Ableism and Acephobia in LGBTQIA+ spaces
On this week’s episode, Courtney shares some of her personal experiences with disability discrimination in queer spaces. Ableism is rampant in LGBTQIA+ communities and that is one of the core reasons why we are founding the first ever Disabled Ace Day on Wednesday, October 27th, 2021 during Ace Week. Next time on The Ace Couple, we will discuss the complicated intersections of disability and asexuality including broader, systemic issues pertaining to ableism and aphobia.
Courtney: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. My name is Courtney. I am a disabled asexual woman. Royce is here, too. We’re married. Together, we are. The Ace Couple.
Courtney: Before we dive in to conversing on today’s topic, I want to do...a moment of light housekeeping. If you are listening to this episode, right as it comes out. I want to remind each and every one of you that Ace Week is coming up. Ace Week, this year in 2021, is going to be held October 24th through the 30th. Make sure to get ready to share all of your asexual pride. I especially want to call attention to the fact that we are founding the first inaugural Disabled Ace Day. We are hoping to make this an annual event. It will be Wednesday, during Ace Week. So, keep an eye out for October 27th. That is gonna be a day. For us, disabled aces.
Courtney: Without further ado, let’s get into today’s topic. I don’t know about Royce over here, but Courtney’s feelin’ a little...spicy. A little...saucy. Ready to spill a little tea. As it were. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that in your life, Royce, [jokingly] but I’m ready to go! Do forgive me if this episode devolves into a lot of Courtney talking, and Royce listening silently. But, today’s topic is going to be about. Ableism. And...disability discrimination. In...the asexual community, as well as. Other LGBT spaces, or...places, in general! The sad fact of the matter is. If you have not personally experienced ableism, if you are not very close to a loved one who has experienced ableism... The chances are, you...don’t really know. What it’s like, and what some disabled folks go through.
Courtney: This episode’s gonna actually be a two-parter. Tonight, we are going to be talking about...my personal experiences. Personal anecdotes. Bear in mind that all of these are things that are my experience, and mine alone. Next week’s episode, we hope to talk about more of the...broader, systemic issues of ableism in the asexuality community. As well as aphobia in the disability community.
Courtney: My full roster of diagnoses– [jokingly] diagnosises [sic]– are...
Courtney: ...FAR too long. To explain here today. I will give you all a sampler. A little amuse-bouche, if you will...
Courtney: Royce, don’t look at me like that!
Courtney: [jokingly, childlike] Sometimes when I say weird things, Royce looks at me funny!
Courtney: At any rate, I...am a woman of many maladies. My largest, most recognizable syndrome is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It is a connective tissue disorder. Connective tissues affect a LOT of different things in your body. So, symptoms can come and go. They can change in severity. It manifests in new and increasingly creative ways. I have many comorbidities. With a long list of…[wryly] fun, rare diseases. In practice, this means I have chronic pain. Chronic fatigue. I am a mobility aid user. Most frequently, I will be seen walking with a cane. Or a walking stick. More recently, I have acquired some forearm crutches. And, although I am not a regular wheelchair user, I have been known to use a wheelchair on occasion. Especially while traveling.
Courtney: Traveling is something that...PRE-pandemic...I did quite often for my work. I would travel to...teach. Art shows. All manner of things. We can’t possibly get into this conversation today, if we’re gonna keep this under an hour. We’ll talk about my professional life later!
Courtney: Just know that I do often travel, and it’s usually alone. Royce, you’ve come with me to a couple of different things. But, very often, I’m traveling solo.
Royce: Yeah, I usually prefer to stay at home. There have been a couple of instances where...you are vending, or teaching, at an event. Where...it was easier for me to come along.
Courtney: Yeah, absolutely. And your preference for staying home...extends to BEING at home. We live in the Kansas City metro area. Pre-pandemic, I would often go out and socialize alone. In the evenings, while you stayed home. That was...perfectly fine. Something that worked for us. A lot of the...overt, slap-you-in-the-face...discriminations that I have gotten as a disabled woman out and about, have very often been while I have been alone.
Royce: Yeah, I heard most of them after the fact. The only one that I can think of– being there in person– was in Salem.
Courtney: Ah, yes. Good ol’ Salem, Massachusetts. The city of witches! Yes, I did have to go to Salem. I was...doing many things that weekend, and that’s why you needed to come along with me. ‘Cause I couldn’t be in all places at once. There was a convention, in Salem, where... I believe it was a two-day event. The first day, I was giving a history lecture that people could buy tickets to, and attend. The second day...all day long, I was actually teaching a hands-on sort of historical art workshop. And...
Royce: ...I had to set up the recording equipment, and sell things.
Courtney: Yes. They did offer me a booth. To sell...artwork, jewelry, merchandise. Which I obviously couldn’t do. I couldn’t man that booth while I was teaching. That is where my wonderfully supportive spouse comes in.
Courtney: This is really weird to tiptoe around, what I actually do for a living. I’m just gonna say it, and if it sounds very weird to you, and you want to know more? Tweet at us, or somethin’.
Courtney: Comment on YouTube! But, I make artwork and jewelry out of human hair. It is an OLD art form. I do a lot of historian work on the origins, and the history, of this art form. So, it is a little bit unique. I could talk about it for hours, but we don’t have time for that. This episode’s about discrimination! And ableism.
Courtney: That does bring us to...Salem, Massachusetts. Where... You were with me, the first time someone attempted to KICK ME OUT–
Courtney: – of a business. Just for existing. As a disabled woman.
