Category Archives: Disability

A Wheelchair in Gold: The Jenner Machine

Turning now to the issue of Kylie Jenner and the golden wheelchair, of course it was offensive. Thinking first of the colour of the wheelchair there is a hierarchy in precious metals, consisting of  bronze, silver and gold.

Given this hierarchy, gold is the top dog, the number one. You are gold Spandau Ballet tell us and I have believed this many times in a haze of drunken confidence.

Therefore, being the Alan Sugar of precious metals on wheels confers upon the object a certain amount of power, status and wealth, which Kylie Jenner has in abundance and many people with disabilities do not.

I wonder if she’s ever been told, when asking for help to take the golden brakes of the golden wheelchair that she could do it herself if she wasn’t so lazy?

What do you mean she’s never been out in the wheelchair? Oh yes I forgot! It’s art darling! How remiss of me!

So framing the wheelchair as an object of wealth and power is completely at odds with the experience of people with disabilities in their daily lives. It is the photographer’s prerogative to use a golden wheelchair in the first place. Using a gold wheelchair signifies the power Kylie Jenner has as a celebrity and underscores every bit of power that people with disabilities do not have.

Of course, Interview magazine for whom the shoot was carried out had a whole raft of artistic justifications for why they chose to approach the shoot in the way they did.

These justifications are explored in this excellent unpacking from Heather Saul at The Independent.

This one in particular sticks out in my mind.

At Interview, we are proud of our tradition of working with great artists and empowering them to realise their distinct and often bold visions,” a spokesperson said. “The Kylie Jenner cover by Steven Klein, which references the British artist Allen Jones, is a part of this tradition, placing Kylie in a variety of positions of power and control and exploring her image as an object of vast media scrutiny.”

 

But my problem here is a simple one. If Kylie Jenner wants to have a discussion with the media about how she is treated, then by all means she should do so. But in exploring her own objectification she is not disassociating herself from it. She is merely using an objectified group as a cipher to make a point. People with disabilities suffer huge amounts of objectification and questioning and inquisition through no fault of their own. Kylie Jenner chose a life in the spotlight. People with disabilities did not choose this fate.

This plugs neatly into the debate about how offensive art and the wider creative industries are allowed to be. For example, is it censorious to believe that Kylie Jenner should not be allowed to pose in a wheelchair? Or is it simply necessary to ensure that an already oppressed group are not further oppressed by artistic licence carried out by people who do not really understand the issues at hand?

Kayla Whaley touches on this to devastating caustic effect in a series of tweets, which I have storified with her permission.

I think the mistake Klein has made in trying to implement the vision of artist Allen Jones is that they have got carried away with a flight of fancy and indulgence over artistic expression, and forgot that their art intersects with a very difficult lived reality that many people experience every day.

Whaley speaks of Kylie Jenner wearing the shallowest possible illusion of what she experiences every day.

Jenner is not really a person in a wheelchair. Steven Klein knows this, and those at Interview magazine know it too. In fact, were they to repeat the same shoot with a wheelchair using model I would bet my wheelchair that it wouldn’t get half the coverage. Curtain twitching voyeurism is at work here. Readers will know that Jenner is not in a wheelchair, and artistically it probably is interesting for them to see a wheelchair being used as a prop for someone who is anything but vulnerable.

Also I know that Jenner will not have given this a second thought. She will have been paid and carried on with her life. I would guess she probably had to spend two hours at most in that beautiful golden chair. Try a lifetime instead. Hell, try a week. There are no pots of gold inculcated into the daily reality of disability. But neither is it abject wanton misery. My disability is not a job or a photo shoot for me. It is my life.

It points to the narcissism of fame obsessed America that such a shoot was even thought about. I categorically refute that I’m jealous of Jenner in any way. But when you consider that Caitlyn Jenner, in her first act post transition adorned the cover of Vanity Fair, one has to question the motives of the Jenner family. Kylie could have said no to the shoot and that would have been a brave act. But it’s all about how she is treated by the media. Do you know what I hear? Me me and narcissistic me and little else.

One of Kayla’s more poignant observations was this one.

“It still feels like a victory to me when I take a selfie and find it attractive. It still feels like a battle to believe others will too.”

How sad in 2015 that a person with a disability says that. People with disabilities have been fighting this age-old battle since before Kylie Jenner was born. People’s attitudes towards disability are still extremely conservative. Many people don’t believe for example, that people with disabilities can have sex. I’ve lost count over the years of the number of times someone said to me;

“Oh wow you drink alcohol!” Yes, mine is a Malibu and Coke, a Malibu and Lemonade or a Bailey’s. I didn’t know there was a cocktail called patronising. But Kayla is right. It is a battle to feel attractive when disabled. To feel attractive to yourself as an achievement let alone to anybody else.

But Kylie Jenner is attractive when sitting in a wheelchair because she’s not in one. Somebody this week had the balls to recreate the shoot in a wheelchair in full PVC and for that I commend them utterly. I doubt Interview magazine or Mr Klein will be calling though.

I like Kayla’s tweet in which she chooses to use the word wear to describe how Jenner approaches disability. For Jenner disability is just another costume. She can take it off or put it on at leisure. That is the luxury my friends of not being disabled.It is photographic hocus pocus.

Now this is not to say that wheelchairs within the arts have not been used to positive effect.

I’m thinking particularly of the musical Wicked, still enjoying great success in the West End and on Broadway. In a non-schmaltzy way, the writer Stephen Schwartz in creating the character of Nessarose allows us to see a woman who is embedded into the natural plot of the show, and who finds love with Boq. Nessarose still presumes however that Boq wants to take her to the dance as he feels sorry for her.

