The Quiet Crossing of Masculinity & Disability

I’m sitting in the middle of an intersection. Or, what I hope could be one. Really I’m sitting somewhere in the bush, but I know there are two clear paths here. I also know if more people knew about this spot, it could eventually be not only a recognizable destination, but also a clue to what each path is like.

Also I might not be sitting here in the bush.

I’m an intellectual with an intellectual disability. I’ll let that sink in for those who’ve known me for years without knowing this. I read and write as often as I can, and I have an intellectual disability. I can talk for hours with my few close friends, I’m an English Lit major, and I’ve even done standup comedy, and I have an intellectual disability.

It’s also a physical disability. In addition to having scoliosis and balance problems I am half blind and half deaf, as well as half blind to touch, taste, and smell, all as the result of a rare mutation of a specific gene.

The limits conferred to me by my intellectual impairment are difficult to define, as I’ve been encouraged for so long to ignore them (more on that soon), but so far I’ve pinned down trouble with memory recall, difficulty processing competing auditory stimuli, and difficulty initiating communicative exchanges.

You’d think this would make interacting with people difficult, and it does. I mostly keep to myself, hesitate to make new friends, and struggle to maintain current acquaintances. I encounter loneliness and depression because my intellectual limitations cause basic social interactions to be often disappointing and at worst anxiety-inducing. As I write this I’m avoiding leaving my bedroom because my living-room is full of nice, fun people who would want to talk to me if I went out there, and this is one of those 9 times out of 10 where I just can’t keep up.

Paradoxically I’ve had several relationships, a few long-time close friends, and I’m pretty active in my local theatre community. Sometimes I do very well, I just have to find people who embrace the pace at which I operate.

If at this point you are thinking of me as brave, I ask for a moment of pause. I am not brave for having this disability. What I am brave for, is having this disability in a world that wishes I didn’t have one.

The defect I have, called CHARGE Syndrome, usually causes complete deaf-blindness and the mental impairments are almost always extremely severe. When I was diagnosed as an infant my family was told by doctors not to expect an intellectually proficient child.

Obviously it would turn out that I was smart, as I could read a newspaper at the age of four. This discovery caused two things to happen, one of them great and the other debilitating. One, my intellectual expression was valued and encouraged to a very heightened degree. Two, my family saw me as “not-disabled”.

You might be thinking “What’s so bad about not being seen as disabled?” Well, it does have its perks. I have a sex life. People don’t tend to patronize my intellectual achievements. It can be nice. Remember the symptoms I listed, though. Sensory processing issues. Anxiety. Difficulty with initiation and memory.

Now imagine me living in the boonies as a sixteen year old, sitting at a steering wheel and being expected to learn how to drive. Now imagine me being told I wasn’t “man enough” when I couldn’t do it.

Because I was reading the newspaper and memorizing hockey stats when I was four, it was just taken on faith that I had no real mental impairments. There was nothing special about my needs. I was gonna be just a regular boy, and then a regular man — blind and deaf on one side of course, but that’s all.

My parents were so keen on my being neurotypical, they never told me about my disability as a young child. Obviously I knew about my eyes and ears, but I didn’t even know I had CHARGE Syndrome specifically until I saw it on a document when I was 12. CHARGE is an acronym; the “R” stands for “general retardation”. “Oh but you don’t have that“, a family member said.

And it seemed plausible. I was just a really odd kid who had trouble initiating conversations and making new friends — that got me called “pussy” and “fag”. I was terribly uncoordinated, which got me picked on for not being athletic enough. If I forgot medication at home I “lacked responsibility” and if I couldn’t find words when I was expected to speak I “lacked initiative.” I was also small in stature and an emotionally vulnerable kid.

Because I was seen as “not disabled”, all those qualities were taken to be “not man enough,” and for a long time I believed that was the case. After all, I didn’t really know they were mental impairments, I just thought I was an awkward guy.

