Anusha Misra has always perceived herself as an art in progress. She has space tattoos all over her arm, which is a feature she loves about herself. Anusha is a 3rd year student at Lady Shri Ram College For Women and also runs an online magazine – Revival Disability Magazine – on disability, sexuality and intersectional feminism.
We spoke to Anusha about disability, sexuality, access:
a) What prompted you to start speaking about sexuality and disability? What exactly is the gap in this discussion in public discourse?
For the last 21 years of my life, I didn’t accept my disability and thus never actively advocated about it. I never stood up for myself when someone passed ableist remarks. I experienced rampant ableism in school. I was never even conscious of the fact that I was allowed to defend myself or the agency to empower myself. Several people with disabilities never realize the agency that they are allowed to have. Agency is a birthright, just like Taking Up Space is. As I entered the world of dating in college, I allowed the men that I dated to Take Up Space in my reality. I allowed the subtle ableist remarks, the subtle misogyny that often manifested in their behaviour towards me. Had I been aware of the discrimination that disabled people go through and the very essence of ableism, perhaps I wouldn’t have faced such an issue. For example, I never knew about the term ‘’gaslighting’’ until I actually went through such an experience. As I entered the world of disability activism in 2020, this got me thinking about how many disabled individuals are still in the throes of internalized ableism and how empowerment is a privilege: knowing the right terms to use, advocating for a cause is a privilege too.
But why should it be a privilege? Why can’t we think of empowerment in a community context? Several disabled womxn are caught in abusive relationships, abusive marriages, abusive families. Cases of sexual assault against womxn go unreported in India. There can never be any disability activists in India. Disabled womxn are perceived as two extreme binaries: Asexal or Hypersexual. In addition, they are perceived as unfit for reproduction, unfit as caregivers, unfit to engage in sexual activities. Disability and Sexuality is considered a secondary issue in a country where the government refuses to acknowledge our existence.
Non-disabled people often view accessibility as an add-on, as a decoration and not a necessity. It’s often seen as the cherry you put on top of the cake and not the cake itself. There can never be an inclusive world unless this attitude doesn’t change. According to me, inaccessibility is often three pronged – inaccessible physical spaces, inaccessible eyes, inaccessible minds.
Spaces that are inaccessible – Spaces that judge a disabled woman every time she dresses up, puts on makeup. Minds that refuse to incorporate/accommodate the realities of disabled lives into their worldview such as disregarding the agency and de-sexualizing a disabled woman, and inaccessible eyes : eyes that ask intrusive and uncomfortable questions, eyes that show pity, eyes that use disabled folk for inspiration porn instead of providing them with accessibility requirements. For change to truly occur, there has to be a change in this attitude. Thus, began my journey of disability advocacy.
b) What is the impact and importance of using art to tell stories of sexuality and disability? Is this an attempt to also change the under-representation in existing pop-culture/ art?
The use of art as a medium is of utmost importance for advocacy. Disabled artists are reshaping the art discourse from its traditional ableist notions of “straight lines” to art that is helping us build disabled queer futures. I’ve started painting with my left hand and I don’t care if it’s messy or not within the lines; it’s taken me 22 years to realize that both my hands are beautiful and useful to me in so many ways. I’ve even started using my left hand to put nail-polish on my right hand. I love to feel the texture of paint with my fingers, it is so, so healing for me. I’m doing activities I was never able to do during my childhood mostly because it was full of hospitals. I’m painting walls, I’m writing on mirrors with my lipstick, I’m painting my hands and my legs. I wish I could’ve told my 10 year-old-self that life isn’t supposed to be so cruel, life can be beautiful too. I have three tattoos on my arms and shoulder, all three of them are related to space and the moon in some way. I love the moon, I derive my power and energy from it. I dream of having space-themed tattoos all over my body. So I guess it’s time to unveil my left hand to the world. It’s been a long journey on the road to self-acceptance. Needless to say, I love my paint-stained hands, crooked fingers and soft, squiggly and small wrists.
Sometimes, art spreads misinformation about lived experiences of people living with disabilities; when Bollywood tries to make movies about people with disability written by a non-disabled person, casting non-disabled actors to portray lived experiences of living with a disability. We need more disabled artists, more disabled filmmakers, more disabled actors, more disabled people out in the open instituting a change.
c) How and when did you begin work on Revival Magazine, and where do you see it going?
I started Revival Disability Magazine on April 10th, in my living room amidst a chaotic mind stuck in quarantine. It is a magazine on Disability, Sexuality and intersectional feminism.
Revival Disability Magazine is like a revival of my community’s narrative and truth. Non-disabled people have Taken Up Space in our reality for too long, overshadowed our narrative, spoken on our behalf trying to tell our story. I wanted to change the narrative and see disabled people telling our own stories.
I started Revival to celebrate every aspect of my disability. I’ve spent too long loathing my body and focusing on what I can’t do. This magazine has been an awakening for my self-acceptance and healing.
Earlier I used to hide my crutch everytime someone took my picture, I used to hide my curves with my bag, I used to not like wearing a dress when I used to walk with my crutch because I had this idea of “femininity” ingrained in me by patriarchy that was against my identity as a disabled woman. All that changed after Revival.
I started this magazine not only for myself, but to voice the lived and authentic experiences of the Indian disabled community. Our community has to face ableism everyday and most of the ableism stems from a certain kind of misinformation perpetuated by stereotypes – stereotypes that permit non-disabled people to use terms such as “specially abled” freely without asking us what we prefer to be addressed as. I wish people would be as mindful about using correct terminology where disability is concerned like they are when they use the correct pronouns for a person. The reality is unfortunately, a lot different. Revival is an effort to acknowledge the existence of persons with disabilities, celebrate their disability and echo the immediate need for inclusion and accessibility.
d) What direction do you want to see the conversation around sexuality and disability take in the next few years?
In the next few years, I want people to look at disability and sexuality as a neccessity and not a topic that you read leisurely in a magazine on a Sunday afternoon. There is an urgent need to believe disabled womxn who get sexually violated in institutions, hospitals. People don’t “believe” them because they think disabled people are “mentally incompetant”. Thousands of cases of sexual violence against disabled womxn go unreported every year. Disability, for women, has essentially led to their exclusion from femininity, motherhood, sexual pleasure and intimacy and most importantly, has rendered their voice unheard at the institutional level. They are constantly undermined as decision makers and are deemed unfit for reproduction, marriage or having sex/sexual partners. Moreover, the vulnerability of women with disability to violence, and the rampant increase of cases of sexual violence against them both within their homes and in public spaces needs immediate attention. These are all the effects of a socio-political ecosystem that functions on the oppression and exploitation of these women.
Disabled people, womxn in particular have been in isolation for centuries. I find it pretty amusing when non disabled people complain about quarantine because disabled people are used to isolation by now. I’ve been isolated half of my life due to low immunity and a mental illness that makes me dysfunctional at times.
That is why I keep saying that our existence as disabled people is a rebellion, such is the tagline of the magazine too: to exist in an ableist and inaccessible world is indeed a rebellion. We should have more accessible protests, more meetups discussing sexuality and disability and more disabled affirmative spaces and professionals for change to truly occur.
Revival plans to launch an empowerment program through the medium of a crisis intervention helpline for disabled womxn who require urgent help. For disability and sexuality to be at the forefront, Feminism has to be much more intersectional than it is currently.
You can follow Anusha on:
Facebook : https://m.facebook.com/hotindiemess
Revival Disability Magazine: