Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The "Too Smart" Service Dog

Hi. As I explained on After Gadget, normally my service dog blogging (and related stuff) takes place over there. Except for today's post. I was going to post it at After Gadget, but it turns out it would violate WordPress TOS. So, I'm posting it here. Future Gadget- and Barnum-related posts will be back at After Gadget!

You asked so many great questions about my experiences as a service dog (SD) partner and trainer that it is taking quite some time for me to write all my answers. I am also still finishing Barnum's training. Until now I wanted to wait to train him to open the outside door to let himself out because I wanted to make sure he was really solid on having his door-opening behaviors under stimulus control (defined below). Which leads me to today's topic.

Two of you asked about my funniest or most embarrassing experience as a SD handler,* and -- especially considering that the idea for this post was inspired by support from www.wooddogcrate.com  -- I remembered a time I should have used a crate and about how my dog training skillz were not as groovy back then as I thought....

I've written in the past that Gadget was my heartdog, my perfect dog, and he was. But that doesn't mean he was actually a perfect dog! He was a reliable SD, and he liked to work, but he had his own agenda (as we all do).

When some people learn that I taught Gadget to open the refrigerator and other doors in the house -- including the door to the outside -- they picture chaos: a wagging stubby tail protruding from my open fridge while last night's leftovers are snorked down or Gadget opening and sauntering out the front door whenever he wanted. This is not what happened -- mostly. Why? Because the point of clicker training is to teach dogs to use their own minds to make the decisions you want. The more you train it, the more it works.

The behaviorist terminology for this is stimulus control, which basically means that the dog always does what you ask when you cue them and they don't do it when you don't cue them, etc. So Gadget only opened the fridge when I asked him to. For example, to get me a bottle of water. Likewise, he learned to let himself out to eliminate after I cued him to go out and not when I didn't . . . usually. And then there was this time which proved that I did not have stimulus control on door opening and that Gadget was thinking outside the, um, house.

A close-up of Gadget's face, turning to look over one shoulder, covered in a bright-orange vest. His muzzle is wet, his beard dripping water. His ears are cocked. In the background are blurry green leaves.
Summer of 2009 - Playing at the Pond
In the summer of 2009, Gadget was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma and feeling great. He had virtually no side effects from the treatment and was in remission. He was happy to keep working as my service dog.

I was undergoing treatment, too -- for Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. However, I had prioritized his healthcare above mine. Even though my doctor had wanted me to start daily intravenous antibiotics several months before, I waited until Gadget was in remission and his chemo schedule was bimonthly -- instead of weekly -- before I made the appointment.

To get daily infusions, I would need a PICC line. This is a little tube inserted into the artery in your biceps so you can get intravenous medication pumped directly into your bloodstream without needle sticks. Because I have such a complicated medical situation, I conducted research and anxiously weighed the pros and cons before deciding to make that appointment. By the time my mind was made up and Gadget was halfway through his chemo protocol, I just wanted to get the procedure over with and move on with my -- and Gadget's -- life.

Going to the hospital is always exhausting and stressful for me, and this procedure was no exception. I was nonverbal throughout, needed a sign language interprepter, and experienced some heavy-duty chemical exposures. Still, it basically went fine, and Betsy and I were glad to get back home. After my assistant helped me wash the hospital residues from my hair and skin, Gadget and I wandered outside, picking blackberries. He loved berries and would pick them right off the bushes.

Gadget steps among rocks and bushes to get at ground-vine blackberries. The picture shows him in profile, powerfully built, short gray peach-fuzz fur, and focused on his task.
Gadget picks blackberries off low bushes.
All was well . . . except that my PICC site was a bloody mess. I had to keep mopping it up while trying to reach past the thorns. (Note to self: Picking blackberries after minor surgery is a bad idea.) I came inside and called the visiting nurse association and was told that some bleeding was normal and that my nurse would clean it up when she changed the dressing the following day. So, fine.

By that night, however, my arm was red and swollen under the dressing. I wasn't particularly worried but Betsy was, and I started to "catch" some of her anxiety. Just as a precaution, I called the VNA again. They told me to call my doctor. Unfortunately, my doctor was away on vacation. Had she been there, she probably would have told me to wait to see what the nurse said in the morning. She doesn't panic unnecessarily. Instead, I called the covering physician, who did not know my case and whose first priority seemed to be that one of her colleague's patients didn't go septic on her watch! She told me to go to the ER right away and have the PICC line pulled and cultured in case it was infected. I really didn't want to do that! After everything I'd gone through to get it put in -- oy!

I didn't think it was infected. I didn't have symptoms of sepsis, and I didn't even know if it was possible for a line to get infected so soon after insertion. But the doctor was insistent, and Betsy was worried, and by now I was worried, too because I was brand-new to PICC lines, and septic shock is not something to mess with. Thus, I gathered my water, supplements, oxygen, medical information, etc., and prepared to go.

Normally when I went to the ER -- or anywhere -- I took Gadget with me. However, if I went to a toxic environment like a hospital, I would have to wash not just myself, but him. Since he was getting baths every time he went to the vet for chemo already, that was a lot of baths. Given how long and tiring this day was turning out, I didn't want to add giving Gadget yet another bath, too. Betsy could assist me, so we decided to leave Gadget at home.

Gadget really hated being left home by himself. For one thing, as my SD, he was used to going with me wherever I went. For another, even though it was much less severe than when I'd first adopted him, he did have some separation anxiety. However, at nine years old he had lots of training, much less separation anxiety, and excellent manners, so he only spent time in his crate to chew something messy (house rules).

If I'd been thinking clearly, I'd have remembered that, between my health problems and his, I was sometimes leaving Gadget inside when I went out, and his solution to this bad behavior on my part was to go looking for me -- by opening the door, letting himself out, and scenting me down. In other words, he was not waiting for the cue. He was thinking for himself, which is often a good thing in service dogs -- but not when you need behaviors under stimulus control!

If I'd been thinking clearly, I would have thought of this before we left. Unfortunately, I was exhausted, stressed, and in pain. My mind was on my arm and how I was going to convince the ER doctors not to pull out my PICC line. It was ten o'clock by the time I distractedly left Gadget with a marrow bone, turned on the outside light over the ramp, and Betsy loaded my powerchair into the van.

As we drove the dark, country roads on our half-hour drive to the hospital, I thought of Gadget at home with his bone. And then I smacked myself in the forehead. "Omigod!" I said to Betsy, "I bet Gadget has let himself out by now to look for me."

Betsy agreed this was likely. And if Gadget was outside in the warm August night the mosquitoes were likely swarming in through our open door. We were not keen on the idea of adding at least another forty minutes to our trip by turning around to deal with it. We considered our options.