That is the problem in essence with the shoot. That in using a wheelchair to depict the powerlessness of her life than to the media, she treats people with disabilities in the same way as the media treat her. As an object of curiosity, voyeurism and fetish. Nowhere near close to a real person, more an entity with a gazillion followers on social media, something to be talked about, analysed and poked, with little more dignity than a goldfish in a bowl. But for her as I said this is something she wears, and something she can take off and forget about. I can’t and nor can others with disabilities.

In an interesting twist to the tale, Broadway actress Ali Stroker who is a wheelchair user, and currently starring with the Deaf West theatre company in Spring Awakening on Broadway, wants to recreate the photo shoot. In an interview with Variety Magazine she speaks of wanting to recreate the photo shoot as it opens up an interesting conversation about sexuality and disability, and she feels we can represent ourselves. Firstly, I think it’s important to be unequivocal in my applause for Ali Stroker’s achievements.

I can’t quite agree with her. It wasn’t people with disabilities who were approached for the shoot in the first place. So the agency and our place in the dialogue has been taken away from us. However, I will agree that with tenacious work it is possible to seize it back from the behemoth that is the Jenner publicity machine. Also there was no sense of collaboration between those with disabilities, the photographers and Jenner herself. Disability was nothing to do with the interests of the Jenner machine. Jenner’s objective was to demonstrate her displeasure with her treatment at the hands of the media. She’s done that impeccably on the backs of people with disabilities.

As to sexuality, given what Kayla says in this arena I don’t think that the Jenner shoot opens up any kind of dialogue at all. In fact all a service to do is to reinforce ableist beauty standards which loom large in the media today.

My sage advice to Ali Stroker would not be to imitate some kind of patriarchal parody of wheelchair use where there is always a Prince Charming to rescue a wheelchair not bound damsel at the click of a lens but to do her own shoot on her own terms.  She’s beautiful in her own right.

As for me, over the course of writing this I’ve kind of come full circle. You see if I wasn’t disabled I could get paid for wearing a disabled costume for a couple of hours while sitting in a gold metal frame. But is that really something I want to aspire to? Is society really swimming that much at the shallow end that it will continue to lap crap like this up forever?

Disability can be art, it can be music, it can be prose and it can be wonderful. But it is not a fetish to take on and take off. Whoever commissioned this should examine their conscience. Hopefully something other than a camera will click! As for me I’m off to listen to Kylie now.

 

 

 

A Wheelchair in Gold: Part 1:Self Reflection

I was first alerted to somebody called Kylie striking a pose in a golden wheelchair no less by tweeter Kayla Whaley, otherwise known as @PunkinOnWheels, who I’d recommend you follow by the way. She’s fantastic, sharp and witty.

My initial worry over somebody called Kylie posing in a golden wheelchair was that it could be Kylie Minogue. Although she doesn’t know it, Kylie and I have a special connection. Her album, imaginatively titled Kylie with the first album my mother ever bought me. I should be so lucky! The best bit is she also bought me a plastic drum kit with a flashing set of multi-coloured disco lights underneath. I somehow think Kylie would have approved. So imagine my relief then when I discovered that it wasn’t Kylie Minogue who was striking a pose in a wheelchair after all. It was in fact Kylie Jenner who is part of some famous family. I knew I could trust Ms Minogue not to be that stupid.

Before I turn to the matter of Kylie Jenner and her recent posing, let me offer some thoughts on my own wheelchair.

For me, there was no accident, no broken legs or fractures. My relationship with overgrown buggies, and later wheelchairs was never ‘It’s Complicated.’ Due to cerebral palsy, it has been a lifelong dance. However, the dance partner is silent and yet makes all the moves.

A lot of commentary I have seen has spoken of the love people have for their wheelchairs, and the fact that wheelchairs offer them freedom. For me I cannot dispute that, but is it that much of a taboo to diverge from this narrative slightly?

My relationship with my wheelchair is tempestuous. Mercifully, my wheelchair has never told me what it thinks of me. Why is it tempestuous, and perhaps less so for others? It is something I have reflected upon, and is one of the reasons why did want to rush my response to Kylie Jenner’s photo shoot.

My feelings about my wheelchair range from love and thankfulness to utter contempt and disdain. I went to mainstream school, which was brilliant academically for me, and it made me able to pursue my artistic talents in spite of rather than because of my disability.

However, I also paid a price. I was exposed from a young age to the sense of being different. I became quickly aware of my difficulties and deficits, and sometimes the lack of equilibrium between me and other people.

I believe it is only human therefore to wonder and speculate about what life would be like without the wheelchair. I know it would be infinitely easier. I know my life may have panned out very differently.

Whenever I see a theatre production on stage, and I see people dancing I imagine the steps myself, and I imagine what it would be like to do them. Some will say, “well you can’t so just accept it.” The truth of the matter is that my body has physical limits, but my brain doesn’t, and it is as sharp as the sharpest needle.

The capacity to imagine possibilities and ideas outside of disability are a huge driver for me. I do not concur with the school of thought that says disabled people, rather I am a person with a disability.

I made a new friend recently, a fellow creative and she said to me;

“I wish we could get you out of that chair. I see you dancing in my mind.”

To some people this could be interpreted as being extremely offensive, as though somehow disability made them inferior. From that moment on though, and I must stress that I speak for myself and myself alone I knew this person and I would be good friends.

