22 Jun 2013
June 22, 2013

Queer Voices – Me, Explicitly!!!

June 22, 2013

My name is Colin Ashante Daniels.  It is not just a name though – It is a declaration of me as a divine creation and an homage to my heritage.  “Colin” represents the celtic blood that flows through my ancestral veins on my mommies side…as well as in some interpretations of my name it means “little hound”.  “Ashante/Ashanti” is the name of an African tribe that my dad gave me to represent my African roots that flow through his veins.

The Ashanti tribe resides in central Ghana, Africa. Before the Europeans colonized the country of Africa, the Ashanti had a vast empire over all West Africa. I guess from my name you get a clearer picture of where I draw my courage, conviction, and zeal for life. With the courage of my fierce ancestors building an empire and my nose fervently pressed to the ground hot on the trail. I am humbled and honored that I get to represent, organize, empower, defend, and aid in the liberation of all people. No one in life really has to go through what I go through on a daily basis of being a disabled, gay, queer person of color, because at the end of the day, my experience can only be gained by living it as me. I have a vibrant history of disabled folks who protested for job protection in Sacramento, California literally risking their lives to sit-in the capitol rotunda in the 70’s – and the Gallaudet University demonstrations in 2006 to fuel my fire.  These serve as reminders of how far we have come AND of the work we have yet to do.

I was born with bilateral clubbed feet and no ankles as a result of my moms pregnancy with my older sister that triggered her diabetes. I was born significantly premature and the whole time I was inside of her, because of her diabetes, her cells did not recognize me as being a part of her. Since my genetic make-up was different, her body perceived me as an infection and tried to kill me off. I walk with a limp and when I have to walk long stretches of length…my back tenses up and I start to have muscles spasms that leave me curled up in a ball on the floor. So I use a wheelchair to get from point A to point B more efficiently and comfortably.

People have felt the need to police and censor my body throughout my existence, so for my first post I came up with some tips (see below) as to how I push back those people. Some people who are disabled/differently abled are ok with the “praying over the broken body” thing. It gives them peace of mind; Comfort; Hope…and who am I to tell them who they put their faith in like that is wrong. I too believe as it says in Matthew 17:20 “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Others though, do not feel that way about healing or their bodies or the medical model of disability. That is also ok….but not with regard to healing my body, which is not broken because I was born this way.

The only people that have broken my body are the doctors (and my mother) who have pushed me into having surgery after surgery, when it never occurred to them that my body will never know what it feels like to move as a completely able bodied person does – and that is ok. An able bodied person outside of a few who use various manual powered transportation devices will never be able to have the privilege of knowing what it feels like to be so in tune with something that is not of you. When I am using my wheelchair at the end of a long day and when the wind is whipping through my hair, I can swear that nothing is more heavenly than being so connected and flowing so beautifully from man to machinery. Able-bodied people give me these stories of when they were in a wheelchair for a couple months after a car accident and how they just “longed for the day that they could walk again”…I have never had that longing ever, especially after the 1st grade because that was the foot surgery that destroyed my body and made it so painful for me to walk at times.  I just wanted to use my wheelchair, but my mom refused to let me.

I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri (not Kansas so don’t get it twisted, KTHNX), where I resided for the first 24.5 years of my life. It is in the middle of the bible belt, which means it is not very friendly to us LGBTQ and disabled folks, or to people of color. My home denomination of Seventh Day Adventistism was the first community to cram the “broken body/punishment for your parents sins” down my throat. I had to develop a knack for putting people in check. The guiding principles for my life are those of non-violence.  Putting people in check non-violently is the way to go. KC is the home of the Unitarian Church world headquarters, International House Of Prayer (IHOP) headquarters, Nazarene Publishing House, and many other churches. An hour to the west in Topeka, Kansas, the Westboro Church is housed and, for my first 10 years of involvement in community organizing, they were at the majority of my protests, Pride events, and any other days they felt necessary to be out. I was on a Nazarene bible quizzing team my junior and senior year of high school as well. The majority of those denominations are really into the whole radical power of prayer and healing “thing”. So whenever I am in public spaces like the grocery store, a festival, planes, trains, busses, etc. people feel the need to put their hands on me and pray.  This is not helpful for me. It uses spirituality as a form of violence.

So what do you do when your interaction with a stranger starts to go south and you are not receptive to having people lay hands on you and/or not wanting to have those “teaching” moments with people? (Which is totally ok.) You should never have to justify your humanity and divinity to anyone. Some people can have those conversations, some can’t. The important thing is to recognize which type of person you are, because then you can advocate for yourself in a way that is most respectful to everyone involved.

Now back to the tips:

Some of these are in reference to handling unwanted conversations/people, and some are just good tips I have picked up from my experiences rolling around town. You can copy, paste, and print them off if you want. Some of these are answers to questions I get asked a lot. These are not a be all or end all, but rather a starting point.  These work the best for me in public spaces. The trick to taking ownership of your existence and not allowing people to be violent to you is about finding something non-violent that works best for you.

1.  When someone asks me “How do you have sex?” my response is “I show better than I tell”, then I slowly continue to move their way.  This is great because it catches people off guard. It makes them feel awkward and I fervently feel in the depths of my soul that if you ask an awkward/inappropriate question, you deserve just as much of an awkward/inappropriate answer. If you are wanting to continue having conversation with them…which I do not recommend…this is more of a “hit and run” comment. Unless the person who is asking you is genuinely interested, and if that is the case, get some – you sexy beast, you! Just remember that consent is something you need before anything happens physically – just like having conversations about what positions work best for you, what you can and cannot do with your partner, etc. If someone is genuinely interested, remember that barriers are your friend. Don’t be shy about sexy time when you officially have the green light.  That person knows how disabled you are and still wants make you and your body feel awesome! I recommend having sex with the lights on as a disabled person as often as possible so they can revel in all of your beautiful glory and you in theirs. Sex is after all…most enjoyable when you can experience it with as many senses as you have.

2. Own the space you take up in public spaces! Why spend time sinking into yourself when every sentient being has a presence. Own it. Acknowledge it. You have your way of moving down to an art and there is nothing wrong with showing that you are feeling something other than uncomfortable with it.

3. If you don’t get something the first time. Ask again. Asking questions or requesting that someone repeat themselves is never a bad idea. Communication works most effectively when all parties involved are on the same page.

4. Service animals are cute and cuddly. Do not touch them, they are trained to be of service to someone other than you and interacting with them distracts them. I like to think of them as furniture. I had a really bad issue with this because animals are attracted to me like moths to (this) flame – but it is something you have to do. Some people’s lives depend on the services their animals offer. I would rather someone live for years to come, then aid in the distraction of someones animal whose life could depend on it.

5. If you have use of your limbs, I highly recommend a regular movement routine. Rolling/moving with crutches around town doing your daily routine is already a work out. Challenge yourself and start pushing your body a little harder a couple days a week, if you can. As I have grown older, I have started noticing muscles in my arms deteriorating because of my lack of exercise, even though I wheel around town all the time. Also, getting an awesome middle of the day or right before bed endorphin rush is always good!  Endorphins make you happy. Plus, moving makes you feel good. As a manual wheelchair user I was exhausted for the first week or two after making the most subtle changes in my routine. It also got my muscles back to where they were as well as making me get creative so my muscles did not get bored. (I’m not talking about like going to a gym or anything like that, just doing something to help you maintain your muscles and get some light cardio with stretching in sort of a thing. Making small changes can make all the difference in the way you feel.  I know I sound like a gym promoter right now, but trust me when I say, “it makes you feel so good”!

6. If you do not have use of your limbs and use a power wheelchair, go for a roll anyway. Especially on sunny days!  Get all of the vitamin d in your skin. Be out, be seen, be apart of the revolution.

7. Have a kick-ass selection of clothes. We who use wheelchairs and/or crutches/canes need to come out from behind the veil of doughty clothes into the world of color and pattern. Seriously, every great disabled person has had a great wardrobe. You don’t have to go expensive. I hit up thrift stores and get clothes by the pound for like 5 bucks. Pick things you like that make you feel FAWKING hawt. And if you are not feeling like that at the time, sometimes you gotta fake it till you make it.

8. If you are boppin’ around town by yourself, you need a great playlist. Music amps you up or calms you down. I am not someone who likes to drink caffeinated beverages a lot and I have found that music is a really good remedy. If you don’t know what to listen to, start with listening to things that make you wanna dance…which brings me to my next tip:

9. Get your dance on. Dancing makes you feel good and you are never gonna see those people again. Forget about if you look stupid and do what makes you feel the most amazing!  Take yourself out on a date, buy yourself some drinks (it does not matter whether they are hard or soft drinks) and dance your ass off.

