KTF Press
Shake the Dust
Disabled Beauty, Bodies, and Bravery with Dr. Amy Kenny

Disabled Beauty, Bodies, and Bravery with Dr. Amy Kenny

Season 2, Episode 4
A square image. It is a somewhat abstract Illustration in warm, bright colors of a blue and white landscape with flecks of orange. The landscape itself is undulating in about 4 waves descending from the top right to bottom left corners of the image. The sun is partially visible on the top left and the sky is blue. White, cursive lettering spells out “Shake the Dust” across the ground.

Today, Jonathan and Sy are talking to Dr. Amy Kenny, disabled Shakespeare scholar and author of My Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church. They discuss curing disabilities versus biblical healing, finding beauty and power in disability, reshaping the Church around disabled people, compassion in literature, and so much more! 

Shake the Dust is a podcast of KTF Press. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Find transcripts of this show and subscribe to get our newsletter and other paid content at KTFPress.com


Jonathan Walton – follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Suzie Lahoud – follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Sy Hoekstra – follow him on Twitter.  

Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra – listen to the whole song on Spotify

Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam – follow her and see her other work on Instagram.  

Production and editing by Sy Hoekstra. 

Transcript by Joyce Ambale and Suzie Lahoud. 

Questions about anything you heard on the show? Write to shakethedust@ktfpress.com and we may answer your question on a future episode. 


[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending — F#, B, F#, E, D#, B — with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”] 

Amy Kenny: I remember as a kid having so many people try to pray me away, but I didn't have examples of people in my life who were celebrating my disabled bodymind. And not in terms of pity or inspiration, but in terms of thinking about how miraculous and interesting and magnificent my bodymind is. And I think it took a long time and a lot of therapy to get to that place because the narratives out there are so seeped in ableism.  

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.] 

Sy Hoekstra: Welcome to Shake the Dust: Leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God. My name is Sy Hoekstra, I'm here with Jonathan Walton. Suzie, we had a slight scheduling snafu, so she couldn't be here with us. We are going to be talking today about disability justice in the church with a fantastic guest who Jonathan's going to introduce to you in a second. But before he does, as always, just a quick reminder, go to ktfpress.com if you have a second, check out the subscription that we have there. It gets you the bonus episodes of this show, it gets you our weekly newsletter where Jonathan and Suzie and I recommend all kinds of things. All kinds of media highlights and everything to help you in political education and discipleship as you leave colonized faith. It's a Substack website, if you have the Substack app, or if you already have a Substack account, nice and easy for you to go find us. That's it for me for now. Jonathan, tell the people who we have with us today. 

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, today we are blessed to have Amy Kenny.  

She is a disabled scholar and a Shakespeare Lecturer who hates Hamlet. Ditto [Laughter]. She serves on the mayor’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce in her home city, coordinates support for people experiencing homelessness in her neighborhood, and is currently co-launching Jubilee Homes OC, a permanent supportive housing initiative in her local community. She is a Scribe for Freedom Road Institute and believes that every human is an image-bearer worthy of belonging. She's the author of the book My Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church, which we are going to be talking about today.  

Thank you again so, so much for being here.  

You write all the time about people having tried to heal you through prayer (so we're going to jump right in with this question [laughter]) by suggesting a wild assortment of home remedies. When I saw that I was like, this is terrible [laughter]. 

Sy Hoekstra: Garlic in the socks was my personal favorite. 

Amy Kenny: Oh, my personal favorite’s the hitting your leg with a hammer.  

Sy Hoekstra: Ooh, okay.  

Amy Kenny: It's so violent and ridiculous [laughter]. What do they think is going to happen? Somehow, I'm still disabled [laughter]. 

Jonathan Walton: Right. you discussed the difference between this type of curing and the Bible's notion of healing, which is really powerful. So could you talk about that distinction and why it's important for the church to understand? And I would say not just understand, but embrace. 

Amy Kenny: Yeah, I think it's crucial to our understanding of what is happening in these healing narratives with Jesus, and also to our own understanding of what it means to include disabled people in whatever spaces we're in. Curing I think is usually what's taking place in these stories, which is a physical process. It's usually a rapid one. It focuses on eliminating pain or disease, and that's generally, in a lot of Western settings, what we think of medicine as. But healing is much deeper than that. It's messy and it takes a long time. It's complicated and it takes a community as well. It's not just about an individual or about one bodymind, it's about restoring that person to the community and giving them a deeper sense of belonging.  