For as well as being musically gifted, she had the intelligence and wit to see that my disability is not the sum and total of me and the entirety of my identity. It is part of me that is undeniable. But I have talents and abilities which supersede it and long may that continue. I can write. I can play the piano. I can laugh. I can listen to friends when they have problems. So the wheelchair is what I am but certainly not who I am. When my friend said those things, I was exhilarated. In society so many people can’t see past the wheelchair. I love to dance in my friend’s mind. I’m aware that these remarks may be offensive to some. But as a writer I feel my raison d’être is to push the boundaries and explore. I don’t want to just think about what is real, tangible and practical. I am an unashamed dreamer, and while I have breath in my body I will continue to dream.

Clearly I am at a disadvantage when my wheelchair breaks down. It is a machine and things do go wrong from time to time. Have you ever heard the expression “you’re like a bulldog chewing a wasp?”

Well if you multiply that by a million, you have the measure of Hannah Buchanan sans wheelchair, plus a wasp’s nest to deal with.

So of course I miss my wheelchair when it is broken. But I will not bow down in reverence to it, as though it were a supernatural metaphysical object. The truth of the matter is that I would rather not been a wheelchair at all because I’m aware of the vast array of possibilities this would open up unlike Kylie Jenner it seems.

 

For me, the real row on Channel 5 was not about benefits at all. It was in my own head.

 

So anyone tuning in to Channel 5 last night at 9.00 pm  and expecting some form of high calibre debate of the kind offered by Question Time on the BBC or The Agenda on ITV1 would have felt short changed, I expect.

A show entitled The Big Benefits Row is instructive in itself. Rows imply conflict, not a cup of tea and a cosy chat. Substitute the word row for conversation and you may end up with a more productive debate useful to everyone, audience and participants alike.

For me the first paragraph of this piece from the social commentator Laurie Penny is very telling and typifies the end result the programme makers wanted from last night’s debate. Laurie says, almost prophetically;

“The producer knocked her fists together in the dark backstage. “We want you to, you know…” She made the motion again, smiling sweetly, as my hired nemesis and I were strapped into radio microphones for a five minute debate on the evening news. It was clear what she meant. She wanted us to scrap. She didn’t want us to talk sensibly and work out our differences. She wanted blood on the floor.”

In part, this is understandable as all television wants to be noticed. It wants to create those so-called watercooler moments and talkability. Not talkability that lasts for a day or a week. More like a year. Programme makers want to create a programme in current affairs that makes you pick a side. You’re either Team Hopkins or Team Currie, for the bad cops, or indeed you may be Team Jones or Team Monroe for the good cops. As a viewer and a participant you are left in no doubt that you must pick a side. For the duration of that program you must pledge allegiance to either team. Indecisiveness or dissonance is not available to you. It is survival of the fittest: dog eat dog and we must buy into it for current affairs debates to work.

Now for me I was originally a refusenik. I had planned purposely not to watch the debate. Anything to me which gives Katie Hopkins airtime is not a productive use of a platform that many people would relish not least me.

What prompted my renewed interest in the debate, was the fact that Sue Marsh the renowned, ardent and brilliant disability campaigner had been dropped from the panel at the last minute.

Given that a sizeable number of those with disabilities depend on benefits to exist I was disgusted that they were left without representation on this debate. I still am. In fact I am seething. I have read through the commentariat’s responses today to the programme and only two have picked up on Sue Marsh’s bumping from it.

You see the thing is I know roughly what Owen Jones will say about benefits. I know roughly what Jack Monroe will say about benefits. The latter put in a sterling performance last night taking on Edwina Currie over her barbs towards her family and may have dropped an F bomb on Channel 5. Meanwhile Owen Jones compared the possibility of debating with Katie Hopkins to having a cheese grater rubbed in your face. I should confess at this point I do have a love for cheese and I want to be able to eat a cheese roll again without thinking of her.

But I find myself thinking as a person with a disability who eviscerated Katie Hopkins spectacularly in this blog for disgraceful comments she made about the former Paralympian Lady Grey-Thompson, I would welcome the chance to debate with her. I wouldn’t want to be placated and told I did not have to on the grounds of my own foibles. I would instead relish the chance and grab it with both hands. I don’t want this post to turn into a Hopkins themed diatribe.

I am always amazed by the paucity of diversity within the media. There is nothing the media relishes more than talking to itself about itself.

I am concerned about is there is a huge swathe of the population that is being excluded from this debate. That is those with disabilities. It is telling that the producers saw fit to drop Sue Marsh from the debate, allegedly because space needed to be made for other contributors. I put this question to you though. Which contributor could be more important than many of those who depend on benefits to live? I make no secret of the fact I would like a media platform across all media, television and radio and online. Why?  I have the qualities, I have the confidence and currently, somewhat regrettably I do not see myself represented.

The comedienne Ava Vidal was also ignored, despite pointedly shouting Matthew Wright’s name for at least enough time to induce laryngitis (maybe!)

When I switch the television on I see  nobody like me is telling my story. It is nothing short of a scandal that a programme about disability benefits had limits on the numbers of people it could take in wheelchairs.

I don’t want this piece either to be too hyper focused on one debate, because there is a wider debate to be had too.

You see I am also transgendered. But, in an affectionate nod to the words of the Natalie Imbruglia song I often find I’m torn.

Trans representation on screen is increasing. Paris Lees has been on Question Time, which commands huge audiences and is the premier political programme. So the trans community is understandably very happy about this.

