Sunday, July 17, 2022

An Open Letter To Female Youth Who Are Pregnant as a Result of a Rape

    I want to tell any young woman who finds herself pregnant as the result of a rape that they are survivors first and foremost. The rapist took your body and made you pregnant against your will. You were forced into that situation. Choices were taken away from you. That was evil and wrong. 

   I want to tell you that if you decide to have that baby, you could be a great mother. Even babies conceived in rape can go on to be wonderful people. In many cultures around the world, young women your age parent their children freely. Jesus's mother was only a teenager. If you want to be a teenage mother, then you will be great. Everyone should see you as a hero for making a difficult choice in a tough situation and rally around you. That is important and brave and strong.

   I want to tell you that if you decide to have an abortion, that is a heroic choice too. Women have fought long and hard to have the right to an abortion and no man who implants his seed in you against your will should get the luxury of you carrying his child against your will if you do not want that. You can go back to normal as much as you can (although of course these situations change people) and everyone should see you as a hero and rally around you for standing up for your right to choose not to let a man put something where it wasn't supposed to be. That is important and brave and strong.

   I don't want you to listen to politicians or activists or doctors or parents who all have an opinion. I don't want you to take your cue from the Supreme Court. I want you to make the right choice for you in accordance with your values and lifestyle. I want you to think "What do I want?" and go from there. And I want all of us to support you in whatever decision you make. This is what being a youth liberationist feminist looks like. And whatever you choose, we should all be proud of you. And God will be proud of you too.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Youth With Disabilities: They Get to Set the Tone!

    So I have officially been on hiatus from this blog for the past year as I am currently in the process of writing a book on youth rights issues. The current working title of the book is Youth Liberation: The Ageist Oppression of Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults and the Need for a Radical, Rights Based Revolution. I love it and I don't think it is going to change. Anyway, I figured that whenever I wanted to write about youth rights stuff, it would be more productive to put that time and energy into the book than into the blog. However, there are some things which don't feel right for inclusion in the book but which I think do merit a blog post and that is what has got me checking in from my official hiatus status today. Today the topic is parents who share inappropriately about their child's disability issues online and with people in other contexts.

   Recently I defriended someone on Facebook that I had grown up with. I hated to do this as this was someone whom at one time I had greatly respected but I had felt my respect winnowing away after watching this individual make a series of what I can only describe as increasingly problematic parenting choices which she then sought robust community approval for. I'm not going to go into detail about all of the things I saw this individual doing which bothered me as a queer feminist enmeshed in the youth and disability rights communities, but suffice to say that I watched the train wreck in slow motion, knowing that there was little that I could do to stop it. But the thing which finally put me over the edge and made me feel that I had to call this person out and defriend them was seeing them share the actual physical copy of their daughter's gynecological records online along with a heaping side of cringeworthy sexist, heterosexist, ageist, and ableist comments from this mother that would make anyone with even an ounce of intersectional feminist sensibility want to throw up. I felt complicit and I made a choice to tell this mother that this was not appropriate and that I did not wish to be Facebook friends with someone who inappropriately shared private details about their child's medical history online. This is an adolescent young woman we are talking about here, not a baby. I can see contexts where the young woman herself choosing to share this information could be helpful, but to share it for all and sundry to see on Facebook along with her mother's inappropriate comments struck me as obviously and severely wrong.

   What this mother was doing was turning her daughter into something like a zoo exhibit in a way that no calls to raise awareness could justify. If a medical provider had shared this type of information about a patient on Facebook, they would be in violation of a slew of state and federal laws and yet somehow it's supposed to be okay when a parent does it in regards to their child?!?!?! This mother claimed that their daughter consented to this, but growing up in a household where boundaries are violated and she is infantilized, there is no way in which that consent could be meaningful. And this is something that the mother never even should have asked of her child in the first place. It sickened me. It saddened me. It angered me. And the fact that no one but me was speaking to this as a problematic thing to do only speaks to the way in which over the years this mother has worn down any sense of appropriate boundaries regarding her daughter in reference to her community. Over time, she had normalized things that should never be viewed as normal.

