This is a full transcript of the February 2018 Love me love my wheels? podcast, as presented by Kate Monaghan and Simon Minty.
WARNING: The following programme involves some of the guests talking intimately about their love lives and may not be suitable for young children.
SIMON - It's the talk show from Ouch for February 2018, the month of lurve...
[music: 'It's true love']
SIMON - I'm Simon Minty.
KATE - And I'm Kate Monaghan. And yes, it's the month of Valentines, but we wanted to do something appropriately un-squidgy and not so cute. I mean what if you can't have sex, does that mean you're already out of the game before the starting gun goes off? Oo-er.
SIMON - So to speak.
KATE - What if you're transgender too and are blighted by a kind of double prejudice? And what if people see you on dating apps and are attracted to you for reasons you'd really rather they weren't, like your scars or the thought of your struggle? It does happen folks.
SIMON - We'll be talking about the bright side of Valentines too, so don't switch off. Joining us on Ouch talk show this month are journalist, equality trainer and all-round showman, Mik Scarlet. Hi there Mik.
MIK - Hello.
SIMON - You may have seen her on Ouch's Edinburgh Fringe storytelling event on your telly and iPlayer, it's Abbi Brown.
ABBI - Hi.
SIMON - Hi. You were the one talking about the nuns.
ABBI - I was, yes.
SIMON - And in Edinburgh we have Pipa Riggs who describes herself as a blind, trans crip, who's taking over the world, one tweet at a time. Hi there Pipa.
PIPA - Hi.
SIMON - Before we jump into the programme proper, so which of those situations resonated with you, our lovely guests? Mik?
MIK - Well, I remember when I became a wheelchair user at the age of 15 and lost the erectile function, that I thought that was it, game over. I soon learned that was not the case, and we live in a society that does sort of really focus on sex as being one thing, the kind of in and out thing, and it's not. But you need to learn that, and it would be nice if society focused on that more because then everyone would have a much nicer sex life.
SIMON - Abbi, how about you, the online bit?
ABBI - Yeah, I've had some really weird experiences obviously in my early 20s on Tinder like everyone else, and yeah, I'd had some incredibly weird chat up lines from boys, although they didn't come across as that.
SIMON - For example?
ABBI - Probably my favourite one was, "Can you feel below the waist? Because I've got a thing for paralysed girls."
KATE - Wow. How did that make you feel? Like, did you mind? Did you think, oh great, I am a paralysed girl or…?
ABBI - Well, I'm not a paralysed girl, so… [laughs]
SIMON - No. Do you reply to it?
ABBI - I started replying to them recently. That one I just blocked because I couldn't face it, I thought that was just so like… If the first thing someone says to you is like, "Can you feel your vagina?" basically. [laughter]
MIK - The first thing you always get when you're a male is, "Does it still work down there?" Obviously then you go, "No." And then watch them go [strangled noise].
SIMON - I mean there's times to educate and there's times you're not going to bother.
ABBI - Yeah, exactly.
SIMON - Pipa?
PIPA - Yeah, so being doubly blighted, [laughter] as it was so nicely put, the trans thing doesn't necessarily come over on things like Tinder and stuff, it is something that I do tell people, just simply because, you know, there are people out there that do still take objection - I kind of like my head on my shoulders - but as for being blind, I think that is a bigger barrier for people, because obviously there's accessibility needs that come along with that.
KATE - If you are a blind person how does Tinder work? Because Tinder is all based on looks.
PIPA - It doesn't, it doesn't, that's the thing. So basically, you know, I'm not really fussy about their looks because I can't really see them anyway. Sometimes I can use my magnifier to see people's faces, however I just tend to swipe right as much as possible because I'm in it to win it kind of thing and… [laughter]
SIMON - Play the numbers game.
PIPA - Yeah, pretty much. And yeah, if I match with people I do and if I don't I don't.
KATE - Maybe we should create a new app, the blind Tinder, Bl-inder…
SIMON - Oh…
KATE - …where it's about voices, you just do a little voice thing.
PIPA - Well you see that should be a really good thing, because you know, it's the voice that does it for me, because like even if you're really pretty but you've got a horrific voice, it's like no, it's just not going to work.
KATE - Bl-inder has just been copyrighted by Kate Monaghan.
SIMON - Kate, last month you started the show with an amazing story. How was your smear test?
KATE - It was fine, thanks very much. Yes, it was all fine.
SIMON - Whilst under a general anaesthetic?
KATE - Yes, so I had to go under general anaesthetic to have a procedure and have a smear test and things, and while I was having my pre-op appointment the nurse just presumed that I never had sex and nor would have sex. And I guess it's that perennial thing about disabilities thing, everyone thinks you are a sexless…
SIMON - It's like an evergreen subject.
KATE - Yeah, you are a sexless being. But yeah, so I was really hopeful that my wife would come with me to the operation and I could say, "This is my wife everybody, and I have sex with her," but sadly she did not come.
MIK - The thing is, that's not necessarily true, because I've been out with my wife and people have come up to us and said to her, "You're so wonderful giving up so much to be with him." And we all know what they mean.
SIMON - And that's nothing to do with your disability, Mik, is it? [laughter]
MIK - Nice people. Even if you're with someone they still think that they're some kind of angel that have obviously given up sex to be happy.
KATE -But anyway Simon, how has your month been?
SIMON - Last month we talked about exercise, I have started pilates.
KATE - Oh!