But I feel conflicted. For disabled people are virtually invisible on-screen and I think this is wrong. I found it hard to celebrate when the trans community  were extra happy about Paris Lees  appearing on Question Time.

Essentially I feel torn between two minorities. Extensive progress on one hand and zero progress on the other. But I don’t intend to give in. I think it would be fantastic if for example a person with a disability was giving their viewpoint as an invited guest on Question Time or on the newspaper reviews on Sky News. I keep across the news agenda every day. I am a newshound if you like. I am also news hungry.

Radio is slightly more progressive in this regard. With the use of telephone communication, ISDN lines, and Skype of course, there is less need for people to appear directly in a studio environment. But on the other hand, why shouldn’t we appear “in quality?” Why shouldn’t that be an aspiration for radio producers?

I have no doubt that the commentariat as it currently stands make many well-meaning contributions and interventions in the disability debate. But in terms of people like Sue Marsh, it is not the same and cannot be equivalent to hearing it from the horse’s mouth ever. It is not good enough and the boat needs rocking.

I am perfectly capable of writing articles. Therefore I am perfectly capable of translating those articles and opinions into articulate speech. I should stress that I recognise fully that this is a privilege that not all of my disabled colleagues have. Therefore I feel it is incumbent on those of us who do have that privilege to use it for maximum effect and benefit.

I have to say too, I have enjoyed the few media appearances I have done. For LBC as a caller, and another for BBC Radio 5 Live for the Eastleigh by-election debate.

But just as some of the media has a race problem I think it also has a disability problem. I would applaud the efforts of Samantha Asamadu for her consciousness raising initiative Writers of Colour which gives people of colour the opportunity to write and have their work seen by thousands and embedded into people’s consciousness. Sam was inspired to start this campaign after noticing that there was a trend for all front pages to be white, as in stories related to white people.

But also, I wouldn’t just want to be pigeonholed into a disability slot. I have views and opinions like the rest of the commentariat, I wouldn’t just want to talk about disability. Indeed panel shows require versatility and people have to be well read and briefed on a number of subjects.

But by excluding one of the most important groups from a panel about benefits last night, Channel 5 failed as a broadcaster. Of course, the terminology specially invited audience implies some level of segregation from the outset.

People like Owen Jones, Katie Hopkins and Jack Monroe are panel show veterans. Media appearances are something they do regularly and often. I’m not asking that the able-bodied commentariat is and zapped and rendered invisible from our television screens by Team Disabled. What I would like to see is parity. I would like to see disabled people welcomed into the media sphere and their views sought. Not just on disability but on the multiplicity of issues a globalised world presents.

I would like the media to cast its net wider than the usual contacts book. Current affairs could learn a lot from the soap world in this regard.Coronation Street has the character of  Izzy Armstrong, played with aplomb by the actress Cherrylee Houston. Her disability is incidental compared to the rest of her character. The scriptwriters do not dwell on a disability, but rather they integrate it into her overall character.

Inevitably there would be initial shock at perhaps seeing the sofa in a different position on Sky News to let the paper reviewer in. But that would dissipate over time.

I knew what Katie Hopkins would say. However I did not know what Sue Marsh would say and I feel somewhat cheated because of that.

I am fed up of turning on the television and never seeing myself on it. Perhaps 2014 can be the year that changes. For my perspective is just as valuable as Owen Jones or Paris Lees. Sue Marsh’s perspective is just as valuable too, but programme makers will not realise this until they take a risk particularly producers.

Equally, we need more with disabilities involved in television, radio and journalism. Otherwise, programmes will never be shaped by us either. The input and who crafts it has a dramatic influence on the output. People with disabilities need to be a part of this at both ends of the spectrum, and I certainly want to be.

Also, I saw many friendly photos on Twitter last night after the debate. I was saddened not to see a disabled person in a single one. Producers, widen the scope of your guests on television and radio, and widen the range represented in your specially invited audiences. That will make for a much higher quality, less segregated debate. It is great for those like Paris, who are achieving greater representation for themselves. However, I still feel invisible. Five, four, three, two, one, run titles, and now it really is time for action. Yes producers, I fancied a drink in the pub after the debate as well. Mine’s a Malibu and Lemonade.

Whether people are still scrapping today or not, disabled people were underepresented. Maybe the media as a collective should think about that.

LINKS

  1. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/benefits-row-live-jack-monroe-3111253#.UvE_LGLudfR
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/owen-jones-on-the-big-benefits-row-the-hopkinsisation-of-political-discourse-9106227.html
  3. http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-big-benefits-row.html

I am not your totem, Tim Montgomerie, and you are not my able-bodied saviour. Listen!

 

The debate around abortion, foetal abnormality, and disability was re-ignited by a piece written by   Tim Montgomerie (£) in The Times.

At the outset of my own argument, I would like to commend to you this latest post from Glosswitch. It outlines many of the arguments around pro-choice and reproductive rights.

I fully support women’s bodily autonomy and their own choices. However I felt strongly that there had been an important omission from this debate. The voices of disabled people themselves. That alone is my rationale for this piece.

When I was born, I was born at 28 weeks gestation, that is to say three months premature. I was born on the  17th January. I was due on 30th March.

Doctors told my mother explicitly that my chance of survival was 50-50. It could have gone either way. But also, given my level of disability, and the impending challenges that would bring to my mother’s life, she could have easily chosen to end her pregnancy and that would be a decision which is utterly understandable.