Recently, our household had made two new purchases for which I was profoundly grateful that night. The first, most important option was a chain-link fence. This meant that Gadget would only be able to follow my scent to the gate. He wouldn't run into the road, get lost, get hit by a car, have a porcupine encounter, or any number of other disasters. Thank doG! He could, however, and likely would, start barking at the gate, calling for me, demanding my return. Since we'd probably be gone for hours (any trip to the ER is at least a three-hour proposition -- NOT including travel -- on a slow night), I really was not keen for my neighbors to hear him barking all night.

Our other recent acquisition was a cell phone. Because we live in a rural area with no cell towers, we never used the cell, but we had it for when Betsy was doing overnights at work. So, I turned on Betsy's cell phone and waited for a signal. When I got bars, I dialed information. I only knew the last names of our closest neighbors, a married couple who have different last names. I fervently hoped that they were listed. First I tried the woman's name -- no listing. Then I tried her husband and got a number. Hoping he was home, awake, and in a mood to go deal with my door-opening dog, I dialed his number.

"Hi," I said nervously when he picked up the phone. "This is Sharon-from-across-the-street? I'm sorry to call you so late at night. We're on our way to the hospital. We left in kind of a hurry. And I think it's possible that Gadget has opened the door and gone outside to look for me. He'll probably start barking soon. Would you mind going over and putting him in his crate -- whether or not he's outside? That way I won't worry. . . ."

My neighbor didn't ask how Gadget would be able to open the door or why I hadn't just put him in the crate before I left. He just said that he'd go over and take a look. I was so relieved. I would have liked a report, but we would soon be at the hospital where cell phones were not allowed, so we didn't ask him to call back.

The story of what happened in the ER is a tale worthy of its own post. I'll save that for another time. The most important part is that they did not remove my line. And the whole time, in the back of my mind -- when I was not dealing with doctors or nurses or administrative matters -- I wondered, "What happened with Gadget? Was he outside? Was he barking? Did my neighbor put him in the crate? What would we find when we got home?"

We drove home after midnight. I don't remember when. Probably one o'clock or two o'clock in the morning. The house was dark and quiet. There was no gray dog in the yard.

We came inside and found Gadget waiting quietly in his crate. On the counter was a note. It said something like, "Yep, he was outside and the door was open," with our neighbor's signature on the bottom. After that, when I went out, if I didn't take Gadget with me, I always put him in the crate (and gave him something to do, like chew on a knuckle bone or frozen Kong). You don't want to leave the door open for that kind of behavior more than once.

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD/SDiT

P.S. Because we trained it from puppyhood, Barnum is my first dog to have no separation anxiety and to be 100 percent relaxed and happy in his crate. Can you tell?

Barnum inside his crate, lying in 'dead bug position,' asleep with his head thrown back, all his legs in the air, just letting it all hang out! He is lying on a tan puffy dog bed inside the crate, and there is a red Kong against his butt.
Barnum asleep in his crate.
*This is not my official answer to the questions raised by the Girl with the Cane blog. This story is just what floated into my head when the topics of "Gadget," "crates," and "funny" collided.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Moving, Well Written Storyline....

When I was searching for links for my interview with Sinclair Sexsmith about Best Lesbian Erotica 2012, I stumbled across two reviews of the book I hadn't seen before. Seeing as how they both mention me -- in ways that delight me -- I thought I'd share these snippets with you.

Nikki Magennis of the fabulous [PANK] Magazine ("a place inhabited by contradictions, a place of quirk and startling anomaly") had this to say in her review of BLE 12:
In the hands of skilled writers, wall to wall sexual action can be turned into beautifully observed prose. . . . WHEN YOU CALL by Sharon Wachsler is a wonderfully complex and ambiguous piece playing with love, bodily failings and emotional weakness. Wachsler maintains a high level of eroticism as an integral part of a moving, well written storyline that calls for rereading. Probably my favourite story in the book.
There was also this mention in the Advocate, by editor Diane Anderson-Minshall, a hero of the queer literary world: Advocate Bookshelf: The Best One-Handed Reads
After however many years this series has been going, it's hard to believe [Kathleen] Warnock was able to find new material. But indeed she and guest judge Sinclair Sexsmith did, and some of the lusty contributions in this edition rival those of the early years. Among the surprises are Sharon Wachsler, Annie Grip, and Kiki Delovely, all filthy-minded women you'll likely hear more of in years to come.
Thank you both for making my day!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Interview with Sinclair Sexsmith, Editor of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012

Cover of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012. A butch woman is standing and kissing a femme woman. The butch has very short, dark hair and wears a dark men's dress shirt, suspenders and Chino-style pants. Most of both women's faces are hidden, so we see the back of the butch's head and just the side and chin of the femme. The femme is sitting, wearing a low-cut leather vest and fishnet stockings. She has very muscular arms and is pulling the butch against her with one of her suspenders.
The smokin' hot cover of BLE 12
I'm continuing with my series of interviews of editors of recent anthologies that include my work. Today, meet Sinclair Sexsmith (in the unlikely event you haven't already heard of her)! We're talking about Best Lesbian Erotica 2012. This is the most popular and best-selling series of lesbian erotica there is. I'm pleased to have had my work appear in a few times. Here's what I said about the book on my page of Recently Published Works:
What makes this edition of BLE consistent with others I've contributed to? It's full of hot, well-written, well-edited stories. What's unique about this year's volume? Kathleen Warnock says it best in the foreword: "This year's collection has a chronological arc to it. It starts with the story of two young girls in love: one embraces who she is, the other panics at the unknown. And so it goes through lifetimes: people fall in love some more, break up, have brief encounters, know each other better than anyone else, heal their wounds, have families, take vacations, find comfort, grow older, care for each other, continue their pursuits, and keep on keeping on." Includes a smart and passionate introduction by co-editor, Sinclair Sexsmith, and stories by Lea DeLaria, DL King, Kiki DeLovely, Xan West, Ily Goyanes, Anna Watson, and more. Pick up a copy of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012.
Now, on to what Mr. Sexsmith had to share about her role in editing Best Lesbian Erotica 2012 and her journey as an erotica writer and editor.

Sharon: Your first erotica story was published in BLE 2006 and your first time editing an anthology was BLE 2012 (though your first solo anthology, Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica was released this past April). What did you need to learn to make that journey from writer to editor?

Sinclair: I read so much queer erotica in those years — even before I began submitting and publishing stories, I was an avid reader of queer erotica, but I significantly stepped it up in the last six years. I’ve been reviewing erotica for the Lambda Literary Foundation and directly for Cleis Press, which publishes the majority of the queer erotica available (and my personal favorite erotica, and most of my favorite erotica authors). Beyond that I’ve been more intentional about pursuing erotica writing as a craft, and read as much as I can get my hands on, whether it’s straight or gay or lesbian or queer or pansexual.

I think the biggest thing I needed to learn was what makes a good erotica story. That sounds simple, but not everyone’s definition of “good erotica” is the same (just look at the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon — definitely not my definition of good erotica). I definitely want erotica stories to be well-written, but I don’t want there to be too much backstory before they get to the sex. Because I’ll be honest — I don’t read erotica for the good story, really; I read it to get off. I read it to get turned on and inspire ideas about how else I could play or fuck. I know a lot of folks want stories that happen to have a sexual component, but really, for me, I want sex that happens to have a story component.

