Saturday, October 13, 2012

So many questions

As I heard the news around Amanda Todd's death, a young girl who I've never met or heard about before today, at first I was hit with grief at the many traumas and tragedies that this young person experienced. The longer her story sat with me though, the greater the urge became to talk about this with people and figure this out. Much like her reasons for ending her life the solutions aren't to be found in one person, one blog post, news article or moments in time, but we need to start the conversation somewhere. I find myself drawn to this young person, full of questions that I can't ever ask, answers I'll never know, yet feel a compelling need to start discussing the issues that lay beyond the shock of the tragedy. It's important to note that there isn't one issue that Amanda Todd's story brings up that isn't a huge issue impacting many children and youth, and influencing many many stories that we are not hearing. Any child that is using a computer or even a cellphone, or is in contact with children who are could just as easily be caught up in a similar situation.

One moment that stands out for me in this moment is a flashback to my Children's Rights course from last year. We would often discuss the internet, the permanency and unforgiving nature of the internet, and how do we balance children's autonomy and right to their own mistakes with our duty to protect children. At no time are the answers clear cut, yet in this instance it is painfully obvious that we all got it wrong. To think that in one moment, one photograph could have such devastating haunting consequences is something that we rarely think about when engage online. The internet can be a wonderful tool, it allows us to communicate with people we would never meet otherwise, stay in touch with friends and family near and far, engage politically, become aware of the world around us, and yet it can be such a dangerous place as well. Grounds for sexual predators, cyberbullying, harassment, identity theft. It's a tricky thing for those of us who come to the internet as adults to manage, even for those of us in my generation, the first generation to grow up on computers. For those growing up in the internet age now, even seeing firsthand in schools the damage that being online and on social media in high school can cause it's hard to grasp the enormity and the challenges that kids today are going through, with little to no guidance from anyone.

Even this small piece leads me to so many questions. Where are the discussions on online literacy and safety? When are we starting to have these conversations with young people? Why are we handing children a mouse or an iPad without talking to them and not just once, but frequently about their behaviour online, the behaviour they see online, internet safety, what the darker side of the internet can look like. I don't believe that a 12 year old can have any concept what taking a picture like that can mean. That once it is out there it's impossible to get back, as I know many many young people have found out the hard way. Why are we not teaching young people these things from the moment they lay their hands on a computer? I know as those of us who care about or work with children are only just starting to truly recognize the importance of this work and this education, but we have to catch up and fast. 

Beyond that, where are the gatekeepers? By this I mean, where is the pressure on social media websites to actually shut down pages or accounts that violate terms of service agreements or let's go one step further and talk about pages with illegal content. I recognize that social media websites are huge and only increasing by the day, but it is crucial that there is adequate staffing and attention paid to policing at a bare minimum what is reported as harassment and illegal content. In this case, the image of a 12 year flashing herself that has been described, falls under the area of child pornography, and had websites like Facebook responded appropriately there was significant action that could be taken. The page could be taken down, the IP address of the poster could be reported and traced, the person tormenting this young lady could have been found. Why do those who have legitimate crimes perpetrated against them online have so little recourse both legally and through websites where these crimes take place?

Where are the adults online too? I have seen so much controversy that asks questions like "Should teachers, counsellors, doctors etc. be online? Should they be "friends" with their students, clients, patients etc.?" I'm never going to be the person to say that I think a professional should mix their personal online identity with their professional online identity, but honestly, when has it ever been a great idea to leave young people in large groups alone unsupervised? If young people have trusted adults, and for every young person that is going to be a different mix of professionals, family, community members that make up the group of trusted adults in that young person's life, who can at least keep a silent eye on what a young person is up to online, and be there to instigate discussion if necessary, I don't see that as bad. Yes, like anything else, there needs to be clear purpose and discussion of role etc. when professionals engage with clients/patients/etc. online, but it's time for us adults to stop questioning whether young people need our eyes online and to start figuring out how we do that professionally, respectfully and responsibly.

I also wonder about the social pressure to be online. Why has Facebook and other social media become essential in this day and age? I wonder about concepts like digital surveillance. How social media has allowed us to police each other in new forums and new ways than ever before. I wonder what would have changed for this young woman had there been support to help her disengage from the social media battles that were destroying her life. I wonder why we feel that we have to engage in these specific ways when they have such potential for hurt. Where is the line between where they add to our lives and where they become harmful addictions that we can't escape from. Where does a connection or post online become more important than what happens face to face?

There are so many questions that I have as a CYC. How can we expect to know who we need to reach out to when we engage with youth face to face and not online? How can we identify something that exists outside of a realm we almost purposefully keep ourselves away from? How do we work with young people who experience this kind of victimization? How do we start to do more to work with all young people from all sides of the cyberbullying equation. 

