Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Interview series: A conversation with Cara Liebowitz

Hello everyone! I am back. Hadn't blogged in while do to the proccess of setting myself up for independent living after college. Its good to get it "rolling again" (pun intended) wheelchair tracks. I am very excited to be beginning our interview series - discussing a variety of topics in relation to disability. It will feature people from many different ages and cultural backgrounds and though it will mostly cover people with disability it welcomes experiences from able bodied people as well who wish to share their questions and comments. Let me warmly introduce Cara Liebowitz!

Cara Liebowitz is a disability rights activist and writer who has cerebral palsy. She is the creator of Abilities4u (, an resource designed for parents of children with disabilities,and Mosaic Webzine (, a semi-monthly online magazine that focuses on disability culture and pride. She has been featured on News 12 Long Island and Disability News and Views Radio Show, as well as several times in Newsday for her advocacy efforts. In January 2010, she was one of twenty teens from around the country selected to attend a National Youth Inclusion Summit in Washington DC. The ideas explored at the Summit have been expanded into a national campaign for social inclusion of people with disabilities. Visit for more information. Cara blogs regularly at under the penname Spaz Girl about growing up with a disability and exploring the realm of disability culture. She generously granted me an interview which begins the “interview series” on this blog!

E: One of the things Ive struggled with is expressing myself as a sexual being. Also Have you struggled with asserting your sexuality in relation to your disability?

C: Although I’m still in my teens and haven’t had much experience with this, I have struggled with it, especially as I get older. I’m very insecure about my sexuality around ABs, especially. I just don’t feel sexy in the “normal” world. When I’m at a dance with a majority of ABs, I dance and I feel awkward and spastic (ha, ironic double meaning there…), and I don’t feel like people acknowledge me as a sexual being. But at a crip dance, like at camp or a similarly crip-dominated event, we’re allcrippled, so it’s like that part of the equation is removed and the playing field is leveled. At a crip dance I do feel sexy, and I feel I can assert the sensual side of myself comfortably when I’m in a crip-dominated environment.

E: Do you think that " able bodied people have can false assumptions about disability and sexuality?

C: I don’t know if they have assumptions so much; at this point in time I think most of the population logically knows that it is possible for us to have sex, they just don’t want to think about it. It just doesn’t fit with the image they have of us, especially those of us who are dependent on others for their personal care needs. Society wants to demean us, so they paint a picture of disabled people being either perpetual children (and therefore sexless beings) or pitiful, tragic objects that only serve as scare tactics (you could end up like THIS!). So neither of those stereotypes fits well with sex. Also, they [ABs] are afraid of being labeled as some kind of pervert for thinking a crippled guy/girl is sexy or attractive, because society dictates that in order to be sexy/attractive, you need to be able-bodied, as well as a whole host of other unrealistic characteristics. Therefore, they spend so much time trying not to think about it, that when the topic comes up they’re awkward and embarrassed because they’re uncomfortable with the subject. I’m still young, as I mentioned before, and I haven’t really had much experience with romantic/sexual relationships, and there’s not much I really want to reveal on the Internet, but I will say that I am in a very loving relationship right now and I wouldn’t trade this relationship for anything. I don’t think people judge my relationship in relation to my disability too much, as my disability is fairly mild. I think a lot more of that stereotyping and judging goes on as the disability gets more severe and as the effects of the disability become a lot less “presentable” to society. There are certain aspects of disability that are very “presentable” in our society, like the “stereotypical crip” image you always see in the media, particularly in the movies and on TV. It’s almost always someone with strictly a lower body disability who uses a very slim and sporty manual wheelchair. That’s the surface face of disability. People can deal with just “my legs don’t work”. It’s simple, easy. So therefore it’s easier for ABs to wrap their minds around those types of crips being sexual beings. But complicate things even a tiny bit – make it quadriplegia instead of paraplegia – and it’s like you’ve just blown people’s minds. The more severe of a disability you get, the harder it is for people to accept that a disabled person is a sexual being, in my opinion. And when a non-disabled or a mildly disabled person dates somebody more severely disabled, that’s a whole other can of worms, so to speak. Like I said before, society dictates that disabled people are not sexy/attractive for a whole host of reasons, so people automatically assume that the non-disabled person is the caretaker, or some other relation to the disabled person, because there’s no way a disabled person can ever be in a romantic relationship, and there’s even less of a chance that a non-disabled person would actually consider the disabled person attractive and want to be in a relationship with that person. (note the sarcasm)