I will definitely admit to having particular personal tastes — like lots of D/s, lots of power play, lots of penetration and cocksucking and dirty talk — but I also love finding erotica stories that aren’t necessarily my taste, or precisely not my taste, but that are so well written that they turn me on, even if just for the time I’m reading the story, and I get it, I understand that kink or fetish temporarily.

Sharon: Was there anything that surprised you in working on BLE 2012?

Sinclair: I was surprised by the amount of good writing that was submitted, and the impressive storytelling. It’s a well-known series and many talented writers submit annually, and as the guest editor, I received the finalists’ stories blind, without the author’s names attached. Even so, in the first pass, I went back to Kathleen Warnock, the series editor, and said, “Are there any more maybes that were particularly dirty?”

As much as I do love good writing, if it wasn’t turning me on while I was reading it, I wasn’t going to put it in the anthology.

“I need tension!” I told Kathleen.

She sent me a dozen more stories that weren’t included in her initial finalists that had more BDSM, more kink, and more sex in them, and some of those made it into the final cut of the book. It wasn’t surprising that I wanted to make the book dirty, but it was surprising that we had to do more than one pass to find the dirtiest stories. I’m glad they were in there!

Sharon: I really liked the chronological arc of this anthology. I don't think I've come across an erotica anthology before that had an embedded theme like this. Was that something you looked for in the stories you chose, or did it just arise organically from the material submitted?

Sinclair: Thank you! It arose from the material submitted, particularly comparing the first story, “Touched” by Amy Butcher, with the last story, “Never Too Old” by Dejay. Kathleen was the one to make the chronological arc suggestion and I think it works incredibly well.

Sharon: What was the best part of working on BLE 2012? 

Sinclair: Working with Kathleen was fantastic because she has so much experience and expertise and really knows how to put a great collection together. The best thing, though, is holding the completed book in my hand and knowing that my taste in erotica is valued and interesting enough for Cleis and Kathleen to ask me to curate a whole collection. I was so honored to do that, especially for the series that published my first story six years prior.

Oh, and the cover — I think the image they chose is super hot. I want to get a wall poster made of it to put up in my writing space. [Note from Sharon: Agreed. Best BLE cover, ever!]

Sharon: This is a writing and disability blog, so disability is a topic I always raise. As far as I know, Peggy Munson and I are the only lesbian erotica writers who frequently write disabled characters. As a reader and editor of lesbian and kink erotica, what would it add for you to find more disabled characters in erotica?

Sinclair: That’s a great question, and I’m not sure how to answer it. Since I don’t frequently see or read disabled characters in erotica, I’m not sure what it is about a disabled person’s sexual and kink experiences that I’m missing out on understanding. I am pretty well and able bodied, at least so far in my life, so I don’t have the experience of those limitations.

I think it’s very important to have accurate representations of sexualities in the erotica worlds — which is one of the reasons I am thrilled about continuing to edit anthologies, because I think my particular tastes are not widely seen in lesbian erotica, but there are a lot of people out there whose tastes overlap with mine. Which is also why we need more diverse representations of disability and ability—so that there is not one singular story about the sexuality of someone disabled, but that there are a myriad of voices that normalize many people’s lived experiences. It is so valuable and important to see one’s self and sexuality reflected in a story in a book; that mirroring is so valuable.

Reading more erotica with disabled characters would contribute to that lack, I think. I’d love to see more of that. So, to folks out there with interesting sex lives or active imaginations — write some of ‘em up! Submit them to anthologies — mine or someone else’s. That’s a missing voice still, and we need more people to write with care and honesty and respect and radicalism.

Sharon: "We need more people to write with care and honesty and respect and radicalism." What a perfect note to end on! Thank you very much, Sinclair Sexsmith, for taking the time to answer my questions!

And if you haven't picked up a coy of BLE 12 yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy (in electronic or paper form) at your favorite independent bookstore or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And if you  do read it, please post a review on Amazon!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Interview with Sacchi Green, editor of Girl Fever

Cover of Girl Fever shows two young, light-skinned women in a tub, covered in soap suds. A redhead is straddling and kissing the neck of a blond, who has her eyes shut and is laughing.

A decade ago, my first piece of erotica was published. One of the other contributors to that anthology was Sacchi Green. In the years that followed, almost every time I made my way into a new erotica market or gave a reading, Sacchi was there. (She lives in Western Massachusetts, too.) 

Then Sacchi began editing her own anthologies ("cracking the editorial whip" as she puts it), and I've been lucky enough to be a contributor to a couple of them. She first co-edited very successful anthologies on themes such as cowboys and bikers before going solo to edit anthologies on lesbian cops, coming out stories, and more. I have been inspired and impressed by her dedication to finding good writing and a presenting a fluid consistency of theme.

Sacchi's latest anthology is Girl Fever: 69 Stories of Sudden Sex for Lesbians. I'm particularly pleased to have two pieces in Girl Fever because these were the first pieces I wrote after being unable to write or edit professionally from 2007 to 2010, when Lyme disease was taking its biggest toll on my brain and body. It was great to re-enter the world of literary erotica under the auspices of an editor with whom I felt such trust and comfort.

Now Sacchi has agreed to answer my questions about her work as a writer and editor of lesbian erotica (and other genres). Enjoy!

Sharon: The first thing I noticed when I got my copy of Girl Fever was that it's huge! Sixty-nine (even very short) stories of wall-to-wall, throw-down, wet, juicy sex is a whole lot of sex. What I enjoyed most about this book was the variety. Did the number of pieces you were selecting make this a more challenging project than your other anthos? Besides the sexual element, what were you looking for to keep the reader engaged in each story and eager to move to the next one?

Sacchi: I always look for variety, on general principles; anything can get boring if it's repeated too often in succession. I look for variety in a number of aspects. Since this is erotica, the sex is a major factor; I look for a certain mix of mild kink, edgeplay, sweet romance, vanilla, first-times, long-term partners, etc. I especially like things I've never encountered before, like, for instance, that story you wrote about sex during an MRI.* I also look for variety in settings, especially settings vividly evoked in a minimum of words. Different types of characters are good; not just dominant, submissive, butch, femme, andro, but earthy, intellectual, geeky, older, on the young side, introspective, outgoing -- the list could go on and on, and there can be all sorts of combinations. Varying lengths are important, too, even in a book with 69 very short stories. And then there are matters of tone, voice, mood, atmosphere -- lighthearted, heavy, humorous, anguished, intense, casual, and my favorite, indefinable.

Sharon: Back to the topic of variety! In addition to beds, bathrooms, elevators, and boardrooms; planes, trains, and automobiles; this book contains a mix of fantasy/myth, realism, sf, and a huge range of locales and situations. I know that in your writing, too, you have quite a range -- science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, all of which you are able to mix with erotica. Did you solicit spec fic pieces, or did they arrive by luck and connection? Do you have a favorite genre or mix of genres to write (or to read with an eye to publishing)?