I have other questions too. Questions like what have we done as a society that makes a 12 year old think that exposing her breasts online is the norm or necessary? Where have we failed at bringing up young people who can critically deconstruct what we see? Heck, why do we as a society perpetually force hypersexualized images of women down the throats of young girl's throats virtually from the womb. Not so virtually even if you take a critical eye to some of the baby clothing out there. 

Another post I saw also talked about protection for victims of cyberbullying. I've heard stories from young people that have broken my heart, about being the victim of many different kinds of incidents, the perpetrator serving their punishment, and then coming back to school. While I recognize that it is equally important to recognize that someone who perpetrates these acts has as much of a right to forgiveness, education etc. Often these critical points of reintegration aren't done without any kind of reconciliation or work towards protecting either young person. When handled poorly a young person can be re-traumatized again and again.

One of the things that breaks my heart about this story in particular is the way that this mistake seemed to follow this young woman wherever she went no matter how hard she tried to escape or how far away she went. In part this is the nature of the internet age. So much of me hopes though that we could have done better to give her skills to manage a better start. If we could have worked with her to build resiliency, and to help her face that these same issues could resurface for her. Would it have helped her to have a plan when these photos resurfaced? How do we help children who have experienced incidents who are looking for a new start prepare for what might happen when an old story or experience follows them? 

There is so much more that I could bring to this discussion, that will undoubtably happen as I process it more, but right now I feel sad. I hope that we can move from sadness and tragedy to a much larger conversation and move towards action as well. It is so very very tragic that we have lost another young person, but also so important to look to what we can be doing to help the many others going through the same thing.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Wow! It's been a long time since I last blogged at all. I saw that a friend of mine is making it a goal to blog every day this summer, and while I have lots of commitments this summer and don't know if I can blog every day, I'm going to give it a try to be here more often, even if it isn't to say anything particularly interesting. This summer I'm doing something absolutely fascinating to me. I won a URO scholarship from Ryerson to conduct my own paid undergraduate research project. I'm doing a project that is exploring the lived experiences of Deaf youth. It's a qualitative research project, so we (Meaning my supervisor is helping me with all the planning, but I'm going to be the one responsible for doing it) are going to interview Deaf youth to find out things like the kinds of supports that they have that are good, the supports that were not so good, issues that Deaf youth face today, and all kinds of really amazing things like that. Right now things are really at just the beginning stages. Doing lots and lots of reading, and working on creating a lot of the research-y papers that you need, like consent forms, interview guides, recruitment flyers etc. It's been really great!

 On top of that I just planted a bunch of stuff in my garden this morning. I have plans to take over the backyard of my apartment building with a much enhanced container garden from last year. I also bought swiss chard today and I'm a bit fascinated to see how growing that goes. I'm not entirely sure what you do with it (Or if I'm allergic to it since I'm allergic to collard greens, but I think swiss chard is okay), but I'm looking forward to the adventure. I also have some beets growing and I hope that works out because I love beets.

Other than that, things keep on going. I'm super depressed by the political climate right now. We are in a weird time of back and forth, where we have things like a trans discrimination bill passing a second reading, but Federally women's and Aboriginal services closing. Funding for more and more community services is becoming precarious with many organizations being forced to close their doors. It sucks because we want the outcomes that these services have, but no one is prepared to pay for them. I think I'm going through a phase where I have less energy to fight those things right now. They are too big, and I don't think that the rest of the world quite understands why social services are so important. I seem to be focusing on smaller fights right now. Learning about how to use the system at Ryerson as much as possible to support interpreting. All kinds of things. There have been a million and one small and not so small fights lately.

 I'm looking forward to this summer though. I see lots of things changing. I'm realizing how personal research is. That I am researching people like me. It's starting to sink in how much of a privilege it really is to be asking people to share those experiences, and realizing how those experiences are going to resonate with me and creep into how I define my own identity. Even as I'm doing all of this reading I see things shifting, going back and forth, one way or another. Realizing how everything all fits together in new ways. It is scary being out there in a place where this has never been done before, but at the same time, since I live it, I do have some idea of what I will find out. I don't know. This has kind of just become ramble-y rather than having any kind of focus, but I'm okay with that. It's a beginning and I don't think those are ever completely certain.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


So, it seems I am going to use my blog to talk about something completely non-critical and uncontroversial. I know it is a shock, but it's my blog and I can do what I want with it.

For the first summer in my life I am without a backyard, and only a 53"x 53" deck to lay claim to the outdoors with. I am also busier than I have ever been juggling 3 jobs, (2 of which are occasional work so it isn't like I'm working 70 hours a week), 2 online courses, many volunteer commitments and I don't even know what else, so it isn't like I have tons and tons of time to coddle a garden. Whatever I grew this year and how I grew it had to be pretty low maintenance.

Enter the idea of a sub-irrigation planter. They are also called self-watering planters. The idea being that if I don't have to worry about watering the garden every couple of days it will pretty much grow itself once the initial commitment of building the planters and planting stuff is taken care of. Since I've been asked lots of times about them and about how to do them, I thought I would put together a bit of a photo-tutorial even though I'm sure there are better more thorough ones out there.

