Check out this recent column in the Chronicle of Higher Education by philosopher Rachel McKinnon, who writes about her decision to (and experience of) coming out as trans to her students. McKinnon writes that she came out, not only because her appearance would otherwise have been “the elephant in the room” but also because it’s important for students to see successful trans professionals. The column also has some important lessons about cultivating safe spaces for LGBTQ people, and other visible minorities.
I write this account because I think that it contains some broader lessons for the academic community. First, my experience highlights how important a culture of respect and support, especially from your department, is for a gender transition. The institutional support of my department chair has been exemplary. But that should be the case for all sorts of minorities, whether part of the LGBT spectrum or members of racial, political, or any other minority group who may experience resistance to their self-expression. It’s imperative for colleges and universities to construct robust and explicit antidiscrimination and equity policies. The presence of those policies influences how free people feel to express themselves: A university with good protections for trans people, for example, makes it more likely that someone will be comfortable transitioning. That certainly factored into my decision.
A nice response to the fat-haters. (One might see it as problematically involving an implicit acceptance that “strong” and “healthy” are good and that “ugly” is bad. But I don’t think it needs to be read this way, and anyway (a) it’s hard to totally shrug off culturally accepted norms; and (b) I think there may be room for lots of variation in how the meaning of these words. (Thanks, S!)
If you want to explore some unhelpful stereotypes about disability, mainstream hollywood films are a good place to start. (Listen to the music swell dramatically at the end of Million Dollar Baby when – spoiler alert! – Hilary Swank’s character realizes she’d rather be dead than live with spinal chord injury; or watch the magical future super!crip in Avatar get magically cured in the magical future where disabilities disappear like magic.)
But there are some really amazing films out there about, and in some cases by, disabled people. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover recently that you can stream some of them for free. Below are some of my favorites. Check them out!
“Shameless: the art of disABILITY” is a film by Bonnie Sherr Klein exploring the lives of five disabled artists. They discuss their work, their own experiences of disability, and the relationship between the two.
The Kids are Alright
“The Kids are Alright” is a fascinating documentary about the protests led by disability rights activists against the annual Jerry Lewis Telethon. The protests were organized by a group called “Jerry’s Orphans” – a group of former “Jerry’s Kids” (children with muscular dystrophy who had appeared on the telethon) who felt that the telethon was exploitative and promoted harmful stereotypes of disabled people.
Life’s a Twitch
“Life’s a Twitch” is the story of one man’s experience of Tourette’s Syndrome.