Lithium Premieres The Aquadolls' "Suck On This"

Be grateful you have any space here at all. 

The whole world is telling womxn to, essentially, GTFO: of politics, music, art, activism, science, everything ever. The whole world is telling womxn, especially girls, especially girls of color, to be grateful for the space they have, that tiny, lukewarm, or even ice-cold pocket of cultural real estate, to sit down and shut up, to purse our lips and be what we’re expected to be, nothing more, not to over-assert ourselves or our hunger, our creativity, our changemaking. We of course must be overjoyed with a sliver, a hangnail validation, a space we can barely fit into at all. If we’re to enter these spaces at all, we must be polite and eternally, unequivocally thankful, even to our oppressors, to the systems that perpetuate and glamorize such oppression. 

But womxn are fed the fuck up. In politics, music, art, activism, science, everything ever. Music, in particular, has sharpened its teeth and rearranged the atoms of the industry, with womxn crushing every paradigm and expectation pushed toward them. One of those bands is The Aquadolls. Lead singer and writer Melissa Brooks originally started the band in 2014, but made a comeback in 2018 featuring a host of new band members, including Jackie Proctor, Keilah Nina, and Kate Rose. They released their first album Bleach 7 on a self-made record label and released their second album the same year. This is a rock band composed of womxn unafraid to unhinge their music from easy listening, a powerfulness laced with irony and sarcasm and sweltering feeling in all of their songs. 

The Aquadolls don’t alleviate my rage, because that isn’t their job. They transcribe it into art, into a new canon of brazenness. Their new song “Suck on This” invokes the raw pink of a blister. You can feel the influence of Hole’s Live Through This with every word, Courtney Love seemingly inches away from this song, that hoarse beauty of her voice—like a screwdriver in your chest—reverberating in The Aquadolls’ sound. To compare every womxn-led rock band to Hole is reductive, of course, but that clawing-open sound really does feel like an homage to their music. 

When I forget to take my antidepressants, rage grows in me like a crooked bone. Anger too brackish and abrupt to understand wells up and makes itself unignorable, a lesion where there’s usually a sealed-over void. The effect of “Suck on This” is similar, with lyrics like:
“You in the band? / I am the band.”

Meaning: stop mistaking me for something supplemental, collateral. Stop thinking you own music itself and all its coarseness, its iridescence, its bite. The fact that “girl-band” is a term at all makes my eyes roll, but even now “girls,” AKA young women, walk into venues, guitars and gear in hand, and still men squint at them with suspicion or condescension, assuming that these must be the actual band’s girlfriends. “Girl-band,” they think, must be an oxymoron, because girls can’t be in real bands; girls cannot unleash unchecked, garage-rock anger and lose their shit onstage while remaining artists. “I wanna be the girl with the most cake” isn’t, apparently, as profound as “Rape me, rape me my friend.” “Suck on This” blanches at the “girl-band” mockery and swells with a justified, unabashed anger. They aren’t asking to be heard, to be taken seriously, to be given space; they’re just damn taking it: “Why don’t you stand back and suck on this?”

The artfulness of a song like this can go underrecognized. On their website, The Aquadolls describe their sound as “mermaid rock n’ roll,” which seems about right. They aren’t concerned, or apologetic, or needlessly, ultimately gentle—their songs latch onto our ships and surfboards and catapult us downwards, into the cold, glimmering otherworld of mermaids, women with sea salt in their blood and no fear of sharks. The deep part of the ocean, meaning the deepest-deep, Mariana Trench level, might be more joyful than we believe. What’s down there might be more crass and colorful than anything close to the surface: the monstrous, the sea-borne, the tangled and unkempt, is much more interesting than the sweet white-blue of the world we know.  

Listen to “Suck on This” here. 

By Sofia Sears
Photos by Diego Smith

‘Midsommar,’ Perceptions of Male Sexuality, and The Quiet Around the Two

What I know about being born with a penis: you are expected to want to use it. If you’re born and raised as male, you are conditioned by the world to expect yourself to want sex, and to want it under almost any circumstance. However, every individual has their own individual sex drive. For male-raised individuals who possess a lower sex drive, such as myself (I identify as non-binary, for what it’s worth), there is an internal conflict between the sexual personality we expect ourselves to have, and our true sexual personality. The result of this conflict can be immense shame, confusion, and unpleasant experiences. 