SIMON - I found someone and I asked them to come to my house for the first time, I didn't want to do a group thing because I didn't know how much I could do and what I couldn't do.
KATE - But that was the advice that you got last month wasn't it? They said, you know, "Have a one to one first and then…"
SIMON - I was exhausted. I haven't moved my body so much so quickly for quite some time, but loved it and I got a bit lightheaded at certain points but I felt really good. The next day I had a hospital appointment to check for a suspected hernia and I strode into this hospital. I was a bit scruffy, I had boots and sweatpants, but I remember thinking, I've had a hip operation, I do pilates, and I was so owning it all, I just flew in…
KATE - Nice.
SIMON - …and then they said, "You've got two hernias." And I went, "Oh, that's a bit annoying."
KATE - That's an old man thing isn't it, a hernia?
SIMON - Well I had one as a baby as well. I don't know why I've got them, I think it's not from activity, I think it's just picking up my scooter battery. It's not very glamorous is it?
KATE - So the pilates, this teacher, was she a specialist short people pilates instructor?
SIMON - No, but she was a friend of a friend, so I had an element of trust. We spent the first ten, 15 minutes talking it through. There was one question, she said, "What exercise have you done in the past?" and I said, "Well, swimming," and she said, "How often do you go swimming?" I said, "Well, I said the past, I haven't done it for ten years, but…" But there was that relaxed relationship, that was the bit that was really helpful.
KATE - Nice. And are you going to go to a class now?
SIMON - No, I want to do another two, three, one to one sessions until I get quite good at it and then I'll go to the class and expose myself. Mik, you're…?
MIK - Yes, I was just saying, I've just started doing sit yoga and it's completely changed my life. I just basically downloaded a how to do six moves sitting in your chair, for computer people, like at work and I use them and then I've adapted it and made up my own routine and it takes about five, ten minutes to do each morning and each night. And I used to have really bad arthritis in my shoulders and now I can raise my hands right above my head.
SIMON - Which you're doing right now.
MIK - I am, I'm waving my hands in the air like I just don't care. So it's really great. It's brilliant. We're all getting fit. We've hit that age where we're worried about getting fit.
SIMON - I really like pilates, that wellbeing was a really good thing. Abbi?
ABBI - You should try having a go at the group classes, because one of my favourite things to do is go to group yoga and just watch everyone's face when I get out of my chair onto the mat. [laughter]
SIMON - But hold up, do you have to know a few exercises though before you do it?
ABBI - Yeah, I've been doing yoga for a while so I know what I'm doing, but the instructor doesn't know that I know what I'm doing.
SIMON - What do they think when you jump out of your chair?
ABBI - I don't know what they're thinking…
SIMON - This yoga's really good!
KATE - Yeah, magically cured you. Anyway, back to our guests. I mean let's talk about the love life thing then. Now, this is a big question.
SIMON - [sniggers]
KATE - What?
SIMON - Nothing.
KATE - I'm bringing back the subject to lurve, Simon, because we are all about the lurve this month. Is it more difficult for disabled people to find a partner? Now there are always going to be some people who do it effortlessly…
SIMON - Jack Binstead.
KATE - Exactly. Well Jack Binstead was on the show last month, and as he said, he has never…
SIMON - Never had a problem.
KATE - …never had a problem. And Simon Minty, I mean you're never without a handsome woman on your arm are you?
SIMON - I do have problems, it's not that easy. But thanks.
KATE - But is that a personality or a disability thing? [laughter] But that's a question, is it still harder for disabled people to find love? I mean, Abbi, you're on the look out for love at the moment I've been told, so how's that going for you?
SIMON - Big smile. [laughter]
ABBI - I mean dating is weird. Dating is especially weird in an age of apps and Tinder and Bumble, and when you're dating with a disability it just adds to the weirdness. But I don't think it's necessarily harder, it's just got that extra added layer of things that can go slightly funny.
MIK - Yeah, I mean I advise people for Enhance the UK's Love Lounge on this kind of stuff, and I always advise don't use apps. I'm old, very old. And I remember that I used to meet people in pubs and bars and discos and clubs and things and places, face to face, and you didn't get that moment of going, "Oh, you're disabled," because they could tell. To me that's how you do it, you meet people and then you have common interests. You know, I've met people at gigs and pubs and clubs, that's what I did all the while, my life was clubbing and pubbing.
KATE - You can't… You cannot…
SIMON - I like your style but there's… not now.
KATE - You cannot say don't use apps, this is the way people meet now.
SIMON - Or in the terms of actually using an app, I had a friend recently just posted and she's a short woman, didn't mention it, but mentioned it before the date and the person got very angry and said, "You've kept this from me." But she said, "But if I'd mentioned it up front then I don't know what your motivations are." So how do you balance this?
ABBI - So I had a few men that cancelled on me as soon as I said, "By the way, I'm coming in a wheelchair, just so you don't think I've had a terrible accident on the way." And so I stopped doing that and I put up photos up front that have me in my wheelchair, and now I have this whole other situation where people message me saying, "Are you in a wheelchair?" I have a stock response which is, "I think I might be, yeah."
SIMON - So you have little witty answers.
MIK - Like the Double Take Brothers. "Oh God, yes I am!"
ABBI - Yeah, oh God!
SIMON - I learnt a phrase on last month's show, this thing, ghosting. So do sometimes people just disappear?
ABBI - Yeah. If I said, "By the way I use a wheelchair" it would just… you know, that would be the end of the conversation.
