"A trinity of difference": Writing through disability in Rolling Around In My Head
In deciding to blog about his experience with disability, Dave Hingsburger unwittingly created one of the most vibrant, engaged and committed online communities out there. His deeply personal and heartfelt blog, Rolling Around in My Head, has won a slew of blogging awards since its inception—but more importantly, the comment field has become a crucial gathering place for people living with disabilities.
In the latest instalment of our "Canada Blogs" series, we caught up with Dave and got his thoughts on why people are so drawn to his writing.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a trinity of difference: fat, gay and disabled. At 61, I have worked in the field of intellectual disabilities for over 40 years and I have been in a long-term relationship for 45 years. At present I am the Director of Clinical and Educational Services for Vita Community Living Services and a consultant for the sexuality clinic at Behaviour Management Services of York and Simcoe. Through my private practice I do lectures and consultation internationally. My work has me involved in a variety of issues regarding sexuality and people with disabilities. I have published several books and chapters as well as hundreds of articles in both journals and more mainstream media. More recently I have been working on issues regarding self esteem and ‘voice’ for people with intellectual disabilities—work that my life as a gay man has well prepared me for. In 2009 I was inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame and this year won the Abilities Award for advocacy in the city of Toronto.
How do you describe your blog?
My blog is about the experience of living with a disability while working with those who have disabilities. As such it is a cross-disability blog looking at issues that affect those with physical disabilities, and those with intellectual disabilities. It is a highly personal blog and is written from a deeply subjective point of view. The blog is not academic in nature—even though I know it is used in disability studies programs and college classes for those learning about supporting people with intellectual disabilities.
When and why did you start blogging?
I started blogging seven years ago with the intention of blogging only for one year. I had just become a wheelchair user and wanted to document this change in my life. I made the decision, right off, that it would be a daily blog—a journal—for me to record the various barriers I found either within myself or within the world. From there it grew to become something much bigger and much broader. The blog developed a strong readership and often, the comment section becomes more interesting than any of the blogs I’ve written.
What can you address through writing and blogging that you cannot through your
My speaking engagements have me presenting material on a particular subject in a particular way. As a result I can put in my personal experience through the stories I tell but I am constrained by the topic and the expectations of the audience. They are not there to hear my personal opinions; they are there to learn about service provision and about strategies for support. I do slip in my opinions—and I let the audience know when I’m doing so—but I’m careful about how often I do that. My blog allows me a freer hand. It has never been presented as anything but a personal blog about disabilities. I don’t claim to be speaking for anyone but myself and I make it as clear as possible that people are reading my personal thoughts about disability or about work with those who have disabilities.
You frequently get comments from your readers. What is your online community like?
I am very fortunate. I have amazing readers and those who comment, either on the blog or to me personally, are very kind in how they respond to my stories or my thoughts. There is often disagreement; oftentimes people don’t "buy" my point of view. Other times people really question my interpretation of an event or of an interaction. I like this—it makes me think and it makes me take a second look at my own life. The reason why I like this is that 99 percent of the comments made are done in a conversational, rather than confrontational, tone. I don’t know how this came to be, as I see a lot of rancor on other blogs, but my readers are both passionate and kind.
Many of your stories are very personal. How challenging is it for you to share them?
Because my stories ARE so personal, I find when I run into readers of the blog, they express how difficult it is for them not to assume an intimacy that we don’t have. I am a stranger, but one who they feel they know really well. I’m honoured by that but I’m also sobered by that. I do let people into very private thoughts and feelings, I do let people glimpse in. This is always risky. But, I think I need to be clear, there are aspects of my life, my relationship with my partner Joe, my working experiences, my medical concerns, and my friendships with others, that are kept very private and NOT shared on the blog. I am good with boundaries; I keep them very clear in my mind. My “Ruby” stories, about a little seven-year-old girl and, increasingly, about her sister Sadie (who is four) as well, are very carefully written. I don’t share anywhere near the stories I could, funny things the kids say or do, because they have a right to privacy. If I’m going to write about either of them, it will be about something that is germane to the subject of my blog—disability. Ruby loves the stories about her and sometimes asks, “Are you going to write about this?” Mostly the answer is ‘no’ but sometimes it’s ‘yes’—and when it’s ‘yes’ she’s thrilled.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write for the joy of writing. My goal, early on as a writer, was to publish. That was a mistake. I received rejection letter after rejection letter. It affected my willingness to write. Then I realize that I can’t control whether or not I publish, I can only control whether or not I write and submit. So when the article went into the mail, I had done my part. I successfully finished a project after that; it’s not up to me. I remember once submitting something I wrote to a Canadian magazine and I got back a personal letter telling me I had no talent as a writer and to please not submit again. I was stunned and hurt. They sent back the piece I’d written. I took that returned article, wrote another submission letter, and sent it to a big American magazine. It was picked up, I was paid for it, and it’s been translated into several languages. Another person’s opinion is just another person’s opinion—and of course, opinion and fact are not the same things.
All images courtesy of Dave Hingsburger and Rolling Around in My Head.
>>Check out Rolling Around in My Head
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