In Midsommar, Ari Aster’s sophomore effort, he depicts the slow collapse of a relationship between the couple of Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). Christian’s truly awful at providing any emotional support to Dani after a devastating family tragedy. The list of his mistakes is quite lengthy: he plans a trip to Sweden with his buddies without telling her; he forgets her birthday; in general, he’s checked out of the relationship. In an early scene, his friends tell him he should end it, and they’re probably right. He isn’t happy, she knows he isn’t happy, and so she isn’t happy either. As in many relationships, it isn’t happiness holding them together. Christian resists the thought of splitting, however. They try to sweeten the idea by dangling the freedom to hook up with new women, but he doesn’t seem too interested. At the least, sex doesn’t seem to be the problem within the relationship. 

Once they arrive at the Harga commune, the distance between Dani and Christian grows. He seems to be relatively unperturbed by the sacrificial ceremonies they witness, which for her trigger dark memories of her own family’s deaths. Not helping matters is that Maja, a member of the commune, has identified Christian as her sperm donor of choice. She takes actions that she believes will lure him to her. She places a “love rune” under his bed, and laces one of his meals and drinks with her pubic hair and menstrual blood, respectively. To the film’s audience, this might not hold much weight, and seem harmless, unbelievable, and almost whimsical. Her intent, however, is not harmless. Maja fully believes that these actions will force Christian into wanting her. 

In addition to Maja’s actions, other members of the commune nudge Christian toward mating with Maja. Pele, a friend of both Christian and Dani, jokes with Christian that Maja has taken a fancy to him. Grandmother Siv, in a less subtle fashion, asks Christian if he’s open to mating with Maja. Christian is bewildered, and uncomfortable, though it is worth noting that the audience does not hear his response to this question. Instead, he casually remarks that he believes he ate one of Maja’s pubic hairs. The normalcy of this moment creates a lighthearted air around the situation, of which I ask: should there be? On the surface, it is an absurd event, so it does lend itself to comedy. Sifting through it a bit deeper, the fact is that Maja laced Christian’s meal with substances she believed would make him more susceptible to her desires.

After this conversation with Siv, Christian watches the dancing competition to determine May Queen, and is offered a drink by a commune woman. He asks what it does, to which she roughly replies, “It, um, brings down your walls, and makes you more open to the experience.” Initially, Christian does not drink. He glances at Maja, reconsiders, and drinks. Pele, sitting next to him, glances at the empty glass with a knowing smile. It is the smile of a predator who knows the prey has entered the trap, a fraternity brother watching a young woman unknowingly down a spiked cup.  

Dani wins the May Queen dance, which is followed by a grand banquet. Christian, feeling the effects of the drugged tea he drank, is entirely out of sorts. He desperately asks an elder, “What’s going on?” The only response he gets is a loud clap in the face, which further distorts his reality. He watches Maja depart the table, and she seems to beckon him onward. He resists. Once Dani is forced to depart to bless the commune’s harvest, the mass of commune members seems to will Christian to follow the trail of flowers behind Maja. It’s a walk I think a lot of people have walked: back from a party, up a staircase, into a bedroom.

The audience next sees Christian clothed in a commune robe, intoxicated and confused. Two elders order him to inhale a mysterious smoke, “for [his] vitality.” Entering the room, he finds a group of nude women standing, swaying, and chanting, while Maja lies naked on the floor. She spreads her legs, and he slowly approaches. He is cautious, and tentative. He doesn’t seem enthusiastic. In short, he seems to be doing it because he feels he has no other choice. 

I recognized something in his eyes. I recognized a resignation to having sex as something that should be done, and to just get through. When one of the other women went behind him, and forcibly pushed him by the ass to go as deep as possible into Maja, I thought of a moment in my past. An ex-partner, ignoring my drunken requests to stop, continued to touch my genitals in an attempt to get me hard. I remember when they touched me, it almost felt like an electric shock. The next morning, I apologized over and over to her for letting her down. I felt like a malfunction. Watching this scene, I felt this hurt come back to me. What magnified the pain, however, was the laughter of the audience members around me. They could have been laughs of discomfort. They could have been laughs from interpreting Christian’s confused looks as “Well, this is some weird sex,” as opposed to “Where am I? What am I doing?”