MIK - You see, the thing is the reason why I say that is because for many people, like we are quite confident, but for many people that destroys them, and so if you can't do it, going out and meeting people, taking up hobbies, having pastimes, things you enjoy, going out and doing that and then you meet people who also enjoy what you do, they get to know you and then you fall in love, like normal people. You don't do all this online rubbish, I don't know you, it's all really just meeting up for sex. And the thing is, you end up with weirdos who are into you because you're disabled, people that are doing it, "And I don't really mind, I'm doing it, I kind of, I wanted to see," or the freaks that just run away.
KATE - I totally disagree. Pipa?
PIPA - The thing is, pubs are fine if you can see and you can tolerate the noise level and you can actually see the person you want to hit on, but having apps is much more accessible. And that's coming from a blind person, so you know.
KATE - I totally agree. Now, Pipa, when you're on your Tinder you've got quite a lot to sort of explain there I guess, because not only are you disabled but you're also transgender and then you're on Tinder, how do you get that across in your photos? Or do you just wait until there are any messages?
SIMON - Is there an emoji?
PIPA - Well exactly.
MIK - Is there an emoji!
PIPA - Well I suppose there's the monkey covering eyes. [laughter]
SIMON - Very good.
PIPA - My friend warns me about that one all the time. On Tinder I tend just to say I've got a health problem and that I'm genderqueer, so there's no kind of expectations of me being cisgender almost.
KATE - Cisgender being that you're the gender that you were born with?
PIPA - Yeah, so cisgender would be like if you're born as female you're identifying as a woman kind of thing, and then trans would be anything other than that.
KATE - And is it harder to get people to get over the disability thing or the trans thing?
PIPA - Well this thing, I'm not too sure, because when I do decide to open up my profile to guys then I'm anxious that it's possibly a fetish thing with being trans, not so much with being blind, because that is just a problem, men and women.
SIMON - Brilliant. Thank you, Pipa, we will delve into this a little bit more later.
KATE - Yes, so many questions.
SIMON - Dropping into us by phone now is Ellie Darkins, author of many a Mills & Boon love story. I want to sing [sings] the Mills & Boons Rose is the rose of romance.
KATE - I actually don't know what you're talking about.
SIMON - It's a theme tune for an advert, okay. Ellie, you wrote a book called 'Holiday with the Mystery Italian' whose main protagonist is disabled. Tell us about him, tell us about the plot.
ELLIE - Well, the plot of this story is my hero and heroine meet on a dating show, it's like a celebrity version of a dating show, and the heroine really doesn't want to be picked because she doesn't want to date anybody, and the hero's sort of intrigued by how pretty she is and picks her and then they get whisked away to his luxury villa in Sicily, because things like that happen in Mills & Boon.
KATE - And you don't have a disability as the author?
ELLIE - No, that's right.
KATE - But you chose to write with a disabled character in the forefront, so what made you do that?
ELLIE - The character sort of came before the disability, I knew quite a lot about him, I knew that he liked to collect experiences and he was really outgoing and I thought about what could have sort of made him like that, what might have happened in his past. And I stumbled upon the idea that he'd had an accident of some sort and then sort of playing around with the idea that that accident had had sort of physical hangovers as well as emotional ones.
And my brother has a disability and reliably informs me that it has never got in the way of his dating life. So I sort of started playing more with this idea of him having a disability but it being very much sort of incidental to the story, that it wouldn't be a big part of his conflict, it wouldn't really get in the way of the relationship, he was just a character who happened to be disabled.
SIMON - It must have been a fun chat with your brother about the sex life. My sister and I don't talk about that sort of thing too much. Was it a bit weird?
ELLIE - Yes, he overshares, I really know far more than I want to. [laughs]
SIMON - But if it helps him… I love the fact that the character was in your head as well, it sounds almost like you know this person.
ELLIE - Yes, it's quite creepy really. The characters know far more than I do.
KATE - Let's hear a little excerpt from your book.
ELLIE - Yes, so this when Amber who's our heroine, she's a journalist in London, when she sees him for the first time as they sort of do the big reveal on the dating show. So, 'The screen rolled back with a wobble and a creak and then she saw him and realised she'd been right. It was him the athlete, the brain had stopped and ogled and then apparently played half naked images of in some deviant part of her mind, just in case it came in useful one day.
His dark hair, not slicked back this time but rebelling from a side parting, showed a hint of red, a dash of chilli hidden in the chocolate, and the shoulders dominated the rest of his body, making his waist look narrow. He had abs that would make a lesser woman dribble. His wheelchair was small and space age looking and the least interesting thing about this mountain of a man. An open shirt collar showed a triangle of tanned skin below his neck, and for just a moment Amber remembered that bronze torso thrust out of the pool by powerful forearms.'
KATE - Ooh, hello. An incidental wheelchair there.
SIMON - I got a little bit lost then. And Mik Scarlet was moving his body quite a lot to say, "This is me, this is me."
MIK - It's based on me obviously, yes.
KATE - Clearly.
ELLIE - Well, clearly.
KATE - So how did Mills & Boon react when you sort of went to them and said, "Actually my protagonist is going to have a disability"?
ELLIE - They didn't bat an eyelid and I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I took it to them, but yes, they said as long as he's sexy then go for it.
SIMON - Mills & Boon have sort of sub genres don't they, there isn't a disability genre that you know of is there?
ELLIE - There isn't no, so this falls with the True Love series, so we're very much about the emotional journey for characters and lots of emotional conflict, not so much about what happens in the bedroom, that's all behind closed doors.