However, she chose not to and here I am. But a conversation around the dinner table this Christmas made me realise how premature my birth actually was. It scared me. I was so small she could pick me up in the palm of her hand. My organs were not fully developed.  I had trouble breathing and contracted pseudomonas on my chest.

I do have to give utmost credit to my mother because she brought me up single-handedly with no help from my father. We were pretty isolated in a small flat with little outside assistance.

Tim Montgomerie stated that many people are simply too “frightened to raise a disabled child.”

My mother wasn’t. But that does not mean women who are should be vilified, condemned and made to feel ashamed of their choice. I am fully aware that my disability came at a cost to my mother. She missed out on a social life, holidays and employment.

There is also nothing simple about it. That is why it is equivalent to a full time career. That is why we employ care workers to ease that burden on relatives.

Therefore, it is entirely proper that women should be able to meaningfully reflect upon any residual impact on their own lives without feeling like The Worst Woman. Furthermore, it is entirely proper they receive whatever emotional support is necessary to enable them to understand the implications of giving birth to a disabled child.

I would far rather a mother had an abortion than for her to carry a child to full term out of guilt.

Having a disability myself, you may be surprised to hear me say that. But you know who would suffer as a net result of such a decision, don’t you? The baby, who then morphs into the child, and lastly they will morph into a damaged adult.

I cannot support a two dimensional framing of this debate, whereby women who choose to keep their disabled child are hailed as the best of modern parenting, and those who choose to abort are an evil heartless abomination

It angers me viscerally to be a pawn in this game of Heroes and Villians. Tim Montgomerie later said that he could not support laws which made disabled babies second-class citizens. This would be the bit where I tell Tim how happy I am and say “Thanks Tim. Thanks for standing up for me. I’m so grateful.” Love you Tim! How sycophantic and saccharin. But no!

I do not need a saviour. I need someone who is prepared to listen to the sheer complexity around these issues.

I am not your totem, Tim. Nor do I want to be used as a vehicle to facilitate the poisoning of the pro-life standpoint. Nor will I be manipulated.

Women are the ultimate arbiters of their own individual bodies and minds.  That process of arbitration should be respected without “saviours” like Tim Montgomerie playing the totemic violin.  It is utterly insulting to women, their autonomy, and the intelligence of disabled people themselves. The work of caring for a disabled child is not glamorous, and by the time we reach adulthood is fraught with frustration and setbacks..

Either caring for a disabled child, or having an abortion due to foetal abnormality, are both scenarios filled with cost to parents, emotional, physical and psychological. That is why all women need our love and support, free of invective.

A disabled child is for life, not just for Christmas.

An Open Letter To Katie Hopkins

Dear Katie,

You describe yourself on your Twitter biography as “the one who said no to Sir Alan.”

Well today Katie, I am saying no to you.

This letter is hard for me to write. I am a feminist and a strong supporter of all women. I believe in freedom of speech and expression. I also believe that anyone should have the right to function in daily life free of censorship. For context, I think women in Saudi Arabia should without question be allowed to drive. This is a human right, not a topic for debate.

Alongside freedom of speech however comes responsibility; and it is incumbent upon all of us to use it wisely and use it well, bearing in mind in some parts of the world many are not allowed to exercise it.

Therefore, I was aghast to see this Tweet appear on your Twitter timeline yesterday.

 “Tanni Grey-Thompson. God I wish there were some carpet tacks lying about between her and the BBC studios.”

James Moore, writing in yesterday’s Independent  for their Voices strand observes thus.

 “She chooses her targets carefully focussing only on people whom it is judged socially acceptable to demean. “

I am always suspicious of anyone who is handed on a silver platter a media career resulting from their ability to say controversial things Katie. The polemic is an art form that you just have not mastered. The polemic is a journalistic art form designed to make people think about a situation a first time, a second time, and maybe even a third. It is to prove that you are in the right, and others are in the wrong.

What made me aghast about you yesterday Katie is this. This is not just a dislike of Tanni Grey-Thompson, nor her personal opinions. You chose the thing about her, that is different from you, the idea that you have a non disabled body and she doesn’t. That is utterly nasty, cruel and beneath contempt.

That was the moment you made it personal and revealed the true face of Katie Hopkins. Or is it indeed the true face? Perhaps the meeja one, where the cameras turn on you, you say contemptible things, receive a nice pay cheque and go home again?

People with disabilities fight extremely hard battles every day. For some they need help to perform the most basic activities of daily living. But naturally The World Of Katie Hopkins remains coldly dissonant to that.

Of course never mind the fact that Lady Grey-Thompson is one of our best Paralympians ever? I thought you of all people would support meritocracy and rewarding achievements.

What I am interested in though is what was going through your mind when you sent that Tweet? Does seeing somebody who doesn’t conform to the archetype of normal on television threaten you Katie?

I would actually like to see a far greater diversity of social commentary on television  for there is a paucity of diversity at the moment.

You must know that people with disabilities suffer greatly due to hate crime and  demonisation in society? I must ask, do you think your Tweet assisted in reducing the impact of that upon people with disabilities.

You see Katie, you have a media platform. A media platform which many would love. Yet you use it to spread this kind of hate speech? I suspect you are a kind of puppet who bubbles with joy over the thought of making a controversial statement.

This time though, I fear you have made a woeful misjudgement. I am sure as a celebrity you receive no end of nasty tweets. I’ve seen you retweet some of them. I expect you feel pretty lousy when they come through? Well I felt lousy when I saw that tweet.

You see in between the QWERTY keyboard and the Tweet button, there are readers and there are feelings.