I think that's so crucial for us to think about when we read these narratives and when we talk about healing today, because just by virtue of any of my mobility aids, my cane named Eileen… get what I did there? [Laughter] My mobility scooter named Diana after Wonder Woman. Folks approach me and assume that I want to be fixed or changed, and that's a really harmful and ableist assumption. And it's based on that idea that bodies need to be cured in order to be healed, and one of the invitations of the book is to rethink that premise. 

Sy Hoekstra: You actually talk about the Greek word for healing that Jesus uses a couple different times in the Bible and how it encompasses everything, like communal restoration and psychological healing. I thought that that point was really interesting. You do a reading of John 9, which despite the fact that I've read it a million times, I thought was really interesting and something I'd never heard before. Would you mind digging into that a little bit?  

Amy Kenny: Yeah. That word sozo, means to make whole. It's not about fixing or eliminating some sort of pain or disease or even disability, it's about restoring. I think that's such a different understanding if we think of Jesus more as a therapist than as a kind of magician or vending machine. I think that's a really different way of approaching Jesus in these narratives. John 9 is really important to me, really central to my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus or to think about Jesus. Because people are assuming that this man who unfortunately is unnamed and is blind, is sinful somehow. The disciples are asking, “Who sinned, this guy or his parents?” 

Jesus says, “Nope. [laughter] Wrong. That's not it at all. In fact, this person is blind so that God's works can be revealed.” And ableist readings would tell us that the curing is what reveals God, but that's not actually what Jesus says. And Jesus is pretty, I'm generally not a “the Bible is clear” person, but I think Jesus is pretty clear that it's not about sin that is connected to disability here. What's so fascinating about this passage is that when this man receives sight, that doesn't actually solve any of his problems in the community. He's still ostracized and excluded. He is still condemned and on the outskirts. And I think if that passage were only invested in the physical, in the cure, then it would end after a couple of verses.  

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. 

Amy Kenny: But it goes on for 40 more verses talking about what happens to this man and the restoration and healing that Jesus offers.  

Jonathan Walton: That was powerful. At one point in the book, you talk about Zora Neale Hurston, when she said, “If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Which I think is just a powerful way to understand the oppressive intent behind narratives about supercrips and brave or courageous disabled people overcoming their disability. Can you, you talk a little bit about how learning to speak about pain and suffering was crucial for you, to learn how to do that in spite of the fact that so many people just don't want to hear about it? 

Amy Kenny: Yeah. People would rather me be a mascot for their narrative of what it means to be a disabled Christian woman, than actually share the realities of my experience. And there's so much inspiration porn narratives out there. This idea from Stella Young and Maysoon Zayid, that disabled people are here to inspire others. We become objects instead of subjects. We are used and consumed and really just for the pleasure of others, instead of having our own complex, messy lives. Who wants to be a mascot or an inspiration when you can be a human? I think it's also unfair because it suggests that the most important thing in my life is doing something for you. Making you feel good, moving you.  

That's unfair to put on disabled people. I think it works the same way with being brave and courageous. I'm often told that I'm courageous or I'm brave, and this isn't by people who know me. This is by strangers. Folks at the library approach me saying that. Someone at the grocery store, “Oh, you are so brave. Look at you, good for you for getting out and about.” As though just by virtue of existing, there's something brave about being disabled. And that gets really exhausting because I shouldn't have to be brave to exist. I should get to live into the fullness of my humanity whether or not that is inspirational or brave or happy clappy, and I should get to have a full range of emotions. That shouldn't be taken away from me because I'm disabled.  

Sy Hoekstra: I've definitely gotten the “You're so brave” by strangers on the street before.  

Amy Kenny: Right?  

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Like all the time. Well, not all the time, but it happens and it's so disorienting when it happens. Because I'm usually just lost in my own thoughts or I'm listening to something or whatever, and someone just randomly says, “You're so brave,” and I'm like, “Uh, uh, thanks, I guess?” But when I was reading, there's one passage in particular where you were talking about all of the doctors and nurses who were calling you brave and courageous as they were performing seemingly painful medical procedures on you. And the thing that it reminded me of, I'm guessing, do you know who Imani Barbarin is?  

Amy Kenny: Yes.  