SIMON - And do you think him being a billionaire added to his sexiness?
ELLIE - Well, I think it generally does.
SIMON - It's good to know.
KATE - They're always sexy.
ELLIE - And it does also help as well with the disability side of things, I could give him every piece of equipment that I wanted to, he even has a home sort of designed entirely around his chair. So he goes jet skiing, they go up Mount Etna and he uses a hand cycle, it really just meant that I could do anything that I would normally do.
SIMON - And did you have to research this, what he could or couldn't do? How did you find that out?
ELLIE - I did lots of research, so one of the main things I had to do was decide exactly what his injury was and what sort of impact that would have had, what sort of range of motion he had, what sensations he had, and once I'd sort of got that quite clear in my mind I spent quite a lot of time on forums where people with very similar injuries were talking to other people who had recently been injured or had been living with their disability for a while to find out sort of what information they were passing on to people who were new to this world.
SIMON - So that was you that was lurking, I wondered who that was.
ELLIE - And I got so much amazing information from those forums.
SIMON - So Ellie, we have a… Well, for Ouch listeners this is a very special moment, Kate has written her own disability-infused love story. Ellie, would you be willing to take a listen, maybe give us some feedback, a critique?
ELLIE - Yes, fab. I can't wait to hear it.
KATE - Okay guys. If you're ready.
ELLIE - Deep breath.
[music: 'It's true love']
KATE - 'It's been a long day wheeling around the big city from meeting to meeting. As a high-flying executive I often get offered a car but my long fought for independence is so ingrained in me that I resist the offers. I forget they're offering me cars because I'm now rich and important and not because I'm different. I wheel into my kitchen and he's there, all strong armed and beautiful. He has that look on his face and I know what he wants, but I'm so out of spoons today that even the idea of spooning is tiring me out. His face swoops down to mine and kisses me long and hard and somehow I suddenly melt into him.
Before I have a chance to think he's picked me up out of my chair and he's carrying me into the bedroom. As much as I hate being carried my arms appreciate the break and somehow he knows that. He lays me on the bed and starts kissing me. First my lips and then my neck and I start pulling his t-shirt over his head. He grabs at mine and tug it. It gets stuck and I beg him to pull it harder. He does and I hear that old sound. He's dislocated my shoulder.
SIMON - Okay, I think we're all a little bit shell-shocked around the table here.
MIK - That was going very well and then I mean…
SIMON - We had to stop.
RIK - And then it got real all too quickly.
KATE - Yeah, well that's how it goes in the bedroom.
SIMON - We had to stop you Kate, we… Ellie, are you there?
KATE - Do I have a career ahead of me Ellie? What do you think?
ELLIE - Yes, well it was a surprise ending. It wasn't what I was expecting.
SIMON - [laughs] And the dislocated shoulder.
MIK - I'm not sure it's very Mills & Boon.
KATE - No? Do people not dislocate in Mills & Boon?
ELLIE - I'm not sure I've seen a dislocated shoulder before so it's new and that's always exiting.
KATE - Great.
ELLIE - But there was lots of emotional conflict. I think it's got a future, I think you should stick with it.
KATE - Well great. Well, when Ouch kicks me out I'll know that I've got somewhere to go to at least. Well thanks for coming on and chatting to us.
SIMON - Thank you, Ellie.
ELLIE - My pleasure, thanks for having me.
KATE - Thank you.
SIMON - That was Ellie Darkins, author of 'Holiday with the Mystery Italian'.
KATE - Coming up.
[music: 'Benefits', Alan Clay]
KATE - That was 'Benefits' by Alan Clay, taken from the show he's touring from February 2nd. More details later when we play out with his track in full.
SIMON - Still to come, we're beside ourselves, is the disability love dilemmas game. But before that, Mik, you're here to do the social and news roundup in a minute, but tell us about the disability agony uncle work, you mentioned this, that you do for a website, Enhance the UK?
MIK - Yeah, Enhance the UK have a web page as part of their website called The Love Lounge, and myself and Emily Rose Yates give… We're the non-expert sexperts because we're not trained, we kind of basically give our idea from our own experience. And people write to us with different problems, some might be, "I'm finding that I'm getting rejected on apps, what do I do?" you know, and then I become an old man and go, "It wasn't like that in my day!"
SIMON - Go and meet people.
MIK - Yeah, go and meet people. I mean we've had some really graphic sexual questions that we've researched and helped with, and it's kind of just, if you've got questions go online and look for The Love Lounge at Enhance the UK and if you think that myself or Emily are the kind of people that you'd like to get advice from please contact us because I know when I was young there was nothing and I was lucky, I just fell into finding meeting people that helped me. And that's kind of what we want to do, we want to make sure that if you've got a question we give our… We give what we think, like I said, I'm not an expert.
SIMON - Yes, it's your instinct and experience. I mean typically, give us a couple of the sort of questions that you see more frequently.
MIK - Lots of people genuinely sort of hit puberty and go, will I be able to have sex? Because parents genuinely get a bit nervous and don't talk about it and their kids don't know how to bring it up. And you don't get sex education at school that goes, "Oh by the way, if you're disabled you do it like this."
KATE - And what kind of disabilities do you…?
MIK - Everything. I'm giving advice at the minute to a couple, one's got cerebral palsy and one's got SMA, and we're trying to work out ways of making it so they can do it, if you see what I mean. So I'm researching…
SIMON - Oh, they're a couple.