I have never experienced a carpet tack in my wheel, but I have experienced a thorn. It punctured the tyre, rendering me unable to use it for the day.

I think the meaning behind your “joke” Katie was that if her tyre punctured she would have been unable to grace your television screen with her presence, charisma and wit.

Outside the realms of your pithy joke though, that has real life consequences! It is like somebody taking your legs away for a day. Perhaps you should do your next television appearance in a wheelchair, or spend time in one and see how people treat you.

Knowing you though, you would just dismiss this blog as faux outrage, and maybe tell me I needed therapy.

Do you know why your comment is so shocking Katie?  The decent majority in society have moved on from joking about disability. I mean, we can even joke about ourselves sometimes?

Your joke stinks because it’s hierarchical. It creates a false equivalence, inferring that able bodied people are somehow less inferior  when compared with disabled people. The carpet tack wouldn’t inconvenience you, because you are able bodied, and making the joke from a vantage point where you do not even have to consider disability as an axis of oppression impacting on your life. You take things for granted and it shows.

You have much chutzpah.

But you know, it’s not just a question of “things we are not allowed to say.” Most people don’t say them because they are reprehensible, over privileged and selfish.

Do you think you would have a media career if you were rendered unable to talk or think? My advice to you this time would be to actually apologise, and think about the impact your words have on real people with real lives. Many of those with disabilities make contributions to the world which are just as valuable as yours.

My guess is, you have such rants on Twitter because you know the OFCOM Broadcasting Code wouldn’t indulge them.

After this blog, my life will continue, mine in my wheelchair, and yours not having to give carpet tags a second thought. You are lucky Katie, really lucky.

I’d swap your legs for my chair any day.  Not because I think your legs are particularly distinctive or a piece of high art, but simply because they work.

Also, I don’t want your mouth. I have a conscience.

I must close soon, but I have one more thing to tell you. Pneumatics have come a long way since the thorn. Tyres are puncture proof now.

Oh and if you ever fancy a day off from numerous TV engagements, I’d gladly step in for you. If the studio is wheelchair friendly of course. I can write and talk rather well.

I find it socially unacceptable that you demean those like me.

Best wishes,

Hannah “Chelsea” Buchanan.

PS Pushing my luck here, but do you ever let your children play with children with disabilities? It’s called integration, it won’t leave scars and it is quite healthy.

A Lesson in Psychology and Perception

I had an interesting experience on the bus the other day. It’s a common journey for me and one I make often from my local town to the nearest big city as there are more shops and amenities which I can access.

I am a big music lover and a particular fan of HMV. However on the way in on the bus a small child asked of me “why are you sitting down?”

I could tell the child’s mother was embarrassed and wanted the ground to open up. However when you have a disability, open questions like this are pretty run-of-the-mill. Children are known for their curious mind and nature. I believe firmly that education begins not in the classroom but as soon as the child has the ability to comprehend and make sense of particular realities. I think also that there is nothing wrong with this. Asking questions helps ameliorate prejudices and fears in later life. Not being able to walk, I was a very curious child myself. From my vantage point of the wheelchair I saw the micro as well as the macro aspects of the world.

So I simply explained to the little girl that I was sitting down because I was born that way and my legs didn’t work properly. I then explained that the messages of the brain didn’t always translate into the body. Rather the messages from the brain go down to the body but they don’t come back up again. I applauded her courage in asking. I would far rather she asked than ended up with a confused nebulous jellylike mishmash in her mind. She then said to me after I said I can’t walk, well I can.

Good for you I said and she smiled at me.

What I haven’t told you up until now is that her mother chastised her for even asking the question at all. She told it was rude and that some people would like it. This was in spite of me telling her I didn’t have a problem with it.

She looked embarrassed and pulled the child away to the back seat as quickly as possible where she repeated the warning again in louder decibels I would surmise for my benefit.

I am only too happy to answer anyone’s questions. I’m a very placid gentle and easy-going person. This girl was only little. She may never have seen a wheelchair before. So, I made allowances for that and accommodated her curiosity.

I cannot condone the premise that it is right to shut down a curious mind due to your own fears. That little girl ended the bus journey having learned something and probably will be less fearful of those with disabilities as a result.

I have seen babies with their eyes out on stalks because I am sitting down like them, but yet I am much older. Life to them must be a strange contradiction.

But for me the whole thing was down to perception. In case mine was a little wrong I asked the passenger opposite me if he thought the child had done anything wrong. No he said she was just curious.

I answered the questions of the child good-naturedly. What would be the alternative? To leave her pondering not knowing? No the younger she learns about these things the better. I am also in favour of people with disabilities being integrated into mainstream school alongside their non-disabled peers. Education is a formative time in life. The ideal time then  for people with disabilities to be part of the social fabric of society and the children to see this as the norm, not the exception.

I suspect in this case the mother was projecting her own embarrassment at such a question onto the child. Adults and children have different sensibilities, and I guess we know as adults that asking such direct questions is thought to be socially inappropriate. But the thing is children break down these socially constructed maxims in the pursuit of knowledge. We should give them that knowledge.

The saddest thing for me in the whole encounter was that in raising her voice to the child in public the mother felt she was doing her job under the glare of society.

But actually her overcompensation made me feel worse than the actual question. It made me feel really small because if I could hear her at the other end of the lower deck of the bus that I anticipate the rest of the lower deck must have heard also and I find this highly embarrassing.

