized identities. I just don’t think that’s true. I mean, I think that it comes down to you in a lot of cases especially for men again, over compensating like I need to be you guys, guys, guy, like stick with my own kind. Like, you know what I mean?
Kyle: I do know what you mean. I think you’re absolutely right.
Emily: Any direction we take this there, the qualifier in the other direction.
Kyle: Here’s a question for you then- this is not like I got you. This is just like a thought experiment.
Emily: I’m ready.
Kyle: I know gender is a social contract. I know that, but I’m going to go a step further. Wouldn’t you say, by that argument, because there’s so many, but wait, what about in terms of gender, you can say that about any trait you can think of that we think of as feminine or masculine or anything in between, we can say, what about this person? Wouldn’t then gender be just like completely meaningless? Almost- I understand there’s some sort of like utility and categorizing people with certain like, traits but like, if there’s bound to be women who can like kick my ass, which there are, and if there’s bound to be men who like you can beat in a foot race, which excusing the fact that you don’t use your feet, I’m sure there are like doesn’t that mean that the categories that we use to describe people, especially, or at least this one is kind of pointless. I’m not saying we should all stop doing it, but I’m saying that maybe we should all, re-examine what it means to be a man or a woman or whatever in between.
Emily: Well, sure. There’s so much that’s arbitrary about it. At the same time, there are so many people who find that performing and identifying with a particular gender, identity, find themselves feeling like that as an expression of who they are. For me, I actually feel like I put my disability before my femininity, whatever that means, even though I’m aware that the two should be able to coexist. It’s like, I don’t know, it’s all arbitrary and meaningless at this point, I feel like I’ve talked myself into a complete hole.
Kyle: Right, but disability is not a social construct in the way that gender is. Like, obviously like the world is prejudice against us. It’s really the world more than our physical impairments. At the end of the day, we still have physical impairments. You and me.
Emily: Right but then there’s also the argument. If you talk about biological sex, which is a whole can of worms.
Kyle: I would say that’s completely different from gender though.
Emily: It absolutely is. I’m simply saying that there are people who believe that, the manifestation of your biological specs is who you are and to approve of your gender.
Kyle: Those people are wrong.
Emily: Of course they are.
Kyle: I know I’m not trying to argue with you.
Emily: No I know. I’m glad you’re clarifying. Because I also agree with you that they’re wrong. I think that, in that case is disability also then a social construct in the sense that like, this is an expression of this is your body’s expression of your physicality but it doesn’t define you. Have I talked myself completely into a whole now, what am I even saying anymore? Is anything real?
Kyle: Yes. Two plus two is five. Everybody knows that. I think there is some validity to what you’re saying. I don’t think it’s, you can math at one to one, but I really do think you’re onto something there. That is something that I would love to discuss with you on another episode.
Emily: Well, I mean it points to the social model of disability, which says that, disability of not an impairment, so much of it is being obstructed and having barriers, but in front of you, by the world around you. I think that, I mean, there’s a whole, there’s a whole line of theory here that we can talk about and believe me, I’m by no means an academic. I’m not like a critical disability and gender theorist over here. There are people who absolutely know so much more about that than I do. I also think that it’s important and necessary to be having these kinds of conversations and to take a real good, hard, look at yourself and say, who am I performing for? What am I trying to prove to anyone but myself?
Kyle: Can I ask you a silly question?
Emily: Of course.
Kyle: Do you find people take you more seriously when you’re on the phone if they don’t know you?
Emily: That’s so interesting. Maybe yes.
Kyle: I would say at me, for me, absolutely. The answer is yes. Like without any hesitation.
Emily: Well, have you heard your voice?
Kyle: No, I know, but like, I don’t look like, I sound like I’m a tiny little man. Like I don’t sound, I don’t look like this like this. Like on the phone, people, you know how many people have told me like, man I thought you were taller. It’s like, yeah, me too. I was supposed to be. Do you have that? Like, do you feel like, because, I mean, I know you’re also short, but like the analogy in this case would be your wheelchair. Do you find that people take you seriously when they can’t see that you’re disabled?
Emily: Yes and I also think that when people first see me in general, if they don’t know that I’m a wheelchair user, I have to immediately turn on feminine charm to get them to like, see me as a whole person. It’s pretty cool.
Kyle: That is so interesting. That is so freaking interesting.
