Saturday, November 9, 2013

What the Traffic Will Allow

As any blogger does, I'm interested in which topics interest my readers. I should not be surprised that one post, "The Body Electric," that continually gets the most views is about hunks, particularly model and veteran Alex Minsky.

Not surprisingly, when a man poses nude or nearly nude, as Minksy has done (repeatedly, thank goodness), I should also not have been surprised that the top search phrase for my blog, most recently, has little to do with my novels about a gay couple, one of them who is a paraplegic, but about the hottie.

For the record, and the guys who keep typing "Is Alex Minsky gay?", no, he is not. He is hot, and a self-described "modely model" who appreciates his gay fans.

Minsky has also generously shared info about another handsome veteran, Christopher Van Etten, a double amputee who has posed nude for photographer Michael Stokes. Check out more (possibly NSFW) photos on Stoke's Tumblr.

The increase is hiring of disabled people as models is long overdue. Even a British retailer has added a variety of non-"supermodel" women to its clothing catalog.

"Here at Debenhams we believe that anyone can look fabulous in our range—which is why we've decided to break with convention," said a spokesperson to AdWeek

The catalog features an amputee, three models over 40 (including one nearing 70), a Paralympian athlete and a swimwear shot with a size 18 model to celebrate curvelicious women.

But as one blogger queries, "Sometimes I can't see the line between celebrating and exploiting people who deviate from standard aesthetics, and this is one of those times. Maybe if the rest of the fashion industry took up these practices, I wouldn't be so cynical."

A similar question is raised about the popular Guinness beer commercial featuring men playing wheelchair basketball (a sport that is featured in both my novels Every Time I Think of You and its forthcoming sequel). The spoiler at the commercial's end shows that only one man actually needs a chair. The others "play" in chairs to compete with their drinking buddy.

Transfer Master, a wheelchair product site's blog, questions the potential exploitative nature of such an ad.  Is it cool? Most people's comments online seem so.

All of this is nice, and good, and photogenic. But what isn't as photogenic are the other harsh realities for disabled people, specifically a neighbor of mine who recently died.

Earlier this week, 31 year-old Bryan Goodwin was killed at the intersection of Market and Octavia streets in San Francisco. As KTVU reports, "Goodwin had been confined to a wheelchair at early age, born with a disease that made his bones brittle.

Investigators told KTVU later Monday that it appeared the car had the right of way as it crossed Market to enter the onramp leading to I80 and 101 South. It is the intersection with the most collisions in the city -- 30 between 2009 and 2011.

Goodwin's EPA co-workers told KTVU he became involved in improving the city's emergency response for disabled people after he fell out of his wheelchair on a city sidewalk. His family was mourning their loss Monday night.

An aspect of the report bothers me, specifically, the use of the term "wheelchair-bound," which is simply wrong. Any wheelchair use will tell you that. Minsky and Van Etten aren't "prosthetic-bound," are they? The continued use of disparaging terminology is a common complaint from many disabled people.

And while tragedies like the death of Goodwin are given short attention, military models are posed to make us feel good, or for us to objectify and eroticize them while ignoring the pervasive larger issues these guys face. We also are distracted from the corrupt reason why they got disabled, Bush/Cheney's multi-trillion-dollar two-country invasion...for oil and power and money.

What are politicians doing to thank those who served for their wars and sometimes sacrificed their limbs? They're cutting them off financially.

Benefits for veterans and the disabled continue to be slashed by the government, in particular food stamps. Activists and a few ethical elected officials (yes, there are a few) continue to fight for legislation on the Disability Treaty.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth
The Disability Treaty? You've probably never heard of it. But it's important, and recently, double-amputee veteran Rep. Tammy Duckworth, spoke on the floor of congress about the need to pass the bill.

As HuffingtonPost reports, "President Barack Obama signed the treaty in 2009, but it has languished in the Senate, which is mandated by the Constitution to provide consent on treaties. The upper chamber failed to ratify the CRPD last year, despite intense lobbying from former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, who was left disabled after serving in World War II. Even though the Kansas Republican appeared on the Senate floor in his wheelchair during the vote, the treaty still fell five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. Although just five GOP senators voted for the treaty in 2012, proponents believe more Republicans might be willing to favor the measure this go-around."

Because, of course, most politicians dismiss disabled people, except when they're exploitable veterans for photo opportunities.

What's my point? Well, aside from the opening hunk link bait, I'm comparing reality to an artistic fiction. As I consider the depiction of disability in my Gay Romance novels, I'm faced the the sometimes awful reality of contemporary life.

Should I commodify my characters by showing off handsome "modely model" versions of them on the cover, as nearly all other books in this genre do (more than 200, in fact)? Will that "generate more traffic?" Do I "brand" it with some overt wheelchair imagery? Or do I press on towards a different, more subtle message and depiction?

If you read my last book, I think you know the answer.

UPDATE: Nov. 17. Here's another fine example of self-empowering sexiness. Paralympic athletes and other U.K. folks have posed for a 2014 calendar, Undressing Disability. The charity calendar includes men and women in short shorts and bikinis in front of various famous locales around London. You can order the calendar at Enhance the UK.  Pretty neat!

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