Sacchi: For this book, I didn't ask for specific genres, and wouldn't have taken too many stories of, say, space opera or fantasy, but I was happy with the ones I got. In general my main publisher doesn't like much along the lines of speculative fiction, except in specific cases like vampires, shapeshifters, steampunk, fairy tales, whatever seems popular at the time, and all their books like that have been edited by other people, even though I expressed interest in doing some of them. I'm to some extent pigeonholed with traditional lesbian themes, but that's not really limiting. I do write stories myself for some of these, and slip in the occasional historical piece, too. Historical fiction and fantasy are my favorites, but they tend to work best at novel length, and I'm not necessarily a novelist. I've been working with a smaller publisher, though, Lethe Press, where I've edited an alternate history anthology (Time Well Bent) and am co-editing a year's-best anthology of lesbian speculative fiction, Heiresses of Russ 2012, due out on October.

Sharon: I love your historical fiction. There are two pieces I remember from erotica anthologies that have stayed with me for years. One was the title piece from Lipstick on Her Collar. The other was from the perspective of an American woman who had an affair (while she was a WAC) in England during World War II, I think?

Sacchi: Yes, my Lipstick on Her Collar story was set during the War in Vietnam.

The other one you're thinking of is "To Remember You By." She was a WAC nurse, and the other character was ferrying new fighter aircraft for the RAF, as many Americans and Canadians did before similar groups of women pilots were formed in the US. That's one of my very favorites, along with a sequel I wrote about them 35 years later in Alaska, where the pilot had established a career, and gained a partner, a Russian defector who had flown bombers with the "Night Witches" during the war. This was the nearest I ever came to writing a threesome. I did large amounts of research for all these stories, and will probably use some of it again. In fact, one of my rare hetero stories, coming out in November in Kristina Wright's Duty and Desire from Cleis Press, is about a "night witch" shot down near the Russian/German border and rescued by a Russian sniper recovering from severe injuries in the Siege of Stalingrad.

The two stories about the WAC and the pilot are the first and last in my collection of my own work, A Ride to Remember, from Lethe Press. One of these days I'll write a third one, taking place between the other two, when the American pilot rescues the Russian one, who has crashed on the ice shelf near Nome.

Sharon: Ooh, I'm looking forward to reading that collection.

Switching gears, I'd like to talk a bit about disability in erotica since that's a theme on my blog. I've never before been in an erotica anthology that had two stories with disabled characters. Thus, I was pleased and surprised to discover in Girl Fever Fran Walker's "Cats and Dogs," which has a protagonist who uses a wheelchair and a service dog. Do you think it's becoming more common to have disabled protags in erotica anthologies? As an editor, how do you approach stories with a character with a chronic illness or a disability?

Sacchi: I look at stories with characters with disabilities with the same critical eye that I use for any other work, but I'm very glad to see them. For one thing, disabilities (like alternative gender presentations) contribute to the complexities of stories in various ways. Not only are the characters personally influenced by their situations, but their worlds and the ways they navigate them are more complex than for most people, and this adds depth and interest to their stories. Another aspect is the journey a reader make take from initially seeing someone as "other" to recognizing a fully shared humanity, with an extra dose of respect. Not every story has to be "educational" in this way, of course, but it's good for readers to empathize with all sorts of well-written characters.

Sharon: You've contributed to a stack of erotica anthologies that are "breast-high," according to your blog. (I remember when it was thigh-high! I think you really should post a picture of yourself on your blog with your boob-high stack of books.) How did you go from being a contributing writer of lesbian erotica anthologies to being an editor of them?

Sacchi: Well, as you know, I'm not very tall, so "breast-high" doesn't imply all that much altitude. I toyed with the idea of editing for a while; I never wanted to be a teacher, exactly, but I do read with a sense of what's good writing and what isn't, and of how to fix what needs fixing. Then another writer with an anthology idea tracked me down and talked me into co-editing Rode Hard, Put Away Wet: Lesbian Cowboy Erotica with her, since she had experience with training horses and cowboyin', and I had more on the writing chops and contacts side. We did four books together, but we've both moved on.

Sharon: I know you're still contributing to other anthologies, such as She-Shifters, the lesbian paranormal erotica anthology, in addition to editing your own books. What keeps you interested in writing short erotic fiction after so many years and so many stories?

Sacchi: I wrote and published a moderate amount of fantasy and science fiction, including some YA (which is why I chose a pseudonym for my erotic writing) before getting into erotica, so I've been exposed to a variety of genres. Now and then I think I should forget about erotica and focus on other writing, but I find myself including at least undertones of the erotic in most of what I write. To me, erotic stories need to be about other things besides sex, and the fact that a piece has enough sex in it to categorize as erotica doesn't have to limit it; there are still infinite numbers of stories to tell.

Sharon: Last question. In Girl Fever, I found many familiar names -- writers well-known in the field of lesbian erotica -- but I also came across some writers I've never read before, whose stories I really enjoyed and whose writing took me by surprise. What surprised you the most in editing this anthology?

Sacchi: I was surprised (and relieved) that I got so many good stories, and, as you note, by so many by people I'd never encountered before. Maybe it was because some of them felt that their chances were better for a book with so many stories, or maybe they felt more up to writing short pieces than long ones; I don't know. But it does take a special skill to present well-developed characters and settings and scenes in a concise way, and I think that sometimes the amount of focus required on the part of the writer makes a better story than they'd produce with more room to fill.

Sharon: Thank you so much for your time, Sacchi!

Sacchi: Thank you, Sharon, for the great stories you've written for me, and for all you accomplish.

*The MRI story Sacchi is referring to is called "Imaging," and is in Lipstick on Her Collar. That was a fun one to write. I took on a literary no-no and created a not-very-likable protagonist -- a disabled dyke who is an unreliable narrator. I was glad Sacchi took a chance on it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Interview with Lynne Jamneck, editor of Perhiphery

When my work is in an anthology it's always great fun when my copy of the book arrives and I discover what and who else is between its covers. The biggest thrill is when I get totally absorbed by the work of the other writers and can't put them down. These are the books that make me realize how lucky I am to have been included. Periphery is one of these books.

Periphery was originally published as a paperback by Lethe Press in 2008. I'm thrilled that it has now been re-released as an ebook by Untreed Reads because I anticipate that this will give more readers a chance to enjoy it, particularly science fiction (sf) readers who may not have thought it would be their cup of tea because of how it was originally subtitled.

Although I dabble in speculative fiction, I'm not an sf writer, so I could never have conceived of creating this collection, let alone of editing it. I've therefore been very eager to find out what was going on in the brain of the person who did, Lynne Jamneck. I have pounced upon the re-release of Periphery to ask Lynne a few questions, and I thoroughly enjoyed her answers. I hope you do, too.