10. Consent, consent, consent. People in the NW tend to be focused on non-violent communication, which is awesome. I have noticed though, that this weird culture of passive aggressiveness has been born out of that. If someone is trying to pray for you/talk to you and you do not want them to, there is nothing wrong with saying “Look, I’m trying to go about my day. I am not in a space to invest in a conversation like this with someone today” or something like that.  This may seem a bit confrontational and violent in language, but leet me assure you: Placing boundaries and telling people who are saying offensive shit to you and touching you without your consent is not violent. It would be violent to you to allow yourself to stay in that toxic conversation that is just going to make you feel more awful after….unless you are in space to continue in that teaching moment.  Then, I say go for it!

11. LOOK DOWN AS WELL AS FORWARD. Being in crowded spaces for people with disabilities that put them at a level that is below a person’s immediate eye level is really tough. I have had people literally crawl on me, over me, under me, to get places. That is not ok. It is non-consensual touching. I am all for people getting to where they need to go, but do not step over people to get to where you need to go and act like nothing was wrong when you violated someone’s personal space, often time rubbing some intimate part of your body on our faces.  We are not your stepping stones. Do not use or treat us as such.

12. If you are interacting with people who use crutches, canes, wheelchairs, or any other apparatus that puts them at lower levels do not patronize us in conversation and negate our experience as if we could not have any idea as to how our bodies operate. We are not a group of people whose bodies are yours to govern. Most disabled people possess efficient enough communication skills to interact with you when you need to. If on the rare case you are interacting with someone who does not use verbal communication and there is not an interpreter or caregiver present, I am gonna be real honest with you:  You will have to get creative, but it can be done. Be willing to go into it with patience. A smile goes a long way, and just because someone does not understand the way in which you are communicating with them, it does not mean they don’t have the mental capacity. It means you need to reexamine the ways in which you are communicating with them and make some changes.

13. Deaf/hard of hearing/anyone who uses an interpreter or whose caregiver communicates for/with them:  LOOK AT THEM, NOT THEIR INTERPRETER. They want to see your face so they can get your facial expression as well as be able to read your lips. Their interpreters/caregivers communicate on behalf of them to bridge the gap in communication in a way in which most able-bodied people have not taken the time to get to know. They do not speak FOR them. There is a difference.

(Note:  I realize that the disabled community and deaf/hard of hearing communities are different. Our cultures are different. The way in which we are oppressed is different. I am a firm believer in creating accessible and safe spaces that foster interdependence, and making space for people to communicate as efficiently as possible with each other the ways in which is most efficient and natural for them. That is why I communicated this point. This will be one of very few times you witness me communicating about these two things so intertwined.)

15. DO NOT GIVE IN TO PASSING AS ABLE-BODIED PERSON!! You are a beautiful being.  Do not give in to the Medical Model of Disability. Unless you have a disability that requires you to seek medical attention to stay alive, do not give in to what able-bodied doctors tell you what you as a disabled person should be doing with your body. If you are not having any problems outside of the damage that the medical model has already done to your body and a doctor recommends “just one more operation and you will be fixed”, DON’T.  From experiences I have had, it is the one thing that makes you more messed up and makes you hurt more. It is a choice I would have never made for myself as an adult.

So, in closing, remember:

Be Out
Be Seen
Be Heard
Take up space
Be kind to yourself and your body
A Killer wardrobe is essential
So is a killer playlist
Have all of the earth shattering sex you can
Live your life boldly, loudly, and as happy as you can
Put those who overstep boundaries with you in check
Be a part of the revolution and do our predecessors justice in seeking our equity by doing anything you can to dismantle ableist patriarchy and make the country rumble in our wake!

Namaste,

-Colin

Queer Voices is a virtual space within QBlog where all kinds of lived experiences, ideas, and dreams from the LGBTQ and Allied community are featured. This space is all of ours. We aim for diversity in the thoughts, opinions, and subject matter expressed through the Queer Voices program. You may not agree with everything you read, but our hope is to provide a platform for the diversity of our community to thrive and interact.  The views expressed here are those of the author.

If you are interested in writing for QBlog’s Queer Voices program, please send an email with a sample of your work to QBlog@pdxQcenter.org

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