[Content note: ableist slurs]
I’ve made very little secret of the fact that I’m in therapy these days; twice weekly appointments, one group and one individual, and while it’s not changing a lot of how I am yet, it’s giving me the time and space I need to look at my behaviour and understand why I do certain things. This is great, because it means that when I have an issue, such as the recent one where I’m just not feeling the same joy I was getting from wrestling a year ago, I can talk around the issue long enough until I find the heart of it, and cope with that.
This all came out of a discussion in group, where my two able-bodied facilitators read aloud an email about someone radically accepting their disability, a week after the other disabled person in my group and I had brought up some issues around some of the things they said, and how they didn’t help us balance disability against anything else in our lives. It made me cry, and if anyone knows anything about me, it’s that I hate to cry in front of other people – I learnt early on that it would be seen as a weakness. I’ve now had to explain to my therapist, someone I liked and trusted, that by not thinking or understanding that disabled people are told every day of their lives how to accept/hope/treat their disability, she’s broken some of that trust we had. So my one hour individual session was spent with me essentially being a teaching aid for her on disability issues. And that’s when it clicked.
Some days, I’m very proud of what I’ve done over the past year and a half, how companies I go to now tend to have access information available, how promoters will ask me how the accessibility was, how my word seems to hold some weight in it when it comes to talking about access. It’s probably the most meaningful thing I’ve done in my life that benefits other people, and while it’s a very specific area of disabled activism, it’s mine, and I’ve done what I can to carve out my niche. I’ll admit, I like to feel important, special – who doesn’t? – and when seats are reserved for me, or when my opinion is considered, I do feel that. I feel like I’m a wanted part of the community, and that’s important.
However, sitting in that individual sessions, explaining to my therapist that two able people telling a disabled person how to manage their acceptance of illness, or showing them something another disabled person has done and expecting it to be a one size fits all, I realised something. This is what I spend every single moment that I interact with wrestling doing. I’m not enjoying myself and casually commenting on a few changes that need doing – I’m working. It’s a job, albeit one that no one thinks I should get any sort of remuneration for. And it’s constant.
The number of wrestlers who’ve had polite DMs from me talking about their use of words like “cretin” and “moron”, both ableist terms, grows every month. Let’s face it, my first britwres Twitter argument was over Sebastian saying “mong” wasn’t an ableist slur. The number of those I’ve spoken to about being careful with language such as “if [disabled person] can do it, what’s your excuse” included an argument with Mark Haskins that has left me blocked by his wife, a woman whom I admire and respect, because I couldn’t see that post, see that it was also talking about the loss of a friend, and let it go. I don’t blame her for that – I’m not sure I forgive me, either. Because I can’t watch videos or specials about rehabbing, because there’s still so much pain in me from letting go of who I was – cheerleader, dancer, actor, singer, skier, cyclist, runner, swimmer, in the gym five days a week minimum – and becoming the person for whom a couple of stairs can be an insurmountable obstacle. Because of that, I don’t let any teachable moment pass by, even when I should, to the detriment of both the people I’m speaking to and myself.
I couldn’t understand what was happening to me on Sunday, 20th January, when I knew I was headed to Pro Wrestling SOUL, and felt like I didn’t want to. This was a new show, surely I should have been excited that I’d been asked personally if I’d like to go, that this was an effort to make things accessible, that someone had taken everything I’d said and used it to make something new. But instead, I was tired and sore from the cold weather, stressed about new venue and new places to park, and an hour drive, and I just couldn’t muster any sort of pleasure for the idea of attending. I did make it to the show, and spend the first half making mental notes, taking as much in as possible, ensuring I could write a good review of it, and give feedback to a company who genuinely wanted it. And that’s the problem. I wasn’t sat there thinking “what a cool show AND I’m glad it’s accessible”. I was thinking “I’m here, I’ve got a job to do” and the wrestling was merely happening at the same time as my work. I wasn’t in the right headspace to enjoy anything.
The week had already been marred by Progress announcing that their show with Kaiju Big Battel was going to be at The Dome, a venue that I’ve had comment on the whole time Progress have been using it, and flew completely off the handle at Attack over their use of it (though Attack came back with a very good compromise, and I was very impressed by them). The email response I got about whether it would be on demand or not was “it’s unfortunate that some people can’t get in to the building. It may just be a live experience”. I didn’t really expect any better – for all that they’re one of my usual promotions, Progress seem to delight in attempting to kill me with strobe, never apologising for inaccessibility, and only allowing free carer tickets to those who sit in their designated accessible seating areas – which aren’t accessible for me whatsoever, and also do the usual thing of assuming disabled people only ever want to sit with one friend, or possibly that we only have one. But it hurt, nonetheless. “Everyone welcome unless you can’t climb stairs” would be a shit tagline, but probably truer. And I also hate that I don’t talk about this constantly, because I don’t want them to remove the access they do put in place for me. I’m essentially held silent and in minimal access in fear that even that can be taken away and no one will really care.