So, let's get started!

You will need:

One storage container with lid (Mine was a 66L one that was on sale at Home Depot for $5). It's best if the lid isn't too rigid since you are going to have to cut it.
One exacto knife
A sharpie or something else to mark where to cut with
2 Yogurt containers (750 g)
A piece of pipe about 6 inches taller than the container (Mine were 2 feet tall) with one end cut on an angle.
30 L of triple mix soil

1) Use the exacto knife to trim the lid down so that it fits inside the container. For me this meant cutting it just inside the second ridge and just having the centre of the lid. If you are unsure leave it bigger and you can trim it down to fit afterwards with scissors. That's what I did until I figured it out.

When you are done, it will look like this:

2) Lay the two yogurt containers on top of the cut out lid and trace around them with the sharpie.

So that you will have something that looks like this:

3) Next we are going to be cutting those circles out. Before we do, I just wanted to mention that it is important to make sure that you are cutting inside the circle that you drew. The yogurt containers are going to help support the false bottom (aka the lid you just cut down) in the container, so it is important that when you cut out the circles that the containers can't fit through them at the top.

To cut out the circles you are going to cut a + sign into the lid in the middle of the circle like this:

To trace out the circle you are going to skor a curve into the lid, for one of the 4 segments you created, using the exacto knife just inside the line that you drew like this:

Then, you can push that one piece out through the middle and it will just snap off leaving a wedge shaped hole.

Repeat all the way around the circle until you get something that looks like this:

4) Repeat this process for the second circle.

5) Trace the outline of the pipe onto the lid.

The process for this is exactly the same as with the yogurt containers only this time, you want to make sure that you trace outside the black line since we want the pipe to fit through the hole. Don't worry if the hole is a bit too big for the pipe since when we put soil in the planter it will help stabilize it.

When you are done it will look like this:

6) Now we are going to put holes in the yogurt containers. That's how the soil will absorb the water. I used the exacto knife and just cut out triangles, you could also poke holes with a drill bit, or an awl or anything that you want. When I was done, mine looked like this:

7) Place the yogurt containers in the bottom of the storage container:

Then place the false bottom with the bias side of the pipe facing downwards in the container on top of the yogurt containers, lining up the yogurt containers with the holes for them:

8) Bring planter to where you want it to stay. From here on out it will get heavy so moving it will be hard.

9) Fill planter with soil.

10) Plant things in planter. In this one I planted 2 tomato plants, as well as some peas and kale from seed.

11) Pour in a bucket full of water through the pipe at the top and let the plants grow!

I'll check back in a few weeks with how everything is getting on!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I consider myself to be a fairly open person. You can ask me pretty much anything, and so long as it is asked with respect in the context of some form of a relationship, even one that is just starting, I will answer you as honestly as I feel comfortable. I recognize that I have knowledge and a perspective that many people don't share and I am always happy to share the theories I have come across as well as my own experiences. I am not however, willing to let that openness be transformed into something where I am akin to the monkey at the zoo.

Within the last week or so I've had a few experiences that made me start to question why I do keep myself so open to other people and where do I draw the line.

A group of Social Work students (From a program with a strong anti-oppression foundation) approached me and asked if I would help them with a group project on disability within the school. Given that this past year I sat on and chaired many disability-related committees and had my own lived experiences of disability I felt that I was in an excellent position to provide them with a really detailed look at who the major players are regarding disability at the school, and exactly what each committee and group was doing.

I met with one girl, and she was awesome. We had a great conversation about disability, and even though it was clear that she hadn't been exposed to a lot of disability theory or know much about what the issues were, she engaged with respect and sensitivity and all of the things that make people an awesome ally. As we were leaving I mentioned that if there were other members of her group who wanted to contact me, she could go ahead and share my contact information and I would be happy to meet with them or talk to them.

A couple of days ago as the project was getting closer to being due, I got an email from another group member. Whereas the email from the first person had engaged respectfully, had asked for my time and a discussion, this person took it for granted that I would be willing to help them, and in the same email where they were asking me for help attached a list of questions that if I just wouldn't mind answering them and sending them back to him, that would be great.

When I read the questions I was kind of shocked. Initially off the bat the first question was who are you at the school? Staff/Student/Faculty, able/disabled, male/female? I felt reduced to someone who could be put into this little tiny binary box to be dissected and examined. It would have been one thing if the question had been phrased "Can you tell me a little bit about who you are within the school community?" Perhaps using the interviewing and counselling skills that they teach in the social work program. Or, perhaps recognizing the privileged position that allows you to even ask those questions to someone else. It was terrifying to me that someone who is in school to be a Social Worker and who will be working with marginalized and oppressed populations for the entirety of their career could approach a person in such an intrusive manner.

