Our society as a space is often constrained and limited by the things we consider as “normal”. Everything that is seen as ‘normal’ is allowed to exist as it is, while the rest of us who don’t fit into this idea are isolated and ostracized. There are some things we are permitted to openly discuss, while others that we are expected to hide, like sexuality, gender identities beyond the binary, and disability amongst others. Revival Disability Magazine is a space that unapologetically talks about them all.
While speaking with Gaysi, Nu and Sam from Revival shared that the magazine was formulated about a year ago, with the intention of raising awareness about issues regarding disability, sexuality, and intersectional ableism. But now, it has evolved into a home to more than a hundred disabled and queer individuals. A disabled haven of safety, validation, and acceptance, if you will. “We’ve all been gaslit time and again by a society that refuses to acknowledge and truly listen to disabled voices. I’ve decided that if they don’t allow us at their table, we’re gonna bring our own accessible chair with armrests and plenty of cushions. Because I believe that there is power in disabled dissent, in disabled joy and in un-hiding our disability”. Revival is a small, but very significant, community allowing interdependence and support.
Conversations around disability, if they happen at all, often remain very hush-hush. It’s considered shameful and unnecessary for an open conversation about disability. There is a misconception that people who are disabled are often “lesser than” and “need to be pitied” and that “they are missing out on life”. Able-bodyminded people need to constantly support them, because of the idea that disabled people constantly need to be taken care of. In such a scenario, Nu and Sam think that the notion of care and concern can be tough to navigate for a disabled person. “We start off in our childhoods, being completely dependent on our parents and caretakers – and this notion can follow us into our adulthoods. It can be hard for our caretakers to let go and give us the independence we need while caring for us”.
They explain that for disabled people, independence looks different compared to abled people. Sometimes, it’s about creating a personal world through art, writing, singing, etc, or sometimes, it looks like learning to wear a dress on their own. Along with the guilt of not being independent in able-bodied terms, there is also a creation of new accessible pockets of independence, carved out for the self, as a gift. Any small amount of independence can be a huge deal, and it’s important to be respected and not be trampled on by offering to do those tasks for them, like wearing their own chappals or typing on their phones themselves. Care is important, but so is agency.
Agency and independence are also asserted in many different ways by different people, and engaging in sexual activities is one of them. Sam and Nu explain that the popular opinion is that disabled folx shouldn’t even be bothered with sex at all, because there are plenty of other things for them to worry about. But this further solidifies the thought disabled people are different and they are continued to be othered. The truth is that sexual desires, fantasies and thoughts that we experience have nothing to do with having or not having a certain type of body. And Revival is a space that openly talks about disabled sex, like how to make sex less strenuous, because as a disabled person, Nu was always told they were too weak to have sex. “We assert ourselves as beings capable of different sexualities, and different desires or the lack thereof”.
Nu says that Google was a useful tool to satiate their curiosity about things like sexuality, contraceptives, bisexuality, and so on because no one provided them with any sort of guidance on being disabled and queer. Although Google was helpful, a lot of information regarding these things are usually catered towards able-bodied people and the answers were vague and ambiguous. And so Revival strives to give more information and bring about awareness regarding sex and safety for disabled bodies.
Along with physical health, mental healthcare and self-care are also largely inaccessible to queer, disabled people. For instance, activities like taking a shower, putting on a face mask, doing yoga, going shopping, and other activities are a privilege. Even going to a therapist’s office. Talking about their experience, Nu says that their therapist’s office has steep stairs that their therapist helps them climb. It’s not that asking for help is bad, but the fact remains that the office can be made accessible to people like Nu. “It’s very important to understand the deep nuances and intricacies of where disabled queer folks are coming from – we’ve lived a life of oppression, of being ignored, gaslit, of our struggles being sidelined”.
It’s very important to listen to disabled voices and make space for their agency. But it also doesn’t mean able-bodyminded people get to play the saviour. For example, communication happens in different ways, and it’s not always necessarily loud and clear because not everyone has the auditory function for it. Revival is all about lived experiences. It’s a space created by disabled folx, for disabled folx. “We create our own inclusive language – the language with which we want to be addressed as, the language with which we want to be communicated – that’s the beauty of a community – of being disabled”. Open communication, creating friendships, community, solidarity, mutual respect and understanding are key aspects that form the foundation of their magazine.
Able-bodyminded people often view helping disabled folx either as a favour or a burden, and there’s no middle ground there. “There’s something about seeing curved fingers, the same as you, or learning how to take power in a disabled walk, because each time a disabled adult walks confidently into a room, taking up space and feeling like they belong there, a disabled child in the same room, looks up with wonder in their eyes and hopes to grow up to be that disabled adult one day”. Forming a community, finding people like yourself, being able to relate to someone are all important things. Revival isn’t a space for charity, it’s a space to create a representation, taking control of how disabled folx appear to the world, to break away from ableist stereotypes and misconceptions. To express anger and dissent against the larger patriarchal, ableist structure.
Like the #DisabledWomenRiot. It was started around 6 months ago through an anonymous Twitter account by Nu, to bring forward the abuse and violence faced by disabled folx, because speaking out against abuse and subsequent empowerment is still a matter of privilege. It was fueled by the lack of visibility for the Disabled-Me too movement in India. Revival also collaborated with Blank Noise on their campaign called #INeverAskedforIt in July during Disability Pride month. It was a series of listening circles that explored how disabled women exist, thrive, loiter and survive in public spaces. “The first session involved listening, viewing and responding to a short presentation – How do we, as Disabled folks interact in public spaces? Why is visibility so important? How can we walk, wheel, or limp towards an intersectional future? How do we safely exist with our disabled bodies without fear of abuse?”
Bodies become physical evidence of discrimination, suffering, joy, and so much more. The session also addressed the idea of a “diagnosis”. The binary of ability vs. disability is false because each individual experiences disability in a different manner. Disability then becomes a spectrum of experiences that governmental and medical institutions do not acknowledge. Revival also collaborated with Why Loiter where members Nu, Sam, and Candice explored topics ranging from negotiating with public transport systems to understanding, re-asserting and affirming power in their disabled bodies, which are political. “These are highly nuanced personal narratives of disabled queer women, as they navigate and breakthrough non-disabled mandates of sexuality, self-expression, sexual communication, agency to romance, playfulness and casualness of desire, as they play out in cities”. What is the experience of a disabled young woman in a world where being able-bodied is the norm, and the notions around independence, productivity, self-care, and love are all catered towards able-bodyminded people?
Understanding disability from an able-bodyminded “expert” is not understanding disability at all. Our perceptions about things we don’t personally experience are very flawed, especially the idea of a productive, 9 to 5 working person who is capable of doing everything by themselves is a very capitalist notion that caters to profitability over personhood. Revival is a space that doesn’t excuse ignorance about disability. It’s a space where queer, disabled people are encouraged to bring in their own experiences, validate the spectrum of disability, and break away from toxic ableist norms.