Silence, Safety, Belief & News Genius

There is some shit going down on the Internet with regards to News Genius, and I want to talk about it. By which I mean I don’t want to talk about it at all, I would prefer to ‘like’ my friend Ella’s facebook posts and blog posts and comment witty things that are supportive, I would like to be helpful in a quiet way.

So I’ll talk about that instinct toward silence. Because the feeling that leads me to avoid posting some political things on facebook because I know that I have friends who will jump down my throat about it and accuse me of having no political knowledge (ignoring that I fucking majored in political science in college, but whatever) is the same feeling that makes me not want to speak up when a friend says something sexist is the same feeling that keeps me from wearing stuff I wanna wear to a party if I know I have to walk home at night by myself and I would just rather not deal with even more street harassment is the same feeling that makes me not want to write this blog post. Even though my friend is getting fucked with on the internet and it makes me angry. Even though I think she’s right and she’s asking for backup and if we don’t support each other, who will support us? Even though I think it’s the right thing to do.

Even though I too am just some 23-year-old ladyperson with a blog and maybe it seems like the stakes aren’t that high and what am I afraid of anyway? Some strangers on Twitter threatening to kill me or rape me? Why should I care? I write about my rape on the Internet and I’ve survived, I’ve said my fuck yous the people who reacted negatively. People call me brave and strong. Why should I care? But I do care, because those strangers on Twitter are real people with real bodies and real words and they could hurt me, just like the men who catcall me could hurt me if I don’t navigate it correctly (and why do I have to navigate it? Why can’t they be the ones who are afraid about how that interaction could end?). Just like the friends on facebook are also friends/acquaintances/colleagues in real life and could cause me emotional pain with their words or actions. And beyond that, even if their threats on Twitter do not translate to threats in real life, they still throw language around that the receiver has to absorb and deal with. Those emotions are important and painful and unfair. And perhaps it’s easy to say they shouldn’t matter if you don’t have to deal with all the other shit too, with the sexist language and commentary and threats and harassment in all areas of your life. If you’re a white man who has only experienced that kind of shit on the Internet and thus can laugh it off as a joke. If you write for Gawker and have power and privilege.

What I’m saying is: the feelings I described are not inseparable. They do not each exist in a separate vacuum. They exist within a larger context, the patriarchal and misogynist world that we all inhabit. And the people who say we’re mad about nothing or we’re mad about the Internet and didn’t we consent to be on the Internet and didn’t we know that this is how the Internet will treat us and don’t we know the difference between unkindness and abuse… are perpetuating that idea, the idea that all of this is separate. That there is some sacred boundary between the digital and the ‘real’ that makes the things said in a digital space not matter. That it is all anecdotal. That we cannot look at our lives and see the patterns that do exist. That we are hysterical, that we are paranoid. Does this sound familiar? It should. This language is gendered. This is not an argument I’m making, this is just a fact. We do not call men hysterical or shrill or bitchy or bossy or argumentative. We call women those things. We dismiss women that way.

So what I’m asking you here is this: please listen instead. If someone says it’s not okay to annotate their blog with abusive comments, that’s because they mean it and it does hurt. We have accepted the idea of comment moderation up until this point because it makes sense. There is such a thing as hate speech. They’re not making it up. They’re not causing drama about shit that they don’t actually care about. They’re not being hysterical. Specifically: Ella is not being hysterical. She shouldn’t need other people to validate her here, to say that yeah her feelings are real, they’re not just feelings, she has something to say about digital spaces, and you should pay attention. You should stop asking people who are being abused/oppressed/harassed to provide all the evidence of that, you should do your own research, you should read the things they’ve written before on a topic and stop asking them to provide you with the same information over and over again. I think that in Ella’s situation, she shouldn’t be put in the position of asking for back-up. Her voice should be valid because she knows what she’s talking about, she’s researched and written and lived this experience. And finally: talking about it shouldn’t make me afraid. By which I mean: that fear does not come from within, it comes from what I see happening to women who speak out on the Internet. How many times do we have to say this before you admit that it is real? How many incidents makes a pattern? Hundreds, thousands? Who does that serve? The answers here are not mysterious. The answers are, in fact, pretty fucking evident.

