#ShowStigmaTheFinger: What Showing Up Against Stigma Means To Me

I am stoked to be participating in the latest campaign from the amazing sex-positive, body empowering sex toy company Hot Octopuss : #ShowStigmaTheFinger

From the HO website:

We believe the world would be a better place if everyone enjoyed healthier and happier sex lives. The principle obstacles to that are the stigmas and taboos associated with sex and masturbation. We want you to join our movement and show us just how you feel about sexual oppression through stigmas and stereotypes.

If you have ever been made to feel less deserving or able to enjoy a healthy, happy sex life through prejudice, stigmas, or stereotypes, we urge you to share your story to the world using: #ShowStigmaTheFinger

Check out the campaign website by clicking here.

Until then, I wanted to share what it means to me to show up against stigma in my everyday life. So, let’s begin.

Hi, I’m Leandra. I was born with a birth defect and nerve damage. I can’t feel over half my body. I can’t walk without leg braces. I can’t pee without a catheter.

I can work a full time Day Job. I can help manage my household. I can have orgasms. I can buy way more books than I could ever actually read.

And I do all these things, with the help of prescribed medications, a supportive spouse, and my lifetime experience in making the best decisions for my body and my life.

I will be honest. There is no department in my life that has not been affected by stigma. The visible aspect of my disability and the invisible barriers of my chronic conditions has impacted my experience getting jobs, dating, attending college, and maintaining my mental health, among other things. People who don’t even know what disability I have will make belittling judgements about my ability to do my job, my value as a wife, or my intellectual capabilities. I know I have been discriminated against in getting jobs and more than one person has asked my husband why he even married me, because of my disability.

It can get pretty gnarly.

And yeah, sometimes I get really exhausted by it all. But I cannot allow my life to hinge on the notions and judgements of other people.

My way of doing things won’t work for everyone. But the following are the daily decisions I make to combat stigma in my life.

  1. I show up

I know there will be a lot of people who disagree with me here, but I’m sharing this anyway: Practicing my professionalism, being considerate of others, and dressing in a way that is comfortable but polished are all ways I stand up to the stigma others place on me. Now, mind, I’m not doing these things to beg for other people to approve of or accept me. I do these things because they are an investment in myself and make me feel better equipped to take on whatever might be waiting for me when I head out the door every day.

I still feel a twinge of insecurity when I catch the reflection of myself in the glass when I’m walking up to enter a building. But when I also see my knee high boots and the flounce of a skirt hitting that perfect spot on my thighs… GIRL… girl.

And yeah, when a kid screams across the room why I’m “walking like that” I don’t always want to answer, but I do. I explain kindly and casually. I want people’s first experiences with disability to be positive.

I go into everything I do with my eye on execution. I want to do a good job. I want to be warm and open to others. I want people to get to know me and learn the ways I am reliable and helpful. I listen. I learn.

This doesn’t mean being perfect or taking on more than is healthy. But it is knowing that the work I put into myself has immense value that I want to honor for myself.

All these things give me more tools to navigate the world, especially when the dark aspect of stigma shadows my path. I’ve learned to be more resourceful and make more meaningful connections with others by showing up for the world.

2. I do things even though I’m afraid

I was afraid the first time I wore a dress to work—I did it anyway. I was afraid to write about my sexuality and put it on the internet—I did it anyway. I was afraid to tour a funeral home to research a book I’m writing—I did it anyway.

Stigma wants you to be afraid, and I’m done with that. But it’s not easy.

Fresh out of school and desperate for employment I took a position as a cashier at a grocery store even though I didn’t know if I could do the job—I can only feel two out of ten of my fingers and have limited fine motor skills. I didn’t know if I’d drop change everywhere or not be able to push buttons fast enough. I was afraid to begin learning ASL for the same reason–I can’t move my hands like most people. But I did those things and learned about myself and what I am capable of doing. (I didn’t drop change, I pushed buttons just fine, and ASL has helped me begin moving my hands in ways I never could before.)

I overcame my body image issues by doing things I was afraid to do. I untangled my sexuality and built wonderful relationships doing things I was afraid to do. I’ve been able to help others combat their fears by embracing my own. Every single thing I’ve ever done even though I was afraid has made my life better.

3. I own myself and my life

I’m going to pull a quote from Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”:

There is a simple realization from which all personal improvement and growth emerges. This is the realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances.

The whole book is great, but I especially adhere to the philosophies in Chapter 5, from which this quote is pulled.

I can’t change the fact I was born with nerve damage or that other people can be utter jerkfaces. I can write books and wear pretty dresses and invest in my marriage and my job and do nice things for others in between caring for my body. So I do.

I’m proud of where I am in my life, but none of this would have happened if I just waited around for outside approval or a door to open. They say if a door closes, it wasn’t your door. I say pick the f*cking lock.

4. I help others when I can

If you live in a body, someday something will happen to it. You’ll get sick or hurt or things just won’t work or look the same way. Those transitions can be scary and very difficult. But living in a stigmatized body has taught me a whole lot of empathy. When I see someone struggling, I can oftentimes help. Countless friends and acquaintances have, for one reason or another, been ostracized from their in-group and I’ve been the one they’ve met out on the fringes. It’s not only possible to live outside of “polite society,” I am telling you, you can thrive! But you need support and conversation, resources and books. I love being able to offer those things to others when I can.

Living in a stigmatized body isn’t entirely bad. It’s given me a deeper appreciation of getting older, a perspective that cherishes pleasure, and drive to help others who are hurting. And every once in a while, a thoughtful, well-timed middle finger never hurt anything 😉

XOXO- Leandra

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