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Okay. So disabled activist, and she… I'm paraphrasing, but she has said something to the effect of, when people start calling you a hero, is when they have an excuse to kill you. That's what I kept thinking of, is like this notion that if you are brave and if you are courageous and you are willing to bear all of the burdens that the system or that individual people's microaggressions put on you, and then you end up dead because of it, it's an excuse. It's not as sad because you were voluntarily being brave under the circumstances. Even if you weren't really internally, but it's an appearance thing. 

Amy Kenny: Yeah, it's a virtue signalling and it excuses actually doing anything to prevent the ableism from our society. 

Sy Hoekstra: Exactly. Right. Yeah, absolutely. And it doesn't just apply to disabled people either. I heard somebody, I was listening to Jon Stewart's podcast at one point. One of his writers brought up this quote that I had read from Imani Barbarin. They were talking about it in the context of war veterans, who they come back from war and then they get denied the healthcare that they were promised by the VA. And because they're heroes, because they were made to be heroes through the process of like valorizing the military, it just becomes part of the excuse to make you jump through a million completely unnecessary bureaucratic steps in order to be able to get the healthcare that was promised to you legally when you enlisted or whatever. 

It's something that I think applies to all kinds of heroes and how labeling someone a hero or brave or whatever, separates them from everybody else. It kind of fits right in with inspiration porn and all that other stuff.  

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. I mean, I feel like I am… on our podcast, we focus on how, we're talking across difference. I've known Sy for a long time, but I will never know what it's like to be blind and live in that reality. So I know there's a steep learning curve, but what resonates for me though in that, I have a poem and I've talked with Sy about it, like how my mom as this hardworking Black woman would be valorized.  

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, absolutely.  

Jonathan Walton: And there's a… whether you are idolizing someone, you are still dehumanizing them. One of the ways that that dehumanization happens is around beauty and power and things like that. So you write about power and beauty that we can find in disabled people in their bodies, even though our standards of beauty and power are often, they exclude you and people in your community. So could you give a window into your thoughts about how we need to lift up disabled people as beautiful and powerful in a way that isn't riddled with ableism. And you're already good at this, but communicating it for someone like me, who like, I will join your community one day statistically, right? 

Amy Kenny: That’s how inclusive we are [laughter]. 

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, of course. Always welcoming as Dr. Lamar Hardwick would say.  

Amy Kenny: Yes. 

Jonathan Walton: And so to help me enter your community in a more loving way, what's a way that I can lift up y’all as beautiful and powerful in a way that isn't riddled with my own stuff. 

Amy Kenny: Yeah. I think that this comes out a lot when people describe us as special needs and assume that our needs are special, when actually we are just human. You know, when you go somewhere, when you go to a restaurant, you want there to be somewhere you can pee [laughter]. When you are working, you want there to be a plan for your escape in the event of an emergency. You want to be able to access the content that people are sharing online or otherwise. Those aren't special needs, those needs are human. So really stripping away this idea that there's something extra or special or different about disabled people, that means that we are some sort of subcategory of human.  

I think this comes out in relationship too, that's in relationship to power, but I think it also comes out in relationship to beauty, as you are saying, because disabled people are so infantilized that we're never really allowed to be beautiful. We are allowed to be adorable and inspiring and heroic, but we aren't beautiful because our bodies don't fit into this idea of the cishet, thin, white, idealized nondisabled figure. And I think most of us, when we think about beautiful bodies, have so internalized those notions of ableism, racism, fatphobia, queerphobia, that we don't even realize that that's what we are doing, and this gets projected onto our notions of what heaven or utopia or new creation are.  

I think it also gets projected onto relationships that we see. All the time when out in public, I either get pat on the head, like I'm a dog. “Good job little dog.” Because I'm a few feet lower than folks when using my mobility scooter or wheelchair. But something that my husband receives a lot, he’s told that he's a saint, just by virtue of having a disabled wife. As though the whole purpose of our relationship and partnership is to shame him into staying with me, comma, the burden. That's just absurd and really harmful. And love him, but he's no saint [laughter], and our relationship is mutual. So I think even extending this idea of power and beauty into relationships and to stop these myths of in an inter-abled relationship, there's one person who's a burden and there's one person who's a saint, or our notions of what beautiful can be.  

Beautiful is where joy is and where someone is radiant. And we just, we don't have the same parameters when it comes to nature. All kinds of nature is disabled and we think it's beautiful. What if we could extend that to humanity? 

Sy Hoekstra: Oh man, I have 800 thoughts about that.  