MIK - Yeah, they're a couple, and so we're trying to find out if there's equipment that they can use to make it easier for them. It's everything from how to do it, what to do, is there stuff that will make it easier? And Emily's fantastic, she gives sort of the female point of view, I give the male point of view, and also she's young, she uses apps, she does all that young thing stuff, and I'm the old man going, "Oh this is what it was like…"
SIMON - And is it mostly physical rather than emotional, or a bit of both?
MIK - It's everything. People write to me and say they've been dumped and someone mentioned that it was because they were disabled and their heart broke and what should they do, and all that kind of thing. How they face rejection. Some people just write and say, "How do I feel confident?"
KATE - Thank you for that. Yeah, we'll come back to the sex and lurve in a moment, but this month has been very busy for news. What's been going on Mik?
MIK - Well, one of the big stories that was covered in a lot of the newspapers and on Victoria Derbyshire Live and all these kind of shows, was about Sally Reynolds who was going to see Little Mix with her daughter, she's deaf, and four months before the show she requested to the promotor, "Could I have a BSL interpreter there so that I can share the experience with my daughter, we can see the show?"
SIMON - Little Mix are a popular young band…
MIK - They are a popular young act that young people like. [laughs]
KATE - Did you feel the need that we needed to explain that?
SIMON - I think it's important that people know who they are.
MIK - Yeah, I'm with Simon, I'm the same, I was like little who? I thought they were called little minx. And the promotor said, "No," and then they said, "Oh, we'll give you your money back," and then eventually she took an injunction out and said, "Look, you do need to do this," so they did it. Then she arrived only to find that they'd only provided BSL for the headline band and not for the support act.
KATE - Right.
MIK - So then she said, "Well I'm going to do an equal opportunities sort of thing and take it under the Equality Act, because I feel that I have been discriminated against because I didn't get the full experience." Now, social media world has jumped on it. The majority of people are calling her horrible names and being really horrible about her and saying things like, "Well, of course you don't enjoy music, you're deaf," and stuff like this. And it just to me shows just how ignorant the public are about, one, being disabled and, two, what the law says. I mean I've…
KATE - Let's just break this down a little bit. So people are saying, "You're deaf, you can't enjoy music concerts."
MIK - Yes.
KATE - For argument's sake, tell me how a deaf person enjoys a music concert. For a lot of people you just think, well that's not for you, like being in an art gallery is not for a blind person.
MIK - That was one of the tweets that…
SIMON - You're playing devil's advocate.
MIK - Tweets that were sort of like saying how foolish it was, were saying, "Well whatever next, do you think blind people are going to get an audio description of paintings?" It was like, yes, that's what the audio description is. I mean, one, deaf people are not all in a world of silence, so many people can hear and they can also feel it. I mean deaf rave has been massive since the '90s.
SIMON - They can hear the thump and the beat and the vibration, and the interpreter is giving you the lyrics.
MIK - Yeah, it's giving you the lyrics, so basically allowing you to have the full experience.
SIMON - And a good interpreter almost makes it a performance themselves, they're with the music as well aren't they?
MIK - And the thing is, promoters should have been providing British Sign Language at gigs above a certain size since the mid '90s. I mean I've played gigs in bands I was in in the '90s where we had interpreters, it wasn't a big deal. Bands like…
KATE - Were you at Wembley? Did you play Wembley?
MIK - No.
KATE - Oh, okay.
MIK - No, these were little gigs and that's what I mean, is that once you get past a certain size of venue…
SIMON - What is a certain size?
MIK - Well I mean personally if I was advising I'd say places like the Hammersmith Apollo or whatever it's called now. I'd think anything above 2,000 I think you kind of would expect is that you should be able to request it. Then the tour promoter should have budgeted for that in the tour and then hire a BSL interpreter for the gig that you've requested it.
SIMON - Well hang on. I've seen opera and they have subtitles now and that's great.
MIK - Well this you see is it, is that what's happened is is all the way down the line it's been broken, because Little Mix should have said, "Right, how can we make our gig accessible?" Then their management should have said, "How can we make their gig accessible?" And then the record company should, but the last person on the line is the promoter, and the promoter is the person who does have… If no one else has done it part of their job is to make sure the experience is accessible. And this is a very easy fix. You're talking about one or two people hired to stand at the corner of the stage and sign the lyrics.
KATE - Can I just ask, Abbi, you were deaf when you were younger weren't you?
ABBI - Yes.
KATE - Did you go to gigs? Did you have those kinds of opportunities?
ABBI - So I can speak sign language but I never spoke sign language in my day to day life. I became deaf really when I was early teens, so exactly when you're getting into music, all my friends were getting into music. I used to go to all the gigs and all the events, all the parties, just like everyone else. I love feeling the vibrations and I still… I'm losing my hearing again now and I still really enjoy like standing next to the speakers if I'm in a club. And as much as I can put my hearing aids in and I can hear the music I also really enjoy taking them out and feeling the vibration, it's equally a sensory experience that I enjoy.
SIMON - Can you describe that experience? What is it that you like? I feel like we're going back into Mills & Boon now, but what is it that you like about that?
ABBIE - I think it's just another way of experiencing beat and rhythm and I can feel all the different pitches of the music and stuff, if I'm next to a really good speaker.
SIMON - Mik?
MIK - Why is it that when disabled people ask for equality they're being considered some kind of awful person? I think that's horrible.
SIMON - I saw the one where the person said, "What if there were 2,000 deaf people turned up you'd have to have 2,000 sign language interpreters?"