I'd like to be able to say that I called them out on their oppressive behaviour. The truth is that I tried to fight for some basic respect. I put out there that if they wanted to talk about these things they were complicated so they needed to happen in person rather than email. I tried to get them to realize that that meeting should happen in a time and manner that was convenient for me. Sadly in the end I gave in and had this conversation in a manner that I didn't want to. I'd like to hope that now this person at least has a better understanding of what the issues are, but I am disappointed with myself that I didn't feel convinced enough that what they were doing was oppressive to call them out on that behaviour. For their own good, and the good of everyone that they will come across.

I think it is shocking though how many people there are like this in the world. For me it was shocking that even though I've had more than my share of run-ins with close-minded oppressive service providers, that these people are in my school and that they come from somewhere. That there are people who treat people like they should be in an exhibit and studied rather than as full citizens to engage with. That as much as I live in a socially aware little bubble, there is still a big world out there that would rather study me and examine me from afar rather than actually see me as a person.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Earning the big D

I had this nasty problem. One that no matter how hard I tried to figure out how to resolve it I never quite knew what to do.

Inevitably time and time again someone would come up to me, or I'd meet someone and I'd struggle for how I would define myself.

For those of us with hearing loss, there are quite a few options:

There is the supposedly politically correct hearing impaired, which is by no means the politically correct term that it maintains it is. I would like to figure out what exactly is impaired or deficient. Needless to say, unless someone has decided that it is an appropriate identity for themselves (typically an elderly population who has never learned to sign or would know what to do with ASL if it hit them over their heads) don't use this term to describe anyone. It isn't going to go over well.

There is the label hard of hearing. This refers to those who have hearing loss, but typically in the less severe categories. They typically rely on devices to correct their hearing such as hearing aids, and will speak and speech-read as the need arises. Typically those who identify as hard of hearing have no knowledge of ASL or Deaf culture.

There is the label of deaf which refers to an audiological state of deafness. People who identify as deaf have severe to profound levels of hearing loss, but will either correct it using hearing aids or cochlear implants or will rely on speech-reading. Again those who identify as deaf may know a few basic signs to get by, but the majority of the time they rely on other means of communication.

Then there is Deaf. Deafness in this case refers to both an audiological state of deafness as well as a belonging to the Deaf community. There is a cultural aspect to your Deafness as well. Deaf people sign, they attend events in the Deaf community, they value ASL and are often activists to protect their culture and their language.

As with any kind of an identity label they are all self-identified and there are always exceptions to any rule.

Which then leaves me. I have struggled for months with where I fit into this jumbling confusion of labels. I can hear out of one ear. I can do most of the things I do in spoken English. I sign. I use interpreters. I am involved in the Deaf community and Deaf culture. Really, for the most part I'd become an expert at avoiding the question when people asked me whether I was Deaf or hearing. I got used to the sideways glances my friends would give me knowing the story that was about to erupt from my hands or mouth depending on the setting. The fact that most of my stories begin with it's complicated seemed to be a dead giveaway.

Somewhere though, I became an activist. The rights that I were fighting for were no longer the rights of a group of people that I was supporting, but they became my own. I was fighting for my own rights to access information and events that anyone else would have the right to. It isn't just friends and acquaintances who are being denied access, it is me. The more I start to live in this world, the more it fits me, the more even though sometimes watching interpreters all day makes me want to remove my eyes from my face and eat them, the more I still value that time. It is time where I'm not standing against a wall or in a corner because I don't understand what it is going on. Where I can hear the noise around me, but not well enough to make sense of any of it. It is time when I get to be fully involved, fully engaged, happy that I'm not making a fool out of myself because I am refusing to acknowledge how much I can't hear. It is realizing how much I hate the phone, how hard it really is for me, and how cut off I am from the world if my one good ear is glued to a device, and how much I prefer to write or sign.

A friend of mine got into Ryerson this week. Hopefully eventually into my program, but for now knowing she will be at the school is enough. We started planning our year, figuring out that we wanted to be involved, both sort of realizing that we wanted the safety net of another to hold our backs. Both being delighted that we weren't going to be "the only one" at anything we went to. Realizing that it was about community and support and having spaces.

After a full day of fighting for rights, and winning the fight to have access, I realized that that was the moment, when I had least expected it. Stuck in an email war against a bureaucratic institution trying to deny their right to make their open event accessible, I earned my D and the identity debate was gone forever.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Silences Can Be Deadly

I've been thinking a lot about support lately.

Things in my life really haven't been going how I would have liked them to for the past few months now. I've been pretty quiet as just existing has seemed to have sucked up most of my energy. Nonetheless there has been a discussion bubbling away in the back of my mind.

I was invited to be a guest blogger on about the theme of bodily-self determination. I wrote about my views of myself in the context of independence and having a disability. If you are curious about it you can check it out here. Writing that post really got me thinking about the theme of support.

I think we don't like to realize how interconnected we all really are. I think we all would prefer to forget about the part where we all depend on other people all of the time. Humans are social creatures and as such without contact and support from our fellow humans we would all be unable to cope with anything.