A sepia-toned photograph of some sort of antique-looking piece of machinery or fixture. It has a glass bulb and various metal parts. In opaque white circles above, each letter of the title, "Periphery," is in a separate circle. Below, also with each letter in its own circle, but transparent, it says "edited by Lynne Jamneck."

Sharon: My first question is, why did you want to edit an anthology of erotic lesbian sf?

Lynne: I wanted to put something together that could be both entertaining and subversive. Sex is such a great divider; what some find erotic or sexually alluring others find immoral, degrading, dangerous. sf introduces the context of future possibilities, and with that, future ways of thinking. The moral panic that persists around the world with regard to what people do in their own bedrooms behind closed doors (or open ones) can only change if people are willing to challenge their own thought processes.

Sharon: I remember at the time that you were still seeking submissions -- and I hadn't sent you anything because I thought I was not "sf enough" -- that you said you'd gotten a lot of good "sex in space" pieces and that that wasn't what you were going for. That gave me the nerve to submit something. Although there is some space opera in Periphery (such as what I think is one of the hottest and funniest stories, Elspeth Potter's "Silver Skin"), you were clearly going for something unique. So, what would a lesbian "sex in space" anthology be, and why didn't you want to edit one?

Lynne: I'm so glad you decided to send me something. "Sideways" is one of the stories in Periphery that gets positively mentioned to me almost always when I discuss the antho with someone who has read it.

What I was trying to avoid was a collection of stories that was, basically, erotic stories set in space, where the context of space or the future was incidental to the stories. I wanted the futuristic elements to be intrinsically coupled with the eroticism. The stories in Periphery are about loss, hope, possibilities, passion, resistance -- elements that, to me, are an integral part of humankind's evolution as a species. We stick our toes into ethical, political and social lakes filled with crocodiles on an almost daily basis as we gaily blast off into Tomorrow. I like stories to say something, even if it's something that doesn’t come across immediately. That's part of the fun of reading, isn't it? Sex in space is fine. It's great! But honestly, not for twelve stories in a row.

Sharon: I was intrigued by how cohesive the book was in its themes. One is a classic sf theme -- the future, especially dystopia, and another popular sf trope, crime (punishment, imprisonment, fighting back,  revolution). Did you seek out these themes or were they simply in the air when the stories were written? What, if any, effect do you think a lesbian sensibility had to do with it?

Lynne: I never intentionally sought out any particular theme. The tropes you mention are – sadly – always present somewhere in the world. The notion of "first world countries" is true only insofar as it designates a group of people who are materially well-off. Right now, I can rattle off the names of countries that are in actual fact dystopias owing to the presence of archaic laws, moral oppression, anti-intellectualism and spiritual poverty. "Fighting back" does not always indicate violent physical behaviour, but it remains the context in which many people frame rebellion.

As for a lesbian sensibility… I'm very careful when talking about stuff like this. I'm not a good feminist, haha. Obviously, there is a queer history of oppression to draw from, which is undeniable. I'd like to think that fighting back and being revolutionary isn't limited to one particular gender or sexuality, though; rather, it's a human trait.

Sharon: One theme which totally surprised me was illness and disability. In my own piece, disability is central, but illness-related themes appear also in several others (Gwyneth Jones's "The Voyage Out," Kristyn Dunnion's "They Came from Next Door," and Lyda Morehouse's "Ishtartu"), and most notably Melissa Scott's "The Rocky Side of the Sky," which to me felt like an sf version of the Karen Thompson/Sharon Kowalski story. Because it's so subtle and organic in these stories, I don't know if it hit other readers' radar, but because I'm one of few erotica writers who frequently write disabled characters, it caught my attention. What's your thought about why illness and physical difference are an element in several of the stories?

Lynne: That's an interesting question. I think people who are "different" are uniquely qualified to address those social aspects that label them as somehow not being "normal. Perhaps physical otherness provides a perspective which enables those with illness to perceive the future less rigidly. That's a fairly important ability, in my opinion, to have, writing-wise, if you are going to write sf. Well, any speculative work of fiction, really.

Sharon: Humor's very important to me, as a writer and as a human being. Speculative fiction has so much humor potential because there's such a big field to play in, with& The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy being the most obvious example, but there's also a lot of subtle humor in sf. Do you have any favorite winks or nudges in Periphery?

Lynne: You mentioned Elspeth Potter's "Silver Skin" earlier. I have to agree, there is some fairly wicked word-play on display in that story that subtly pokes fun at a number of sf conventions. Also, one of my favourite sentences in the anthology is the first one from the first story, Marianne de Pierres' "Origins." Read it and you'll see what I mean! [Note from Sharon: I did, and I burst out laughing.]

Sharon: Although Periphery is classified as erotica as well as sf -- and it was a finalist in the erotica category for a Lambda Literary Award -- the stories here are not usually what the public thinks of as "erotica," I think. There's not a lot of "throw down and fuck" going on, which is what I think some readers loved about it and others found disappointing. How did you approach the erotic element in choosing material?

Lynne: Several times, when I initially pitched the idea to publishers, I had to stress the fact that it would be a sf anthology with erotic aspects. Nevertheless, as you mentioned, it was shortlisted for a Lambda Award in the erotica category. Likely, that's where some of the reader disappointment may have stemmed from. To a degree, the anthology was marketed as something it wasn't entirely. Untreed Reads has just re-released Periphery. The publisher and I agreed to truncate the original title, "Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures" to simply "Periphery." Hopefully, this will put it on the radar of sf readers who may have missed it first time around.

The erotic elements had to be integral to the stories in a way that, if it was removed, the story would be altered in such a way that meaning or emotive response would be compromised. I wanted the eroticism to be a reflection of the characters, their thoughts, hopes and desires beyond a sexual scope. Eroticism is a complex beast. It involves psychology, and can to a large degree be dependant of the culture that an individual lives in. In that sense it's fluid, making it hard to pin down a static, go-to definition. But that's probably where ninety percent of people's issues with, and misunderstanding of sexuality and gender concepts stem from – the inability to clarify why something is the way it is, when instead they should be considering that we don’t live in a world where complex organisms like people can be shoved into a preconceived mould of "normality."


Thank you, Lynne, for sharing your process and insights! The first time around, Periphery got terrific reviews and was a Lammy finalist. I'm really hoping that this recent re-release in digital format will give more people a chance to enjoy this great collection. Grab a copy here. (Or as an Amazon Kindle or a Barnes & Noble Nook.)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Languaging Disability: Where Do "Ability" and "Dis/Ability" Fit In?

This post first appeared at Ability Maine and is cross-posted with permission.

As a writer with a disability, I read a lot of writing about disability, discussions of language about disability, and the like. There are noticeable differences in language usage around disability depending on geography, disability status and type, and community. This has led me to some conclusions about who uses which language and why.

