Ally Issues: Feeling Useless

I am not feeling my best today. Part of it is because my depression is kicking me around and laying me down. Part of it is some form of mental exhaustion which I'm not sure whether to attribute to my depression, or reading too much, or just staring at the computer too much.

I was inspired today by Feminists with Disabilities (cunningly, cleverly shortened to "FWD", ha!) to write a post about steampunk and how disablism would intersect in the subculture. I could find examples of steampunk wheelchairs (mostly of Dr. Loveless from the movie Wild Wild West) but I guess, no one's really thought about it.

Or rather, they have but just as another awesome thing to steampunk up, which sounds awfully unsettling to me, as if the wheelchair is just a prop, rather than an actual tool to aid mobility.

I had to pause though, and wonder whether it was worthwhile writing about disability issues within steampunk. There aren't a lot of visibly-disabled people in steampunk, are there? But even if there weren't in my limited sphere of knowledge, that doesn't mean there aren't any, and even one steampunk with disabilities would make it worthwhile to think about the issue.

At the same time, I have this nasty prickly little feeling inside me which tells me, "what right do you have to write about this issue? You're perfectly able-bodied. You're so able-bodied you've been holding write-ins at the Paperchase Cafe for years. It's not like you've ever done anything to be a good ally to people with disabilities."

The horrible thing is that the voice is right.

I'm wondering though, if it would be worse if I let the voice hold me back. That I have to wonder is, I think, pretty bad. Able-bodied people can talk about disability issues, and do, all the time. I'll probably fuck up at some point, but that happens, right?

So my conclusion is, to let that voice hold me back from being an ally would be even more horrible.

I've made it a point to remind people with privilege to stand up for those without privilege where they can, because every drop counts. It was be ridiculous, not to mention hypocritical, if I didn't do the same.

I better go do something useful.

ETA: I just noticed I was linked at FWD so some of you may be coming from there, and I just wanted to say I totally wrote the post. Callouts on any Fail are welcome.


  1. Ooh. This is where I get slapped in the face because, even if I don't write much in the genre, I hadn't even considered this aspect of steampunk. Which is ridiculous.

    I'm also able-bodied, but I can imagine there could be some amazing steampunk aids for people with physical disabilities. Forget being imprisoned in an iron lung - how long would it take an interested scientist-engineer to create a robotic, fully mobile exoskeleton for polio sufferers (sticking with ye old-timey scheme)? And what would the social effects be, if the rich could afford such aids and the poor not?

  2. I know right! The possibilities are endless! I'm about done with the article, too, and the process of getting information has been really educational. I'm looking forward to posting it, and it makes me feel better, too, somewhat.

  3. It sounds like a very cool article! There are definitely geeky steampunk fans with disabilities who will enjoy reading it. On the subject of fantasy wheelchairs in particular, you may be interested in this fic: In Which Bobby Gets a New Ride. (Supernatural) I love it.

    One thing -- as a person with depression, why do you consider yourself an able-bodied ally? Is it because depression is thought of as a mental thing, not a physical one? Or because it is an invisible disability? For me, my brain is a part of my body, so my depression makes me non-able-bodied as much as any visible, "physical" disability...

    I mean, I don't want to tell you how to identify, but if your depression is sapping your energy and making you feel crappy, it's not privileged to try to relax & take care of yourself, it's good! I think other PWD would agree. :)

  4. Oh, I don't know. I have this anxiety about calling myself as being disabled - my depression is only truly debilitating every once in a while, and I've developed some coping mechanisms to bounce back (it doesn't always work and I have to wait for it to run its course). I guess it's one of those "but other people have it really much harder than me" things, you know? I do identify as having an invisible illness, but find myself hesitant to call myself as having a disability.

    Thanks for the concern though! I'll tweet the article when it goes up ^_^

  5. I quite like Steampunk, but I haven't seen and read enough of it to know how well (or badly) it deals with disability.

    I thought of a fictional (as in I have no idea if it could really be built and be functional) steampunk-ish text-to-speech device (possibly also pictures or other things to speech) recently (I am autistic), when I was visiting the 9 site a lot (the film 9). It would look pretty neat, but you'd need to use some very lightweight materials; it has to be portable, and has to be able to be carried by someone for a full day.

    About wheelchairs and such: at this point in the story of Girl Genius (steampunk webcomic), there is a character with no legs. He does not have a wheelchair though, he has a sort of metal spider thing with lots of legs instead. The other characters didn't bat an eyelid, none of them, which I think would imply that they see this or these kinds of modifications all the time.

  6. Yeah, I also read that comic, but it didn't seem to me that it really engaged with problems of disability that would be relatable in our real world (part of my article also deals with gatherings and role-play). Within the GG universe, a lot of things which would be magical or far-fetched are commonplace, which I think helps it skirt around actually engaging with the difficulties one might have - for example, where might one find the materials or know-how to build such an aid?

    I liked the movie 9. That sounds like an interesting device!

  7. Re the article at Tor: "wheelchair-bound" is ableist language. The language of shackling.

  8. Thanks. I missed that article somehow.

  9. I want a spidery-legged thing instead of my non-working (and painful!) knees! Where do I sign up?

    Also, thank you.


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