It has taken a lot of people to get me through the last few months. I'm sure it will take even more people before it is all over. I think that being put in a position where I have had to depend on other people, and consciously depend on them has made me realize just how important having support really is. Having people I can depend on to be there, and to help and support me has made so much of a difference I can't even describe it. Finding out that people care about me that much that they are willing to drop everything that they are doing to be there if I need them is a big deal to me.

I always find myself in a position where I don't like to ask for support or ask for help. I want to be able to do things on my own, and I think that people will think less of me if I ask them for help. It often feels like my role in life is to be there to provide support for other people, but never to ask for people to give anything back to me. I am constantly reminding myself that if I enjoy being able to give support to others when they need it and ask for it, then that is a mutual thing, it is okay to ask for support when I need it too.

I think my point isn't anything terribly difficult or profound, it's something that I've worked on growing a sense of for awhile. I don't believe anymore that anything is supposed to be dealt with by a person all on their own. In anything that I've gone through I've always found that talking about it has made it better. I've had to learn how to reach out to people and start those discussions, start connecting to people, start creating dialogue sometimes about really uncomfortable and horrible things. The things that are the most uncomfortable are the ones that are the most important to talk about because the silences we create around those topics are the exact same thing that gives those events power over us.

The saying is that it takes a village to raise a child, and that no man is an island. I think that no one can exist as their own separate entity. We are all products of how we intersect and relate to others. We exist in communities and circles for a reason, we are all connected and we all depend on one another. No one person can handle the burdens or struggles on their own. When you share them around each person takes on a tiny piece, and person by person, piece by piece, eventually the tragedy becomes manageable. The community as a whole steps in to learn how to support one another and be there for one another.

It is when we are silent and too stubborn to ask for support that we end up weak. That doesn't mean that the struggle as a collective is easy or without challenge, but just that somehow with support you know you aren't alone. You know you are one of many standing to fight this fight together. Although there are times when it is truly your struggle and you must go through a piece alone, I don't think that even then we are ever actually alone. People can hold us in their thoughts, and be on either side to give us their support and hold our hands. The trick is to know that you need it and not be too proud to ask for it. To not let the silences get the best of you.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Are we really doing ourselves any favours?

I have to say, like many many others out there I have become obsessed with Glee, and since even my mother has watched it that means that probably about 95% of the population has at least heard of it if not seen it (sorry mom, I know you're reading, but let's face it, it's true).

It's actually spawned a couple of really good conversations about the things that the show does right, and the many many things that it does wrong. I kept meaning to summarize some of those conversations and my take on the broader issues around it here, but I'm glad that I waited, because as it is often apt to, something else came to my attention.

I walked into work today and found this article hanging off of one of the staff's door. It is yet another article singing the praises of Glee for bringing issues of access and dis/Ability to the forefront of North American prime time. I read it and just cringed inside. This is what we are championing as a good model of inclusion for the future Early Childhood Educators of Toronto?

I will be the first to give the show some credit where credit is due, it does as the article suggests actually cast characters with disabilities as main recurring characters, and creates plotlines around them. However, I will openly question if the inclusion of Artie as a choir member was an attempt to continue to dramatize the underdog and outcast role that the group begun from. Something along the lines of "Oh, what could make a show choir even more pathetic? Oh, I know! Let's add in a character in a wheelchair! Then later when we really need it, we can have the group drawing inspiration and spinoff plot lines from him too and no one will ever guess it was just a giant joke to begin with." I question the inclusion of the Deaf glee club from the same kind of thinking "What kind of groups could be out there that would be even worse off than this school's Glee Club? Oh! What about Deaf kids? We all know they can't sing, and oh hey criminals!, those sound like good odds."

There are two other aspects of the show that I do like. I like that Kurt had the freedom in his role to be not only as effeminately gay as he wanted, but then also to be the hero of the football team for winning the first game for them. The fact that he didn't have to change who he was and was given the freedom at this seemingly incredibly homophobic and small minded high school is showing that sexuality isn't nearly the issue that it used to be. If you have the skills go for it. The second aspect was something that was actually pointed out to me that I hadn't stopped to consider, but it was how Artie reacted to Tina divulging that her stutter was actually faked. Artie seemed very very genuine in his response that he thought that he and Tina had something really important in common, and understood what it was like to be different, but that if she was just faking then they didn't have any common ground to stand on. The bottom line was that without understanding the frustration of not having a choice in how people treat you or see you, it doesn't really matter. I can totally get Artie's frustration of "Well how come you get to walk away and be normal now, when I'm still stuck here the way I've always been."

I think the thing that really gets to me about all of this though is the idea of representation. How these things are being portrayed.

