Updated: Apr 9, 2022
A pole dance video of mine was recently reposted and, as often when this happens, they added their own message to my video.
My original message: I'd like to thank my uber driver for his prayers tonight.
their message: a long post about limited thinking and motivation.
Followed by several thousand re-shares asking "what's your excuse?"
I tried to imagine the equivalent of the what's-your-excuse-reshare-train happening in real life, face-to-face with a real person. I started asking friends who teach how they inspire their students. I wanted to understand how these types of posts, the spirit of the message, might transfer motivation. Every single friend described locating an individual’s current talent or drive and building from there.
The teachers and studio owners who don't know me, who have never worked with me, who see a wheelchair and think 'object lesson for mind over matter' assume a lot of things that translate, in their minds, to a very particular kind of inspiration. I, personally, don't think that what they're invoking even exists. While I believe in being unrealistic, fantastical, somewhat delusional --I do not believe "no limits" is a thing. I don't say it.
Earlier this week, during the pole class where Sam worked with me to develop this new trick that I love, another student struggled with the same shoulder mount I was doing. I overheard Sam point out that it was ok for it to be hard —it was a hard move. She told the class not to worry about what they’d seen other people do, seemingly more easily than them. In some ways, a shoulder mount is an easier move for a shorter girl. Sam explained that our bodies would define which tricks came easily and which ones we struggled for. She pointed out that every way into or out of a trick had its upsides and downsides and in that way you could choose your point of contact with that struggle. She was firmly anti-comparison.
It was the opposite of every time someone shared a video of me and added: “if she can do it, what’s your excuse?” Considering how common it is to do this to me online, how I had just been questioning all the teachers I know about how they would use inspiration to encourage a struggling student, I vividly registered the instagram-meme turned real-life moment. I was sitting right there! In person! Doing the shoulder mount! While someone struggled! This is exactly the situation the what's-your-excuse types think of as my entire reason for doing pole!
Imagine I am a real person taking a class with other students and Sam had just pointed to me and said, "she can do it!" I would hope the student would walk out of the class and never return. Because actually saying “whats your excuse?” directly to a real person's face who is struggling in that moment isn’t effective motivation —it’s just mean.
My friend Jeff, a disability studies professor to whom I had asked my inspiration question, came back to me a few days later with a question of his own: So if we understand "inspo" as being intended to inspire non disabled people at the detriment of disabled people, what would be an acceptable form of inspiration made by disabled people FOR disabled people?
I told him I thought it had to do with how concrete the frame of reference is —and how voluntary.
When another disabled person sees a pole or aerial or dance video of mine —and they care that they saw it— usually it's because they have now acquired proof of concept —evidence— not previously available. Whereas, non disabled pole dancers have literally millions of examples available. But even as evidence, I would say it's lacking. Yes, now you know it can be done. An important start. But that doesn't mean you know how to do it. The focus on inspiration, I find, misleading and inadequate in terms of real-life, usable motivation.
Additionally, when disabled people message me, they concretize the inspiration and apply it to their situation. They ask questions to make it relevant to their body or their resources —and this is key— the entire thing is voluntary. I didn't supply them with a message to take heart, they chose a point of interest and gave themselves the encouragement they needed from what evidence was available. I don't tell them what to be inspired to do. I don't have a "message". I am just pole dancing.
In the course of this text exchange, I mistyped inspiration as #sinspiration and Jeff practically got it printed on a t-shirt in his excitement.
Sinspiration reminded me of something Sophie Strand had recently posted in her stories where people were asking her questions, one being: how do I get over unrequited love? Sophie's answer was, "Do things that they might judge you for and realize that it feels amazing." I messaged her right away, "I recognized this instantly, it's a powerful spell breaker. It works in terms of disability, too. When I have loved society and it didn't love me back, I did things it would judge me for and fell in love with what came of that."
If you think of sin in the sense of a transgression against the divine, what is holy as defined by supernatural law —existing as disabled is a sin against pretty much everything. It’s still a fairly common view that disability is a punishment for someone’s sin at some point along the continuum. So existing itself is what we shouldn’t do. The advice to do what you might be judged for (the key being that it’s something you personally desire), and follow that to your own love and pleasure isn’t asking much of us. We barely have any other choice.
It’s tempting to sanctify the unchoice, talk about elevation and erase the transgression, as if to —repent? But, I don’t worship the god of specific abilities respected above all others. Not even while pole dancing with paralysis. Transgression is a kind of opposite to ‘overcoming’, which is a pillar of comparison doctrine, of seeking the praise of certain others at your own expense. Your transgression is the catalyst for a spell of reclaiming.
Pole is a concrete example of something society might judge one for. But, if you like to get deep with me, I think of it more broadly as breaking up with judgements and comparisons and expectations one has internalized whether to impress a potential lover, or to gain footing in society. A lot of "inspiration" is actually an attempt to make those judgements and comparisons incontestable.
With my body and my being, I contest.
I relayed the conversation about unrequited love to Jeff who said, "Sinspiration is good masturbation whereas inspiration porn is objectifying?"
"I expect that to be in your curriculum." I said.
"Inspire my students to self pleasure," he concluded in jest.
Yes. I am suggesting we replace the use of 'what's your excuse?' with "what's your pleasure?" The chaos alone delights me. But more importantly, I urge you to ask it of yourself whenever you're tempted to compare.