Before I discuss these differences, I want to stress that I am aware that these conclusions are generalizations. I know there is wide variation within the groups I'm referring to which goes beyond a few exceptions. Nonetheless, I've been active in the disability rights community and have been writing (fiction, poetry, and most often, nonfiction) professionally about disability since 1992, so I think I have a pretty good grasp of the broader implications.

The first four short sections (below) cover material most have some familiarity with. However, recent reading has alerted me to the fact that many people who are trying to be disability allies are not as aware of disability rights perspectives on the less obvious words. Thus, I've decided to provide an overview of some of the more widely understood issues before getting into the newer ideas.

Euphemisms and Other "Don't Go There" Words

Do not use these terms. Some have horrible histories. Most were created by nondisabled people, and I almost never hear a disabled person using them (except with loathing).

On the saccharine, ridiculous, and skin-crawlingly euphemistic side we have the following:
  • handi-capable/handicapable
  • differently abled
  • physically challenged (or mentally challenged or any form of "challenged") 
  • special needs or "special" in general

On the outdated, mean, or "hipster" hit list of words I hate, please find:
  • handicapped
  • cripple
  • invalid
  • defect/defective
  • the R-word or any of its incarnations
  • lame (as in "That's totally lame" or "He's so lame, dude")
  • any of the zillion offensive terms used to refer to people with mental health disabilities (crazy, nuts, bonkers, etc.)
Also, please don't use "the disabled," as if we are some monolithic entity that shares a hive mind. I usually see "the disabled" as part of a list that refers to "children, the elderly, and the disabled." In other words, people who need to be cared for, and thus, not really people in our own right so much as  recipients of others' attention or sources of employment. Do you generally refer to gay people as "the gays" or "the homosexuals," to Jewish people as "the Jews," or to people of African descent as "the blacks"? I hope not! If you're not comfortable with "the gays" or "the blacks," please don't use similar language about people with disabilities (PWDs).

PWD versus Disabled Person/People

I'm not going to get into this one. Scads of articles and blog posts have already been written about it. Basically, the generally preferred language in the US is "person/people with (a) disability" (referred to as "person-first language") and in most other countries it is "disabled person/people." However, there are people in and out of the US who disagree with "the party line" and prefer the other. I am fine with either one. They both have merit, and sometimes one or the other works better depending on the situation. (For more on this topic, check out this style guide by the National Center on Disability and Journalism.)

Cultures within Communities

There are some exceptions to the PWD/disabled person guidelines in the paragraph above. There are certain communities of people who prefer different language. Deaf people are an example. People who are deaf or hard of hearing who use American Sign Language (ASL) and identify as being members of the Deaf community usually do not identify as having a disability. They also use a capital "D" for "Deaf," and "Deaf" refers to anyone with hearing loss who is part of Deaf culture.

Autistics are another example. There is a movement among Autistics to be recognized as a community of people with unique and valuable attributes, not as children who need curing. They use the term "Autistics" (with a capital "A") instead of "people with autism" to indicate their community identity and to show their separateness from families of people with autism or other people concerned with autism who are not Autistic.

There is also, within virtually every disability subgroup, language that is mostly used "in-house." As a person with Lyme disease and multiple chemical sensitivity, I often refer to myself and others with these illnesses as "Lymies" or "MCSers." I have seen people refer to themselves when addressing others with their same disability as Deafies, blindies, crips, gimps, quads, paras, and crazies. This does not mean that people outside of these groups should use this language! In many of these cases, they/we are reclaiming terms that have been used to hurt them/us or they/we are using these words fondly within their/our subculture. Unless you have the disability being referred to, don't use these words. Go with "person/people with [proper name of disability]" instead.

Whaddaya Call Normal People?

First, please don't use "normal" to refer to people without disabilities. That implies that PWDs are abnormal, which is a perception we're trying to change. Having a disability is as much a part of the human experience as anything else. It is normal to have a disability!

I'm sure some of you are thinking or have read "able-bodied/AB" or "TAB" (temporarily able-bodied). The problem with "AB" is that it indicates that all disabilities are the result of physical impairments, such as mobility issues. However, there are a multitude of disabilities that don't fall into this category. Mental health disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and autism are examples of disabilities that do not necessarily have anything to do able-bodiedness.

TAB seems cool, but it's actually problematic. It's based on the belief that everyone will develop some disabilities in old age. Some people use TAB to try to raise awareness that disability is a normal part of life and something that can happen to anyone. I definitely support the goal of non-otherizing PWDs. After all, I lived my first twenty-odd years without disabilities, and now I have multiple disabilities.

However, the fact of the matter is that not everyone does develop a disability. Some people never reach adulthood, let alone old age. You can be perfectly healthy and nondisabled until you die in a car accident or of a heart attack. My grandmother was much healthier and more active at 82 than I was at 28.

In addition, I've seen people use TAB to dismiss the validity and uniquely different perspectives and experiences that come from living with disability. It's much like saying, "Well, I have glasses, so I'm disabled, too," or saying to a lesbian or gay person, "Well, everyone's bisexual," to negate the reality that living as a queer person in our culture is different than living within normative sexual/familial culture.

So, what's the answer to what to call nondisabled people -- i.e., people without disabilities? It's in the question! It's "person/people without (a) disability/ies" OR "nondisabled person/people"! What could be simpler?

One Mongoose, Two . . . Mongeese?*

The assertions I've made up till now are pretty widespread. You can find lots of blog posts, articles, books, and papers that agree with me. What I haven't seen much discussion about is the question, "What is the category name for disability/nondisability?" Although I get irritated when I come across people using terms I don't like for this, I've only recently decided I must write a post explaining my position.

The impetus was an active discussion on Twitter, started by author Kate Bornstein when she was crowdsourcing for her next book, My New Gender Workbook. She asked on more than one occasion what term to use to refer to the state of having or not having a disability. In other words, when talking about oppression, we often refer to issues of "race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and religion." Any of these words work to talk about both people who are in the marginalized position and those in the privileged position. For example, one of Kate's tweets said something like "Race is to racism as ___ is to ableism." (Omigod! It was like taking the SATs all over again!)

Most people said "ability." I strongly disagree with this, even though it seems to be most people's default. For instance, I googled "race socioeconomic gender sex ability" and got lots of hits for "diversity" policies or studies, or antidiscrimination policies. Here are some examples:
  • These include but are not limited to age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, physical and cognitive abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, gender ...
  • These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, ...
  • in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, ...  
I don't think there's been enough thought or discussion about this, both inside and outside the disability community. It seems like people are using what's handy or conventional, without much actual familiarity with disability or what it means to classify disability status under "ability."

On the other end of the spectrum are people involved in disability studies who tend to give words and their meanings a lot of thought. Some of them use the terms "dis/ability" or "dis/Ability" or "(dis)ability," and I find this problematic, too. I did find, in the Google search above, one example of this (below), followed by further examples from disability studies texts:
  • all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, (dis)ability, language, or religion, ... 
  • "...dis/abled people all face the threats of an increasingly punitive and governing ableist society." (Dan Goodley, Foreward Contours of Ableism, xii)
  • The Unveiling of (Dis)ability: Essays on Silence, Voice & Imprints by Fiona Kumari Campbell's
My preferred term to use in laundry lists of -isms is "disability," or where it is necessary to distinguish between disabled and nondisabled, "disability status." I will explain why after I explain why I don't think "ability" or "dis/ability" work well in many of the situations in which they're used.