The reality is that this is a rape. It isn’t a sex scene—it’s a rape. Christian is drugged, coerced, and pressured into having sex with Maja. Another person physically forces him to perform to the group’s satisfaction. The discussion around the scene has not once mentioned it as a rape. Vanity Fair: “Midsommar’s Wild Sex Scene is the Craziest Thing You’ll See All Summer.” The Daily Beast: “‘Midsommar’: Inside the Craziest Movie Sex Scene of the Year.” This highlights that as a society, we don’t view male-bodied victims of non-penetrative sexual violence as valid, and maybe even as possible. If the gender roles in that scene were reversed, the scene would not be discussed as a sex scene, but as a rape scene. And that’s how it should be. Aster has stated in interviews that this moment is an intentional subversion of the trope within horror movies of sexual violence toward women. And it’s a statistical fact that sexual violence is far more often perpetrated by men. But male victims of non-penetrative sexual violence do exist, and male-raised people are victims of sexual expectations placed on them by society. It’s possible Aster is offering up a metaphor for the destructive nature of society’s sexual pressure on men, and we are missing it. The aftermath of the scene can also serve as a wider metaphor for the treatment of (predominantly female) victims in society. Dani witnesses the rape and believes it to be him cheating consensually, and the commune silences Christian so he cannot tell her otherwise. 

I would like to be clear: outside of the extended psychological manipulation and eventual rape, Christian sucks. He’s a shitty, unsupportive partner who doesn’t look out for Dani and neglects her in a time of great need. But he still was raped, and it’s irresponsible to ignore this fact. It perpetuates a societal invalidation of male victims of sexual violence. It overlooks the nuances of the relationship many male-raised people have with sex as a result of years of conditioning. I’ve had sex I regret because I felt that I would disappoint a partner, and that they would think I was incomplete. Even now, writing this, I still fear that I am. 

By Gregory Marie
Image from A24

Owning My Voice: A Trans Perspective

I feel like a fundamental moment in the life of a carefree teen is the euphoria of singing in the car with the windows down, driving aimlessly, through a summer city on a young night with your best friends beside you. The bruised sky edges you on to new horizons as you sell your soul to Khalid in hopes that this year will somehow be different— more Netflix Original-esque. The person with arguably the ‘best’ taste gets handed the AUX cord, and you all sing at the top of your lungs. Hands slip out of the windows, grasping desperately for the breeze and eventually flowing with it. Laughter becomes silent under the melody of your favorite songs. Time seems to stand still, in this fundamental moment of perfection; that is, until your voice cracks.

The most common question I have recently been asked is “Does that hurt?” referring to my thickening vocal chords that now release the strangled sounds of a beast that’s been waiting years to sound heroic and manly. You see, this was my most awaited change starting HRT, or Hormone Replacement Therapy, a transitional method used by some Transgender-identifying people. Changes that occur on this hormone include thickening vocal chords which evolve into a deeper voice, facial hair growth and thickened body hair, bone reconstruction, and fat redistribution, just to name a few. 

Since coming out, the one thing that has always made me feel the most dysphoric, or wrong about my body, is my voice. You see, I could dress as ‘manly’ as I wanted to, bind the hell out of my chest (safely, of course,) and wear backwards hats as often as I pleased, but it seemed that the second I opened my mouth, it was game over for me. My voice was the biggest giveaway that maybe my story wasn’t so cookie-cutter— so cisgender. 

Needless to say, I get misgendered a lot. I try to casually throw in “actually, I'm a guy” during these situations—which, of course, I say while struggling to shove down my vocal pitch to get the point across that, yes, I may be tiny and sound like a pipsqueak, but I am still indeed a guy aiming for validation. 

I once thought of starting a count-up on my Twitter to the day I would begin taking testosterone supplements on HRT; you know, similar to a countdown, except that I didn’t have a day set, so it would have just been a depressing inclination of numbers soul-crushing to witness. I can only imagine it: 

One day closer to HRT! Shove that sweet needle in me, baby! 
37 days closer to HRT! I can't wait to finally look my age! 
256 days closer to HRT! Damnit, can this Twitter feed please have some kind of influence?
I’m getting desperate!
486 days closer to HRT! That is, assuming that ever happens in my life.

Get my point? By the time I started taking hormones, approximately 38 months after coming out or 1,128 days since I made that count-up, I would have been rolling around in my own grave, rather than still hopeful and excited for my next chapter. 