Publicly I’m not the sort of person who likes to draw attention to myself. If I could I do the sort of person who would sit at the back of the bus either with earphones on or a good book. Sadly the wheelchair space in the middle of the bus renders the possibility of not being ubiquitous a non-starter.

I wish I had an invisibility cloak sometimes! In summary what I’m really trying to say is the child did nothing wrong. My lack of upset or anger should have been a fairly good indicator to the mother that a further high-volume post-mortem was not necessary.

I sometimes wish adults thought more like children. Inquisitiveness is not under be stifled it should be encouraged.

Before having a further shouting match especially after I thought I had diffused the situation her mother should have considered the impact on me rather than what a bus load of people might think of the hardly deviant behaviour of her daughter.

I have never met any person with a disability who has been intolerant of questions from a child. We were all children ourselves once. Plus I would rather a child understands directly from somebody in the situation rather than a discombobulated third-party. Parents should never shy away from the children asking difficult questions. It makes my life happier and more bearable in the long run.

Perception is a funny thing, isn’t it?

Where the child’s mother saw the possibility of offence and rudeness, I saw the possibility of opportunity and education. Lots of people after all make up the world and not every child is identical. In my view the more quickly children find that out the better.

Dear #FuckCisPeople;You Don’t Speak for Me and You are Not my Voice

Lately, I have learnt one thing above all. Sharing differences in ourselves and being part of a minority is not enough to sustain a friendship or build common bonds.

Commonsense you might think but when you begin to introduce the notion of a community into the discourse, then you take it for granted that the community speaks with one united voice. This has been the case on Twitter this weekend with the fuckcispeople hashtag.

Most communities, as Benedict Anderson posited, are imagined.

The motivation behind the hashtag was to alert non-trans people to the ways in which they oppress the trans community. It was meant to provoke a debate about how we treat trans people in society and how we could do better.

Well, it would be fair to say that the hashtag provoked a debate with many supporting the hashtag, saying it highlighting the oppressed status whilst others felt it did not speak for them.

I am not denying for one moment the trials and tribulations trans people face in everyday life.They include; Street harassment, discrimination in the job market and also punitive irrational social exclusion.

However no matter how much pain you are going through, a whole group should not be demonised. They are not responsible for your pain.

Being in a minority is hard I know. I have done it through no choice of my own for 32 years. Indeed one question posed to me with a kind of devils advocacy was why would I put myself through the process of joining another minority, bearing in mind the pain and the extra prejudice it would bring?

Well as long as I’m happy that what matters, as long as those who love me love me that what matters.

What does not matter is the ignorance of a few people.

I understand the pain underlying the fuck cis people hash tag genuinely but it is not the right way to go about it. If you want to think I’m telling you you’re doing feminism wrong then fine think it. I no longer care. The world is broadly made up of cis people. The job market is probably made up of cis people. Educational establishments are made up of cis people. They are here and they are not going anywhere! So get used to it.

The way to bring about change is not to pile on people for having views you disagree with. The way to bring about change is not to swear shout and be belligerent. I am not saying that women of any hue should be chaste silent and obedient for that is a discourse that belongs to a bygone age.

What I am saying is that you don’t win an argument by simply turning the volume to maximum and putting your fingers in your ears wilfully ignoring what people are trying to say to you. People who could give you useful advice and support are instead turned on for the most minor infractions of a rulebook which nobody has ever had the pleasure of reading. They are manipulated into apologising over the most minute issues and end up issuing grovelling kowtowing apologies.

Nobody can be expected to be an expert on trans issues within five minutes. We are all still learning as life is a journey of discovery. But how can you expect people to want to learn more if all you do is show them hostile aggression and present the so-called misery narrative?

The happy days of My Transsexual Summer on Channel 4 now seem a distant memory. Donna, Lewis, Sarah, Karen, Fox and Drew were fun people having fun times going out and enjoying life to the max. That’s a positive outcome for trans men and women. When I wrote about that TV show I looked forward to writing about it and I was happy to meet the cast. I admired their zeal, their passion and their determination to show that people who are trans can live a good, happy and fulfilled life.

Yet oh my god how the worm has turned. Gone are the heydays of that time. Gone is the good work they did. It’s been replaced with sadness and misery after misery. Putting myself into this misery narrative for a moment it seems to me that for some, trans is an oppression, an affliction they would rather not deal with but garner sympathy instead and as much of it is possible.

What did you expect when you came out as trans? An easy ride? Candy floss? A medal?

You know I don’t know whether some of the shock I see on Twitter is real. People staring in the street, people making rude comments, people bullying. Now in an ideal world of course bullying wouldn’t exist. We would all live happily ever after, as one harmonious homogeneous humankind. But it isn’t going to happen.

I have been in a minority for 32 years. I have had to deal with stares in the street for as long as I can remember. I have never passed society’s ideals of beauty. When I hear some of you talk about passing as cis men, quite frankly it makes me jealous yes jealous, for you have at least experienced that life of normalcy before you joined a minority. I never have. I look at your pictures and I think some of you are really beautiful in the same way as all women are but then I see you moaning about has how much you’re suffering in this oppression Olympics and I feel angry with you because you don’t realise how lucky you are. I assume for most of you even though you are trans you can still drive if you’re old enough. I assume you can put your clothes on in the morning and cook your own meals go on a holiday and choose what you want to eat and cook it for yourself. Well I can’t so count yourself lucky.

Lastly I want to address the Trans Excluding Radical Feminist Issue. I am not a sympathiser to any kind of exclusionary ideal. I am not ambivalent to trans deaths of women of colour or otherwise.

