When C4 get it right: Born to be Different

I am a bit of a sucker for documentaries about growing up or growing older. When I left my last job, my colleagues bought me the box set of the Up series, and it remains one of my favourite things I’ve ever seen. I love Child of Our TimeBut I’m particularly drawn to Born to be Different because this is growing up/growing older + disability.

I’ve taken Channel 4 to task before for what I consider to be ableist, unfair disability programming in the form of The UndateablesI stand by what I said in that post. But equally, Born to be Different is proof that when they get it right, they really, really get it right.

Disability is a strange thing. In some ways, with many disabilities, it seems the biggest physical challenges come early on. Will a child walk? How bad is the brain damage? What’s the diagnosis? Once those things are established, it can only get easier, right?

I’m increasingly not sure that’s true.

The Born to be Different kids are turning 16, and I’ve realised, for the first time, that disability splits in two. For some people, it’s a battle to live with a condition – to maintain self esteem, independence, faith – in the face of a world that increasingly judges them. For others, with life-shortening conditions, it’s a battle just to survive.

The life-shortening conditions are heartbreaking, obviously, but they’re harder to relate to. The kids with these conditions are still just that – kids, and it’s their parents and siblings you really feel for, because they can express just how hard life is in the face of such epic disability.

And then it gets complicated. Because although Zoe, who has arthrogryposis, is much more disabled than I am, I relate to the challenges of her condition, which affects the mobility of her arms and legs. I’m in tears as she talks about giving up netball, and then PE more generally, because ‘people can be nasty.’ Now, she says, ‘she wants to be a barrister,’ and I recognise too that turn to academia as an area in which is is possible to succeed. And god, I want Zoe to succeed.

In the episode I watched tonight, she was encouraged to apply for head girl, and I was immediately transported back to my last year of middle school, when I won the prize for overall contribution to the school. I was twelve, and it felt like the last time I was in any way at ease with myself (in many ways, I already wasn’t). Zoe panicked about making a speech, and as she struggled up to the podium, I completely got why – it’s not easy being the centre of attention when your body won’t cooperate. I cried, a lot, both for her, and for me, because I feel a million miles away from a happy-go-lucky childhood, and I’m not sure I could readopt that approach to the world even if I wanted to – snark and sarcasm are an easier and more robust defence. But Zoe is lovely, and I hope that, against the odds, she finds a way to maintain that as she grows older.

The boys in the programme so far have all been much sicker, so it’s hard to say whether there’s a gender split in how hard disability hits as you reach adulthood, but the Radio Times’ summary of next week’s episode, and its focus on dating, depressed me:

‘At 15 years old, Emily is interested in boys, although she’ll need one who won’t balk at her manually sluicing out her bowel several times a day. Similarly, Zoe worries that boys who claim to see past her arthrogryposis don’t mean it.’

There is something about the way that’s written that pisses me off. Will both Emily and Zoe find dating harder because of disability? Almost certainly. But ‘manually sluicing out her bowel several times a day’ is oddly graphic and unnecessarily explicit. Presumably Emily can do this independently, and any potential boyfriend would have no need to witness it in quite the icky terms its described in here? We need to understand disability better, undoubtedly, but it shouldn’t give us free rein to pore over the details which, it strikes me, are only there to make an able-bodied audience recoil in horror at the realities of life with a disability. It’s a precursor, I reckon, to questions like this.

Channel 4, to their credit, have avoided that this time. It would be nice if the Radio Times could do the same.

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On growing out of kink

I haven’t bought my Eroticon 2015 tickets yet. There are a few reasons for that: better to wait until payday, fear of a repeat of last year’s anxiety attack, and, most worrying of all, the ‘hope’ that I’ll be in a relationship that means erotica/sex blogging/kink will no longer be a part of my life.

I use ‘hope’ in the loosest possible sense. I’m not actively looking for a relationship in which I’m unable to express my submissive desires. It’s just that, well, finding decent guys on dating websites is hard enough, so inevitably, there are things on my wish-list I’ve decided I’ll compromise on if I have to. And finding a partner who’s at least a little bit dominant may be one of those things.

And yet. One of the most frustrating conversations I’ve had in recent weeks was with my best friend, who I adore. She’s got through her fair share of unsuitable men over the years, but she’s had some great sex with these men. Recently, she’s started dating a nice guy, but, in her words ‘It won’t last if the sex doesn’t improve.’

Ok, so for her, sex is a priority. Great. All the more frustrating then when, over brunch, I was talking about how it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve really started to embrace submission and how fantastic it would be if I met someone who I not only liked and fancied, but who also shared my kinks, and she said ‘Oh, but that wouldn’t really matter if you met the right person.’

FFS.

I feel like, in a way, I’ve come reluctantly to kink. In the past month two people, completely independently, have pulled me up on my claim to be vanilla, citing my increasing desire for pain, bruising and toys as proof that it’s simply not true. Not to mention increased participation in things like Sinful Sunday. Not only are they right, I’m also having the time of my life, sexually: I’ve discovered what turns me on, I have a sexual partner who’s happy to explore that further with me, and I am *loving* it.

I’ve written before about submission and self-confidence, and unlike Girlonthenet, I still think there can be a link between low self esteem and submission. I think it tends to be a more passive kind of submission – a letting someone else take charge so you don’t make any false moves, rather than purely because it turns you on – but I’d argue that it’s submission nonetheless.

Novels like Fifty Shades of Grey would have us believe that the only reasons you could possibly be interested in BDSM are a) difficult childhood b) trying to hold onto a billionaire who had a difficult childhood. They also promote a very fixed view of what BDSM means: it’s spanking, flogging, bondage, waiting on your knees for your Dom to turn up.

It can be any or all of those things. It can also be none of them. Girlonthenet wrote a wonderful piece a while back about being a ‘stroppy submissive’ and I associate with it more and more. When the boy grabs my wrists and forces them high above my head I don’t submit willingly: I try to wriggle free, desperate to get my hands on his belt, to suck his cock, to touch him. I let him slam them back against the wall, my rings clinking as they hit the plasterboard, and I beg him to let me have his cock in my mouth. When he refuses I don’t look at the floor while my inner goddess pirouettes with joy, I tilt my chin up and look him square in the eye. I’m as defiant in submission as I am outside of the bedroom.

I’d love to find a long-term partner who loved all those things about me and who wanted to embrace them within our relationship. Even before I started exploring my submissive side, sex was a key interest: I’ve been writing erotica for years and years. Not buying an Eroticon ticket for 2015 because I’d met someone who didn’t like that side of me would be a massive let down, really. It would mean I’d compromised massively on who I am. But would I put kink to one side if someone was perfect in every other way? Quite possibly, yes.

If I do though, it’ll be because I choose to compromise. It sure as hell won’t be because I ‘grew out of’ kink.