I still remember the first person who commented on my voice, approximately one week after starting hormones. She said, “Oh, my God, Ryan, your voice is already getting deeper. I can hear it.” This made me feel elated, and you wouldn’t have been able to smack the goofy smile off of my face for the rest of that day. A couple of months later, my friend admitted that she couldn’t actually hear a difference, she just wanted to make me happy. However, by the time this truth surfaced, you actually could hear a difference. I made those stereotypical videos: “My name’s ____ and this is my voice __ months on t.” I was shocked at my new depth. Gradually, I wasn’t able to scream or meow at my cat because my voice only succeeded in sounding deep and choppy— which, believe me, I was beyond thrilled about. 

Suddenly, anyone who I hadn't talked to in the span of a few weeks was surprised at the sound of it. The first thing they’d say to me would be “Wow, Ryan, your voice,” which I of course played off like no big deal—but inside I felt a mixture of excitement, relief, and pure happiness. Finally, the one thing that made me feel the worst about myself was disappearing, leaving in its trace a clearer idea of the man I was always meant to be. 

So, it always makes me laugh when my mom, with concern in her eyes, asks “Does that hurt?” because, while sometimes my voice begs for air while I sing notes I can’t reach anymore in the car, none of this has hurt at all. In fact, it has felt quite the opposite. It’s as if all the years of pain are scurrying away, terrified of the deep, menacing voice that has emerged in their light; this, of course, is me laughing in the car with my friends, singing to Khalid on a summer night. 

By Ryan Vortisch
Visual from Rookie Magazine

If You're Hooking Up with a Writer, Don't Ever Read Their Writing

The first time we met, I thought he was unexpectedly tall.

I waited for him to arrive at an old smoking area, formerly referred to as "Cloud Nine," across from my workplace. I tried to keep a composed demeanor despite the loud thumping in my chest.

Upon his arrival, we jumped right into rapid conversation. It was awkward, as most first encounters are. For one, I looked like a twelve-year-old girl next to him—a giant man next to a literal midget. I found it funny when he'd purposely go one step behind so as to level our heights on the escalator.

Pierre had just gotten out of an eight-year relationship a few months ago. We were seated across each other at a food court when he shared this, so casually my brain halted in surprise. Still, I tried attentively conversing; the red flag clung to the peripheral of my brain.

Behind my first-meetup facade, I was devastated. It’s in my best interest to avoid emotionally unavailable men.

He had an eight-year relationship that just ended very recently, for fuck’s sake. Although inasmuch as it is a red flag, eight years connotes a strong commitment threshold. Eight years is a long time. Ironically, there are also a number of couples staying in long-term relationships for unhealthy reasons, so I couldn't be certain those eight years were a clear, exact indication as to how adept he is at commitments. I mean, it ended, you know.

Conversations leaned toward writing, his current corporate job, previous Tinder meetups, and how new he was at all of this. I can’t quite remember the things I talked about, honestly.

As he was talking, my eyes collected the details of him. He was tall, talkative, and quirky. His ex-girlfriend must have been head-over-heels about these qualities. He also had an expressive face. I could tell by his eyes that he was a naturally awkward person, just as I am. The only thing I couldn't quite tell was if he felt attraction toward me.

Our first meeting was brief. He had to hurry back home to prep for a hiking trip. He's a mountaineer and an avid biker—one of the reasons why I swiped right despite the fact that I couldn't quite see his face in his pictures. Actually, no— a photo of his article lured me in.

Uncertain as I was at this time, I was fine whether our meetup birthed anything or nothing at all. It was basically just a physical demo of our Tinder profiles. No big deal. He was cute, though.

Weeks passed and we met again.

To fuck.

In the dark, just far above the wall to our left side, a spraying noise would be heard every so often. He had these automatic air fresheners mounted in his bedroom and living room’s walls. Every thirty minutes, they would dispense mist and the room would smell of fabric perfume.

“Free Falling” by John Mayer was playing in the background.

A new, yet somehow recognizable, feeling washed over my senses—a pinch of deja vu, it seemed, that felt as if it had already enveloped me in a dream or another realm. Wrapped up in his arms in his pleasantly cold room felt like heaven to me. How could you feel this safe in a stranger's den? Perhaps it was the right temperature, atmosphere, smell, and music.