Courtney: I had my walking cane. As I...nearly always do. I definitely always do, when I’m traveling! We got in one day before the event. So, naturally. As a historian, as someone who’s visiting Salem, I wanted to check out the...local museums, and the historic sites. We wanted to go to the Peabody Essex Museum. Which...WAS a fabulous museum...once we got IN. But, walking in the door...walking with a cane...the security guard outright stopped us. And...basically said that I couldn’t bring my walking stick into the museum. I said, “I need this to walk.” He said, “Well, it’s not allowed, so you have to leave.” [sarcastically] Somebody didn’t tell that security guard that disabled people are, in fact, allowed. To go. To...history museums! Who knew?
Royce: Do you happen to know if that museum is...private or public? As in...does it receive government funding? The reason why I ask, is...accessibility lawsuits seem to be more commonly aimed at...publicly-funded...establishments. Private establishments get sued, too. For being inaccessible. But, it’s a whole other thing if the organization is...receiving your tax dollars. And is still discriminating against you.
Courtney: That’s a good point. I’ve only been to this Peabody Essex Museum once, so I’m not nearly as familiar with it as I am other museums. But, if I had to guess? Most museums are 501(c)(3) nonprofits. So, although they may not necessarily be fully government-funded, they often are able to take tax-deductible donations. This is all conjecture. If I’m wrong...ignore me!
Royce: That’s not really the point of any of this, anyway. It was just something that I was curious about.
Courtney: Yeah! I genuinely think that was the first– if not, the only– time that you have been. Right there by my side. When someone has attempted to kick me out of the business for being disabled, so...[jokingly] how was that for you?
Royce: Well, it was strange. Any situation like that, where there’s...overt. Social conflict. Is... stressful. But it was more that we were out of town. In an unfamiliar area. And, were on a time crunch! We both knew that what was going on was illegal. But the thought was, ‘What can we actually do about it?’ During the short amount of time that we’re here on a conference. Trying to...make the best use of our free time, before needing to go back to the convention.
Courtney: Yeah. By this point, I may have been more taken off-guard if that was...the FIRST time...someone’s ever tried to kick me out, for having a CANE!
Courtney: It sounds so ridiculous when I say it. I always worry that people who have never experienced this are not gonna believe me. But, this kind of overt ableism actually does happen.
Royce: And it wasn’t even the cane with a sword in it, either!
Courtney: I do have a sword cane, yes! But, as you can well imagine. The TSA frowns upon bringing those on planes. So, no. I do not travel with my sword cane. And, yes. I ALWAYS check the state laws.
Courtney: For those of you who are international listeners. I’ve gotten quite a response...when I talk about having a sword cane, internationally, ‘cause apparently...that’s not normal to be legal. But there are, in fact, SEVERAL...U.S. states that...do allow you to have a fully-concealed sword. Out walking around with it. It’s completely legal.
Royce: Last time I checked, the only bladed things that were illegal. In Kansas. Were...ballistic knives. And throwing stars.
Courtney: The more you know! And you can only keep brass knuckles if they are...
Courtney: ...“paperweights.” Do you know how we know that one? Because Royce, here. Gave me. A. FABULOUS. “Paperweight.” For our one-year anniversary. [teasing] But this episode. Isn’t about. Weaponry. Royce!
Courtney: It’s about ableism!
Courtney: That was your first-hand experience being WITH me, when that happened. But, y’know, it’s Halloween time. It’s October. It’s spooky season. It’s MY favorite time of year. As I’m sure it is many of our listeners’ favorite. So, what I really want to do here is take a moment to...rage about the Kansas City haunted houses. This is topical, I promise.
Royce: It IS that time of the year.
Courtney: I love me a good scare. I love me a good haunted house. So, imagine my delight. After moving to Kansas City. When I learned that...some of the most famous. Haunted houses. Are right here, in Kansas City. At least, famous in the U.S. The two most notable ones are ‘The Beast,’ and ‘The Edge of Hell.’ They are, I believe, owned by exactly the same people. There’s also a third called ‘Macabre Cinema.’ I don’t think they get as much nationwide notoriety as the other two.
Courtney: The first Halloween season I spent down here, when I went to these haunted houses...they were great! They were very, very nice. I was impressed. I had a very good time. A few years later, however. I had a friend visiting from out of town, who...wanted to see the houses, of course. I was glad to go again. I went in a group of three– there were two friends with me. We decided that, in one night, we were going to try to see...all three of the haunted houses. We went to Macabre Cinema first. Had a good time. We went to The Edge Of Hell. We had a good time. We ended with The Beast. Which is, arguably, the most famous of the three. And it was one. Of THE. Most. HUMILIATING. Experiences. Of my life.
Courtney: We got almost completely all the way through the haunted house. We were very near the end. One of the big, defining characteristics of this particular haunted house, is that you can jump out of a two-story window– in this big, old warehouse district– onto a big air bed. If you don’t want to jump out of a building...
Courtney: ...you can go down a large, four-story slide instead. To get to the bottom. I was here with my two friends, at least one of whom had never been here...if not both of them. I can’t quite remember. We got near the end. Someone in regular clothing...no haunt actor of any kind...walks out of a side door. Looks directly at me, and says, “Why do you have that cane?” I was so shocked. So baffled. That I just said, “Uhh...because I’m disabled? And I need it?” He said, “Alright, then. You have to come with me... You’re leaving. You don’t get to finish the haunted house.”
Courtney: I went, “Excuse me. What?!” He deemed...based on my answer, that it was not safe. For me to finish the haunted house. Even though I explained to him that I had been to this haunted house before. I had been to the other two haunted houses earlier, that very night, without incidents. And that the...cane actually made it MUCH safer for me to traverse the haunted house, than if I didn’t have it.
Royce: Everyone who enters these houses also, basically, agreed to a ‘Warning! You could get injured or die, and we’re not responsible for any of it!’ sort of thing.