MIK - Yes, exactly. You'd be squeezing past the interpreters going, "Come on, I've got a dance routine." I mean really what they should have done was said how can we make it inclusive? Why don't we have all the lyrics shone on a board so everyone can read them? Then maybe get the dancers to put BSL in the dance and have signed song. That would be fantastic. But the scary bit is this has made Little Mix's name synonymous with exclusion. If they'd have got it right Little Mix could have made it so that they were the band that broke the barriers. And I think that's the key, people miss out on this wonderful chance to be the ones that change things.
SIMON - Big Mix Up. That's what we call them now.
MIK - That's it, Big Mix Up. Whay!
KATE - Talking of…
SIMON - It seems weird that they're so angry. Kate, sorry?
KATE - I mean there is somebody who is getting it right though, a pop star who is doing right by her fans. Tell us about her.
MIK - There is. And I will now reach for my phone because I'm going to try and read it, it's Lovato. Lov-ay-to, Lov-ar-to?
KATE - Demi Lovato.
MIK - Lovato. [sings] You say Lov-ar-to when I say Lov-ay-to. Demi Lovato is offering therapy at her US tour. Because she herself has battled with mental illness and she has had eating disorders in the past and stuff she thinks it's important that people going to her gig can go and share. And she has little sessions before the gig starts where people go and they feel that they can get support. And it's just the opposite flip side. You know what I was saying about good publicity? Now, this is good publicity. Of course there are some people that are going, oh how ridiculous but…
KATE - So hold on, so at her concert there's going to be a little room that you can go in and have a bit of therapy before you walk in?
MIK - Yeah.
SIMON - I'd probably miss the gig to stay in the therapy room.
KATE - How can she afford to do that?
MIK - I get the feeling you may be hoofed out. Well this is the point, the point is once you get past a certain size of band, right, you can do anything. You have so much money available to you, you aren't going to be… It's what? One, two people in a room? You could say come into the room I'm changing in and share my rider. Let's all have free drinks and cakes and fruit and red M&Ms, it's simple.
KATE - A bit like it is here.
MIK - Yes exactly, the rider is immense here. But it's flipping it, it's saying I want my fans to have a really whole experience.
KATE - Pipa, would you go and have a little bit of therapy before a gig do you reckon?
PIPA - Probably not because I don't think I'd be able to get there for the sheer anxiety in the first place.
KATE - Well would it not help? Would it not help thinking well actually I could get there and then I can talk to somebody about that anxiety…?
SIMON - A quick session before?
PIPA - Yeah, I don't know because then it also might give the delusion of support where the support might not actually be. So like if you need kind of more in-depth support and that kind of opens up something, you know?
SIMON - It's a good point. I mean interpreter is itself an end isn't it, whereas therapy, you could open something.
MIK - I'm not entirely sure it's going to be that kind of therapy. From the sound of it it's like a lot of people getting in a room.
SIMON - Yeah, okay.
MIK - It's a group session. But I think one of the things is, say you were nervous about going to a gig, say the band put it out online saying, "Hey, anyone nervous about going to a gig let's form a group and then you could all support each other, go to the gig together, as a group. We'll make sure there's somewhere for you to go that's safe and secure before the gig. You go to the gig, if you feel nervous there's somewhere to go during the gig, or after the gig to get together and then if you need any help we'll help you get home." That's the kind of help that opens up to people…
PIPA - For sure, yeah.
MIK - Exactly, and that's what I mean. This is the thing, it's a rolling programme and what people should be doing is understanding that we're striving to get to a world where everyone has the chance to experience everything, and it's shocking…
PIPA - I don't think we would have even heard of the Little Mix thing if there wasn't an interpreter. I mean if there had been an interpreter I don't think we would have heard about it.
MIK - No exactly, it would have been not… Well it would have been a news story, because what would have happened is that they'd have gone, "Hey, Little Mix have got an interpreter on their tour, isn't that fantastic?" and it would have been publicised. And this is what happens all the time, is people don't see the positive publicity in being inclusive.
KATE - It might not get the front page of 'The Sun' though, "Little Mix is lovely and inclusive."
MIK - Well, Damon, our wonderful, esteemed editor, got the front page of 'The Sun' for being the first visually impaired producer at the BBC, so come on!
SIMON - And not a flattering one.
MIK - It wasn't a flattering one, no, but you know, it's 'The Sun', what do you expect.
KATE - Thank you Mik, that was…
MIK - Interesting. [laughs]
KATE - Illuminating, from you as ever.
MIK - Thank you.
KATE - Mik's trying to do the down with the kids social news of the bands and things. [laughter]
MIK - Just to finish off the picture, you've got to understand, it's been a bit like watching a monkey try to operate a phone this morning, as I'm trying to get all the different things up on my phone. Poor Kate's been going, "Don't let it vibrate, don't let it vibrate."
KATE - I know, we have to keep him in line sometimes. That was his phone not vibrating, Simon. Okay?
SIMON - Yes, I know.
MIK - Yes.
KATE - Okay? Anyway, it's now time for a disability love dilemma.
SIMON - We've been waiting for this.
KATE - Oh yes. Would you like to take the reins with a dilemma or would you like me to?
SIMON - Listener, Kate just did that eye thing where they look you up and down and I feel somewhat intimidated now.
KATE - Oh yes.
SIMON - Oh, stop it! Hang on, have I got to read this?