One group GLAAD (Gays & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) does a media report every year on how Queer people are represented in the media. This season's report shows that about 3% of all characters on TV are queer. This is a huge contrast to the roughly 10% of the population that identifies as queer. I'm sure that there are several other groups out there that monitor how people with dis/Abilities are portrayed, various cultural and ethnic groups etc. This is just the one that I know off hand. I'm sure that all of these groups would share a similar finding though, that people from all of these groups are under and poorly represented in the mainstream media.

This is where the problem comes in I think. People get so excited to see themselves represented on TV that they are willing to overlook all manners of sin just because they see themselves in that moment as visible. I would be lying if I said I wasn't guilty of it. The fact that Glee had a song performed in ASL by a Deaf glee club was the entire reason I even started watching the show, and figuring out what it was about.

In dealing with the Deaf school there are two things that really bother me, one I noticed right away, the other took more time and reflection. The first is how they treated the character who was the teacher of the school for the Deaf. Why not pick a strong Deaf role model for these kids to look up to? Why not have the teacher be culturally Deaf and a fluent signer? Instead they chose to make him appear to be a complete idiot who was supposedly deaf in one ear, who screamed at everyone and insisted on telling everyone repeatedly that he was deaf and why. Now, I am deaf in one ear, and if I appear as one eighth the fool that he does, someone please just shoot me now. No one goes around like that. If the point was to add comedic value, why do we always have to use disability as the playground? What is the point of trying to push the message that we are all the same, if the message that comes out is only that we good to be laughed at?

The second thing is how they chose to deal with the glee club itself. I do believe as the article suggests that the fact that both glee clubs coming together to sing imagine was this great picture of unity between the two schools, and how in an idealistic world Deaf and hearing people can all exist together harmoniously. That being said, I'm sure that on another level it was a very surface level, though appearing deeply thought out solution to a pretty obvious problem. While watching Deaf kids do their thing is beautiful to those of us who sign and value ASL, for the rest of the world out there who doesn't sign, it is a pretty boring-ass way to spend 4 minutes of their lives. The writers were even kind, they chose to have a kid who was both oral and signed to voice the song so that the viewers didn't have to depend on open captions to know what was going on. Still this was not enough auditory input for their viewers so instead of really giving the Deaf kids their moment to shine, they chose to go for the big show. When it's all about viewer numbers and advertising who can blame them right? Also, I have to say that during the finale their choice to make the Deaf choir an entirely audio-track singing horribly off-key and out of tune downright upset me. Why go through all that work to set a good thing up, and then totally write it off when it comes up again? How hard would it have been to film both scenes at the same time? Why have a Deaf choir if you aren't going to see it through?

For me what scares me is that we see ourselves portrayed in these horribly unrealistic and negative ways and we cheer. We cheer that at least we are being seen and being mentioned at all. We don't stop to think critically about the messages people are taking away with them about what our own difference looks like. We don't demand better representation, because we are at least seeing ourselves, and that is better than nothing at all. It's better than being ignored and forgotten. I just wonder how if we don't push to see ourselves represented in positive realistic ways how we are allowing ourselves to get further ahead at all.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Sexual Health Activism is Important to Us All

I've done a lot of reflecting this week. Especially with the Empower launch, and it being World AIDS Day yesterday, I've been rethinking my position on not being a sexual health activist, and I've realized that maybe I couldn't help but be one after all.

Sexual health is a really tricky thing. Access to sexual health information is so controlled. So the first impact I guess would be colonialism. That according to the WASP values of our society, no one wants to talk about sex, or admit to having sex outside of marriage, so you end up with abstinence-only sex education, which they already know does not work. You also end up with this learned discomfort around discussing sex. I think that the learned discomfort is so dangerous. If people can't talk openly and honestly about sex then how will they get access to the information that they need.

I think then that is where this starts to also move over into feminist views about sex and sexuality and the enjoyment of sex. Or sex-positive perspectives. That was the term I was looking for. The idea that we can teach people that it is okay to find pleasure from sex. I know this is a shocking and radical idea, but in our society sex really isn't about procreation anymore. I think that it is also about empowering women to be able to find control and ownership of their bodies and their sexuality. I think that when you create conditions that allow for people to feel like it is safe to talk about sex being something that they find pleasure in it opens up the door to talk about other things too. I think that when it is safe to talk about sex being a positive experience for people, it makes it okay to start dialoging about when sex isn't positive. It allows you to start having discussions about things like sexual abuse, harassment, assault and rape. Conversations that when they don't get had make these epidemics invisible. When we don't talk about them the women who have survived them feel isolated and alone, feeling like there is no one who can understand what they have lived through or provide support. It allows the silent acceptance of these evils, and allows them to continue. If we continue to accept that women have no say in what happens to their bodies, and no right to enjoy sex then how can we expect to move forward and address the sexual exploitation of women, when we have already tacitly accepted it as matter of course in our society.

I think from here I'm going on to touch on homophobia and ableism.