Courtney: Yeah, they take your thumbprints and everything! For the waiver. I’m all ready! I’ve waived all of...
Courtney: ...my liability. Or, I’ve waived THEM from liability, rather. I was astonished. He said, “The slide’s coming up. We can’t let you go down the slide, with the cane. We can’t let you jump out of the window, with the cane. So, we’re just gonna take the back elevator, and...you gotta leave.”
Royce: Which, remember. You were just at Edge of Hell previously in that night. And that. Haunted house. ALSO ends in a slide. A slightly larger slide, actually!
Courtney: I’d been on multiple slides that night already. Some short. Some long. It’s no big deal. I even had...the cane with me that has a wrist strap. So it would’ve been fastened to me. And so, I was baffled. I said, “Okay, well. YOU take my cane, and meet me down at the bottom. I want. To jump out of a window! Or, I wanna go down the slide! I want to finish the haunted house that I paid...[strained] a LOT of money for!” They aren’t. That. Cheap.
Courtney: He said, “No. No no no. You already told me that you’re disabled. I already know that this isn’t safe. I’m using my discretion. You gotta go. We’re leavin’. Come on. Let’s go.” I said, “What exactly is the issue?” He said, “We just can’t have you...with that cane, in here.” And I said, [frustratedly] “That’s. Fine. I’m with two very good friends–” One of these friends. She’s shorter than me, but she’s VERY, very strong. She works out. She is a beast. And then I had one VERY, very TALL friend. HUGE guy! Either one of them could have easily carried me out, if they needed to. And I trusted them to do so. So I was like, “–I can take one of their arms and walk along. It’ll be fine. Yeah. Keep this cane for me at the beginning.” He said, “Nope. Uh-uh. Won’t allow it. If you’re disabled, you gotta go.” So I was like, ‘Oh...kay.’
Courtney: We were very, very angry. They broke the illusion. They broke the haunt. They took me through a back corridor, and... My other friends came with, too. They were...livid about this. And that was that. They wouldn’t issue any refund, either. They stated that it is within their right. To kick anyone out, [sarcastically] for “safety reasons.”
Courtney: This does actually lead into a very, very good...story, that is specific to...the queer community. And, the ableism, and aphobia, that you might get. From other...gay bars. Drag bars. Primarily...gay male spaces.
Courtney: Before we get into more bad. I want to give one one little nugget of good. If anyone listening here happens to be local to Kansas City. Or visiting during the spooky season. The year after this debacle with The Beast and The Edge of Hell. I was treated exceptionally well. By Worlds of Fun. During their Halloween Haunt. They were absolutely. Marvelous. They had...invited me to their...preview, practice night. Their PR department did. I still don’t know how or why that happened...
Courtney: ...to be honest. They were like, [jokingly] ‘Hmm. Who is a prominent goth in Kansas City?’
Royce: I think you were, somehow, identified as an influencer. But I don’t know how. I don’t know through what [crosstalk][20:27] channel that was.
Courtney: Was that the year I was nominated for, like, “Best Local Personality” at The Pitch? [crosstalk][20:33] That might be it!
Royce: That might have been it. I think that was it.
Courtney: Ahh. For those of you not local, we have a... It’s called, ‘The Pitch.’ It’s a local...paper...news...magazine...type situation. In 2018, I was voted “Best Local Craft Artist.” I think, the year after that...I didn’t actually get any awards, but I was nominated for some weird ones that surprised me. “Best Local Instagram”– which is laughable, because I’m the world’s worst photographer– and “Best Local Personality.” I don’t know why that was. But that was probably why they invited us to this exclusive...preview?...
Courtney: ...from the PR team. They treated us very, very well. Let me in, with my CANE!
Courtney: Gasp! So, if you’re in the area, and you’re looking for a good haunt? Worlds of Fun! All the way! They aren’t! Ableist assholes!
Courtney: I am a person who really loves a good. Immersive. Scare. I...like horror as a genre, in theory? But in practice, it rarely works, for me. There’re very few horror movies that I love. There’re very few horror books that actually give me...a visceral feeling. So, there’s something about being in...an immersive environment. With actors, that… I wouldn’t say it actually scares me? The way it scares other people. I’m not especially jumpy. Royce and I have been known to get home decor ideas, from...
Courtney: ...haunted houses! But I do really like being put in...a real, tangible...scary...place.
Courtney: It was this exact same year that I had been invited to the Halloween Haunt at Worlds of Fun. Before they actually had me go through the haunted houses with this PR executive– who was wearing this pumpkin suit, it was very charming– they...basically called all of the actors over. Said, “Yeah! You can take pictures with anybody that you want to!” You know, take pictures and post on social media, what have you. I guess I was wearing what I normally wear. Which could be construed as “witchy.”
Courtney: I wear a lot of black. I wear almost ex– well, exclusively dresses. Not almost, even. I don’t think I own any...“real”...pants... We actually live on the KANSAS side of the Kansas City metro. There was this sort of “Wizard of Oz” theme., so they had a wicked witch, they had all these flying monkeys... I thought it would be pretty cool, if I could take a pose with all of the flying monkeys, [wickedly] as if they were mine!
Courtney: So I said, “Yeah! Give me the monkeys! Call them over. Let’s take a picture!” It was a pretty cool picture. If I still have it, and can find it, I’ll try to post it on Twitter later. This is relevant.
Courtney: I promise! We’ll get to the point.
Courtney: I went to the Halloween Haunt early. I was certainly NOT going back to The Beast, or The Edge of Hell, or anything run by this same company again. It was getting close to...Halloween time, and I really wanted an immersive. Feel-it-in-my-bones. Fright. So, what did I do, but went to karaoke! Because– fun fact about Courtney– singing in front of people...is my biggest...potentially ONLY...fear.