   On the other extreme end of this issue, I recently saw a post in which a parent was patting themselves on the back for telling their disabled child that they did not need to explain to others about their condition and the devices needed to manage it. Instead of helping her child to figure out how much he wanted to disclose and how, recognizing that such things would be necessary as one moves through space as a visibly disabled individual, this mother seemed to feel that the answer was to tell her child "My mother says I don't have to answer that." There is so much that is problematic about this statement. First of all, it's centering the mother's voice, turning the child into a puppet for her views. Secondly, as this is likely to come up again and again as an issue and it's safe to assume that curiosity, especially from children, is not necessarily a sign of malice, wouldn't it make more sense to work with the child to come up with a standard answer to the question that is friendly and informative without giving away too much private information? Wouldn't this be a more helpful and humane way to teach a disabled child to navigate the world? Nah, that would make too much sense!

   So what unites the mother sharing her daughter's gynecological records on Facebook and the mother who tells her child to answer any question about their disability with "My mother says I don't have to answer that?" Of course, they are both fools despite existing on opposite ends of the disabled child sharing spectrum, but they are also both centering their own response instead of thinking seriously about what would be most helpful for their child and helping their child to use their own voice and create and enforce their own boundaries. That's why this post is titled "Youth With Disabilities: They Get To Set the Tone!" 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

An Open Letter to Deyjah Imani Harris

Dearest Precious Deyjah,

   It is odd that I, a stranger, have to write you this letter, but I am doing so because unfortunately, your private business became public due to your father's bizarre, abusive, and quite frankly disgusting decision to discuss your medical history in the public press. First of all, no parent should do that in reference to you or any child of theirs. It abrogates their very responsibilities as a parent to discuss such private matters in a public way. It shows that, at least in that moment, they have abandoned the role of a responsible parent and do not need to be treated with the normal parental deference that some folks feel that parents are entitled to. I know that you are over the age of eighteen and this is a good thing as you as not as minor in the eyes of the law and therefore your father cannot force you to undergo any medical procedures that you object to. Nonetheless, you may be looking to older adults for guidance at this time as you try to figure things out from the perspective of the media firestorm that your father has hurled you into and therefore I wanted to say a few things to you as a thirty three year old woman whose life work in large part revolves around supporting and defending the bodily, medical, and sexual autonomy of younger people.

   First of all, a test for the presence of the hymen is not a medically valid test and any doctor offering or claiming to perform such a test needs to have his medical license revoked. I have heard that the main purpose of the hymen from a biological standpoint is to keep fecal, urinary, or other bodily material from entering into the vagina during the first couple of years of a baby's life and causing an infection. It has nothing to do with ensuring "virginity" or "purity" or anything of the sort. Many people don't even have a hymen to show past puberty. This is not something that a legitimate medical practitioner would wish to associate themselves with. So I would keep that in mind and consider filing some sort of report to authorities regarding any doctor that was willing to play that game with your father. The entire concept of virginity itself is a cultural, not a medical, construction and you may enjoy learning more about this sort of thing by reading Hanne Blank's book "Virgin: The Untouched History." It is an interesting book that deals with many men who view virginity in ways not dissimilar to your father, among other topics which it broaches.

   Secondly, your body belongs to you first and foremost. It is not your father's business whether or not your hymen is broken be it by masturbation, playing sports, or engaging in sexual activity with someone you are interested in. You should feel free to use your body in any consensual sexual capacity that you wish. You, like all folks your age, should also seek out birth control, STD prevention, and sexual health resources from medical professionals who have nothing to do with your family and they cannot reveal anything about you under penalty of law to them. This is your right as an American and as a woman. Your body is for your pleasure and for you to use as you see fit and your father's attitude and actions towards it are creepy, predatory, dangerous, abusive, and wrong. Your father's behavior is not normal within families in America today (although by taking the long view of history you will learn that you are by no means alone in having a father who wishes to control your body as if you were his property, which you are most definitely not). As an African-American woman, there is a lot of cultural history surrounding the control of the bodies of women of color by people other than the woman in question which you might wish to take a deeper dive into. As a white woman, I probably cannot share those particular insights with you as well as other women of color can, but many will be willing and able to do so I am sure. There are many resources available specifically for women of color in reference to sexual and reproductive health. Planned Parenthood and Scarleteen might be good general places to start looking into matters of sexual and reproductive health. SisterSong seems to be specifically interested in helping Southern women of color in this department so they may be a good resource as well. In any event, you have been caught at the crossroads of sexism, ageism, and perhaps racism through no fault of your own and there are those who are ready to help you along the way.

