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Body Politics Deconstructed: Amanda Stahl, Defining Fairness

When Amanda Stahl first realized she was falling in love with another woman, she wanted to write about it in her journal—not an unusual way to process feelings of self-discovery. But for Amanda, just the act of journaling meant automatically coming out.

"I need other people to help me take care of myself," she explains. "That morning I had my caregiver sitting down and writing in my journal from the night before, and I was like, I really want to write this down because it's really important." She told her caregiver and the journal entry was recorded.

Now, two years later, Amanda identifies as queer—a word she says, "represents my disability and my sexual orientation all in one."

Amanda Stahl talked to WFPL's Phillip M. Bailey and Laura Ellis about having a body that doesn't perform the way society thinks bodies should—and why she loves grocery shopping.

Why does Louisville have so many fish fries?

On Being Queer

"I use the word queer because it kind of represents my disability and my sexual orientation all in one. Queer, to me, means breaking down those barriers and binaries of race, disability, and sexual orientation. Not just sexual orientation, but all those kind of binaries we try to put ourselves in."

On Passing (or Not)

"People automatically see my disability. The weirdest thing about having both of these identities is, I can pass with my sexual orientation. Like, I don't scream 'gay' or whatever, but I can't walk into a room without people knowing I'm disabled, because I use a wheelchair. So, in one sense, I choose when I come out of the closet in the queer community, but in the disability community, it's different.

I feel more welcomed in the queer community, just because it's more diverse. There's still a lot of hierarchy between different people in the disability community. There's people in wheelchairs, then there's blind people, then there's people with developmental disabilities, so there's that hierarchy of disabilities, and you can see that in pretty much any minority group. Now we're becoming a disabled culture, and it's really hard to do that in the disability community because there's so many different kinds of disabilities."

On Disability Culture

"I think of it as, I have the big D and the small d. The small d is my medical condition, that I have to go to the doctor and get all these kind of things so I can get social services, and that's my cerebral palsy. But my big D is my being a part of that disability culture. It's more like, I'm taking pride in my disability. So I don't really talk about my small d very much, because I think it's irrelevant. I think disability is socially constructed--just like race, and all the other -isms that we talk about are very much socially constructed. Because our bodies don't fit into what society thinks it should fit into. I've been working more with the trans community and they have very similar experiences of having their bodies not fit into what society tells them to fit into.

We have this culture of youth and independence. And disability and trans identity and queerness in itself kind of just breaks all that up, and just challenges the whole idea of the body, and the whole idea of relationships with people. I think that's what scares people."

On Self-Acceptance

"People ask me all the time if there was a pill, would I take it, and I would be able to walk. I say no, because I wouldn't be the person I am today without it. I love who I am. I like being in my wheelchair. I was born this way, and my doctor gave me the label of cerebral palsy, and this is all I know, so it would be really weird to wake up one day and be able to walk. I don't know what I would do with myself! It would be really strange!

It can be very lonely at times because I feel like there isn't much conversation of relationships on the disability side. Sometimes it can be lonely. There's very few of my friends who are both queer and disabled. So I don't have very many people that I can talk about that intersection with, and that's the loneliest part of the whole thing, But this is why I'm doing this, to tell other disabled queer youth that there are other people out there doing really awesome work, that want to support you.

That's why I use the word queer so much because it's kind of deconstructing those ideas of identity politics and saying you can be whoever you want to be and still use that word queer. I hope that's where we're going, because I think the only way we're truly gonna break that down is through one-on-one conversations. I know how hard that is to do, but like, having one-on-one conversations with people and letting them see that I'm more than just my two identities that I talked about here. That I'm a person that deserves to be loved no matter who I chose that to be."

Coming Out

"I came out in August of 2008. I can't do any personal care. I need other people to help me take care of myself, so that means getting me breakfast and everything. That morning I had my caregiver sitting down and writing in my journal from the night before, and I was like, I really want to write this down because it's really important. So I was like, Liz, I have to tell you something. I have a girl crush. She's like, I have girl crushes all the time! But I was like, seriously, I have a girl crush like you like your boyfriend. And I was like, did I just say that out loud? And she said that's ok, you're fine. And I thought, am I really?

I didn't tell my parents until March of 2009. I went to this work thing with my mom, and there was a minister there. I was looking for some sort of spirituality at that point, and I really didn't know what God thought of all this, because I identify as a Christian also. So I decided to come out to this minister that I didn't know. And she was a non-denominational minister, so I thought, she's gonna be open minded, I'm sure. So I came out to her, and her response was very negative. She said, 'That relationship, it's a deep friendship.' And I'm like, no, it's something more than that. And she was like, 'If you just wear enough makeup then you can attract the right guy.' And after that I just cried and stormed out of the restaurant, and my mom ran after me and asked what happened.

And then I told my mom, and she was like, I'll love you. Whatever you decide to do, I'll love you. So that was a really good response from my mom after having the not-so-good incident before. And my dad's pretty open to it too. He says he'll love me no matter what. He just wants me to be happy."

How is Disability a Social Construct?

"The actual word that we use is ableism. Just because my body doesn't fit into what society says it should fit into, then I am totally isolated from people. I love going to the grocery store. You know how people have grocery carts, and they go around with their grocery carts, and the door automatically opens so you and your grocery cart can get out on your own? No other place has that. My disability is not noticed as much in a grocery store, because I don't have to ask anyone to open the door.

The main disability, to me, is people's attitudes towards bodies, and the architecture that we live in, that is made for an able-bodied person. Say if every grocery store didn't have those doors that open, so everybody would have to have someone open the door for them. It's pretty much the same thing with people with disabilities.

More and more people are getting older and more and more people are going to become disabled, so we need to change our world to fit that. These ideas that disability is a social construct help me accept my disability and become more conscious about my disability."

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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