KATE - I'm saying, would you like to take the reins of the reading, or would you like me to?
SIMON - I'd much rather be a participant.
KATE - Okay fine, right. So I'm going to read to you a dilemma and Mik, Abbi and Pipa, I'd like all of you to let me know how you respond. And maybe you as well Simon.
SIMON - I come in at the end.
KATE - Yeah. Here we go. So, love dilemma. You're disabled, in fact you're you. You're a big fan of a particular rock band from your home town and hang out on their Facebook group quite a lot. You get talking to another fan whose profile picture looks just amazing. After a few short days you're off the forum and just texting between yourselves, you're getting on famously. You check the locks room for messages all the time, you find out that you share a favourite film. You both went to Cornwall at the age of seven, and you're delighted to discover you both adore salted caramel cheesecake because… who doesn't?
It's surely a sign that there's a cosmic connection, and something big is going to develop. [laughter] And then he or she says to you, "Hey, how about we Facetime?" Calamity! If they were to catch a glimpse of you on video they'd almost certainly know you're disabled. You only have a few seconds to come up with some kind of response. Quick, what are you going to do?
PIPA - Tell them to call instead because, you know, if I'm on Facetime my phone's probably going to be somewhere above my head rather than on my face. [laughter]
KATE - So Pipa, you'd say, "Call me, don't Facetime."
PIPA - Yeah.
KATE - But won't they then think you're a catfish, they can't quite believe you are who you say you are?
PIPA - Yeah, but to be fair I probably would have told them by now anyway, so…
KATE - Abbi, how about you?
ABBI - I'm too anxious to talk to someone I've not met on the phone to be honest. So I would probably say continue texting.
KATE - But it's video.
ABBI - Too much.
SIMON - It's too much…
KATE - Too much? Too much too soon.
SIMON - I agree, it is quite a leap. Texting's a nice safe place.
ABBI - No. I'm a millennial, I grew up in the age of texting, I can't do phone calls.
SIMON - But do you do a Facetime or a phone call before you would meet someone though?
ABBI - No.
SIMON - [gasps]
PIPA - Oh, I would.
KATE - What would you say, you'd say no?
ABBI - I'd probably come up with an excuse, I have a lot of excuses...
KATE - What's your excuse?
ABBI - My hearing aid's broken.
KATE - Oh, but that's revealing your disability.
ABBI - That's true.
MIK - You see I would just have said it from the start, the idea that, I mean without being funny, you know, on all of my social things there's a wheelchair somewhere. And even if I did Facetime and they didn't know I would definitely do it from a sexy angle. I was told by Sam Rink that you have to put the camera up…
KATE - Up high, yeah.
MIK - And make sure you look sexy and I'd have the wheelchair in the background, and I'd be like, "Hey, how you doing?"
PIPA - But if you're giving your number out before you're telling somebody you're disabled then maybe you've got a problem with oversharing as well.
KATE - Maybe. I don't think Abbi is… No, I think Abbi just doesn't want to talk to people on the phone.
SIMON - Well no, that's the millennial bit that you go, well don't be so silly. And I joke that you text somebody and then they call you, I go, "I texted you deliberately."
KATE - I know, because I don't want to speak to you on the phone, thank you very much.
SIMON - Yes, exactly.
ABBI - I think it's aggressive.
KATE - Yeah.
SIMON - Leave me alone.
KATE - Okay, interesting. Interesting answers.
SIMON - Nice bit of reading though again Kate.
KATE - Oh, thank you very much.
SIMON - We enjoyed that.
KATE - Yeah. Now Pipa, let's chat to you. Now you are 28, and you've been Pipa for ten years. You're a trans woman and prior to that you were a heterosexual man. You live in Dunfermline and your Facebook relationship status reads, it's complicated.
PIPA - Yeah, pretty much. Well I think heterosexual man's putting it a bit strong, I'd say heterosexual male. I don't think I was desperately convincing. So I am with somebody and I have been with them for ten years, I've been married for five. What makes it more complicated is we recently decided that we would kind of open things up and that we would try to explore things and we'd be more kind of polyamorous. So it's kind of thinking the fact that not one person can be everything, so if you're kind of looking for your best friend, your counsellor, your sexual relationship with all the same person then it may be a bit much for one person to deal with.
KATE - Now let's talk a little bit about being blind and transgender first, before we come back to the big relationship stuff. When did you make the kind of decision that you wanted to identify as a woman, and what was that like?
PIPA - When. So I can't exactly say when I made the decision, if it is indeed a decision, but I kind of came out to my partner about a month or so after we started living together, and that was in 2008, and then I came out to my family later that year and more so in 2009.
SIMON - That's quite special. Was there something about your partner that you felt very comfortable talking to them about this? After a month.
PIPA - Well it was after a month of living together. I don't know, I think if it was something I was going to do it was best to be kind of open about it from an early point so it wasn't such a problem.
KATE - And I have this theory and it is just my theory, I don't know if it's realistic or not, but I think there's more queer disabled people than queer people perhaps in our world. Because I think that in some respects, maybe if you're a disabled person you're already seen as a bit different, so making the leap to then be different in a sexuality…
SIMON - Well if a ((0:37:25?)) with the outside is already an outsider so you…
KATE - Yes, so why not…?
PIPA - Yeah, possibly.
KATE - Did you find that it was maybe slightly easier to tell people you were trans because you'd already faced discrimination and stuff because of your disability, or do you not think it made any difference and it was hard enough anyway?