Sexual health education and sexual health care as it exists today is quite homophobic. I know queer woman who have been told that they don't need any kind of sexual health care because they were only having sex with women. I know that there is not a lot of information available out there on safe sex practices for queer women, and even though queer guys can extrapolate the always use a condom lesson that is pounded into most high school students today, for queer women their needs are never addressed by the mainstream school system, and often ignored by the health care sector as well. The only group who I think really gets worse sexual health care is the trans community, and that's related to sexism, and how and where they fall on the gender-binary.

Ableism is huge. I know how hard the Deaf community works to make sure that sexual health information is accessible to them. I also know that there is always more work to be done. I know how many stories I've heard of so many many disability communities not having access to appropriate sexual health information. How much mainstream information is there on sexuality that is written in braille or available through an audio format? How many of the mainstream brochures discusses how to modify sex for persons with mobility issue? Is this information available at all from credible sources? How many times are persons with developmental delays not given any kind of sexual health information at all? I understand that it has to be developmentally appropriate, and it can take time to teach it, but that is no excuse for failing to teach it at all.

Having the opportunity to participate in the panel last week gave me the opportunity to reflect on the fact that I feel like many of the barriers that I've discussed are the reasons why I did not identify as a sexual health activist, and the exact reason for why it is that I should and that I need to. One thing that rang for me that I said at the panel was basically, if we don't speak to our experiences who will, and what are they going to say and decide for us?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Youth Activism and HIV/AIDS or How I Blinked and Accidentally Became a Sexual Health Activist

I am an activist. I advocate for a lot of things. I am a youth activist, a queer activist, a Deaf activist, a mental health activist, in a weird way I guess you could even say I am a health in general activist too. One form of activism I've always respected but have always felt that I should be the last person on earth to talk about or take part in is sexual health/HIV/AIDS activism. There's lots of reasons, but I'm really not the one you want talking about sexual health. I just don't have the background for it.

So, tonight I went to the launch of "Empower. Youth, Arts and Activism: An HIV/AIDS Arts Activism Manual for Youth by Youth". I have to admit that I went in part because the project sounded cool, and I wanted to check it out, and see what I could take back to my own activism in it's many forms, but for the most part I went because one of the most awesome, kick ass women I know: Jessica Yee was presenting, and since she is so crazy busy catching her when she presents is the only way to ever get to see her.

So, the plan was to go, hang out, probably learn some new things, and see where it all wound up taking me. In reality, I had no idea what I was about to walk into. The project is awesome, and the night truly was amazing. There were all kinds of partner projects on display, videos, t-shirt designing, drag performances, food (always a plus), really you name it. I got the chance to talk to some really awesome people doing some really awesome projects. Apparently when my sister was doing her big research project on peer-education in sexual health linked with HIV/AIDS (I know I'm butchering what it is actually called, but it was on using peer-education models and harm reduction approaches while teaching sexual health education linked to HIV/AIDS) she was connecting and working with a lot of the people who were connected with this manual. So I walk into the room, hear some of the names of the people who put this thing together, and realize that I know these people, and they know me, by name even though we've never met. So, it was pretty cool to meet people who I've heard so much about these past couple of years, they seem pretty awesome.

Then we're moving towards the end part of the evening, I was talking with Jessica, and ended up being introduced to half of the youth workers in the room, which was pretty cool, and then the next thing I know I'm being asked a very loaded question by a slightly panicked looking project coordinator. "We're down one of our panelists for tonight and Jessica tells says that you would be amazing at it, is there any way you'd be willing to be on our panel?" After pointing out that I have no connection to HIV/AIDS activism, and I barely qualify for having done sexual health work (I was told that my work with TEACH definitely counted, but I remain firmly on the fence about that) I agreed. I got walked through the plan for the panel (we were the guests on a talk show discussing sexual health activism and work) and it seemed pretty awesome, lots of being interactive and fun and generally really cool.

So, I got to introduce myself and the work that I was doing, and I think I've decided that after doing 4 panels in the last 2-3 weeks I really need to find someone who can help me write up a proper biography for things like this, and the three of us got to have a facilitated conversation on activism and HIV/AIDS. It was actually pretty cool, I feel like I held my own. I was the youngest panel member, we were all ironically connected with Planned Parenthood in some way, and just got to really talk about youth engagement, and using adult allies, and how it's important to listen to youth and let them be the experts on themselves and speak for themselves. I also got to talk about the lack of sexual health resources for queer women out there and how there really is nothing, I think that transfolk are probably the only group who have less resources out there than we do in terms of sexual health. (Which might explain part of why I don't identify as a sexual health activist).

Then after the panel there were a whole bunch of students reporting on the event through video and photography and I don't even know what else, who wanted information and a couple of interviews, and so I talked even more about HIV/AIDS and some of the technical parts of it that I do know, so we'll see what comes of it. If any of it goes anywhere I will completely post about it here.