Courtney: I love singing! I absolutely adore it. But I am horrified. At the very idea of anyone hearing me sing. Royce included!
Royce: Which is why I’ve learned to work with a good set of noise-canceling headphones.
Courtney: Especially when we’re both home all day, every day– we both work from home– it’s like, [dramatically] “Royce, I must sing! Put on your headphones. You can’t hear me. You can’t!”
Courtney: I decided to head on down to my local Hamburger Mary’s. Before I went out... I had already been to karaoke. I’ve done this a few times, when I just need that rush. When I need to feel alive!
Courtney: I knew that there were a couple of songs that I sing that can really get...the crowd excited! Really get people goin’, and get a lot of energy. Kind of takes off the pressure of me singing in front of people, a little bit. I had my couple of comfortable go-to songs. Reasonably comfortable. But there was one song that I really, really wanted to sing. I love singing it alone. That is “Dog Days,” by Florence and the Machine. “Dog days are over now.” Every time I’m singing this on my own– I’m no gauge of my own voice, by the way.
Courtney: I don’t know if I’m good. If I’m bad. If this sounds nice. NO idea, whatsoever. That’s part of the huge fear. I’m thinking to myself, ‘If I sing this in front of people, it’s either going to be the best song I’ve ever sung. OR. I’m absolutely kidding myself, and this is going to be a sloppy, sloppy mess.’ So before I left out the door that night. I turned to Royce, and I said “Royce. There’s a song I want to sing, but it’s really, really scary. Should I sing the scary song tonight?”
Royce: [brightly] “Sure!”
Courtney: So there it was. I was going to sing the scary song!
Courtney: I head on down to Hamburger Mary’s, and I go alone. I often go out alone. I rather enjoy it. If I have a friend who’s willing to join me where I wanna go, that’s...also plenty fun. But...I like being in public places alone. Going out to eat alone. So, going to karaoke alone was not a new or weird thing for me.
Courtney: That particular night set a lot of weird things in motion. I got up there, and I sang “Dog Days,” by Florence and the Machine. When I need to sing in front of people, I am...shaking. I am...DROWNING myself in the amount of water that I am compulsively drinking.
Courtney: NOTHING gets me this viscerally nervous, as singing in front of people. I am a panicked. Wreck. I get done singing, and I immediately retreat to the corner. Hoping no one will talk to me. But someone comes up and says, “Hey! I know you. You’re Courtney Lane!”
Courtney: I was like, ‘Oh...no!’
Courtney: ‘Oh no, someone who knows me just heard me sing. I wasn’t completely anonymous!’ and she says, “Yeah, yeah yeah! I was an actor at the Halloween Haunt. I was one of the flying monkeys who posed with you!” And I went, ‘Oh! THAT’S how you know me!’
[sucks in breath, anxiously]
Courtney: She complimented me on the song. That was very, very kind. But I was also like, ‘I don’t buy it. I’m probably the worst singer in the world. You’re just being polite.’
Courtney: By the way, is now a good time to shout out...half a dozen people or so? Who have contacted us since we started this podcast, to...[bashfully] tell me how much you love my voice?I don’t think you understand exactly how much that means to me. Happy tears. Every single time. More of that, please, [hurriedly] but only if you mean it. Don’t lie to me!
Courtney: At any rate, I get over the...initial panic. Of speaking to this person, who knew exactly who I was. Then the KJ walks over to me. He says, “That is my favorite song. You killed it. You need to audition. For Rock the Mic.” I said, “What is Rock the Mic?” I had no idea. He said, “It is a live, weekly singing competition. It’s right here at Mary’s. It’s similar to The Voice. We have judges. We have coaches. Every single week is a new theme. It’s a real, live reality show. People get voted off every week. The winner gets a thousand dollars. Studio recording time. And a spot to perform at Kansas City PRIDE.” I said, “Oh! Well, I’ll have to think about it!” Feeling, in that moment, probably...better about myself, and my singing capabilities, than I have EVER felt. Mind you, I wouldn’t have sang this song. If Royce didn’t really half-assedly tell me “Sure!” as I was headed out the door.
Courtney: Supportive spouses. Ten out of ten!
Courtney: I asked for more details. He said, “We’re auditioning for the second season soon. But the first season is still in progress. If you want to come,” he gave me the details for...night. Time. Etcetera. And he said, “Make sure to call for your reservations.” I said, “Okay. Yeah! I can do that.” Then he looked down at my cane, and...you know, [cringing] asked me about it. That’s one of those things, where– I sometimes get it. I sometimes don’t mind fielding questions, but...man. I just get SO many of them. I get SO. Many questions. About my cane– but my ego had just been well and truly fed. With...the overwhelming compliments on my singing performance. So, I paid it no mind at all. This particular KJ was like, “You know, I have a disabled sister, so...[performatively] I get it. I understand.”
Courtney: Royce. You are married to me, who is a disabled person. Would you say you really...[mockingly] “understand”...
Courtney: ...the disabled experience?
Royce: No...? I mean. I understand a lot more now, due to proximity. But. There is still only...so much...you can understand, without experiencing it yourself.
Courtney: This, mind you. WOULD have remained a very innocuous exchange. If it didn’t...begin...a pattern...of behavior.
Courtney: I thought, before I audition for this– because entering a live, weekly, singing competition is about the scariest thing I could possibly think of. I came here to be terrified tonight. I guess I got my wish!
Courtney: – I decided I was going to go and see the current season.