I don't know the people who replied to Kate's query, so I don't know their disability status. (I'm assuming both disabled and nondisabled people replied). However, my experience is that the general public, particularly nondisabled people or disabled people who are not heavily involved in disability rights work, are more likely to use "ability" to mean "the category of having or not having a disability" than people involved in disability rights activism.

Why is using "ability" this way problematic? The first reason is that it's inaccurate and misleading because whether or not one is disabled doesn't actually have much to do with one's abilities. I know that the letters "a-b-i-l-i-t-y" are contained in the word "disability," but the etymology of the word and its meaning as a social construct are not the same thing.**

For example, I have loads of disabilities. How I identify them or myself as disabled depends on the circumstances. I could say that my disabilities are MCS, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), and Lyme disease, but this doesn't tell you my "abilities" at all, does it? It tells you my diagnoses, and it might tell you something about my limitations and symptoms, if you are very familiar with these diseases (which is unlikely unless you are severely disabled by these diseases, too). However, even this is limited information because, like most chronic illnesses, mine occur on a spectrum and affect me differently than they affect others with these illnesses.

I could get more specific about "abilities" in identifying myself as "disabled." I could say, "My disabilities cause chronic pain, exhaustion, limited mobility, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance, and intermittent speech impairment." That would give you some hint that my "abilities" to speak or ambulate or sleep are not typical, right? However, it doesn't really provide any detail. It doesn't give you a true sense of how these issues affect me, how they wax and wane, or how I live my life to accommodate them. Much more importantly, what I'm talking about here is not in the realm of what I call abilities at all. They're what I would call "symptoms" or "functionality" or "limitations."

When someone asks you what your abilities are -- for instance, in applying for a job -- do you list "going to the toilet unaided"? Do you list falling asleep with ease, or seeing, walking, or speaking? I sure hope not, because if you think you need to list such things, your potential employer seems likely to be discriminating on the basis of disability.

If I am having trouble moving my legs, to me that is not about my "abilities"; it is about my functionality, symptoms, or limitations on that given day. I may have limited ambulatory function, but that doesn't mean that I can't run my dog for a mile, because I can -- using my power wheelchair.

Function varies a great deal not only between people with different disabilities, but also between people with the same disabilities, and quite often day to day (or minute-to-minute). For example, many people with disabilities have totally functional legs (or lungs, hearts, eyes, or brains) and many have less-than-totally functional legs (or lungs, hearts, eyes, or brains). Among those with functional limitations, some have static levels of function or lack of function, but many have variations in functionality. Sometimes I can move my legs with great difficulty, sometimes with ease, and sometimes not at all. My functionality on this front varies. The same is true of my standing, walking, sitting up, speaking, reading, brushing my teeth, and on and on.

In general, when you speak of someone's abilities -- yours or another's -- you are talking about their skills, accomplishments, natural talent, or knowledge set. One of my abilities is proofreading. I can take a document that someone else wrote and fix the errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. I have this ability because I learned the basics of proper English spelling, grammar, and punctuation in school and then was taught proofreading by a mentor when I had a job that required this skill. I have maintained this ability by making use of references, such as dictionaries, thesauruses, and style manuals. If I suddenly lost the ability to proofread, would this make me disabled? Should we assume that anyone who publishes a blog post that is full of errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling is disabled? (I'm working very hard to not make a snarky joke here.)

Some abilities come naturally (e.g., being naturally athletic or musical or "good with animals"), but to excel (as a runner or singer or horse trainer) one still has to supplement inclinations with learning. In addition to proofing, other abilities or talents I have include dog training, baking, swimming, applying makeup, and public speaking. The fact that I'm not physically or mentally able to do all of these things all the time or even most of the time does not necessarily mean that I can no longer say these are abilities of mine. For example, even if I can't swim at this time, I still have a memory of loving to be in the water, of a sense of ease and freedom of movement in the water that I never had with land sports. Being unable to exert myself in the water now and having a PICC line that can't get wet doesn't mean I've lost the ability to swim. I still remember how to swim freestyle and backstroke, how to do flip-turns.

My other objection to using "ability" to mean "disability status" is that it is a euphemism. I find euphemisms distasteful for several reasons. The first is that they support a subtle form of ableism, a tiptoeing-around-the-topic that suggests discomfort with talking about disability. It says, "I'm not sure if I should acknowledge disability as a real thing that is okay and normal to talk about, so I'm going to use this vaguer term so everyone can feel more comfortable about not naming 'disability.'" Not including "disability" in a direct and clear way usually results in PWDs shouldering the onus of awareness and inclusion.

Euphemisms are also, by definition, not quite honest. This is true of saying "ability" when you really mean "disability status." For instance, when people use "ability" in their laundry list of demographic insider/outsider groups, they don't mean "ability," they mean disabled or nondisabled. In general conversation, when people mention "ability," they are almost never talking about disability status.*** They really mean "what this person is good at." As in, "She has fabulous artistic ability," or "I have no ability to decorate a cake so that it resembles the picture in the recipe," or "That team's fielding ability is deplorable."

Can you imagine someone saying, "What's his ability?" And being answered, "Nondisabled"? It doesn't make sense!

Lastly, similar to other disability-related euphemisms, the use of "ability" to mean "disability status" carries condescending and marginalizing baggage. It's like someone referring to a PWD as "special" or having "special needs" when what they really wish to convey is "this person requires a ramp and a communication board to participate in this class." (Or sometimes what they really mean is "this person will take more time and energy than I think they are worth.")

Dis/Ability, DisAbility, and (Dis)Ability

The other terms I'm seeing used increasingly among academics are variations on "dis/ability" or "(dis)ability." Typically I see this type of usage among disability studies people. I attribute some of this to the postmodern love of deconstructing words, and using creative punctuation to highlight the (de)construction of language and meaning. (See? I can do it, too.) I have tried asking disability studies professors and doctoral students why they use these terms, but I mostly got a lot of very emphatic replies about why they don't like them and use other language instead. So, the best I can do is guess. (If you're a person who uses one of these types of constructions, please comment! I'd love to know if my guesses are accurate.)

One of my guesses is that these constructions serve different functions for different people. I know some disabled people who use "dis/Ability" and "disAbled" because they're trying to focus the reader's attention on the fact that people with disabilities are "able" -- in other words, not useless, incompetent, or inadequate, which are longstanding general beliefs about disability. Others seem to use (dis)ability or dis/ability to be inclusive of both those with and without disabilities without writing extra words, much as many feminists used to write "s/he" instead of writing "she or he" or "they," etc. The only disability studies professor who did reply to my query (although she doesn't use these constructions herself) said that she thinks the slash usage is "meant to indicate the inseparability of the concepts 'abled' and 'disabled.'"