It wasn’t until last year when a mental health flare up caused me to no longer be able to work that I took a deep inventory of my mental capacity and finally did some thorough research of CHARGE Syndrome. I read into the memory effects, the communicative effects, the auditory/visual processing effects…

I found a lifetime of memories of being chastised for behaviours that A) I was actually displaying because of an intellectual disability and B) Were deemed inferior because of people’s expectations of an able-bodied heterosexual cisgender male.

If you’re a man in this world you’ve been told a thousand ways to “man up”. Be more independent. Need less emotional support. Go start a conversation. Make the first move. Do not be weak. Have It Be Basically Expected That You’re Okay.

That can be hard enough without a disability.

Ideal masculinity is bad enough as it is. Most of us agree on this. Through my experience of disability I have been able to see how ideal masculinity is a kind of ableism of the human spirit, cutting us off from ourselves and others. Ideal masculinity plus disability creates a very specific axis of oppression wherein you’re expected to be bulletproof, meanwhile you’re especially bullet-riddled.

Ideal masculinity means keeping your limitations hidden. Disability is limitation, and so I live in the intersection between a set of limitations and a set of rules telling me to hide them.

I want to be clear that I still benefit from some aspects of male privilege, and can access certain benefits of being disabled as well, and my aim is not that you see my suffering as being more special than any other group’s. I believe I have been pushed far too hard, and yet I think I’ve been pushed in ways that also shouldn’t happen to any non-disabled male or to anyone with a disability who isn’t a cis man. My point is to show how the detriments of masculinity and disability amplify each other. My point is that men are taught to suffer in silence, which makes our experience of disability (visible or invisible) a uniquely quiet one.

I hear the voices of fun people in my living-room, laughing and socializing. They don’t know the specifics of my intellectual limits, which is fair as I am am still learning them myself. To those who would question my courage in not leaving my room to interact with them, I would ask you to spend a bit of time at this intersection. I will spend time at yours, as all of us would benefit from time spent where other people’s experiences cross. I just need some patience. I just need to really know I won’t be pushed.

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Safety. Humility. Importance. Anatomy of a Harper Photograph.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 1.59.59 PMBehold the peaceful background. Cool, open air with protective clouds and still waters. You might find a sleepy lighthouse nearby, or maybe you hear the sounds of gulls flying overhead. All is calm, all is well.

In the foreground He occupies the right half of the frame, facing the edge, as if to suggest both forward motion and a confidence in facing an unknown; an unknown obscured by what might be part of an aircraft or heavy machine; nonetheless a not-yet-visible future He is facing so you don’t have to. He is on His way Somewhere to do Something Important, and yet just before disappearing into the void he looks to us to offer a simple, humble smile.

“Safety”, the voter thinks.

The background is peaceful and yet empty, grey, and vast. But His position and posture in the foreground is solid and strong, bespeaking Certainty. He is large, but not larger than the Task he is facing or the beauty of Creation he is protecting. The mountain above the Conservative “C” is brighter, more square and rigid, as if to say,

“The horizon is a little closer with us.”

By contrast to the greyish background He appears youthful and colourful. He is broad-shouldered, cloaked in a cape-like windbreaker, but with business attire just peeking out, as if to suggest a perpetual Casual Friday under His Stable Leadership. Like a warm coffee on a rainy car ride, He is just the thing we need to weather the storm.

He looks at us with unpretentious wisdom, and yet enough self-assuredness that he need not look or point directly at the “Sign Up” displayed at his torso, as if to say,

“Come with me. I know the way.”

5 Things You Should Probably Do When Someone Says “I Can’t”

Is someone in your life a Negative Nancy? Do they prattle on about their limitations, always saying stuff like “I can’t make new friends because of mental illness stigma” or “I can’t get a promotion because less qualified men keep getting picked over me”, or “No seriously, I can’t go up these stairs, do you literally see my wheelchair.”

Well, Positive Pete, here are 5 easy things you can do when someone says those two words that so inconvenience your ears: “I can’t”.

1. Shut up.

Did you know it takes a dozen muscles to smile and say “Of course you can?” What if I told you it takes even fewer to purse those love limbs and think to yourself “Gosh, maybe they said ‘I can’t’ because of societal barriers at work, or because they have something they need to express that they haven’t felt safe expressing before, or because, I dunno, they can’t.”