Amy Kenny: Only 800? [laughter].  

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. It is low. One thing that comes to mind… man, this is like a little bit of a depressing story. But when I was in high school, there were a couple times, I'm not going to say that this happened a ton. There were maybe two or three times where some girl was being very obviously flirty, in a way that I would… like very awkward 14, 15 year old. Like you're trying way too hard and it's kind of adorable and really awkward at the same time. But I didn't realize that until I was like 27 or something, being like, oh, that interaction I had was someone attempting to make some romantic advance, because I had so internalized the idea that there was nothing to be found in me in terms of beauty or romance or anything like that, which is a — hi, Dr. Kenny, I met you half an hour ago and now I'm disclosing high school insecurities, but… 

Amy Kenny: That's what podcasts are for. We talk about all our trauma together.  


Sy Hoekstra: It kind of is what podcasts are for [laughs]. 

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, the trauma buffet. We all just kind of come out. 

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, right. Exactly. So, yeah, I don't know, but what I'm getting at, is having books like yours and having people talking about it openly. There's just so many people, I think, for whom that is so healing. Also probably not just disabled people, just anybody who doesn't fit into the, whatever our standards are for any reason. Which is another of the million ways that we have talked about on the show before, is that any individual groups' liberation is always going to radiate out and make other people have more flourishing lives.  

One thing I wanted to talk to you about though, I wrote down a lot of phrases when I was reading your book that you wrote. One of them was, “My civil rights are not guacamole.” You were specifically talking about an IEP meeting that you had when you were in high school and just the extreme amounts of difficulty that you had getting your teachers and your school administrators to provide even the most basic accommodations, like really simple stuff for your education. Then you also talked about, well, basically you were saying they were treating your civil rights like the optional, extra guac on a burrito [laughs]. You also talk in the book about the ways that churches actively fought against the disability rights movement and the Americans with Disabilities Act and actually got themselves exempted from the Americans with Disabilities Acts requirements for buildings to be accessible. 

I was just wondering if you could dig into a little bit how your vision for society and your vision for church of centering disabled people in terms of how we build things up from the ground so that we're not just treating the things that you and I need as an avocado spread. 

Amy Kenny: Yeah. Teachers, churches, act as though they're doing us a favor when they allow us into their world, as though this is extra or optional. At the root of that, I think is this idea of the charity model that disabled people are pitiable objects that we give charity to, and we can extend that at any time and we can take that away at any time. That's largely, the particulars are, some of them are in the book, but that's largely how I have been treated in churches and schools, as though civil rights are something that are extra and altruistic.  

And of course, because churches fought against ADA, it's still legal to discriminate against disabled people in church spaces and in Christian schools. So churches don't have to provide ramps or sensory rooms or accessible services in any way. And that hurts still, even though I know that that doesn't smell like Jesus, that still hurts that that's the case. My vision for the way that we really should be gathering, is the one that Jesus gives us in Luke 14, which is this accessible banquet. Jesus says, go out and invite poor people and disabled people. Those are the first people invited. There's no suggestion of cure or condemnation. It is an accessible banquet where there is community and people get to dine together at an accessible table where poor and disabled people are centered. And if churches could do the same, if churches could create that accessible banquet, it would radically change what church could be to disabled people. 

Jonathan Walton: So my daughter is amazing. She got the empathy award for her class. She's five. 

Sy Hoekstra: Proud father [laughs]. 

Jonathan Walton: But she asks me these questions, and one question that she asked was, I brought up Uncle Sy and I said, Uncle Sy is blind and we're going to go there and him and Gabrielle ahyi. Ahyi is like “ma’am” in Chinese. We speak Mandarin and English in our house.  

Sy Hoekstra: My wife. 

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, my wife's Chinese and Gabrielle is able bodied. So Maia said, why would Gabrielle marry Uncle Sy? And my reaction was, I said, because he loves her, because she loves him, because he's just as valuable, and all these different things. But then I told Sy about it, and Sy you said to me, “Well, it's obvious that she has not seen many couples together that are like one person's able-bodied, and one person's not.” And that had never, that had not crossed my mind at all.  

Sy, you didn't see my reaction, but I was like, “Oh! I didn't think about that.” I wonder, particularly because in this question we talk about, it's not necessarily strangers that do harm, but it's friends and family who say things that are hurtful and do damage. So how do I change the air that Maia breathes so that when she has a conversation with our godson who's autistic, has a conversation with my aunt who has had a stroke, is in a wheelchair now. What would you say as a follower of Jesus discipling people to help us create different air so that we're able to breathe and move more freely? 