The thing is, I think people believe that I do this access thing because I like confrontation, or like to be angry about something – I don’t. I can’t count the number of times that doing this sort of thing leaves me in tears, or when I have to talk to a wrestler I really respect and like, and have them come back and tell me they don’t care or don’t believe me – if they respond at all. I hate that, I hate taking my trust and respect for someone and throwing it away because they can’t respect me in return. Or worse – when I keep hold of people, but never truly trust them again, and my smiles and hellos become completely false, something I do because speaking about why I don’t trust them would cause more of a fight. No, I do this access thing because until I was 18, I had no limits aside from those a woman has – and I’d grown up with those, so I considered those to be, if unfortunate, normal. And then I got ill, and I never got better, and suddenly saw all the places I couldn’t go and all the things I couldn’t be a part of, and I hated them for excluding me. Because things hadn’t, before.
For years, it didn’t matter. I was too sick to leave the house, then our best friend died and my wife and I became two ghosts as well, haunting our house because we were the only ones who could understand our pain. And then I got too ill to work, threw myself into WWE recaps, and then slowly slipped into britwres. My first show was July 2016, and if I count, I’ve now attended 58 shows since then – not bad for someone who half the time doesn’t leave their bed. And I’ve faced almost every single one like it’s a battle. I go into a show with my warpaint on, ready for everything that can and will be thrown at me, deliberately dressed and preened and made up to look less sick than I really am, to make my pain less visible. And it’s starting to show. There’s a few wrestlers – “my” boys, if you will – who can make any show worth attending for me. There’s an even larger number of whom I enjoy watching wrestle, and am glad when they’re on a card, happy to see them. But in general, I go to see friends, and I go to note down and face whatever access stuff is thrown at me. I don’t ever go in expecting no problems anymore – better to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised than to trust it’s safe and have that trust broken. I don’t trust any promotions anymore, with the exception of Riptide, who’ve never been anything but wonderful. Hell, I figured Wembley, when Progress were there, would be excellent for access, and then they showed me to a seat up a load of stairs. I still need to write about that.
And I’m tired. I’m 30 this year, the point where a lot of my illnesses slow me down further, where some start to kick into side effects, and I’ve had a few new diagnosis in the last few years, as well as some abdominal surgery and an organ removed. Some doctors have said that I’ll be lucky to make it to 40, some say 45, and I’ve been noticing that, especially with the cold weather, it seems more and more likely that I’ll need a wheelchair to leave the house for the day soon. Some of the independence I’ve been enjoying is going to start going, and when it does, I need to make sure that what I’m doing with my limited energy is something that I love. There was a point the other week, driving at 60mph along the M25, trying to eat a chicken sandwich while driving with my knees, mentally working out that I’d been up since 9am and wouldn’t be home until 1am, already in enough pain that I’d taken five extra tablets on top of my normal meds, mentally going through the three emails it had taken to get my access issues across, that I thought – never mind me paying for this experience, someone should be paying me. But wrestling isn’t my job, as much as I’ve turned it into that, and no one’s paying me to go and do things that are causing me significant emotional and physical pain. I’m not a teaching aid, and I need to stop acting like one before it drains every little drop of joy from something I love.
So, there will be fewer reviews, because doing them reminds me that the world is inaccessible, and I can’t fix it. There will be fewer new promotions seen, because having to plan for every possible issue is exhausting. And there’s going to be fewer shows overall, because I have limited energy, and limited days out, and I want to make sure I’m using them for something that I really want to see. No more “this is a promotion I always go to” or “this one’s new so I should test their access”, unless, like SOUL, they ask nicely. I just can’t do it anymore. I’m human, not a machine, and I’m a flawed human at that, struggling with everything that I do. Now wrestling is no longer a novelty, and I have a rough idea of the sort of matches I like to see, I need to be more discerning about where I go and why. Riptide is a given, because the care they give me is second to none, and they book 2/3 of my faves with alarming regularity, but Progress isn’t, because I can’t trust them with my safety. Frontline will only happen if I can stay with someone over that way, because it’s not worth the pain of a four-hour drive. SOUL will necessitate me taking the train, and them changing a few things when I write their review – which I will, I promise – before it’s worth my pain. Any other promotion will either have to have a damn good dream match, or ask me to look at their access stuff very nicely, because, in the end, this is my hobby. It’s supposed to be fun – and right now, it isn’t.