I wondered who decided to install air freshener dispensers up their walls. It seemed like an indication of people who had decided to commit for a long time. I could imagine his ex-girlfriend casually bringing up the idea of air fresheners during one of their conversations, sprouting from her innate desire to improve one's quality of life. I could picture a meticulous and organized woman. He must’ve been really in love with her.

Pierre wasn’t big on selfies or portraits. He mostly dabbled in pictures of landscapes, skies, plants, and his bicycle. Occasionally, though, you'd encounter photos of his ex-girlfriend with sweet captions on his feed if you scrolled deep enough. For a moment, I felt envious. This must be how a writer loves another person. I knew it was just a snippet, but this must be how it is to love and be loved by another.

The second time we had sex, he let me stay at his house before he went to work. He said I could get whatever I wanted in his fridge, and that I could cook myself anything. He added that he’d send me instructions on how to turn off his air conditioner and how to turn on his shower for when I was leaving. I was sitting on his bed, covered in his blanket, still a little groggy, when he was saying all this. I looked at him and thought he was really good-looking, with his hair still wet and perfectly fitting black shirt. He kissed me before he left the room.

When I went to the kitchen, I saw he had left a cup of coffee that had already gone cold. In his bathroom, there was a fresh towel waiting for me.

No hookup had ever done that for me.

I never experienced the romance of domesticity or the joy in the ordinary aspects of relationships, and now, I had been given a taste of it.

I started wishing I could always bask in the simple sweetness of living with and being taken care of by a significant other.

We didn’t meet for some time after that. And within that time frame, I kept wanting to go back to his apartment and marvel again at the heavenly ambiance of his room, his air freshener spraying a pleasant smell above us and John Mayer playing in the background.

Over the course of our casual relationship, I developed a liking toward him. Not because we’d often hang out—no. We never hung out. Between our meetup intervals, I'd frequent his profile and read his writing.

In his writing, he’d talk about the beauty of nature and the importance of taking a break from the city. I marveled at the fact that he was so much better at writing than me. Admiration beyond sexual attraction grew. With great writing and articulacy, I started looking up to him.

There was this post he’d written about him accidentally spewing out taho in the elevator, leaving sago pearls bouncing off people’s clothes. Upon reading it, my image of him being superior and above me suddenly sublimed.

Picturing him in that elevator with disgusted eyes on him, a combination of emotions swept over me. Neither was I exactly turned off nor head-over-heels over the image of him spewing out food from his mouth and nose. But that clumsy, sweaty, always-in-a-haste, and embarrassing image of him made him more human in my eyes, making him ten times more attractive.

Reading his textualized thoughts on the Internet made me feel like I’d known him outside of sex. I started wishing I knew him outside of sex. Taking a peek into his mind through his long-winded Facebook posts consequently caused a collision between the shallowness of our casual dynamic and the depth of his character.

My infatuation nurtured by his online presentation set aside the horrible moments of disconnection that took place during and after our meetups. Stepping outside my head for a second could be disorienting, given that my online and offline images of him were unaligned.

In reality, our first sexual encounter wasn’t satisfying, emotionally or physically. Prior to that night, after almost a year of abstinence and self-reflection, I thought I'd magically and finally be adept at handling casual sex. I even wrote about it in articles. I was sure I could do it again.

But then Pierre was thrusting me raw and hard and I was forcefully picturing Joseph—a man I was once deeply in love with—on top of me in order to emotionally stimulate my mind enough to lubricate more, for it to hurt less.

The entire night consisted of multiple rounds and cuddling. The way he’d say Goodnight, Sam right after he came felt somehow dismissive. For short hours, we lay in the dark, my mind and body in idle yet restless, like a door half shut.

When the morning came after that first night, we had to hurry back to my city, where he worked and I resided. Subconsciously, I expected we'd commute together. Until he was taking out his bicycle and telling me directions to where the jeepneys were. I almost forgot he got to work by bicycle every day. Still, I hoped he’d at least accompany me.

I wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment or the fear of being seen with a new, younger, average-looking girl, but him fast-pedaling his bicycle ahead of me, before I even reached the place where the jeepneys are, didn't quite sit well with me.

The first night was followed by more similar nights. We knew little of each other outside our primal urges. Without an official declaration of We’re just gonna be fuck buddies! it seemed established that our setup would be strictly sex-related.

I see pictures of him with his co-mountaineers, gathered around a fire or standing next to each other during a hike and wonder how our dynamic would be if we met that way.