Emily: It’s absolutely the case. Like I immediately have to, I have, here’s my example. My voice pitch, my vocal pitch will change based on who I’m interacting with. Right now I know you and we’re having a conversation. My voice is in like my normal register, which is not high pitched at all. When I’m talking to someone in a situation where I need to get them to take me seriously, my voice will go up. I swear it must be like multiple octaves. I’m called out on it by people who know me every time, because they’re like, you don’t sound like that. I’m like I know I don’t, but if I turn on that cutesy voice, for some reason, that’s what gets people to take me seriously. Is that not ridiculous?
Kyle: That is so interesting to me.
Emily: Yes, because it’s like this reminder that I’m a woman I’m like pay attention to me. I honestly can’t even fake it right now because it kind of disgust me, but I definitely do it. I use my voice to get what I want from people. It works like a charm.
Kyle: I do not like modulate the key of my voice.
Emily: I do and I honestly can’t do it right now. I’m just not in that mode.
Kyle: See, that’s one of those things that like, this is male privilege, this is like, I have, that’s not even a thing I even knew happened. That’s totally foreign to me. I’ve never even heard of that. I have known women to like my sister who, when she used to work in retail, we do like her customer service voice where she would pick her voice up to sound nicer, but that had nothing to do with her gender. That was just her expectation of her work. Like everyone had to do that.
Emily: Yes. I mean, I totally do it on the phone too. Whether people know me or not, or know about the wheelchair, if I’m in a professional phone call, I will also change the pitch of my voice. Especially when I’m trying to get somebody to help me with something that is specifically disability related, like I need help with my bags at a hotel. I dropped something and I can’t reach it. Could you pass me something on that high shelf in the grocery store? I’m like, I don’t say, you, can you get me that like bottle of salad dressing on the top shelf? I’m like, I’m so sorry to bother you. It’s just really hard for me to reach my elbows don’t really extend all the way. Could I trouble you to just grab me that bottle of salad dressing? Like I honestly, and that’s not even not even an accurate portrayal. I just like turn it on to get people to help me.
Emily: Because everybody likes a damsel in distress, especially when she’s disabled.
Kyle: I got to put this bit like earlier in the episode, like this is so interesting.
Emily: Yeah. We did this in the wrong order.
Kyle: I’m sorry. I know I’m a coolest man right now. I’m like this is male privilege right here. Because I’m like cool.
Emily: Actually I think this is really important. I think it’s great that you’re openly admitting that you didn’t know this as opposed to being like, I totally knew that because I feel like there are men who were like, yes, I’m already an expert on everything. You are like no, I didn’t know that.
Kyle: I know what I know. I know enough to know what I don’t know, which is most things. I don’t know anything. My God. That is so weird. Why are people like that?
Emily: To be honest. I probably used it on you too.
Kyle: My first thought wouldn’t be, it’s because she’s a woman. It’s more like, it’s because she’s my friend and asking me to ask me to do her a favor nicely. Like it wouldn’t even occur to me, but it’s because like in a million years I wouldn’t do that. Now but like when my girlfriend says, you talk on the phone because you’re a man and they listen to you like that I get, that I understand. But what you just said is mind blown dot GIF to me. It’s not even like wow.
Emily: I guarantee you, your girlfriend has done this to you too. I think that women just…
Kyle: Now that you’ve said that, like, I’m sure every woman I’ve ever met has done this to every man they have ever met or every person.
Emily: Well, I mean, it’s a stereotype in and of itself and not every person who is female identifying is like this, but I think it is something that I was socially conditioned to understand will work in my favor. It’s the vocal equivalent of showing a horny guy, your boobs.
Kyle: That works too that doesn’t make it good, but it gets the job done.
Emily: If I have a high pitched voice and a little bit of cleavage, forget it, I get whatever I want. That is also assuming though that, you know, I think a lot of people assume that, I mean that in the sense that they see me as a sexual object, but most of the time, I think it’s because they see me as this sweet, adorable little thing who doesn’t know what she’s doing.
Kyle: I know we’re like over time, but I’m like, so into this, do you feel, I know like all disabled people feel desexualized all the time. I know I do. I know we’ve talked about that, but when that happens to you, like, let’s say you do that to some dude and he does what you want because hey, your boobs are half out. You’ve got that real nice voice of yours is your first thought, he’s a horn dog. I got him. I’m not desexualized now I’m the sexual object that I want to be for this one second. Or is it, he just did that because I’m disabled. Like I have so many questions like, this is like so much in relation.
Emily: It really depends. I really do think that there are so many people who do not see me as even remotely sexual. Sometimes I really wish that a guy would just look at me as a piece of meat, which is ridiculous. I mean, there’s an article.
Kyle: Wait, is it that one about cat calling?