Speak up if you feel comfortable doing so, please.

On (In)Visibility

Today is the last day of MS Awareness Week. Today at brunch with friends, I brought up MS more times than I needed to, I brought up MS every time it was tangentially relevant. Last week I had a scleversary party to ‘celebrate’ 5 years of MS and invited my entire MFA program. A few weeks ago in a poetry workshop, I wrote poems about MS when I could have written poems about other things. I read an MS poem out loud when I could have been quiet instead. I write posts on facebook about MS when I have other things to post about, other things to say. I turned in a poem about MS to another poetry workshop when I could have turned in any poem. Two days ago I had coffee with a former student and talked about MS and disability when we didn’t need to talk about those things. A week ago I tweeted during the debate between Clinton and Sanders, specifically making note of ableist rhetoric when it cropped up. Last week I brought a poem by another disabled writer in for a class discussion when I could have brought anything, by anyone. These were all conscious choices on my part.

 

self portrait with doctor's office calendar // disability visibility

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Can I say that I find all of this exhausting? Can I say that I am exhausted?

 

disability visibility // in a love-hate relationship with my meds rn

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I am currently making an effort to be a part of the disability visibility movement. I like the personal nature of visibility, I like the idea of putting my disability in people’s faces when they’d rather not see it. I like the idea of putting a cute selfie on Instagram and captioning it with what’s actually happening in my life instead of with emojis. I think it’s cool when then those posts get more likes, when people pay attention because I’ve given meaning to actions, to pictures. But I am tired.

 

disability visibility: utter exhaustion, w/ 🐰

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I’ve talked about this before (when I was 19, less eloquent, and more full of feelings, but whatever), but I don’t like the idea of awareness. Awareness is neutral. I am aware of so many things without caring about them. I don’t know that there’s much difference between visibility and awareness on a practical level, if a reader would have a different emotional reaction to “MS awareness” than they would to “disability visibility.” I don’t know if my own affinity with the language of visibility is in part due to my discomfort with the wider MS community, with their orange ribbons and bike-a-thons and the way they share years-old news articles about medications in facebook groups. The way they share their marriages in MS facebook groups as miracle news, the way it seems like they don’t expect to be loved. I don’t know if it is fair for me to talk about those things. If the issue is that the wider disability community seems “cooler” to me somehow, if that perceived “coolness” has more to do with the neurodegeneration and low-information status of other MS patients than with any actual flaws in their terminology. I don’t know how to do this, how to critique without punching down.

 

 

tfw some doctor calls you and says you have MS // 🍹🍹🍹// happy scleversary to meeeeee #tbt

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And I think a lot about how being visible is for me a choice, and for many others a given. How doctors often comment on how healthy I look. How friends comment on how healthy I look. How even strangers comment on how healthy I look. How my cute selfies on Instagram could be captioned with anything I would like to type with my mostly-functional hands because my disability is invisible unless I choose visibility. How I smile at strangers with visible disabilities and then hate myself and then forgive myself and then unforgive myself because if I cannot make my actions meaningful, if I cannot make my smile meaningful, if I cannot say “me too” in the moment, I look like just another able-bodied stranger thinking well how lovely that you’ve made it to the grocery store in your wheelchair, and I know that if I were that person, my response would be fuck you. And how do I give meaning to actions without being intrusive? How do I navigate invisibility? How do I justify saying “disability visibility” on Instagram when it’s just a picture of a young woman in a sweater who’s rocking really decent eyeliner, it’s just privilege, it’s just barely counting. How do I?

 

scleversary 5 // 🙈

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Today is the last day of MS Awareness Week but I will keep having MS after today. So will a lot of people, more than 400,000 in the US alone. Today is the last day of MS Awareness Week but I would like to continue to be visible, to speak up even though it is exhausting, to navigate even as I learn how to. To pay attention to others’ disabilities and to act in ethical ways. To learn to practice radical accessibility. To not shut up about ableist language, to police my own ableist language when I slip up. To think critically. To revise any of this when I need to, to practice self care. To keep talking, mostly. Mostly that.