2. Listen

Hands up if you’ve ever said the words, “You’re selling yourself short” and the response you got was “My GOD you’re RIGHT, I never thought of it that way, all my problems are SOLVED!”

Didn’t think so. Just shh. Listen. More will be revealed than you knew was there.

Because ok here’s a weird thing I learned today: You aren’t me. Absurd, right? It turns out, and this is the really fucked up part: I’m also not you. I mean holy tits, one might almost think I have a better idea of what my limitations are than you do and vice-versa.

God (or in layman’s terms, “evolution”) gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason: So we could listen and talk at a 2:1 ratio. And hear predators/positivity police coming.

3. Say “I believe you.”

In 2002 the BC Liberal Government spent 5 million dollars auditing 62,000 people living on disability assistance to see which of us cripply cripples were lying liars.

They found 0.6% of us were committing fraud. Not. even. one. percent. They could have literally just given all of us 4 million dollars to split amongst ourselves and they would have saved a pile of money even with the fraud. Or they could’ve just trusted poor folk, but they’re rich white people, they…choose not to. *ahem*

A little infotainment for ya: The rate of welfare fraud in Ontario is, interestingly, about the same as the rate of false reports of sexual assaults Canada-wide at 3%. And yet we talk about both as though it’s more or less fifty-fifty.

Lesson: Humans are actually trustworthy people. Even when shit hits the fan. Now, say it with me again: “I. Believe. You.”

4. Apologize if your first reaction to “I can’t” is disbelief.

Look, when you tell your four-year-old to pick up their toys and they say “I can’t”, they probably actually can, unless they’re playing with a bench-press, in which case be sure their spotter is at least seven.

Still, though, listen to kids when they say “I can’t.” How in the sweet polka-dot hell are kids going to learn the value of consent if their own ability to consent isn’t respected?

“I can’t” is always rooted in at least some truth, for kids and adults alike. Even if someone says “I can’t” and you don’t quite believe it, and even if your feeling of disbelief is well-founded, it should be unsettling to you if disbelief is the first place your brain goes to when it hears “I can’t”.

Really think about that. When someone says “I can’t” do you listen for underlying reasons or immediately cast doubt? Hands down the person who said “I can’t” has had to deal with others doubting them, so apologize when you doubt them. You have nothing to lose in apologizing and they have everything to gain in being vindicated.

Also consider that the solution to an “I can’t” might be removing a requirement entirely rather than trying harder to crowbar the person into meeting it.

5. Commit yourself to disrupting ableism and considering axes of oppression you yourself might not experience.

The reason no one likes Negative Nancy is because of rumours spread by Ableist Andy.

Ableist Andy says employment barriers don’t really exist for people with disabilities, that people on welfare are lazy, and people with mental illnesses are soul sucking and dangerous to be friends with.

Ableist Andy doesn’t recognize that structural and social barriers exist, which make “I can’t” really more of a call to action than an exclamation of self-defeat. Ableist Andy is a dick who votes Conservative and watches Sun News used to watch Sun News. Don’t be an Ableist Andy, be a Compassionate Carrie. Or a Mindful Miranda, you get the idea.

And that’s it. Practice self-care, of course; it’s okay to have a limit where you listen for a while and then go “Ok, love ya bud but you have way more sex than I do, you can get laid”.

Other than that, yeah listen good and things.

10 Ways to Defeat Stephen Harper in 2015 (6-10)

“It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy.”

-Barack Obama, speaking about his campaign in his 2008 Victory Speech.

With an election around the corner, and having re-watched The West Wing, I’m in full-on political strategist mode. As such, I’ve developed a 10-point plan for the left (both voters and politicians alike) to defeat Stephen Harper in 2015. If you haven’t read points 1 through 5 here they are.

6. “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Apologies for the ableist slur; this is in reference to Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan from 1992, when he successfully made America’s sagging economy the central issue of the election. Whereas the right tends to win when national defence is the main issue, the left wins when the economy/environment/social issues are at the forefront. This was true for Bush II in 2004 as well as Obama in 2008.