So, that's pretty much what happened. I went thinking it would be good times, and just a chance to catch up with a friend, and then the next thing I knew I blinked and became a sexual health activist. I seem to have activism thrown on me a lot lately. It's a good thing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Difference in Action

I think that it's a lot of things, but late Friday night I found myself out for dinner with a bunch of friends, and we had some really interesting conversations. Earlier on in the night we had spoken about our various experiences as Deaf people in the education system.

Now, first of all, sometimes I really struggle with using the term Deaf to describe myself, but in a lot of ways it is really the right term. At least in that context anyway. I still have a fair bit of my hearing left. I interact with hearing people everyday by speaking and listening to them. Listening and not speech-reading. That being said, people with hearing loss who are like me are a huge anomaly. Especially when you take into account that I lost my hearing when I was in my 20's. Virtually no one with hearing loss such as mine goes on to use ASL as their preferred way of communicating to deal with hearing loss. It just doesn't happen. They will use hearing aids, implants, speech reading, captioning, but will not learn ASL. I already knew ASL/was learning it. It seemed like a natural leap for me, so I did it. This puts me in a strange place where I am not typically hard of hearing because I sign, nor am I typically Deaf because of how much I hear. I am getting more comfortable and leaning more towards the use of the term Deaf, but for now I very much feel like I have a foot firmly in both worlds, and that makes me... Something that I'm not quite sure what. I just wanted to explain a little bit as to how I came to cast myself as a Deaf person within the education system.

The one comment that stuck out for me in all of this from a discussion about knitting, and being able to knit in class, was "Deaf students don't have the same rights as hearing people in a classroom"

I have felt that way since the day school started. The school has hired 2 interpreters and a professional notetaker for me in all of my classes. This is not exactly a small expense. According to the agreement I have with the school, they provide me with these services, however I am obligated to let the interpreters and notetakers know if I will not be in class on any given day, and if I fail to do so enough time, I can lose the right to have these accommodations. This was part of what influenced my decision to ask for interpreters, aside from the part where I was right that I would need them in the classroom, I tend to have a number of days where I hover on whether or not I should drag myself to class. Usually just the added work of having to email the interpreters and notetakers to let them know that I am not going is enough to make me just get out of bed and go, because I see myself as accountable to them. Therefore, the first right I lose is the right to skip class as I please. Actually a bonus when it comes to me attending my classes, but even on days when I am legitimately not feeling well or need a break, I feel guilty that I am not going to class. And also, if I'm not in class or leave class early it is impossible for me to be inconspicuous when it means the absence of 3 others in the room besides myself. In a class of 50 students I lose my invisibility. This means that all of my teachers know who I am, but they also know when I am in class versus when I am not, and out of a room of 200, I still stand out purple hair aside.

In College, even in my sign language courses I would often knit in class. We didn't often have to take many notes, we often had big group discussions and it was an easy way to keep my hands busy, but my mind still engaged in the learning. Now as things that we talked about in the interpreter program (such as how memory works) come up again in my classes I actually realize how much information I recall from when I was knitting. Now I find that despite the fact that I literally have nothing to do in class but sit there, I feel guilty as anything if I pull out the knitting. I can knit and take in sign at the same time. I did it during presentations and several other points last year. I have to be more careful about what patterns I knit, but it is easily doable. It is sad for me because I do concentrate better if my hands are busy, and hopefully as time goes on I will be able to knit in class again, but for now, part of why I get into trouble (with not being able to sit still and making smart ass comments to the interpreters) is that I don't have anything in my hands to keep me busy enough to be engaged in learning.

The other thing that I find is that I am treated vastly differently by my peers. They don't understand why the interpreters are there, or who they are even there for many times. I remember one story that happened about a month ago, I was sitting in class early, and the class was mostly empty. I was talking to this girl who was sitting behind me. She was very soft spoken and I was having a hard time understanding her, and as the room began to fill up, I was having even more trouble. It got to the point where she was having to repeat herself three or four times for me to understand what she was saying for every sentence. By this point one of my interpreters had arrived so I explained to her that I was going to ask the interpreter to come over and interpret for her because I couldn't hear what she was saying and that it would be easier. The interpreter came over, and she just shut down. I know that it can be weird to use an interpreter at first so I started asking her questions about what it was she had just been saying, but she began giving me one word answers. Eventually I just gave up. It was so frustrating though to see how differently I was treated in a 5 minute time span by the same person.

I understand that things that are new for us can be scary and it can take some getting used to things like working through an interpreter. I don't expect people to know what to do all on their own. Having to teach them is okay. I just can't stand that people use my difference and my Deafness as an excuse to treat me differently. To make excuses about why they can't do something because I am different. Asking the teacher to put on the closed captioning for a movie, or leave the lights on at the front of the room so I can see the interpreters should not be as much of a fight as it is half the time. I understand having to ask once, but the continued struggle? When having this information is taken for granted for every other student in the room? I don't get it.

So do I think that Deaf students have the same rights as everyone else? Absolutely not. That doesn't mean that I know how to fix the problem though.