I remember one of my co-workers, the same age as him, who we’d often tease and banter with. Maybe Pierre was just like him around other people. I could imagine being one of his co-mountaineers and hanging out with him in a group surrounded by trees. Maybe we wouldn’t be kissing then or even look at each other that way. We’d be friends. We’d really know each other, mutually. Not virtually and one-sided.

Instead of having images of each other limited and framed by just pure lust and emotional detachment, we’d have a more free-flowing, unrestricted and genuine perspectives of each other rid of first online impressions and transitory affection. Our place of encounter would always be in nature, connecting us more mentally to Earth, our roots, ourselves, and each other.

Circumstance in which our dynamic develops would be less momentary. Separating ways wouldn’t be so bad.

I had a taste of both his shallowness and depth, which is a bit contradictory to the unspoken rules of hooking up. And that is why hooking up with him might have been a bad idea. I’m more in love with the idea and possibility of our relationship not lacking depth; of entirely experiencing the crevices of someone’s mind who seems as passionate; of the domesticity of love. I’m afraid I’m more infatuated with his writing, online persona and hidden potentialities than the person he presented himself to me in real life.

For two deep thinkers, our relationship started out shallow. I remember going home once and drowning in the feeling of artificial aftertaste of casual sex. Our physical affection the night before started to feel fake and too performative. It was also the time I realized that I was doing casual sex for the wrong reasons again. I was after a serious relationship before we met. I settled for sex because I couldn’t be this man’s rebound.

Truthfully, I still think he could be my ideal partner at times. I mean, let’s forget about the eight years. I really loved his cozy apartment, his deep appreciation of nature, his hunger for adventures. I still wish for the entirety of his personality that his ex-girlfriends, workmates, and friends witness daily; for a different image he has of me, far from the image of a girl he just met on Tinder.

The thing about physical union and online vulnerability is that both could create an illusion of closely knowing another. Especially if this person is a writer. They’re good with words! They’re good at expressing themselves; their words are their musings. But their entire being doesn’t just consist of words. It’s a conflation of physical behaviors, practices, their most shallow and deepest thoughts. Maybe the next time I click on his profile, I should go back and read this. I must keep in mind that online and offline images are easily malleable.

Originally, our first meeting was supposed to be a trip around the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He was willing to lend me his bicycle. Together, we would explore the university pedaling. Not thrusting each other in his apartment.

Maybe we would have turned out differently.

Or maybe not.

Damn it, I shouldn’t have let him play “Shot At The Night” by The Killers the first time we fucked.


The People of Amsterdam

It’s a pretty universal standard to judge strangers based on their appearance. Our assumptions are shaped by the smallest details, from a person’s vintage jacket to their hypebeast sneakers, their minimalistic outfit to their plentiful piercings. My point is, looks define our assumptions.

Shooting this series was a great opportunity to observe Amsterdam’s diversity. Though the city looks exactly the same no matter which building, canal, or street you photograph, every person looks remarkably different—which is what makes Amsterdam so fascinating. 

To say the least, photographing strangers on the streets was intimidating. I spent a lot of time too scared to even approach people to ask to take their picture! But then my friend, Wen, decided it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone and start approaching strangers. It was incredibly encouraging to discover that people were open to being photographed by me—a random stranger.

By Rina Dokai

"Could a Wheelchair Fit Through That?" and Other Questions Able-Bodied People Should Be Asking


There’s no question that the world is built for the able-bodied, and no question that the world simply must change. Until a mere 29 years ago, it was legal in the United States of America to discriminate against people with disabilities, and companies were not required by law to accommodate any non-able-bodied person. In 1990, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public” became obligated to be accessible. And if they weren’t accessible, there would be a monetary penalty.

That’s why handicapped parking spaces and bathrooms exist. That’s why closed captioning exists and why theatre performances have sign language interpreters. But accessibility goes far beyond that, and even the parking spaces and bathrooms are severely lacking. 

As an able-bodied person, it’s so easy to overlook the reality of accommodations for people in wheelchairs or with other special needs. Especially because we’re taught that it’s rude to stare, and so we don’t. But in our swiftness to be polite and politically correct, we are also willfully ignoring an already predominantly invisibile population, thereby increasing stigma and discouraging both conversation and any kind of needed change. 