It’s basic Art of War stuff. If you shift the conversation to a subject wherein it is already perceived that you are strong, you are then arguing from a position of strength, irrespective of the veracity of your claims. The loonie is in the shitter and we’ve lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs. Veterans aren’t being cared for and Harper remains disinterested in missing and murdered indigenous women. If you’re on the left, talking about these things instead of national defence is the path of least resistance.

7. When criticizing the CPC, emphasize the leader. When praising the NDP or LPC, emphasize the parties.

Sad fact time: Harper is the most “Prime Ministerial” of all the leaders. Trudeau comes off as naive and spoiled, Mulcair comes off as an ineffectual teddy bear, and May comes off as a capricious activist. None of these impressions are fair, and they’re all rooted in stereotypes.

Without even trying, Harper looks like a collected, mature statesman with the experience to lead a nation.

I know, barf.

Mulcair needs to joke about his blandness and Trudeau needs to joke about his youth. Don’t try to confound the expectation when you can disarm the premise. (May just needs to keep being May because she’ll do so vote-splittingly well in the debate, we’ll think she’s a Conservative operative)

There’s a reason Republicans invoke Lincoln and Reagan. It’s the same reason Mulcair and Trudeau need to invoke Layton and Pearson; it takes the focus off whether they lack that “Presidential” quality. This is subliminal stuff.

But when it comes to issues where the CPC is weak, absolutely make that about Harper. The Conservatives are already doing this with Trudeau and it’s effective.

8. Play the “If Harper were PM when” thought experiment.

I’m clueless as to why no one has done this yet.

If Harper were PM in the early 2000s, we’d have participated in the disastrous invasion of Iraq. Legalizing gay marriage in 2004 would not have been a priority.

If Harper were PM in the 1990’s, we’d have stricter internet controls, more carbon emissions, and the CIBC/TD + BMO/RBC mergers would have been approved, setting us up for a far worse fate when the financial system crashed in 2008.

If Harper were PM in the 1980s, no Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms.

If Harper were PM in the 1970’s, we’d have been in Vietnam. 1960’s, no universal healthcare. The stuff for which we’re envied by the world — none of it.

9. We need a “Joe the Veteran”.

If swing voters see Harper as pragmatic, he wins. If they see him as callous, he loses.

Stats on Veterans Affairs offices being closed are moving, but not as moving as a face being put on it. Rick Mercer’s buddy, Paul is a veteran. He lost both his legs in Afghanistan, and has to prove each year to the Harper (see what I did there?) Government that they haven’t grown back.

Same applies to any other issue. A human face on one now-unemployed Target employee is worth all the other faceless people who’ve lost their jobs combined.

10. Stop being so gosh darned Canadian on social media. 

As of this writing, here are the numbers of shares for the last ten Facebook posts for each party.

CPC: 23, 330, 217, 608, 251, 485, 628, 65, 328, 2333.

NDP: 4, 0, 223, 5, 1, 2069, 79, 18, 6, 1.

LPC: 12, 167, 53, 0, 1, 3, 56, 0, 35, 851.

GRN: 1407, 17, 1, 0, 3, 306, 2, 144, 427, 16.

Avg. shares per post.

CPC: 527

NDP: 245

LPC: 118

GRN: 232

Surprisingly high for the Greens and low for the Liberals, though all 3 opposition parties seem more prone to outliers than the CPC, which consistently gets more shares. The two NDP outliers were the Rick Mercer Rant I mentioned (proving point #9) and a post about what the NDP/CPC propose for the middle class. The one GRN outlier was a post on Harper’s economic record, and the one LPC outlier was about the long-form census. Argue from your perceived strengths; get more shares, get more audience.

The average Facebook user has 338 friends. Multiplied by 527 that’s 178,126 people seeing each CPC post. The CPC has 111,271 ‘likes’ on Facebook, 50,000 more than the 2nd place Liberals. Given how well the CPC polls with older voters, the message is clear: Our parents our beating us at social media.