Indeed I saw yesterday that I was called a shitbag for merely expressing another view, the view that the hashtag was destructive and would not bring about greater dialogue or discourse.

I am a sympathiser of many issues radical feminists campaign about including sexual violence, and rape. I also support an end to sexism and misogyny in society. I would dearly love for trans women to attend radical feminist conferences. The way things are going though I think that will happen in the year 3013. If you continuously attack and belittle motives and beliefs of fellow women then what do you expect them to do in return; welcome you with open arms?

The backgrounds of radical feminists often make sorry listening. What is revealed are a litany of woes and misogyny at the hands of men. If we just put our fingers in our ears and ignore that that it shows an utter disrespect and disregard of the suffering of the class we are transitioning into. We must be mindful of the fact that woman space is politically sensitive and painful sometimes. In some countries space for women to meet together is not even granted.

The central plank and the immovable plank of my thesis against the hashtag however is this. Cis people have problems too. Just because somebody is born in a body that is congruent with how they feel inside it does not mean they have a problem free existence with roses round the door.

They have problems too, just like us. This is such a basic fact I can’t believe I’m saying it but it’s true. Being trans is not the only oppression ever to have faced the Earth. It may feel like it is but it isn’t.

When you say fuck cis people, do you know what you’re really saying? You are saying fuck the doctors who kept me alive; they don’t matter just collateral damage. You’re saying fuck my mother; the person who gave birth to me and had to deal with the heartache of having a disabled child when she didn’t expect it. You are saying fuck the world, stop it I don’t want to be part of it I want to live in my own trans utopia where everything is perfect nobody disagrees with me and there is no challenge to my experience where I can say what I like without condemnation or critical voices. That isn’t reality.

However, we don’t transition in a vacuum. We transition into the real world. And whether you like it or not that is how it is. I would hate to live in a world where everyone was disabled or trans or lesbian, an exact copy of me. How dull! How anodyne and boring. Moreover how fucking unrealistic do you want to be?

What sort of dystopia are we living in when somebody with an opposing view is a shitbag? When the only view people are interested in is an identikit one? A sad dystopia of Orwellian dimensions is that sort of dystopia.

The greatest irony is I used to write the sort of blogs the dystopians would lap up like cream. Loads of likes, happy trans community job done. These days for seeing beyond the prism of the trans community I’m often attacked or at worst blocked on Twitter. But I know one thing. I go to sleep at night with my integrity intact because I am not writing what people want to hear. Instead I am writing what I believe.

Some elements of the train carriages of the trans community appear to have broken away from the train and are travelling in an increasingly separatist direction. If that is you please end all contact with me on social media it is not something I want to be part of.

You may feel alienated from society; you may feel abused and let down by the wider population? What do you expect when you never leave the safe confines of the trans community and only talk to each other, and a coterie of allies?  Of course this way you will get affirmation and solidarity and a challenge free life, but is that integration? Is that truly living? I understand this may feel safer but how do you know until you try?

By creating the hashtag fuck cis people you are creating division and ghettos where there need be none. I think it is getting to the stage where the trans community or at least some elements of it is becoming its own worst enemy.

It bemoans lack of acceptance from society, but yet refuses to engage with it at every turn. It creates hashtags writing off the majority of society, but if society were to do the same merry hell would break loose.

The stench of hypocrisy is alive and well. Who is now going to step up and make the air fresh once again?

It is no good fighting discrimination with yet further discrimination. If politics operated in this way the country would be ungovernable. People in opposing parties sit down and have congenial discussions for the good of the country.

If you want acceptance and understanding don’t belittle half of society to get it. I was disgusted by this hashtag yesterday. It made me feel almost ashamed to be trans.

And I love myself I’m proud of myself my achievements in life and my positivity in life. And I will sure as hell not be dragged down the tunnel of misery and negativity by a group of people who feel the whole world is against them. That mindset is easy. Far harder though is the challenge to do something about it. Change starts from within all of us whether we are cis, trans or dolphin.

We can either be part of that change or stay closed off in our ghetto. I broke free from the ghetto last year through my own choosing. I engage with people, I write professionally. I don’t feel the world is against me because I don’t hate myself. I put it to those who originated that hashtag that perhaps your quarrel is not with cis people at all. It is perhaps a quarrel in your soul.

Finally I will say this. I heard somebody suggest yesterday that cis people need to know how they fuck us up. Yes fine! I agree. However it is our choice and within our grasp to decide how much we let circumstances fuck us up. It is also within our grasp to determine how long we want to stay that way for. Otherwise we would be puppets with no control whatsoever of our own lives. I know people for whom this is their reality. Now that’s oppression.

What we go through may be tough but it is not the only kind of oppression there is. We could be LGBT in Russia right now  for example. It’s not easy to deal with people staring at you in the street, but you can get stronger and learn to deal with it. If you choose a certain path you have to accept the consequences. You are different but living in a way that feels amenable to you should be a comforting experience not a horrible one.

You cannot write off a whole subset of society based on your experience. That hashtag was a damaging point in my lifetime. I hope I never have to see it again. I will continue to campaign for the rights of women and trans women. I will continue to be a successful writer. I will continue with my happy positive outlook on life that has paid dividends so far. What I will not do is place the T above all else and ignore the world generally.

I have grown up with and around women all my life. If I was to ignore cis people my life would be pretty lonely. If that makes me a shitbag then so be it.

Many trans people also spoke out against the hashtag. This was dismissed as hatchet jobs. No! It’s  real people disagreeing with your actions. It’s called democracy.