PIPA - Well there's still the potential there for rejection, you know, just because you're already disabled it doesn't mean to say the kind of potential from family and stuff is taken away for rejection, but generally it's my disability still that causes the biggest problems, rather than gender identity.
KATE - So it's the disability that people have more struggle with?
PIPA - Yeah.
KATE - Okay. Now I'm going to ask a very…
SIMON - Let's continue with these questions.
KATE - Yeah, let's continue with these difficult questions. The ones that everyone's going to hate me for asking, but…
PIPA - It's fine.
KATE - I mean, being a blind person, I'm going to ask the question that all blind people hate, like how much do you care about your appearance? Because you can't see.
SIMON - But is there something more about the transgender bit that you make an extra effort?
PIPA - Yeah, for sure. So I think maybe some blind women kind of go, "Oh well, you know, I'm blind, I can't really do makeup, that's okay, people will just have to accept that." For me however, it's like well it's important because it's then part of my gender expression, so my outward kind of gender to be read, and I will go to the extra kind of levels.
KATE - Yeah, so I mean tell me about the kind of clothes you wear now and like how much makeup do you put on?
PIPA - Okay, so today because I'm really lazy I've just got a nice comfy pair of trousers on, my trainers and a nice zipper and a t-shirt that says femmy across it. But I'm also a feminist. So generally that's my kind of thing. And I mean we're in Scotland, it doesn't often get warm, but when it does I will put on a dress or whatever I fancy.
KATE - Nice. And one of our team, Lucy, she's a blind beauty blogger who blogs all about makeup. Do you go through her tutorials? Have you had a look at her stuff?
PIPA - Yeah. No. [laughter]
KATE - Are you into much makeup?
PIPA - I do do makeup, I'm pretty crafty with eyeliner, eye shadow, you know, lip liner, lipstick, lip gloss, you name it I can pretty much do it.
KATE - And what was the reaction of your surgeon like? Because I hear that you're probably one of the first blind people to go through gender reassignment surgery.
PIPA - Well certainly in the UK that's the impression I got anyway from the surgeon, because he asked me, "Like I've never done this on a blind person before, how will you deal with certain aspects of the aftercare?" And I just pointed out, you know, it's my eyes that don't work, not my hands. And yet again if I can read braille I can certainly take care of…
KATE - Your down belows.
PIPA - Yeah.
KATE - Mik?
MIK- I grew up in the '80s where we were all a lot more fluid than possibly people are now, and we didn't fall into categories. I wore more makeup than any of the girls I went out with and I…
SIMON - We have tribes. You mean gender categories?
MIK - Yes, and especially with the New Romantic and the kind of more alternative goth themes and like one of my best mates, Manuel, only dressed as a woman continuously. So kind of I'm used to the whole thing.
KATE - When you're looking for love or a partner or a hook up are you looking for a female or a male, or does it not matter?
PIPA - I'm looking for anything and everything, as long as they're a decent person and they can hold a conversation I don't really care.
KATE - Okay.
SIMON - And a good voice.
PIPA - Yeah.
KATE - So where are you looking then?
PIPA - Well, Tinder and that's pretty much it to be fair, because I'm a bit of a tight wad so I refuse to pay for things.
SIMON - You get what you pay for, be careful Pipa.
KATE - And what's the dating scene like in Dunfermline then?
PIPA - Well if I was to flick open Tinder I'd be lucky if I got anything within a, well 20 kilometres or 15 miles-ish. So it's pretty much Edinburgh, Dundee, St Andrews, with it being a big uni town.
KATE - Yeah, it's a fascinating subject. I think disability and homosexuality is one that's kind of been explored quite a lot and people are comfortable with.
MIK - I think that the idea of being both, having your feet in both camps, intersectionality, is a whole ballgame that people haven't really explored, so it's fantastic.
PIPA - Well it's always having different bodies ultimately.
KATE - Well I mean I experienced my first glimpse of overt homophobia the other day, and I've had disability hate towards me before, yeah. It's which hurts more, and I think I was prepared more for the disability stuff and then when the homophobia stuff came I was like wow, I'm actually quite surprised.
SIMON - I think we need therapy before this show.
MIK - It's funny right, because for me from my age it was the other way round. Being disabled and wearing lots of makeup with lots of gay mates we got loads of hassle for being gay and no one ever came up and went, "Oy, cripple." No one. So it's really weird how society has changed.
KATE - Yeah, it's very interesting. Well thank you very much for being here everybody, we really appreciate it, for our lurve show. Luurve. Thank you very much Mik.
MIK - Thank you.
KATE - Thank you, Abbi.
ABBI - Thank you.
KATE - And thank you Pipa, thank you for being so open with us.
PIPA - No probs.
KATE - Your production team today have been Helen Weaver, Lucy Edwards, and the studio manager is James Birtwistle. The producer was Damon Rose.
SIMON - Tweet @bbcouch. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook. Don't forget there is a podcast on this feed every week, including the return of Robyn, Jamie and Lion.
KATE - Woo-hoo!
SIMON - Very popular. Like us, share us, and for goodness sake, leave us a review on whatever podcast service that you use.
KATE - Music this month is from Alan Clay, a learning-disabled comedian and rapper who hails from Leeds. The track we're going to hear is from Skip Rap, his solo show, now touring, which examines what it's like to be cast aside, treated badly, and how to defy expectations. For more go to Facebook and search for Skip Rap. But for now, good bye.
SIMON - Bye.
[music: 'Benefits', Alan Clay]