It was certainly down in my calendar as the highlight of my year, but for those not aware, last night was MTV’s EMAs, which this year was co-hosted by the actor Ruby Rose, of the Orange Is The New Black stable. Rose, who had injured her leg during rehearsals, was not only wearing full red-carpet get-up but walked said carpet with the use of a walking stick.
And so, as is necessary when an individual leaves their home wearing clothes, an article appeared on Buzzfeed to alert us all to the fact. Kimberley Dadds, UK celebrity editor for Buzzfeed, offered us this in no way unacceptable or ableist assessment of Rose’s appearance and apparatus:
“Only Ruby could pull off looking this hot while needing a walking aid.”
I try to be calm and dismantle this with logic and patience and conciliation but I can’t because of the undyingly bright light of fury blasting out of my eyes. This is such a monumentally stupid and offensive thing to write. It makes my integral internal organs hum with anger. I have had to prise the Caps Lock key from my keyboard lest I never cease to use it.
How can I put this simply?
Alright, how can I put this simply, without expletives?
That is not correct.
Ruby Rose is hot AND needs a walking aid. There is no connection between those two concepts. Pick another conjunction.
Disability is not a negative. Sure, in many ways it is. In the navigating a world not designed for you way. In the being trapped in a punitive benefits system way. In the having to read these kind of lazy assumptions about you in Buzzfeed articles way.
But in terms of desirability? Disability, visible or invisible, is a big neutral. Everyone is hot enough to pull off walking with a stick just as everyone is hot enough to cross the road or read the Radio Times or eat jam because it has no bearing whatsoever on whether people might want to achieve congress with you or not.
Being too ill to leave the house a lot of the time makes it hard enough to meet people without having to factor in when I might do the grand reveal of my disability, pulling my cane from a bag like Mary Poppins with a hatstand. Sentiments like Ms Dadds’ only perpetuate the idea that disability and assistive devices are a prime addition to the “cons” list of dating me.
On a related note, it’s little wonder that people with disabilities are written off as hideous little trolls that you must in no way fancy or, heaven forfend, have sex with when most assistive devices seem precision engineered to be as unattractive as possible. Canes are designed to cater exclusively to two groups of people: Extras On Casualty and Old Women From The Past. That is it. I choose my clothes, my haircut, my make-up, my shoes, my bag to communicate things about me. Most walking sticks I am able to buy communicate that I inherited it from a medical supplies company with an unsavoury obsession with florals. There is a gap in the market for assistive devices designed for their appearance as much as their practicality: somebody fill that gap.
It is not shallow or frivolous to care about this. I was angry when a ticket inspector kept asking me if I understood him and looking at my stick as though it were the international symbol for stupidity. I am angry at the disproportionate number of disabled people hit by the Bedroom Tax. I am angry at the implication that my disability makes me unwantable. It is just another set of assumptions about disabled people that knock us down another rung from everyone else.
Dadds’ article has been edited to remove this sentence. There’s no reference to that fact on the page. No apology. No acknowledgement that it possibly isn’t a good way to think about people. If an actor’s temporary disability is worthy of comment, then so is our response to it. People with disabilities are too often invisible in the media: our objection to that shouldn’t be as well.