The lesson: If you intend on voting for a particular party, ‘like’ them and SHARE THEIR POSTS!! While we’re busy posting selfies, our baby boomer relatives are using social media to share political information and convince others to vote for a party that is mortgaging our future.

Stop worrying about how your Conservative uncle or coworker will react when your post on Harper’s laundry list of scandals shows up in their news feed, and start worrying about what will happen if your friends who lean towards not voting at all don’t see it.

Post things. Encourage others to share them. Stop being so goddamn nice.

10 Ways to Defeat Stephen Harper in 2015. (1-5)

Last year the Harper Government redrew our electoral map to their advantage, strengthening their chances at retaining power in 2015. Even with only 33% of likely voters saying they will vote Conservative, they are still projected to win a plurality of seats. That number needs only to go up by about 5% for Harper to retain a majority.

The Liberals have balked at the idea of a coalition with the NDP, so preventing even a Conservative plurality is important for the left.

Here are my first five strategies for defeating Harper in 2015.

1. Pressure candidates polling 3rd in the week before the election to pull out of the race.

Voters (and politicians in a perfect world) need to monitor the polls in the weeks prior to the election, specifically in their ridings as well as others that are hotly contested. If the CPC candidate is polling at, say, 35%, with the LPC or NDP candidate polling at 30%/15%, inundate the candidate in 3rd place with tweets, e-mails, and comments urging them to drop out. Cite the polls, appeal to their sense of civic duty, whatever. Don’t go all gamer gate on them, but do address them directly.

It’s messy, but it’s our surest path. Looking at threehundredeight.com this would only need to be successful in a dozen or so ridings to swing the election.

2. Remind people that a minority government does not necessarily equal an unstable one.

In 2011 a lot of Ontario voters switched from LPC to CPC based on the premise that the CPC would accomplish more with a majority government.

They forgot Lester B. Pearson (LPC) picked our flag, started universal health care, and brought in the Canada Pension Plan, all with a minority government. He did this by working closely with the NDP, something the current LPC should learn from and cite as a benefit of a Liberal minority.

3. Call out the Harper Government’s attempts to wedge the left.

Bill C51 is a perfect example of this. Trudeau had to vote for it in order to avoid the “soft on terror” label that would lose him precious votes from the centre in Ontario where he needs them most. Mulcair had to vote against it because even though he supports parts of the bill, voting for it would cause the far left to flock to Elizabeth May.

As I mentioned in my last post, Harper loves this. He’s hoodwinked us. The left, instead of arguing which party can defeat the CPC in their riding, is now squabbling over which ‘left-leaning’ party is better, which looks a lot like two people crawling east on the deck of a ship heading west.

4. Find a way to call out Fascism without being clear that this is what you’re doing.

Here’s the thing about Fascism: It works by being so sensationally awful, that even a factual description of what’s happening appears sensationalist, never mind an impassioned plea that others acknowledge it.

The NDP is already doing this in a subtle way, with rhetoric about keeping us safe without infringing upon civil liberties. By framing it this way they position themselves as taking terror seriously while also legitimizing the fear that the Harper Government is systematically taking away our rights. Outright calling Harper a fascist just loses the ears of swing voters, even when the claim is factual.

Folks should point out how the CPC blocks people from their social media platforms (Tony Clement is notorious on Twitter for this), but don’t frame it as “They’re killing freedom of speech” (even if they are), simply say “They’re blocking people from their social media platforms.”

The political right is full of experts in moving people through innuendo. Harper only had to obliquely reference Mosques in his speech introducing Bill C51 to stir up his base.

We can learn a thing or two from Stephen Harper. (See what I did there?)

5. Point out that the main criticisms of Trudeau are dependent upon the assumption that he’s running for President of the United States. 

Hear me out. The CPC is trying to make national defence the #1 election issue because it feeds their central criticism of Trudeau: That he’s “in over his head.” He couldn’t handle the 3am phone call. He could sit in the Situation Room and make that crucial military decision. He’s too much of a fratboy to be Commander-in-Chief of a large military power.

And gosh they might be right, but every time the LPC tries to reassure everyone that Trudeau can play a central role in the war on terror, they buy into the CPC’s false premise that this is actually our role in the world.