There are several problems with these usages. One is that they're awkward and inaccessible. They're not likely to be adopted by the masses. But that's the least of my concerns.

Mostly, I don't like these usages because they carry the same problems as "ability"; any configuration of dis/ability or (dis)ability focuses on "ability" as a category that is meaningful to disability, which is false. As I asserted above, disability is not about ability or inability. People who do not have disabilities are not "abled," they are nondisabled. Disability is a social construct. While I have a lot of life experience in common with people who have certain types of disabilities -- usually chronic illnesses that involve a lot of pain or fatigue, and isolation -- the only thing I have in common with all disabled people is ableism. Becoming friends with a number of blind people and Deaf people has taught me this more than anything else. Most of my friends who are Deaf and/or blind have very little in common with me in terms of our day-to-day lives (except if we have assistance dogs, which is a mutual bonding point). Since ableism takes so many forms and is such a vast, integral part of every aspect of our society, we can still end up with a lot of shared experiences -- denials of access, condescension, discrimination, stereotyping, and on and on -- all of which is not about any functional impairment but about ableism. However, such experiences have nothing to do with what I'm actually able to do versus what they are able to do (which is generally a hell of a lot more than I can do).

I also really don't like to see "(dis)abled" used in reference to me. I am disabled. I have disabilities. The parenthetical "(dis)" seems to suggest that those of us with disabilities are also partly "abled" (i.e., nondisabled). And there is no part of me that is nondisabled because it is a part of my identity and life experience. Being disabled is as much a part of who I am as being a woman or an American or a lesbian or a Jewish person. None of these parts of me are all of who I am, being a disabled person is not all of who I am; but I can't leave that part of me behind as if it existed in another body any more than I could divorce myself from being human.

When I see dis/abled used about me, it feels like a lie. It's like "differently abled" or "handicapable" -- as if the writer is trying to take my reality away and make it into something palatable and hidden. I want to be respected and understood in my entirety and my complexity. That includes my disabilities -- the suffering they have caused me -- physically, emotionally, and socially -- as well as the insights I've gained and the mundane boringness of my life, which is like so many lives, regardless of disability.

My Proposition

In most cases where people are now using "ability" in reference to disability, they can simply use "disability." After all, who is turned away from a job, excluded from history, made fun of, prevented from entering a building, or denied communication access because they are not disabled? Certainly nondisabled people can wind up in such situations, but it's never because they don't have a disability. Thus, "ability" can easily be replaced with "disability" in all of those nondiscrimination or diversity clauses, e.g., "Nobody will be turned away due to race, gender, sexuality, religion, or disability." Period. It's really quite simple, folks.

For syntax sticklers, I have a second option. In cases where you really need to make clear that you are talking about any person or group of people, whether or not they have a disability, you can use "disability status." It's like saying "national origin" or "socioeconomic status." For example, I welcome your comments on this post, regardless of your disability status. I really do.


*This is a reference to a joke I grew up with. A European man is in the import/export business. He mostly deals in furnishings, but a valued customer says he will pay handsomely for two mongooses. The importer isn't used to requesting animals, but he doesn't want to lose this business. He also doesn't know what the plural of "mongoose" is; is it "mongeese"? "Mongooses?" So he wires his Asian contact: "Please send a mongoose. While you're at it, send another."

**Getting into the etymology and social constructs requires more research and space than I have for this piece. Hopefully, I can address those topics in a later piece.

***Yes, if you look up "ability" in the dictionary, it will include in its definition aspects that can relate to disability, but it also includes some aspects that I very much think should be divorced from disability. For example, here is the first set of definitions at Dictionary.com:
  1. power or capacity to do or act physically, mentally, legally, morally, financially, etc.
  2. competence in an activity or occupation because of one's skill, training, or other qualification: the ability to sing well.
  3. abilities, talents, special skills or aptitudes: Composing music is beyond his abilities.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Content Is Coming!


I've been super sick this summer, so I have done very little writing or blogging here or elsewhere. However, I have some pieces in the pipeline. Upcoming, an essay on languaging disability and interviews with the editors of some recently released anthologies that include my work!

Thanks for sticking around.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Plagiarised Writer's Response to #PIPA & #SOPA During the #Blackout

Cross-posted at AfterGadget and Occupy at Home 

If you go to Wikipedia today, you will find it blacked out. However, along with the blackout is a way to contact your representative to tell them why you oppose PIPA/SOPA (or to learn more information about these bills, if you're not familiar with them).

I encourage you to make your voice heard. Here is what I wrote to my representative and senators. Feel free to use whatever is relevant or useful to you:
As a writer who has had my work stolen -- shadow companies were selling my articles under their own copyright on Amazon, as well as websites that have stolen my blog content and reprinted it without permission on advertisement-filled pages -- I am very sympathetic to the aims and goals of SOPA and PIPA. In fact, multiple articles were stolen and sold on Amazon from a feminist newspaper I was in by this one company, and the editors and publishers of the magazine had tremendous difficulty getting Amazon.com to stop selling this stolen work.

I wonder how many of my other stories have, or will be, stolen -- particularly because one of the genres I write in is erotica, and that seems to be an especially popular genre to steal and publish under another name. I work very hard on my stories. It's no small feat, because I am severely disabled, and each time I write, it exhausts and sickens me. But I continue because it's my passion and my joy and my job in this life.
I use the internet for everything -- work, social interaction, news, research for work, research on my medical conditions and connections to others with my illnesses, personal study, and more -- everything, really. I am bedbound due to chronic illness so it's my connection to the world outside my bedroom. The idea of what PIPA and SOPA could mean for internet freedom and literacy is chilling to me. I am absolutely opposed to SOPA and PIPA, even with my personal experiences of internet piracy.
Megacompanies like Amazon.com need to be held accountable. They did their best to evade me, making their legal department all-but-unreachable, and then when I threatened them with legal action, they simply took down the pirated article without acknowledging my correspondence or compensating me for my stolen work. The big money-making machines, like Amazon, need to know that the DOJ has them in their sights, that authors need to be respected and protected.
But indiscriminate, sweeping legislation like SOPA or PIPA is not the answer. It throws the baby out with the bath water. It will not stop the internet megacorporations from their sloppy, unethical (and lucrative) practice of ignoring stolen work, but it will seriously damage the free exchange of ideas and information that is the life's blood of the internet. The people of the internet are united in our opposition to SOPA and PIPA. I ask you to listen to your constituents, not corporate interests.
Thank you for your time, for reading, for listening, for following the will of the people.
P.S. If you have tried to email your representative or senator and gotten an error message where their website is supposed to be, that's because so many people have registered their opposition to SOPA/PIPA that we've crashed their sites! Keep it up! You can still contact them on their Facebook pages or via Twitter.