Courtney: I called ahead, as I was instructed. The thing about this particular...bar. This restaurant...performance venue. Is that, they have a lot of high-top tables, and high chairs. They have some...“regular, low-to-the-ground tables”– this is their word for the opposite of a high-top–
Courtney: ...it’s definitely a mix. I can almost never sit at a high-top chair, for any extended period of time. It is far too painful, and difficult, for me. When I called, I said “I need a reservation for one, and I need a low-top table. I need to make sure that I’m sitting in a chair where my feet touch the ground.” And over the phone they said, “I’m sorry. We are not allowed to...set a reservation for just one person.” I said, “Well, I’m coming alone. What do you want? I was told I need a reservation.” They said, “Single people can...have a spot at the bar.” I said, “I can’t sit. At the bar!” And they’s [sic] “Oh, well, there’s always standing room.” “No. I can’t STAND...for an entire show. I can’t stand, I can’t sit at a high-top. I need. A chair. Where my feet touch the ground.” And they said, “Well, that’s no problem. We can’t set the...reservation. But just come. There’ll probably be extra spots we can sit you in.”
Courtney: Bear in mind, if you aren’t familiar with Hamburger Mary’s. This is...a queer space. This is an LGBT bar. It is a chain– it’s in more cities than just ours. The primary feature, of which, is that they...do regular drag shows. As a queer person, myself, I often feel a lot more comfortable in these spaces than...y’know, your non-LGBT-specific karaoke bars...or ANY other local bars. I feel a lot more comfortable in these...LGBT spaces. I showed up that night. I was alone, as I often am– Royce had no interest in seeing the show– and I walked in, and I told them exactly the same thing. What I needed for seating room. And they said, “We. Can’t. Give you a table. If you don’t. Have. A reservation.” I, of course, argued for a few moments. Recapped my phone conversation. They basically ended up saying, “We can’t seat you.”
Courtney: And so, for a few...minutes, I sat on the bench– the overflow, waiting room area. A bench on the side, by the door– for long enough that the show had begun. I saw the first couple of opening numbers. And I noticed, mind you, they had tables, that were...two chairs. That were...low-tops. That were NOT filled that night. I asked the person at the door again. “Can I sit in one of those?” They said, “No. Not without a reservation.” I said “Does anyone have a reservation for these?” And they said, “No.” I explained the situation AGAIN. I showed them my cane. I was obviously walking with a mobility aid. They absolutely refused to seat me.
Courtney: What really, really got me, that night. Was that, the person manning the...door– and taking tickets, and managing reservations– had a high-top chair for their...check-in desk. And, after a few numbers had gone by. They walked over, and grabbed...a short chair. Brought it over. [pained] And sat down it [sic] on their own. While I was RIGHT there, next to them. In the bench. Not able to order food. Not able to order a drink. That was when I left. Sobbing. Absolutely sobbing. I sat in the parking lot, and I cried for a good long while. Because...LGBTQ+ spaces. Are supposed to be. Inclusive. Spaces. To have a space say, ‘We don’t care if you are gay. If you’re bi. If you’re trans.’ To have a place readily employ drag queens. Host a variety of queer events. Fundraise for queer causes. To then say, “We’re not going to accommodate you, in your disability.” Really stung.
Courtney: I sent a message to Hamburger Mary’s that night. After I’d come home...FAR earlier than Royce was expecting, and told this story. I sent a message to Hamburger Mary’s, and I explained what happened, and...my disappointment...in the situation, as a whole. Then, a couple days later, I went back to karaoke. At exactly the same place! When the KJ saw me, his eyes lit up. He came and hugged me, and greeted me. As a friend. I told him that I tried to come to Rock the Mic, to see what the deal was. And that I was...
Courtney: ...turned away, and not given a seat. He said, “Oh, that was YOU!” Turns out, this person was not only the KJ, but a major events coordinator at the restaurant. He was also in charge of Rock the Mic, and a variety of other things. He gave me the whole, “It’s not going to happen again.” “My sister is disabled. I understand. I got it.” And in that moment, I really, really did feel like this...was someone who had my back. [dramatically] And so I auditioned...for Rock the Mic.
Courtney: They allowed me in. I think we started with about 18 people? I think they originally wanted to have 20, but a couple people dropped out right off the bat. So, the number 18 is in my head. 18 people. Live singing competition. Every week. And so– of course– the very first week, when we could sing whatever we wanted to, I was gonna sing “Dog Days.” Because that was the song that got me the invitation to come here in the first place. It, perhaps, should be noted that– while I was able to traverse this space on these nights– the space for performers was absolutely...NOT...accessible. The dressing room was down. More than one flight of stairs. There were steps going up to the stage itself. I was able to manage, but not easily. There are SO many other people who...could not have been able to...access those spaces, as a disabled performer. That was definitely something that was bothering me, in the back of my head. I just kept thinking, ‘How many amazing, disabled queer performers are there in this city...who can’t perform in this space?’
Courtney: That first night, I wore...a very...vampy, gothic...Morticia, Elvira, kind of number. A long, black, tight-fitting gown... [jokingly] with cleavage for days! Some long cape sleeves. And a purple top hat – which is a signature of mine. And, while the performance was okay– I don’t think it was...my best work. I was horrified, mind you!– I was a little disappointed in the fact that...the judge’s reactions to me were less about, “Your voice is good,” “Your performance is nice.” It was more about, “THOSE TITTIES!”
Courtney: It was...very much, “Your boobs! Are MAGNIFICENT tonight!” Look. I understand, we’re at a drag bar. I understand, it is all about the body-ody-ody, and I have it in abundance.
Courtney: But there is something...about...that... Maybe we need to do a future boobs episode? ’Cause I have complicated feelings on the matter. That is always. Overtly. Oversexualized. Someone like me, who has always been very large-chested... I can’t help it. And I don’t particularly like it, when people...sexualize my breasts, just because they are big. I can’t help it. [jokingly] That’s just how they be!