   The important message for you to take away from this is that your body is yours to use and enjoy however you see fit. If you want to abstain from sexual activity for any reason, that is completely fine. If you want to engage in sexual activity of any sort, that is completely fine too although there are certain responsibilities to yourself and others that go along with that, which you probably well know. What you need to realize is that you are in control of your body, medical treatment, sexuality, reproductive health, and life. You do not owe an intact hyman to your father or anyone else and it is abusive to even suggest that you do. You deserve better than this. You shouldn't have had to go through this media nightmare of your father's making. But there are many women, men, and non-binary people of all ages, colors, socioeconomic statuses, and backgrounds who wish to support and sustain you nonetheless. Anyone who tries to make excuses for your father's creepy and abusive behavior is dead wrong. Look out for your younger siblings in your household and do what you can to ensure that they are not subjected to the same sort of abuse that you were by your father and apparently unethical medical professionals. Do not be afraid to look outside of your family for support, wisdom, resources, guidance, help, or protection for yourself or others. Know that nothing inherent within you or anything that you did caused your father's abusive and deleterious behavior towards you. I and so many others are rooting for you. May God bless you always.


   Kathleen Nicole O'Neal

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Organizing at the Intersections of Ageism and Anti-LGBTQ Bigotry

   Eight years ago, I wrote a piece about the intersection of LGBTQ rights and ageism. A lot has changed since I wrote that post and in a sense, a lot has stayed the same. There have been wonderful gains made in terms of outlawing anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy in minors. Is this child protectionism? Is it youth liberation? I don't know, but everyone does know that previously minors could be subjected to harmful anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy on the whim of their bigoted parents and now they cannot in many states and I consider that a victory. (Although these things may not pass in the states where they are most needed.)

   We have changed the culture such that being gay is no longer the sort of thing that gets you bullied in many places. Now, you have adult and youth allies that you can contact as a young person and many people will support you if you are dealing with heterosexism or cissexism. We are making positive change.

   And yet fundamentally the issue of youth liberation is left out of the conversation. Banning anti-gay conversion therapy does not lead to a more serious intellectual and political challenge of guardianship and minor status, but it should. If young people were liberated, so many harms that the LGBTQ community fights would disappear. Young trans folks could start transitioning medically and socially as soon as it felt right for them whether or not their parents approved. LGBTQ youth bullied in school would be able to choose a different school where other students shared their values. LGBTQ youth kicked out of their familial residences could start their lives with a guaranteed basic income and no need for the support of bigoted parents. Getting rid of legal age restrictions would integrate these youth into the community faster and help them to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency. Autonomy is the goal and supports facilitate that.
In the 1970s, gay liberation and child liberation went hand in hand. We need to bring that back.

   This Pride, remember to stay radical. In the past, youth liberation was on the LGBTQ agenda just as anti-racism, feminism, and disability rights are on the agenda today. We need to bring that same mentality back today. Happy Pride!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Book Review: Resistance and Hope: Essays by Disabled People Edited by Alice Wong

  I have just finished reading the anthology Resistance and Hope: Essays By Disabled People. The book's other subtitle (which I love) is "Crip Wisdom for the People." This volume is edited by Alice Wong and is a part of the Disability Visibility Project. As I have found is oftentimes the case with anthologies which emanate from the disability community, the quality of writing will vary a great deal. Some pieces simply seemed like exercises in which the writer recited the list of politically relevant identity groups to which they belonged and then sought to promote their personal projects. Other pieces were excellent. The three best pieces in the anthology were written by Shain M. Neumeier, Lydia X. Z. Brown, and Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan. I'm proud to call all of these individuals personal friends of mine, but that is not what made their work stand out to me. It was the extent to which they were able to move beyond the politics of the personal to make their work speak with urgency to the issues facing disabled individuals and disability communities now. I would also add that all three individuals are youth liberationists. Their politics is grounded in recognizing the worth of all persons and working to create liberation from there.