Amy Kenny: Usually just run them over with my wheelchair and I'm just gone before anyone knows. 


Sy Hoekstra: Even children, Amy? 

Amy Kenny: Oh yeah, they're easy targets [laughter]. The thing about idols is that they become so invisible and so immersive that we don't realize they're there. And I think one of the first phases is to acknowledge that they're there. To ask questions and be curious and learn and grow together. There's a lot of messiness along the way to be sure, but even surrounding Maia with various interabled couples and various cool crips, folks who are disabled and have disability pride, I wish I had that as a kid.  

I remember as a kid having so many people trying to pray me away, and I had ample examples of that, but I didn't have examples of people in my life who were celebrating my disabled bodymind. Not in terms of pity or inspiration, but in terms of thinking about how miraculous and interesting and magnificent my bodymind is. And I think it took a long time and a lot of therapy to get to that place, because the narratives out there are so seeped in ableism. But what if instead we invited one another to behold disability in nature, and we thought about how, and this is some of how I came to disability pride for myself, is thinking about how kangaroos don't walk, they hop. They can't go backwards, they can only go forwards. I'm Australian and so that for me really resonated because I have a somewhat stumbling, hoppy kind of can't-do-certain-things gait.  

Lions sleep almost all hours of the day and they're fierce and amazing, and we think they're cool. But they act more like spoonies than workaholics and I'm a spoonie. No one belittles them because of that. No one belittles the emu as weaker than the sparrow because it cannot fly. No one thinks that bees whose whole existence and survival is down to drone bees who are stingless and only carry one set of chromosomes. No one thinks that those are pitiable or less than. Their whole existence is down to what we might call disabled bees. And I think starting to behold that in nature, starting to realize that my body too is marvellous, and my disability doesn't take away from that.  

And it's not in a way of saying, “Everything's perfect and great yay,” but to recognize that my body contains secrets that science is still discovering. My leg is as blue as Sapphires, and my spasms and different way of moving about the world is celebrated when it comes to nature. What if we could really believe disabled bodyminds are made of stars? I think just surrounding all of ourselves with those kind of narratives is so important to unlearning ableism, but also to celebrating disability as the gifts it can offer us. 

Sy Hoekstra: I remember speaking to a guy one time and he had a daughter and I found out she was deaf and I was just like, “I'm not sure that anyone else has ever had this reaction when you told them that, but hurray, I'm really excited about the fact that your daughter's deaf” [laughs]. He was just like, “No one has ever had that reaction, but I do appreciate it.” I think, it is sort of, it's just, it's a little bit funny to people who haven't thought that way before, but I do in probably what is a little bit of a stereotypical way, just get excited when somebody else walks in with a white cane or rolls in on a wheelchair or whatever. 

Amy Kenny: Yeah, because there's solidarity and access intimacy. Also because disability is a culture. It's not only that medical model that most of us have been taught, and it's not just the social model either. It is a culture. We have our own heroes and languages and customs, and we have our own inventions and ways of being together. Just like other cultures, we should celebrate disability for what it gives the broader society, because we're uniquely creative because we live in a world that isn't made for our bodyminds. 

Sy Hoekstra: Because you said the word spoonie before, can you just give people a quick explanation of what a spoonie is?  

Amy Kenny: Yeah. A spoonie is someone who uses spoons, which is basically a metaphor for energy when you are chronically ill or disabled. So it's this idea that one task equals one spoon and those spoons fluctuate from day to day. So some days I have enough spoons to be able to get dressed and work and talk to lovely people on a podcast. And other days I don't have any spoons to get out of bed or to shower, or I need assistance doing a lot more things. So it's just kind of a helpful framework to get people to understand what it means to live as a chronically ill or disabled person. 

Sy Hoekstra: One question that I just really randomly came up with. Your normal job is you're a Shakespeare lecturer. I mean your normal job, your day job. When you teach your students Richard III, do you just come in blazing with the anger of a thousand suns or how does that happen? 

Amy Kenny: Always.  

Sy Hoekstra: K [laughs]. 

