Like all of us, Holly Webster misses the arts a lot. Here, she writes about how it has conversely saved her life and made her feel unwelcome as a person who identifies as disabled.
We’ve been through a lot, you, and me. We met officially when I was 13, in a school classroom and from that point onwards, poetry became a constant companion. Helping me through thick and thin, I owe this art form a huge deal of gratitude.
Truly – without you, I don’t think I would know who I am. The experiences we’ve shared have shaped me, in lots of little ways and some that I still don’t fully understand. It hasn’t been a perfect road though… A few people abuse you and don’t see what a wonderful tool you are. It’s hard to watch.
When I was 18, I was lost and so shy. I spent a lot of time wishing that I was no longer alive and prayed that one day, I would find my place. Then, I made the leap into trying performing arts. I was the last person that you would imagine being on a stage in front of *actual* people, but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love. That first performance of an adapted version of A Christmas Carol, changed my life. It wasn’t perfect though. I saw your magical ability to represent people being misused when a British woman was cast to play a Jamaican version of Jacob Marley. It just didn’t and still doesn’t sit right with me. The human experience is wonderfully vast and diverse and everyone deserves to see themselves properly and carefully represented by you, but this just felt like a massive misuse of your ability. You deserved to be used in a more considerate manner so that people could bask in your beauty without being made to feel uncomfortable and misrepresented – I hope we can make that happen for you and for them.
In 2014, I joined a wheelchair ballroom dance team. It was an incredible experience and I will forever be grateful for it as I met some wonderful people who I will hold dear forever. However, there were a lot of people that were trying to be gatekeepers and I never felt that we were taken seriously by a lot of the outside world. One year, we went to Blackpool Tower Ballroom and were targeted by an older woman who didn’t believe that we belonged there and were a safety hazard. We were following ballroom etiquette a lot better than some of the people on legs and this just felt like an attempt to remove us as disabled people from yet another space. The attitude of: “this belongs to us” or “you can’t engage in this”, happens a lot within your world and its one of my main frustrations. Everyone should be able to access dance and the arts, regardless of their identity or social class. I also felt like there were a lot of politics involved when it came to competition and sometimes it ruined it… I wish that people, including myself at times, could have just relished in the beauty of dance and not had to think about any of the other stuff.
I wish we could sit down and talk about this together. Come up with some sort of plan to help others see how they have mistreated you. I wish you were able to tell me what you need so I could help. I want to watch you thrive. I love you and am forever indebted to you. I just hope that we as human beings realise how lucky we are and learn how to use you wisely, so that everyone can see how beautiful and special you are. Hang in there – we need you.