   Brown's piece, entitled "Rebel - Don't Be Palatable: Resisting Co-optation and Fighting for the World We Want" focuses on the ways in which our movements themselves can be draining, discriminatory, exclusionary, and oppressive. It asks the reader to think about the ways in which activist communities to which they may belong all too often reenact the same rituals of devaluation and degradation that take place within so many other spaces within our society at large. Essentially, it is problematic to treat people as disposable simply because they may have behaved inappropriately at some point in time or shared an opinion with which one or the wider movement disagrees. And yet that is so often the course of action that our movement circles take.

   The absolute highlight of the book for me was Shain M. Neumeier's article "Back Into the Fires That Forged Us." Neumeier has a way of speaking to the heart of an issue in universal terms while bringing out unique aspects and connections among issues that others may not have noticed before. The ways in which Neumeier connects notions of authoritarianism, cruelty, and the criminalization of poverty and disability under the aegis of social Darwinism is impressive and thought-provoking. Perhaps most impressive of all, despite the piece's deep dive into such disheartening territory, the essay manages to end on a meaningfully hopeful and optimistic note. Neumeier's words are inspiring in the best possible way.

   Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan's piece entitled "Who Gets To Be the Activist?" relates the story of how Rodriguez, an attorney for the National LGBTQ Task Force, found herself talking to a legislative assistant for a Congressman about the Murphy Bill, legislation which would have stripped legal protections from people with psychiatric disabilities. The legislative assistant explained to Rodriguez, "You need to understand, this is just the serious mental illnesses we're talking about. Like bipolar and schizophrenia." At this point, Rodriguez informed the legislative assistant that actually she and her partner were both diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At this point, of course, the legislative assistant tried to backpedal and failed miserably. This story allows Rodriguez to make the larger point that disability inclusion has to mean all disabled people or else it is meaningless. It is beautifully and poignantly written.

   The last piece in the book is by comedian Maysoon Zayid and in it she says that, prior to the Trump era, the disability community had "focused less on survival and more on battling against ableist language and for the right to run out of spoons." I do not think that this is a fair summation of all of the disability activist work I have seen going on prior to the Trump era, but there is a grain of truth in it. The best pieces in this volume speak to what is truly important in reference to disability rights.


Friday, April 12, 2019

Gypsy Rose Blanchard, "The Act," and the Problematic Assumption of Caregiver Benevolence

   Gypsy Rose Blanchard's story is an object lesson in all of the ways that ageism, ableism, sexism, and the oppressive assumption of caregiver benevolence can intertwine with our society's mores and institutions to ultimately entrap someone. For those unfamiliar with the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, Wikipedia provides a good synopsis. I watched the HBO documentary that was made about the situation, but ultimately felt that it missed an opportunity to explore the ways in which ageism, ableism, and the problematic tendency to view anyone in a caregiving role as necessarily beneficent contributed to the tragedy of Gypsy Rose Blanchard's life. However, the Hulu series The Act which dramatizes the story does a much better job of exploring these elements of the story. Watching it is truly thought provoking and disturbing in ways that should make all of us think more deeply about the caregiving relationships that we are privy to in our own lives.