Amy Kenny: Always, yeah. Not just when I teach Richard III, yeah, I just teach angry [laughter]. I do teach Richard III really deliberately because I think that there's something interesting for students about having to think about a disabled body on stage, being taught by a disabled bodymind in the classroom. We just can't avoid it and we shouldn't, and so we should talk about it. And it really makes plain for them I think, the ways that my body becomes public property. The ways that so many narratives are placed onto our bodies as disabled people about being super villains, looking at you Darth Vader [laughter], or being inspirational heroes. Or disability being a fate worse than death as we see in movies. Like what's that one horrible movie where… 

Sy Hoekstra: Are you thinking about, it's called like Me Without You or Me…? 

Amy Kenny: Yes. Yes. Anyway, no one see that, but just, it’s horrible. Anyway, just talking with students about that and thinking about what does it mean for Richard to use his disability as a performance, and for him to talk with us about disability and how does that line up with some of these other narratives and tropes that are out there? I think just as in any of my classes, what the class is called is Shakespeare, but what I really teach is compassion, and inviting students to think about the lived experience of the other and to resonate with that and to have compassion. Even where a character is a villain, to try to consider, what are their motivations for doing this and what are the places that we can connect with this character, or have a deeper understanding of our own humanity because of this character. 

Sy Hoekstra: My sister is a high school literature teacher, and I would be willing to bet that she's tearing up right now [laughs].  

Amy Kenny: Amazing. 

Sy Hoekstra: The whole idea of literature teaches you empathy and compassionate mercy is yeah, right up her alley. 

Jonathan Walton: Man, so much to learn and grateful that you all are willing to teach me, and us, I should say. 

Amy Kenny: I feel the same. We all have so much to learn because we've all been indoctrinated in these systems. 

Jonathan Walton: It's true. Okay. So Sy, when I'm in Sy’s presence, he gets this a lot. As soon as he says, “Oh, look, he went to law school.” Everybody goes like, “Wow.” We all know what the wow is about.  

Amy Kenny: Oh yeah. 

Jonathan Walton: And something that I was, when, in trying to do work around patriarchy and build, like undoing the toxic masculinity that I'm indoctrinated with, is giving Maia and the women around me compliments on things they can control. What is a compliment that is helpful and not patronizing for your community around your accomplishments that isn't riddled with celebratory pity? 

Amy Kenny: Sy, go first [laughter]. I think a great question to ask ourselves anytime we're going to give someone a compliment is: am I saying this because of their social location or because of the complexity of their identities? Because of course many people contain multiple marginalizations. And it's not to say that it's wrong if the answer is yes, because we should recognize the complexity of barriers for people with multiple marginalizations. But I think that can be a helpful tool to think about why am I giving this compliment? Why should I be surprised that Sy went to law school? Because law school sounds horrible and hard, or is it because there is something that, there is a ceiling that I'm assuming because of disability? 

So I think even in your setup of the question, you're answering it. And I think that idea of giving people compliments over things they can control is so important, because I often get that I'm courageous or brave or an inspiration. Or if someone finds out that I'm Dr. Amy Kenny, there's kind of a surprise of, “You? Wow. Oh, okay. Well, good for you.” As though it was just given to me [laughter]. As though I didn't battle ableism institutionally and interpersonally every phase of the way.  

And I think, I don't know if you experience this Sy, but I think it's complex as a disabled person who has air quotes “achieved success” in what it looks like in some capitalistic model. Because of course capitalism is harmful to disabled people, because we can't keep up, and it sells us the lie that we are what we produce and that we don't have worth just simply by existing. So then if you make any sort of strides within that system and are praised, the weight that I often feel is that that's weaponized against other members of my community. 

Jonathan Walton: Yes, absolutely. Yes. 

Amy Kenny: I don't want to be everyone's go-to version of, “disabled people can make it, so you should too.” No. I want to create a classroom and an atmosphere and a church and a table where we are so centering people who are multiply marginalized that it allows for the co-flourishing of everyone. 

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, I totally agree with that. I also think that specifically with the point of inspiration porn, when people get complimented for overcoming their disability by trying really hard and having a good attitude and then serving as inspiration for other people who don't have it as hard. I don't mind people telling me that I've overcome a lot when they understand what I've actually overcome. If they understand you, in getting your doctorate, had to face all kinds of ableism, in addition to actually just getting a doctorate, which is hard in and of itself, that's great. If somebody understands that and they want to tell me it's inspirational to me that you were able to fight this horrible system and get through it, okay. And they understand that it would be fine if I didn't get through it, okay. Because it's like an incredibly random set of circumstances that gets you through in a way where you're still, like you’re quote-unquote “achievement” and success is still intact.  