Emily: Yes that’s the one.
Kyle: My God, no one knows what we’re talking about. We have to link it.
Emily: We will but there is this article. It was really good. It was by a disabled woman whose disability is visibly apparent and she reflects on the complexities of never having been catcalled. Guess what? I’ve never been cat called. There is a certain pleasure and joy that I get out of elevating, whatever feminine charms I can muster to get people to think of me as a sex object. Is that not the most ridiculous thing?
Kyle: Then do you think that non-disabled like women who straightened cisgender just to give you an idea of who I’m talking about. Don’t you think that some of maybe could be envious of people like you and the author of that article because they can’t turn that off?
Emily: Yes it cuts both ways absolutely. I think that women who get catcalled all the time are probably so done with it. Whereas I’m like, is it because they can’t see my ass because it’s covered by my wheelchair. Like, am I not pretty enough? Do you mind wheels? Like turn my vagina off? Like, what is it? You know?
Kyle: Well do they?
Emily: No, but you get my point.
Kyle: I mean, I don’t know. I don’t have either of those things.
Emily: You know what I mean, though?
Kyle: No and that’s the point.
Emily: Okay so you have no freaking clue what I mean.
Kyle: No but I get what you’re saying.
Emily: Yeah. There were so many times when all I wanted was to be seen as a sex object and you know, the more that, that didn’t happen, the worst that I would feel about myself. The more that I would try to play up, whatever femininity I can pull out of myself, but now, I feel it less now because I’m in a serious relationship. I have someone who reassures me that I’m in fact, a sexual object on her regular basis.
Kyle: Yes. I was just thinking about, about, about that weird ways that like I do fit the manly stereotype, like people don’t compliment me. Of course that’s only a parent because women get complimented every second of every day, whether they want to or not. I’m not saying it should be that I’m just saying-
Emily: Also they don’t. If you are disabled they don’t.
Kyle: Right but men, when they’re not disabled, they don’t do, like, I remember almost every compliment anyone’s ever given me because just men don’t get complimented and I’m a man that far. Also like, I don’t have that problem anymore. Because I’m in a seriously of ship where, my girlfriend like constantly reassures me all the time. Even though I don’t ask for it, even though I don’t want it, but like, it’s fine. Because even when I don’t want it, I want it because it doesn’t come from anywhere else.
Emily: Yes it feels real good. It feels validating. It’s frustrating that it feels validating, but it does. I mean then I don’t know why it took us like a hundred years to get to so much of this nuance. Then there’s also the comment that I think that especially a lot of disabled women get, which is like, you’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair. I find myself feeling, I haven’t gotten that very much. Then that makes me feel bad in my own way. What do you mean I’m not too pretty to be in a wheelchair? Am I the right amount of pretty to be in a wheelchair, am I ugly? Is that why I’m in a wheelchair? The reality is like, you can be pretty out in a wheelchair and you can be pretty and not be in a wheelchair. I don’t give a shit. Also fuck your social standards of beauty while we’re at it.
Kyle: What the fuck, what is it like-. I’m going to use this. Just, just bear with me. If you’re a 10, you know, if you’re somebody who everyone is attracted to under the sun, no such person exists except maybe Beyonce. If you’re that, if you’re Beyonce and you sit in a wheelchair suddenly you’re like an average looking person. Why, what is it?
Emily: Yes my God I feel like I have way more feelings. This is one of the longer episodes that we’ve ever done. I feel like I have talked myself into this spiral where I’m going to like go to bed tonight being like who am I.
Kyle: Writing examples down.
Kyle: Can you be disabled and a woman, but can you though, I mean, you are one and I’m a man, but like, because we do not fit those molds. Because those molds exist, which they shouldn’t also? Where does that leave people like us? I mean, yes, we’re cisgender, but like, you know what I mean? Like it’s just?
Emily: Our perceptions of gender are impacted by disability and people’s perceptions of our genders are also impacted by our disability. Anyway you look at it, you cannot divorce disability from gender. You just can’t.
Kyle: Even though you really should be able to, it doesn’t make any damn sense, but that’s not the world we live in.
Emily: Have we come to any conclusion or have we just come to the conclusion that gender and disability are so nuanced and complex and we have not even begun to scratch the surface because again, we’re two cisgender straight people.
Kyle: Yes. Don’t forget. There are other sexualities and there are other gender identities that don’t even, we can’t really.
Emily: Add race factors into it as well.
Kyle: That’s true and if you want a little tiny taste of that, listen to the episode that was previous to this with our friend D’Arcee Neil he touched on it for a second, but it’s a really good second.