   Watching the scenes in which Dee Dee Blanchard speaks over her daughter, rushes to attempt to acquire a guardianship in reference Gypsy, and explains to anyone who will listen that Gypsy is "not like other girls" and "has the mind of a child," I thought of the parents of some individuals that I know with intellectual and physical disabilities that have echoed those same words and behaviors. While in these cases there is not the element of Munchausen by proxy that existed in reference to Gypsy, one nonetheless finds oneself thinking that some of these parents seem perhaps too happy to infantilize their children, that they are too quick to control their children's associations, that they are all too glad to take on the role of "benighted mother of special needs child," that they take too much pride in keeping their children dependent, ignorant, and impotent in reference to the things that matter in one's life.

   The Act is a very well made series and the acting, cinematography, music, and other elements of the production are top notch. But what makes it truly great art is the way that it forces the viewer to see that there is a bit of Dee Dee Blanchard in a lot of parents and caregivers and that there are so many ways in which our culture is complicit in the oppression of the many Gypsy Roses of the world, even when Munchausen by proxy is not necessarily a part of the equation. And of course, there are many victims of Munchausen by proxy whose torture is aided and abetted by our society's refusal to center the autonomy of youth, elders, and people with disabilities and to question the benevolence of those who would claim to speak for them (and who all too often actually speak over them). This is a powerful television series and I strongly recommend it as required viewing for all of those concerned with the issues that I blog about here.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Disabililty Day of Mourning 2019 and the Presumption of Caregiver Benevolence

Every March 1st, the disability community mourns those of us disabled people whose lives have been lost too soon, particularly those who are the victims of caregiver and familial violence due to prejudice and hatred directed towards us as a result of intolerance for our disabilities. Disabled lives are ended prematurely all too often for a variety of tragic reasons. Sometimes the issue may be the physical health problems that we live with which in some cases have the potential to cut our lives short. Sometimes the issue is a lack of funding and resources devoted to our care and welfare, which can have particularly deadly consequences for us. As was the case with the recently departed disability rights activist Carrie Ann Lucas, sometimes insurance companies and/or governmental austerity policies are at least in part to blame. Sometimes the issue is one of medical malpractice, medical neglect, medical paternalism, or even the medically sanctioned killing of disabled people, all ways in which the medical industrial complex all too frequently systematically disvalues the lives of disabled individuals with devastating consequences. However, one of the most salient causes of the death of disabled people, both disabled adults and disabled youth, that is discussed widely within the disability community but almost entirely ignored outside of the community, is the epidemic of caregiver and familial violence that disabled people face and all too often lose their lives as a result of.

   In our society, we like to think of caregivers, especially parents, as always loving, benevolent, and well meaning. We want to believe that even when they may not always do the right thing, they fundamentally want what is best for those in their care. And of course this is often the case. No one denies that many parents and caregivers for disabled and non-disabled people alike love those they care for a great deal and sacrifice a lot to try to do what is right for them. However, what we don't talk about is the reality that there are those who don't have the right attitude towards those in their care and yet wield authority over them all the same. The automatic presumption of caregiver benevolence is dangerous and deadly, particularly as its invisible and uncontested influence makes its presence felt in law, policy, and common social practices.

   According to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), in the past five years six hundred and fifty disabled people have been murdered by their parents. According to ASAN's website, "We see the same pattern repeating over and over again. A parent kills their disabled child. The media portrays these murders as justifiable and inevitable due to the 'burden' of having a disabled person in the family. If the parent stands trial, they are given sympathy and comparatively lighter sentences, if they are sentenced at all. The victims are disregarded, blamed for their own murder at the hands of the person they should have been able to trust the most, and ultimately forgotten. And then the cycle repeats."

   Two major societal assumptions are at work in terms of how the media and the culture at large reacts to these events. Ableism is a major part of the equation. So is the presumption of parental and caregiver benevolence that ultimately harms disabled people of all ages as well as youth with and without disabilities. Disability and youth liberation and oppression are intimately intertwined with one another. The Disability Day of Mourning is a day that youth and disability rights advocates should take time to reflect deeply on these connections, mourn for the victims of violence justified in the name of ableism and paternalism, and recommit ourselves to working for a more just world for both disabled people of all ages and for youth with and without disabilities. This is what understanding intersectionality is truly all about.