Amy Kenny: Yes. 

Sy Hoekstra: That's great. You can compliment me for that all day long, because you know what, it is hard, and I appreciate it when people compliment me for stuff that I did that's hard. But yeah, that was my thought when you said it's kind of about the intent of the compliment. Why are you giving it? What's the purpose of it? So you could give, what I'm saying is I think you could give a compliment because someone has a particular status, as long as you have actually listened to them and understand what being a member of that marginalized group entails.  

Amy Kenny: Yeah. So what I'm receiving from that is that context is key. I think generally when it's inspiration porn it's strangers or people on the periphery of our lives.  

Sy Hoekstra: Totally. Yeah. 

Jonathan Walton: Right. 

Amy Kenny: When someone realizes what it took to get you where you are, then a compliment actually feels really validating as though they are appreciating the fullness of what it took.  

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, totally.    

Amy Kenny: I think there's a way that once you have a certain degree, people put success onto you, even if it's not true in your life. An example is that I have a doctorate, so then I'm in this column of success, but that really erases the fact that my job is not stable. I'm on temporary contracts. So this idea of this external validation because there's some sort of degree, and not really understanding the complexity of a situation, that it's actually very common for disabled people. Typically, the more degrees a disabled person has, the higher the wage difference is between their non-disabled counterparts. 

Sy Hoekstra: Oh, I didn't know that. And then there's the added layer of if you spend time where you can't find work, whatever money you have gained is going to be used against you if you try to get social security. You're married so you can't get, you're not even eligible, I think, for social security? 

Amy Kenny: Exactly. Yeah. Disabled people don't have minimum wage protection, marriage equality, 80 percent of polling places are inaccessible.  

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. I think I have voted independently twice and I've voted a lot more than that [laughs] because the machine never works. There is a machine there for me that is supposed to be used by visually impaired or reading disabled people. It's like an audio voting machine, but it is often broken down.  

Amy Kenny: Yeah. And even saying all of these facts, a lot of people are completely unaware of any of these, and that's part of how ableism works, is to erase our stories. So when someone's saying we are just their inspiration, if they have a knowledge of all of those facts, hey, I'm in. But if they don't know that we don't have marriage equality, we don't have minimum wage protection, disabled people are kept in poverty deliberately in the system, tens of thousands of people die just waiting to find out if they're eligible for disability payments, then it just has a really different context and a really different tone. 

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, absolutely.  

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, when people tell me, “Oh, it's so great that you made it to Columbia,” and they have no idea where Brodnax, Virginia is, it means nothing. But if they know where it is and where I'm from, it means exponentially more. So that's, thank you for sharing all of that, because that's… it's closer than I thought it would be, but harder than I expect, you know what I mean? Because what you're saying is not unfamiliar, but it's a turn to unlearn these things, it's an exceptional level of difficulty that is absolutely necessary to exist as a kind person. So I appreciate you sharing all that. 

Amy Kenny: Yeah. And what an invitation to each of us to see the ways our stories overlap in this Venn diagram, and to make sure that we are doing that for one another so that we have mutual liberation.    

Sy Hoekstra: Before we let you go, obviously everybody go read the book My Body Is Not a Prayer Request. You can tell right from the title that Amy's a fantastic writer, and is just as witty on the page as she is in person. Where can people find you though?  

Amy Kenny: Sometimes I'm on Instagram @DrAmyKenny. I say sometimes because I am an introvert. So sometimes you can find me there, other times not. 

Sy Hoekstra: Awesome. Thank you so much for being with us today. This was seriously a pleasure.  

Amy Kenny: Yeah, this was great. Thanks for having me.  

Sy Hoekstra: Of course.  

Jonathan Walton: Yes. Thank you so much.  

Sy Hoekstra:  Everyone, before we go, just as a quick reminder, ktfpress.com, if you at all appreciate what we're doing, please go check that out there and consider subscribing to get the bonus episodes of this show and our newsletter. And to support everything else we do, like the things that we do to keep our stuff accessible, like to transcribe this show. That costs money, and we appreciate it when you support that.  

Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see you in two weeks. 

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.] 

KTF Press
Shake the Dust
Seeking Jesus, confronting injustice–Shake the Dust features candid interviews and informed discussions that guide us as we resist the idols of America.