Disability and Gender: an “Amphibious Thing”

Story is: I was nearly barred from a ‘Women’s Space ‘ at a Pride event last weekend because the security staff didn’t know how to enquire about the care/mobility needs of a wheelchair user with male support staff in a respectful non-aggressive fashion and instead chose to yell in my face as my carer and I came up to the gateway, “You can’t come in here.” Note: don’t confuse the carer with the person cared for!

They demonstrated lack of disability etiquette – which may or may not have been informed by animus against bi-heterosexual partnerships or by ‘opposite sex’ pairings being unacceptable to some in ‘LGBT’  As well as the basic gender issues stated s potentially a lack of trans etiquette/ knowledge. Further by then turning to the “MAN” they had just barred due to the ‘no men’ policy (nowhere visibly stated) and saying, “We can take her for you if you like.” Who doesn’t know that people in wheelchairs do not want someone grabbing their chair as a favour to their _carer_ by now? Who would want someone who has just been aggressive to have control of their mobility and potentially their support needs? It was confusing and shocking and humiliating in one and disturbing as a demonstration that some people cannot make equality and access ideas stretch beyond that which is obvious to them.

UK knowledge of disability etiquette can be poor but to shout at someone and then and then talk over the disabled person TO the person you’ve just barred is unusually poor and a sign of some kind of cognitive dissonance or deliberate aggression. If I have staff/PA/carer/partner/ with me, tell ME they can’t come in be clear it’s “No men allowed” and better still, bearing access in mind make it clear on your event literature so that women with carers can pre-plan. If I cannot get out of my chair or for another reason manage without my carer I will be as effectively barred as if I were male/presented as male please consider my feelings and anxieties when you choose your phraseology. I’m a feminist. I’m an abuse survivor myself, so I’m a vehement ‘safe space’ proponent. and I did not bring a male carer to the boundary of a female space in order to make some underhand attempt to gain deliberate access so that he can molest women/make them uncomfortable. A female in a chair pushed by a male is a female in a chair pushed by a male. Not a traitor to feminism, or to the female body, to female independence. Nor am I a threat to the to bodily integrity of women or an affront to lesbians.as you made me feel.

“You can’t” is potentially plural meaning ‘neither of you’ and confusing when shouted at someone whose other identity/hat is a disabled person currently a stigmatised group that expects to get full-throated abuse gleefully sanctioned by state and Press. Tell me ; never never not ever the person who just happens to be pushing a chair I cannot propel without severely inconveniencing the heels and trains of drag queens and other innocent bystanders! Also, tell me one at a time please and be clear because half a dozen security guards for one disabled person isn’t just overkill it’s triggering my PTSD and destroying any attempt to disentangle what the heck is going on and what I’m about to transgress.

As a stick user I could easily adapt but the deliberate or unthinking aggression towards women in chairs with male carers is intimidating and disturbing. A feminist, I’m supposed to be pleased that our comfort is considered yet AS the particular humiliated disabled _woman_ a particular woman as opposed to the hypothetical women who might have been inconvenienced by our hypothetical (and in both instances involuntary) entry into female space it just looked like discrimination masquerading as concern for equality (for which I’m sure there is a word!)

In incident one I was just glad that the confusion, noise and general tension didn’t trigger a mental health episode which could have led gung-ho security to wade in making a verbal situation into a physical restraint situation and then into an attack and with further reflection that has echoes of so many discriminated groups fears of arrest and relief when a situation not of our making fails to descend into violence! When you feel relieved that you weren’t assaulted because you kept calm in the face of assault and managed to act correctly – did not assert your rights or needs in any way

Thoughts post conflict: in the middle of a confrontational episode that could so easily degenerate into accusations that I’m not being feminist /am myself discriminating against women/colluding with the male ability to oppress if I object rather than a recognition the phrase that springs to mind (because we have no campaign phrase that would resonate with the able bodied community) is “and ain’t I a woman?” That however is appropriation which signals to me that as disabled people in women’s spaces, in LGBT spaces in discriminatory situations we need WORDS that instantly convey both our lack of intent to invade and oppress women by using carers (!) AND our strong and valid objection to being labelled oppressive.

Simply because of the gender of our carer before we even ask to enter a space we receive aggression, mislabelling and often as in the ladies changing rooms we have been funnelled into a space which is ‘right’ for our gender but wrong for our comfort or others but also that whatever our political persuasion we can get instantly labelled as denying others rights.

One discomfort is the fear other women may quite reasonably uncomfortable if my male carer is with me. However most often no-one except someone who is taking the opportunity for a power struggle will react because most people understand that discriminating in another way helps no-one at all. I had many interesting conversations on the nature of segregated space on another site and learnt a great deal from its trans members on the necessity for non-gendered bathrooms and safe spaces for trans people so I’d be extremely interested to hear from anyone whose experience of gender issues might throw light on good ways of handling this delicately.

In a straight context I resolved a similar issue in a women’s changing area by speaking to customer services and as it turned out getting a great convo on trans and fluid changing room needs in as well! As a feminist, I know what they were trying to do was the right thing in the wrong way so that they managed to discriminate on disability grounds. I found the intersectional problem almost impossible to write up in a way that gave due respect to the womens/trans issues. It’s one I know transwomen will be interested to hear about though I expect almost anyone has more experience than I do could say all this better?

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