Courtney: The first couple of weeks of the competition go pretty well. A couple of people get eliminated. I am flabbergasted to have not been the very first person eliminated, because I had very low self-esteem, where my voice is concerned. I very distinctly remember a friend asking me– a friend who had come to see most of my performances throughout this competition– they said to me, “What is the reward you’re hoping to win? They’re offering studio recording time for an album. They’re also offering cash. Are you more excited about the cash, or do you want the studio recording time?” I distinctly remember saying to them that, while the cash and the studio recording time are fantastic– I will, of course, enjoy them– what I really wanted was the spot to perform at PRIDE. Royce and I had been to Kansas City PRIDE before. It was...fine. There were a couple of pieces of asexual merchandise available. But, I did find the general...ace presence, to be...very, severely lacking. So, in my mind, I thought ‘How cool would it be? If I, as an asexual woman, can win this local, queer, singing competition. And earn a spot to perform at our PRIDE. And bring that asexual awareness to the event.’ That was really the most worthwhile goal, to me.
Courtney: I thought I knew exactly what I was gonna perform, too! Assuming the competition went well. As I said, every week was a different category. We had an...Off-Broadway week. We had a Pop Star Diva week. We had to sing in a different genre, every single time. One of the categories we were forewarned of was, ‘you need to take a song and you need to rewrite at least one verse of it.’ To...put your own stamp on it. Reminiscent of the “put your stamp on it,” from Rupaul’s Drag Race, kind of a thing. Right from the get-go– before the competition even started– I said, “I want. To rewrite. ‘Bang Bang’ by Jessie J., Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj. I want to change that song to ‘Bake Bake.’ It is going to be a completely asexual song. It is gonna be about baking cake. Being ace. And living your best ace life!” I was. Utterly thrilled. At the concept of singing an entire song about being ace. At this...drag bar. I thought, ‘If this goes well. And people like it. And I can actually pull off singing this song. I am absolutely going to try to sing this at Kansas City PRIDE, on the main stage!’
Courtney: Alas. It never was to be. There are…many. Reasons. For that. The first of which, being, the entire competition was...jacked. Up. The host of the show was constantly changing rules. Interfering. Cheating on behalf of certain contestants. It was a very contentious time. It did not, by any stretch of the imagination, feel like a...fair competition. There also began to be these weird moments. You see, I...USED to be a dancer. I was a dance teacher for...15 years? Thereabout? I...grew up dancing. There was a time in my life where I wanted to be a professional dancer– that was my career path of choice– but my...RAPIDLY-deteriorating body...
Courtney: ...had other plans. So, on the best possible pain day, and...general, physical health day...I still have the coordination of a dancer, and I can bust out a few really good moves. If I need to. I just have to be prepared to not do absolutely ANYTHING for the next day. If not the next week.
Courtney: There was a Speakeasy night where we had to do, like, a ’20s themed cover of a modern song. I remember singing “Mad World” in the theme of Postmodern Jukebox. There was a little musical break, and I said, “I have to do a tap number! I’m gonna dig out my tap shoes, and I’m gonna do a VERY short little tap number.” I did, and it was well received. I scored pretty well that night. But, at that point. The judges, and the host...virtually everyone were saying, “Well, now that we know you’re a dancer, you have to dance for us more!” I said, [apologetically] “There’s only so much I can do!” That was pretty light. It was pretty short. I can’t dance in the way that I used to be able to. But, the people in the competition who were dancing were outperforming the people who were not. I started getting...VERY direct criticisms about that, from...the same host of the show, and the same KJ, who invited me to be a part of this in the first place.
Courtney: Among other people– judges, audience members– who are saying, “You need to show us those dance moves more!” And, “You need to–” the host, especially, kept saying, “–you need to be...sexier. That’s what your performance needs. You need. To be. Sexier.” That was very, very difficult to reconcile, as an asexual person who can’t...at all...relate to being sexy. I understand some people are asexual lingerie models. Some people are asexual burlesque performers. They can still inhabit that sexuality, even if they don’t feel sexually attracted to other people. But, it’s an uncomfortable space for me to be in. I don’t relate to it at all. I can act, if I absolutely HAVE to. But, in my mind, if I was on stage. At the singing competition. I was representing myself. I was being myself. And I was ultimately trying to bring more asexual representation into the Kansas City queer community. So, it didn’t quite feel right that I kept being told, “You need to be sexier.”
Courtney: There was a fabulous, fabulous burlesque performer, who was another contestant in this competition. Her name is Annie-Mae Allure. She’s phenomenal. She hosts burlesque shows. Real professional, stand-up person. The host kept saying, “You just need to be sexy, like her.” “You need to be sexy, like her. You need to be sexier.” “Add more Annie-Mae Allure to your Courtney performance.” That really started grinding on me, at a certain point, because I wanted to succeed in this competition. I made the mistake of telling myself that...I just had to play the game. I had to give them what they wanted.
Courtney: [jokingly] I also made the mistake...of listening to Royce! The first time Royce had an opinion about what song I should sing...
Courtney: ...for Around the World week!
Royce: Hey, we already established that my opinion was what got you into this competition. When I was like, “Yeah, sure. Do the song. That you talk about singing all the time.” [jokingly]...but also, I definitely...OVER-estimated...a Kansas City gay bar’s enthusiasm for Kpop.
Courtney: Hey now. There were a couple of very, very interested Kpop stans. But listen. When Around the World week came, I definitely joked, “You can’t do Around the World week without a Kpop number. Kpop is one of the biggest industries in the entire world right now!” Royce here– not being a huge Kpop fan by any stretch of the imagination, but knowing of the most prominent groups– was definitely like, “Yeah. You should sing a Kpop song. You should sing ‘Kill This Love’ by BLACKPINK!”