E: What do think are possible strategies to establish a greater dialogue at a personal and collective level about these topics and let "normal people" know that we are sexual beings just like everyone?

C: I think the media has a big part in it. The media doesn’t portray disabled people as sexual beings, so therefore people don’t think of us as sexual beings. If the media portrays us at all, it’s usually only as the “token crippled character” or as a joke, and not as an actual person with a personality and a background of their own. There are almost never regularly appearing disabled characters on TV and if there are, they are usually stereotypical crips (see above). We’ve already seen the media do amazing things for other civil rights movements/minorities, now it needs to start doing things for the disability community.

E:Feel free to share in more broad terms about yourself your interests ways in which you feel your disability does and doesn't define your identity.

C: My disability influences my identity in almost every conceivable way, shape and form. It is not my whole identity; rather, it colors every aspect of my identity. It is a layer of myself that permeates everything I say and do. Picture something wrapped in Saran Wrap or other clear wrap – you can still see what is underneath but it is through the layer of wrap. That’s how disability is to me, if that makes sense. Only I cannot be extricated from my disability. There is no “real me” or “able-bodied me” hidden underneath the disability. It is just who I am. And I’m proud of it – I wouldn’t trade my disability for anything. It has given me a privileged insight into a rich, vibrant culture and community, one which I might never have realized was there if I wasn’t disabled. I feel honored to be a part of such a diverse group of people with such compelling stories to tell. It annoys me when people automatically assume that being disabled is such a horrible and tragic thing, because that’s not how it is at all. It’s just a different experience, and people are always afraid of differences. It would be considered absurd and bigoted if anyone ever said that being black made life less worth living, or that blacks should aspire to be white. Yet those judgments are made without a second thought every single day on disabled people and disability. My blog aims to dispel these myths about being disabled and to throw people into the world of being disabled. It’s very in-your-face, like being thrust into a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. I don’t bother with political correctness or any fluff – that’s why the original title of my blog was Candidly Crippled. My blog and other writing goes right to the core of the disability experience: an experience that is often difficult and painful in more ways than one, but also an experience so breathtakingly beautiful. I want people to get as complete of a journey into “Holland” (reference to an essay written by Emily Perl Kingsley about parenting a child with a disability) as possible – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

E: Some friends and acquaintances I've had with a physical disability don't feel conformable talking in a public way about their sexual experiences. They will say things like “ I'm not an anthropological object to be studied” Others like myself feel its important to be public about it because it defies a silence in our society. Where do you draw the line?

C: Honestly, I really don’t know. I haven’t had really any experience with that type of thing and when I do I’m not sure how publicly I’ll want to smash the stereotypes. So my answer to that one is I really don’t know.

E:What terms labels or language do you feel speaks or doesn't speak of your disability accurately?

C: Honestly, I think all the terms used to describe us are pretty bad. It’s just a question of picking the best bad one. And what language I use depends on who I’m with and what point I’m trying to make. If I’m among fellow disabled people, I’ll use “crip” and “crippled”, because I feel it’s a term of pride at this point, and a way of “taking back” words previously used against us. If I’m among ABs I’ll usually use “disabled person” and “person with a disability” fairly interchangeably; one part of me wholeheartedly embraces the concept of people first language, however, another part of me agrees with the points that Jim Sinclair makes in his essay “Why I Dislike People First Language”. So I usually go back and forth with those two. Obviously labels are needed in terms of legislation and getting us accommodations we need, but for the most part, I don’t think they’re really necessary – we’re just people, just like everyone else.

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