Prime Minister is, on the global military stage, a desk job compared to POTUS. Canada will never be that behemoth country locked between nuclear powers using their military prowess to diffuse World War 3. Canada’s best military role is one of support and diplomacy. Who solved the Suez Crisis through diplomatic means, winning a Nobel Prize for his efforts? That would be LPC PM, Lester B. Pearson. The left needs to make diplomacy the conversation, if they’re going to make national defence a conversation at all (which I don’t think they should — more on that next post).

By the way, if there actually was an attempted occupation on Canadian soil that actually was connected to ISIS (still no evidence the Parliament Hill shooting was), the US would roll over in their sleep and obliterate them before you could see the pigs flying. We’re their highest importer of foreign oil to the US and a close military ally; I’m sorry but we could have Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors as Prime Minister and our national defence concerns would be about the same.

In attempting to flex his military strength on a global stage, Harper is coming from a position of weakness and grossly overstating his role as a global player.

As for his skills as a diplomat, last I checked Russia is still in Ukraine despite Harper’s flaccid attempt at leadership.

Actually Bill C51 is About Ethics in Splitting the Vote.

I don’t envy the position Canada’s opposition parties are in with regards to Bill C51, which has already received enough votes in the House of Commons to become law.

For those of you living under a rock, and by ‘rock’ I mean increased government surveillance, Bill C51’s supposed function is to increase the Harper government’s capacity to communicate with CSIS and the RCMP to collect information that could result in preventing a terrorist attack.

Tell that to the ‘environmental groups’ (aka First Nations) and ‘religious groups’ (aka Muslims) who stand to be disproportionately targeted by random screenings and detentions.

But C51 isn’t just about the race-baiting that is so often inherent in the politics of ‘safety’. It’s about fracturing the left and ensuring a vote split in October (if the election happens in October at all).

The Liberals had to vote for Bill C51, I think, because their hand was forced politically. Voting against C51 would have played right into the “Soft on terror” narrative that Conservatives have been pelting Trudeau with. Trudeau can now get away with having select policies be similar to Harper’s, just more “effective”.

The Catch-22 for the Libs was that voting against C51 would lose them precious votes from the centre in Ontario, and that voting for it loses them a lot of the left. The NDP are already hammering them on C51 in order to differentiate themselves from Trudeau.

I guarantee you, Harper LOVES this.

Why? Well, the narrative can now go from “Who more easily defeats Harper in my riding” to “Which left leaning party is better in general”, which erases vote-splitting as the most pressing concern in the minds of voters. That could be the death knell for the anti-Harper movement. Love it or hate it, the sad fact is that with the Conservative’s repositioning of the electoral map, ABC is now the ONLY strategy that will actually defeat Harper.

The NDP was able to vote against C51 because Mulcair doesn’t have the “soft on terror” question hanging over his head to the same degree Trudeau does. They’ll appear more principled than the Liberals, though the more than half of Canadians who have an unfavourable view of Islam might now be knee-deep in confirmation bias with regards to the idea that New Democrat somehow equals soft on crime.

The NDP has to hope that on election day voters are NOT thinking about national security, even if their stance on it is correct. Terrorism being the #1 election issue is a win for Harper, no matter who is right. All opposition parties need to shift the narrative from national defence back to the economy & social issues, where Harper is weak.

The Catch-22 for the NDP was that voting for C51 would cause the far left to stay home on election day or switch their allegiance to Green.

Either way we’ve already seen how C51 has fractured the 67% of Canadians who don’t currently intend to vote Conservative. Even with 33% of voter support the Conservatives are currently projected to win a plurality of seats in the House of Commons and retain power. They only need a bit more to retain a majority.

It may feel like an affront to democracy. It may feel like an implicit vote for Justin Trudeau, a man who some feel has not convincingly separated himself from Harper. But, if we want to actually reform our broken electoral system and restore the balance of power, we must not allow the Conservatives to distract us from an ABC strategy as they have shrewdly done with Bill C51. We must pay close attention to the polls, show up in unprecedented numbers, and avoid a split vote in 2015.