[Courtney giggles embarrassedly throughout]
Courtney: And that was the week. Courtney learned. How to rap. In Korean. I wish I was kidding. But oh, no, no. I did not stop there. I thought, ‘My black, lacy, Victorian, gothic, floor-length gown, Morticia Addams-inspired wardrobe...will simply not do for a Kpop number!’ I went to…[dramatically] the mall. I said, “I’m gonna find something to wear for a Kpop number.” I got. The. Skimpiest. Red. Glittery, Shiny dress I could possibly fine [sic]. It was short, skin-tight, it showed my midriff. And I got thigh. High. Boots, baby. I got a funky jacket that was a little bit reminiscent of a Kpop music video I’d seen at one point. I got– I went to Hot Topic for the first time in a decade...or so?– and I got some chains to wrap around one of my boots, and my waist...
Courtney: Taking the two criticisms of “you need to dance more. You need to move around more...” and “you need to be sexier...” I thought, ‘Alright. Game on! I am going to sing and rap in Korean, in this skimpy-ass number! I’m gonna move around the bar, and I am going to be collecting those tips. I will be plucking dollars.’ I got up on a table! I stood up on a TABLE, in spike, thigh-high heels! I danced around that entire damn bar. It was exhausting! And my singing...SUFFERED because of it.
Courtney: It was...not my finest work. I think the rapping at the beginning was surprisingly decent, actually. But...as soon as I started getting around. Trying to dance. Trying to move. Yeah, no. It wasn’t happening. It was WAY too much for me. But I felt all this pressure to do it!
Courtney: And that was the night that I was in the bottom two, and had to sing for my life. I sang “What’s Up” by the Four Non-Blondes, ’cause that was my one. Go-to. Karaoke song…
Courtney: ...that I knew everybody loved when I sang! I have never gotten so many tips for a live performance in my life, as when I sang that ‘Sing For Your Life’ number. I was absolutely living for that moment. It was very, very good. And I did, at the end of it all, live...
Courtney: …to sing for another few weeks.
Courtney: The one thing I haven’t mentioned is how stark of a difference it was between that number– which was my lowest-performing score of the entire competition– versus one of my higher, if not the highest, scores, was Pop Star Diva week. That week, I told myself, “I’m not the pop star diva kind. I’m going to do a remix.” I took “Toxic” by Britney– the most famous pop star diva– and I did a very...dark. Witchy. Slow, melodic cover of it. For that performance, I sat in a stool the entire time– which was the most comfortable I had been performing on that stage, because I was seated. I wasn’t standing, and I wasn’t moving– and we lit fire candelabras all over the place. It was beautiful. It was atmospheric. It was fantastic. That was one of my highest-performing days. Yet still, even after that, they were like, “You need to be sexier. You need to be sexier, and you need to move more.” And I took that advice, and it flopped!
Courtney: But the worst part of it all. Was that, I showed up to our practice night. In that red, skimpy dress. And those thigh-high boots. And, being a dancer in my former life, I know the joys of black spandex shorts. Pop those under your dresses!
Courtney: I am wearing black spandex under almost every dress. Ever. They are very comfortable. They are very good. [jokingly] You can tuck your dress into your shorts, if you need to, and go hiking! They’re wonderful. I was wearing spandex shorts under that dress. During that practice night, when the bar is closed, and we have the stage to play around with. I tried dancing. I tried, at one point, sitting on the steps of the stage, and singing out to the front row. And the same person. Who kept telling me that I need to be sexier. Comparing me to the professional burlesque performer of the competition. Saying I needed to be more like her. Told me. That my dress was too short. That I had. To be careful. I had. To retain a little bit of modesty. Because, quote, “You’re still a lady.” He, not being a drag queen himself, told me to “Maybe ask the other drag queens for tips...” On how to stay modest!
Courtney: It sounds ridiculous in hindsight! And I still went along with this. Every. Damn. Week.
Courtney: Long story short, this competition actually got...interrupted, by the...pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic. In March of 2020, we had to take a hiatus. So, I was not able to return for my final performance, to see how things would have actually ended. But, the last. VERY, very weird. Little bit. Of ableism. That I got, for the last week that I did perform. Was during...Kelly Clarkson week. Which was, perhaps my least favorite week. Nothing against Kelly Clarkson, herself. But we are not all Kelly Clarksons. I’m more of a Florence gal. I’m more of a Four Non-Blondes gal!
Courtney: I was very nervous about singing a Kelly Clarkson song. But I was thinking, ‘“Because of You” might be something I can sing.’ I was thinking of a couple other songs that...I was more familiar with, than others.
Courtney: There was a complication with this week. You see, I was actually out of town the week right before. I think it was ’80s week, but that’s beside the point. I was out of town. I had warned them before the competition even started. That, if I lasted two months, there was gonna be a day that I was not going to be there. That was because...I was taking my mother on the Golden Girls Cruise. I grew up watching Golden Girls with my mom, and I was not going to pass up an opportunity. When I was a kid, we never went on a 100% pure vacation. For fun, and relaxation. So, in my adult life, I thought, ‘It is time for my mother and me to go on a vacation. And what better than the Golden Girls Cruise?’ I’d never been on a cruise before. In my entire life. I was not about to skip. THAT. Opportunity. For this singing competition, that I may or may not have won anyway. Right from the get-go, when I told them– still thinking that I was gonna be eliminated within the first week or two. I did not have the foresight to think that I would actually last this long– they said, “Don’t worry. You can come back the week after. And, as long as you aren’t in the bottom three, we won’t automatically eliminate you.”