Emily: He’s so good. My God, this, I have not been this jazzed by a conversation in a while like that.
Kyle: Fucking gender, how does it work?
Emily: What is gender? What is disability? We’ve come to no conclusions really? Except that it’s incredibly complicated.
Kyle: I don’t think that anyone is entitled to anything, but I think if you’re the kind of person who has ever seen a person in a wheelchair and thought, they’re attractive, but they’re in a wheelchair or they’re too attractive to be in that wheelchair. And I say this as someone who doesn’t use one, I think for people like you, you should really reevaluate why you think that. If it’s just because the person isn’t your type, that’s fine. If the person, isn’t your type because of the wheelchair, it’s a little less fine. In fact, it’s not fine.
Emily: Exactly. Okay also I’ve definitely had people and I wrote an article about this. We can link it. I’ve had people reject me out of hand because of the wheelchair, but then my boyfriend, like I met my boyfriend on Tinder and he has told me straight up that he had like kind of an internal conversation with himself being like she’s in a wheelchair, but you know what, that shouldn’t really matter. I should give it a chance and like he’s also an evolved human being. I appreciate that. I mean, really like there are people who think that like a wheelchair is a deal breaker that any form of disability is a deal breaker that automatically takes you out of the romantic and sexual running.
Kyle: Yes I feel like having that conversation is valid. Even if he came to the opposite conclusion, if he did so while like really thinking about it, I would actually give him a bit of a pass because most people just be like wheelchair, no. Or even worse wheelchair yes.
Emily: I’m not okay with either.
Kyle: Yes, no, exactly. If you really think about it and are honest with yourself and you have, and it really is a deal breaker to you, like that’s your prerogative. I’m going to ask you to examine what probably are internal prejudices, but at least in your case, in this imaginary fictitious situation, I’m drumming up, at least you had the wherewithal to think about it and come to that conclusion rather than just brushing it off.
Emily: Yes although my favorite is when disabled guys were like not attracted to me and it was my disability that was the deal breaker. Again, like I was the same way. I was the same way. I was like, you’re in a wheelchair. That’s a deal breaker ridiculous.
Kyle: What was it for you? What was it? I just made fun of those people. Then you just said, I was the same, well, what did it for you?
Emily: I thought that I was less of a woman if I dated a guy in a wheelchair, like I wasn’t being fully seen for who I was. It’s kind of like how you said that it means more when someone non-disabled compliments your attractiveness. Then I happened to meet a hot disabled guy and I was just like, well, I like you. Then also he liked me. It didn’t end well, but you know, I do not regret dating someone who was also disabled at all. I really don’t, you know, I like objectively can’t stand him. Well, I can’t stand, but that’s beside the point. I treasure those experiences of having someone who was disabled in my life to explore my sexuality with and to, come to a better understanding of myself as a human being. I was also a naive child in my early twenties when I was in this relationship. I mean, it taught me a lot about myself. I have learned that if I do not want people to point their prejudices and stereotypes, at me, I cannot point mine at them. That was what I got out of that relationship. I’m exhausted. I need to go think through the entirety of my existence in a cold dark room. Can we do final takeaways please?
Kyle: My final takeaway and this is serious. Gender is very weird. Gender is very fluid. Gender is very nuanced. It’s a very strange topic. If you are someone who is progressive and woke and you know, is very socially aware about issues, I encourage you to think about how disability fits into every aspect of what you think about things. Especially in this case gender…
Emily: My final takeaway is that I wish that I lived in a world where none of us felt compelled to perform anything for the sake of other people and only did things because we wanted to do them. We have a long way to go for that to be a reality. I know that I’m not even close to overcoming my own internal battles with femininity and disability, but it helps to have open honest conversation about it. As scary as it might seem to pick apart these parts of yourself, I think you’ll be better for it.
Kyle: This has been another episode of The Accessible Stall.
Emily: It sure has and my goodness. I’m emotionally exhausted.
Kyle: If you want to support the accessible soul, you can at www.patrion.com/The Accessible Stall. Just one dollar a month ensures that all future episodes of the Accessible Stall remain accessible.
Emily: Who doesn’t want a transcript to read this back and forth because…
Kyle: Might we say you look great today.
Emily: You really do. You are beautiful and you are handsome.
Kyle: Stay safe, wash your hands wear your mask.
Emily: I’m Emily.
Kyle: I’m Kyle. I don’t know why I hesitated. That is my name.
Emily: You really had to think about that for a second. Like I watched that face.