And if we’re not avoiding eye contact passing a disabled person on the street, we are getting all up in their business like we have a right to it. A few years ago, I tore a ligament in my foot and had to spend ten weeks in a walking boot. I was shocked to find the number of strangers who felt entitled to ask why I was in a cast—in stores, in elevators, in bathrooms. After I would begrudgingly tell them what had happened for the sake of being polite, they’d immediately follow it up with, “How’d you do that?” I didn’t want to get into a conversation about why my body had a cast on it, and I only had to put up with that for a few months. People with lifelong disabilities are subjected to these kinds of questions every day.

And that’s assuming we are even aware of a disability, as many disabilities are invisible (knee problems, back pain, chronic health conditions, etc.). Get in any elevator and you will see how quick we are to make assumptions about a person’s laziness, because god forbid anyone take the elevator to go up or down one floor.

But whether we, as a society, are expecting people with disabilities to answer all of our nosy questions, or choosing to act as though they don’t exist, we still aren’t creating basic accommodations beyond the bare minimum. And when you step back and look at the world through the point of view of non-able-bodied people, you’ll be forced to acknowledge the myriad ways we are still failing to build a world that all of us can successfully navigate.

I can’t even tell you how many aisles I’ve walked down that I could barely fit my cart through, let alone a wheelchair. Places like Bed, Bath, and Beyond cram as much merchandise as possible into every square foot of their store, placing sale racks directly in the center of the aisles. Everywhere I go has a handicap bathroom, but not every handicap bathroom has a bar, or even the ability to spin a wheelchair around upon entering. (And don’t even get me started on how many able-bodied people choose to do their business in the bathroom reserved for individuals with disabilities.) I’ve been in bathrooms where there’s a handicap-accessible sink, but the paper towels are way up on the wall, completely out of reach for anyone who cannot stand. 

And so, a challenge! Wherever you go, pay attention to the level of accommodations you see. When you enter a building, is there a ramp, and is it easy to access? Or would someone needing the ramp be forced to take a roundabout way to get to it? Does the building have handicap doors? Is the button to open those doors easy to reach (and is it even working)? Ask yourself as you go down store aisles—could a wheelchair really fit? Are elevators working? Gauge how many handicap parking spots there are in relation to the size of the building. Do crosswalks beep to let a seeing-impaired person know when it’s safe to cross? How about if sidewalks are adequately cleared of snow in the winter? When going into a bathroom, picture yourself in a wheelchair and ask whether you could easily use that bathroom. 

You will most likely be shocked, as I almost always am, to find that the answer to these questions is often “no.” If that’s the case, speak to a manager, contact corporate, take pictures and share on social media. It’s unacceptable if laws aren’t being followed, and despicable if companies are simply doing the bare minimum to comply. The only way to make change is to recognize where we fall short, and to demand that we all do better. 

And on a side note, be sure to call out the places that are accessible. The ones that do comply, or even go above and beyond to accommodate all. It’s important to highlight the successes, as well as call out the failures.

Let us all work together to ensure that the world be accessible for all.

By Kaitlin Konecke
Photo by Camila Falquez for Teen Vogue

Dream Girl

This mini-series plays with fantasy and self-perception by subverting the viewer’s gaze and challenging them to redefine their view of the subject. I wanted to visualize a constant shift and transformation from one thing to the other.

Within the project, I wanted to explore the relationships we keep with ourselves unconsciously, as well as the interplay between what we are and what we have the potential to become; I wanted to engage the viewer in this same evaluation, and implore them to question their own cognitive interpretations of the subject and their inner complexities. Self is neither singularly defined nor fixed.  

As an eighteen-year-old girl, I’m learning to accept that my sense of self will shape itself in the context of experience and time, bending shape and twisting form. Our more formative years are usually punctuated by uncertainty and insecurities, our sense of being unmoored and adrift. It is all too easy to find yourself swept away in the current, hapless to the powerful tides of a reality you have less and less control over. 

There is a fear there, a fear in letting ourselves go in a way that makes us vulnerable in our self-exploration. But there is also a great relief in finally breaking through that self-imposed barrier. 

Humans are like the rolling waters of the oceans. Visualizing these saturated tides, we take the form of dripping hues and shifting planes of self-awareness; we become color and coalescence and sundering. Our eyes take in the tides of our self in a kaleidoscope; we are prismatic, we are refracting light. 

By Erin Davis
Modeled by Isley