Courtney: And then I find out that the week I’m coming back is Kelly Clarkson week. I don’t feel super confident about that. Nobody feels super confident about that! But, this same event organizer...who had been stringing me along this entire time...told me to sing “Broken and Beautiful.” He said, “You should sing ‘Broken and Beautiful,’ and you should do it, with your cane. Go on stage and stand, with your cane. Walk around the audience, with your cane, singing ‘Broken and Beautiful.’ It’s going to symbolize your disability. It’s going to be great!”
Courtney: I felt...weird about it? I wasn’t familiar with the song. I had to learn the song. I’d never heard in my life, until less than a week before I had to sing it live. But I said, “Okay. Play the game. Do what they want. Get to the end. Get that spot to perform at PRIDE.” My coach– very, very wonderful, supportive coach– also agreed that I would probably sound very good singing the song. So I thought, ‘Okay, I have two opinions here.’ But the host of the show said, “Don’t you worry. I’m going to be the guest judge this week, in addition to being the host. I can tell you, with certainty. If you sing ‘Broken and Beautiful.’ On stage. With your cane. And I’m judging? You will not be in the bottom three this week.” And I’ll be damned. If I didn’t later find out. That that jerk. Gave me– not only the lowest score of the night, but– the lowest score that I had gotten the entire competition. EVEN lower than the scores I had gotten during the Around the World week. Where I did a disastrous Kpop performance, and legitimately wound up in the bottom three. I was...many, many points...lower on his score sheet, than I was the next lowest judge. I only got into the bottom three by two points. And that was all on him.
Courtney: He... Having gained my trust. Having...told me that I wasn’t sexy enough. Having told me that I needed to be more modest, at the same time. Having told me...that I need to sing about how “broken” I am. With my mobility aid. And how “there isn’t gonna be a dry eye in the house. People are gonna love it!” Was the same one who intentionally tanked my score. I don’t know why he did it! I don’t know...if he had some sort of personal vendetta against me. I do not know...if he just had an idea in his head for how this...pseudo-reality show was going to go.
Courtney: That very last week... After I left Hamburger Mary’s, I wasn’t quite ready to go home yet. I decided to head over to...another local gay bar that was open for a couple extra hours. It was an off night, so...it wasn’t very dense. I had been watching the news, very carefully, about the pandemic that did not seem to be in Kansas City YET. But, I was reading about other places of the country where it was. Being immunocompromised as all get-out, I was watching that like a hawk. I was ready for our shutdown to come, even though many other [sic] in the area were not. I went to the second bar, and I found myself in an argument with...a stranger I had never met before. We got talking about this...seemingly budding pandemic, where no one in our area knew anything about it yet. I explained my take. How, ‘Yeah, there should be a shutdown. There should be a quarantine. There are too many people who are immunocompromised. It needs to be stopped in its tracks.’ I had a mask in my purse. I had already worn a mask on airlines when I travel, when I’m feeling unwell, if I have a random allergy that pops up out of nowhere. I had already had a mask in my bag with me, before anyone had a mask mandate, or it was normal– at all– in this area. I took it out of my bag to demonstrate, “Look, I already have a mask!” This man was arguing with me about how people shouldn’t be forced to wear masks. Even though, I think, New York had been at the time. Or maybe L.A.. A more populated area on a coast. He said that ‘That shouldn’t happen here in Kansas City. We don’t need to wear masks. We don’t need to quarantine. They shouldn’t shut down businesses.’ And when I said, “Look. I have a mask, and I wear this frequently already. Everybody else doing so might be the difference between me...staying alive...during something like this.” He looked me in the eye, and said, “Why are you even here right now? If you’re so sick, you should just stay home all the time. You should never go out.” I asked him, “Do you believe that, in your heart of hearts?” He said, “Yeah, I do. YOU. Should not. Stand in the way. Of anyone else living their life. This sounds like a ‘You’ problem. You just need to stay home.”
Courtney: And that was the last public queer space I have been in, to date. So, that was fun! I am not going to talk about...the nightmarish hellscape that is...the eugenics-based philosophy...
Courtney: ...that has been the last year-and-a-half. Two years? How long has it been? I’ve lost track. Literally, March 13th was the last day I left my house in 2020. I don’t think I properly left my house again until August 18th of 2021. That was purely because my license was expiring...
Courtney: ...and if I didn’t go to the DMV, I’d have to retake my driver’s license. So! We have been very, very quarantined, this whole time, because of my health. We’re not even going to talk about the warped politics of of the pandemic. How every waking moment of my online existence has been inundated with people saying, “People who are already disabled, already immunocompromised...they’re expendable. Old people...are expendable. It’s only people who are already sick who die of COVID.” That really wears on the psyche after a while. If you have any disabled, immunocompromised friends and you haven’t checked on them yet, please do. Because we are still feeling this.
Courtney: I have so much more that I want to say. I think that is a good break, for...today’s episode. In the next episode, I want to actually talk about the really, intrinsically linked...politics of asexuality and disability. And the complications of existing in this intersection. As a part of it, I want to discuss the broader, systemic issues. Why we have gotten to this point. Why there’s aphobia in the disability community, and why there is ableism in the ace community. There absolutely are. If you haven’t seen it yet, I really implore you to carry on to our part two, which will be released next week. I will also share a couple of personal anecdotes about my own experience in these two communities– existing as a disabled, asexual person– because it is incredibly important. That episode is going to be released on our very first Disabled Ace Day. Wednesday, October 27th, 2021. Right in the middle of Ace Week. I’m very excited for it. I really hope all of you are, as well. Please make sure to tune in. It’s going to be a really great conversation. Until then, we’ll talk at you guys next time.